An above-ground pool can offer summertime fun and a relief from the heat, but only if the water is free from harmful algae and bacteria. Above-ground water filters are offered in three types: sand, cartridge, and diatomaceous earth, to keep your pool water clear. The best above-ground filters can treat 3,000 gallons of water per hour, making them capable of cleaning pools up to 24,000 gallons.
This guide dives deep into the world of pool water filters, examining the features that are crucial to consider when shopping for the best above-ground pool filter, and offers a list of some of the best models on the market.
- BEST OVERALL: Intex 26645EG 2100-Gph Krystal Clear Sand Filter Pump
- RUNNER UP: XtremePowerUS 2640-GPH Self-Priming Pool Pump
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: Summer Waves SkimmerPlus 1000-GPH Filter Pump System
- BEST FOR SMALL POOLS: Intex Krystal Clear Cartridge Filter Pump
- BEST FOR LARGE POOLS: Hayward W3EC50AC Perflex D.E. Pool Filter
- EASIEST TO USE: Intex 28635EG Krystal Clear Cartridge Filter Pump
- BEST FEATURES: Hayward W3S180T ProSeries Sand Filter
- BEST FILTER CARTRIDGES: Intex Filter Cartridge Replacement Type A and C
- BEST PUMP/FILTER COMBO: Hayward S166T1580S ProSeries Sand Filter System
How We Chose the Best Above-Ground Pool Filters
We considered the type of filter—cartridge or sand—as that distinction affects the ease and level of maintenance you’ll need to perform to keep your filter running smoothly. All of our selections are combined pump-and-filter units, so there’s no need to worry about filter compatibility with an existing pump.
In addition, the gallons per hour (GPH) flow rate and system flow rate are critical components of choosing the best filter for your above-ground pool: too low a rate and your pool will be cloudy, or too high and you’re wasting money on electricity. Finally, we examined the ease of installation and use, handy features such as skimmer and timers, strainer baskets, and any extra components you might need to purchase separately.
Our Top Picks
We used the above considerations to narrow down the field of pool filters to some of the best models on the market. These filters include light-duty models for above-ground pools under 10,000 gallons and larger models for pools up to 57,000 gallons.
Easy maintenance, coupled with a high flow rate, makes this model ideal for above-ground pools. This pump-and-filter combo uses sand to filter small particles out of the water while an integrated strainer basket removes larger debris. Its 2,100-GPH flow rate and integrated 0.3-horsepower pump are enough to handle small to medium above-ground pools up to 12,800 gallons.
Six operating functions allow you to backwash, rinse, recirculate, drain, filter, and close the system, making it easy to perform the routine maintenance vital for all sand filters. Features like a 24-hour timer make operating the pump easier by eliminating the need to turn it on and off manually. Its 12-inch filter tanks will hold up to 50 pounds of sand, which lasts for about 5 years.
- Type: Sand filter
- GPH: 2,100
- Weight: 38.5 lbs
- High-quality, reliable and durable filter system from one of the world’s leading pool brands
- 6 operating functions, integrated strainer basket, and built-in ground-fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) safety shutoff
- 24-hour timer and pressure gauge allow practically effortless day-to-day operation
- Maximum pool size is 12,800 gallons, and additional hose adapters may be required
Get the Intex sand above-ground pool filter pump at Amazon, Lowe’s, or The Home Depot (deluxe kit).
XtremePowerUS is well known for providing a variety of reliable equipment at reasonable prices, and their 13-inch above-ground swimming pool sand filter pump set is a good example. The rugged construction is waterproof to the independent IPX5 standard. A ¾-horsepower motor is used, driving the pump at a competitive 2,640 GPH. Although the filter rate is not quoted (and is usually slightly lower), the setup is ideal for pools up to 10,000 gallons.
A straightforward four-way multiport offers easy selection of filtering, backwashing, rinse, and waste. An integrated digital timer can be set to run the filter for anywhere from 2 to 24 hours for owner convenience. A transparent lid makes it easy to see when the large pump strainer basket needs to be emptied.
- Type: Sand filter
- GPH: 2,640
- Weight: 25.79 pounds
- Pump-and-filter combo provides optimal flow rates for pools up to 10,000 gallons
- Top-mounted multiport design provides quick switching for filtering, backwashing, rinse, and waste
- Convenient integrated digital controller is programmable from 2 to 24 hours
- A few owners found fitting challenging, and several had pump breakdowns
Get the XtremePowerUS above-ground pool filter at Amazon or The Home Depot.
This pool pump-filter combo from Summer Waves produces enough flow to keep a small pool clean without requiring a considerable investment. Despite its small size and modest pump, it boasts a flow rate of 1,000 GPH. While that won’t do for larger pools, it is enough to handle smaller above-ground pools up to 10 feet in diameter.
Though this filter-and-pump unit doesn’t have the features of more expensive options, such as a 24-hour timer, it requires significantly less maintenance to operate thanks to a disposable cartridge that filters out small particles. When the filter cartridge is full, simply remove it and replace it. The SkimmerPlus also comes equipped with a built-in removable straining basket that removes larger debris.
- Type: Cartridge filter
- GPH: 1,000
- Weight: 9 pounds
- Combination skimmer/filter/pump reduces clutter and comes with a budget-friendly price tag
- Easy to fit to side of pool with integrated skimmer to extend cartridge life
- Includes 25-foot power cord with GFCI for safety as well as hose connections
- Is not suitable for all pool types and requires some assembly
Get the Summer Waves above-ground pool filter pump at Amazon, Overstock, or Target.
Small pools don’t require a large amount of power to keep the water crystal clear. This filter-and-pump combo from Intex is affordable, easy to use, and simple to install. It has a capacity of 1,000 GPH, making it suitable for small above-ground pools of up to 6,000 gallons. Note, rather than the standard 1.5-inch hoses that other pool filters use, this Intex uses smaller 1.25-inch hoses, so it may require an adapter for use with some pools.
This filter uses a cartridge that is easy to install by simply removing the top of the filter housing. This pump also doesn’t take up much space around the pool, as it is just 15 inches tall and 10 inches in diameter. Keep in mind, this is a light-duty pump rated to operate up to 8 hours a day.
- Type: Cartridge filter
- GPH: 1,000
- Weight: 8.52 pounds
- Intex HydroAeration Technology increases circulation for improved pool water clarity
- Straightforward installation; low-maintenance cartridges that are easy to clean and change
- Air-release valve prevents over pressurization and filter complies with Underwriters Laboratories (UL)/Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) safety standards
- Extra fittings may be needed, and there is no integrated skimmer or backflow option
Get the Intex Krystal Clear cartridge filter pump at Amazon or The Home Depot.
Large above-ground pools require a powerful pump similar in capacity to inground pools. This filter, which is compatible with a 1-horsepower pump, can treat enough water to handle a large above-ground pool of up to 25,000 gallons.
Its large filtration tank holds 5 pounds of diatomaceous earth (DE) to filter small particles out of the water. As with Hayward’s other filtration systems, this model uses its “flex-tube” technology to recycle DE repeatedly, increasing the time between media changes. A handy pump lever creates a burst of pressure that clears the tubes if they become clogged, while a gauge allows you to monitor the internal pressure of the filter to determine when it’s time for maintenance.
- Type: DE filter
- GPH: N/A
- Weight: 29.4 pounds
- High-efficiency filter suitable for pools of up to 25,000 gallons
- 5-pound DE filter tank with “flex-tube” technology to recycle filter material
- Internal pressure gauge monitors performance, and bump handle allows rapid purging
- Comes with a premium price tag; a separate motor purchase is needed
Get the Hayward DE above-ground pool filter at Amazon.
The simple operation and installation of this filter-and-pump combination make it one of the more user-friendly models on the market. The pump and filter produce a 1,500-GPH flow rate, which is enough to treat round pools up to 18 feet in diameter or oval pools up to 20 feet long by 12 feet wide. This filter also uses Intex’s Hydro Aeration Technology, which oxidizes iron and manganese to prevent staining while also increasing the negative ions in the water to make the air around it fresher.
Unlike other filters that use sand or DE and require backwashing and other routine maintenance, this system uses a replaceable cartridge filter. When the cartridge is full, simply remove the top of the filter and trade out the cartridge. This pump also includes a handy automatic timer, which allows you to preset 2- to 12-hour cycles, eliminating the need to turn the system on and off manually.
- Type: Cartridge filter
- GPH: 1,500
- Weight: 16.39 pounds
- User-friendly filter-and-pump combination is easy to install and operate
- Hydro Aeration Technology filters efficiently, reduces pool staining, and increases negative ions for fresher air
- Replaceable cartridge filters plus sediment flush valve and backflow outlet keep maintenance easy
- 1,500-GPH pump but only 1,180-GPH filter, with maximum pool size of 9,400 gallons
Get the Intex 28635EG above-ground pool filter at Amazon, The Home Depot, or Target.
This filter’s useful settings for running, cleaning, and winterizing, along with its helpful gauge, make this model one of the more sophisticated above-ground pool filters on the market. While determining when it’s time to backwash the pump to remove debris can be a guessing game with other filters, that’s not the case with this model. The ProSeries sand filter features a pressure valve that lets you know when the pressure in the tank has dropped, indicating that the filter is full.
Operating modes that include filter, backwash, waste, rinse, closed, recirculate, and winterize make it easy to run and maintain the filter, while a large rotating knob on the top of the unit allows you to switch from function to function quickly. This filter’s 18-inch tank holds 150 pounds of sand, making it large enough to handle a 1-horsepower pump and treat pools with up to 20,000 gallons of water.
- Type: Sand filter
- GPH: 2,100
- Weight: 32 pounds
- Precision-engineered high-performance filter with corrosion-proof materials for all-weather durability
- 7-position valve maintains maximum flow even if water pressure drops
- Large sand/water drain valve for easier servicing and rapid winterizing
- Installation can be challenging, and using a professional will add to the cost
Get the Hayward sand above-ground pool filter at Amazon or The Home Depot.
While pumps that use disposable filters are ideal for maintenance and ease of use, replacing a filter every 2 weeks when the pool is in use can get costly. This eight-pack of cartridge filters from Intex cuts that cost down. These filters, which measure 8 inches high and 4.25 inches in diameter, will work with various Intex pools and are easy to replace in compatible pump and filter systems. Each filter consists of 13.5 square feet of Dacron, which will capture impurities as small as 10 microns, leaving the pool water clear while extending the life of the pool filter.
- Type: Cartridge filters
- GPH: N/A
- Weight: 1 pound
- Very popular and affordable replacements that fit many above-ground filters
- Highly efficient Dacron filter removes debris as small as 10 microns
- Sturdy enough to rinse and reuse several times, thus reducing waste and lowering running costs
- This type of filter needs to be changed every 2 weeks for full efficiency
Get the Intex filter cartridges at Lowe’s (6-pack), The Home Depot (8-pack), or Overstock (6-pack).
Those setting up their pool for the first time will need a complete filter and pump system, and few offer better quality or ease of use than the Hayward ProSeries. There is corrosion-resistant construction throughout, with a powerful 1-horsepower pump and a sand filter capable of treating 1,800 GPH.
Hayward’s seven-position Vari-Flo valve provides two important functions. It maintains filter efficiency even if water pressure drops and makes it simple to select the required function, whether backwashing, rinsing, or winterizing. An integral diffuser spreads water evenly over the entire sand bed, thus maximizing filtration. Having the pump and filter in a single system also simplifies installation.
- Type: Sand filter
- GPH: 1,800
- Weight: 56 pounds
- High-quality filter and pump system cleans up to 14,400 gallons in 8 hours
- Easy-to-use multiport valve maximizes water flow and simplifies maintenance
- U.S.-made pump/filter combo includes pressure gauge plus hoses, adapters, and clamps
- It’s expensive, although faults are rare
Get the Hayward sand/filter system at Amazon.
What to Consider When Choosing an Above- Ground Pool Filter
Understanding the type and size suitable for a specific pool and pump is essential to selecting the right filter for an above-ground pool. To help with your search, keep reading to learn more about these factors and other vital characteristics of above-ground pool filters.
Above-ground pool filters can use three different types of media to remove particles from the water: DE, cartridge, or sand.
- DE filters are the most effective. They consist of diatomaceous earth, which is fossilized remains of microscopic organisms and skeletons from tiny animals. DE is a powder that coats the grids inside the filter. As water passes through the filter, the DE removes particles as small as 2 microns, which include algae, dirt, and some, but not all, bacteria. DE is one of the more costly media, as it must be changed about once a month and replaced with new DE to the tune of 1 pound for every 10 square feet of filter surface area.
- Cartridge filters aren’t as effective as DE filters but still perform well. They use a standard filter cartridge that fits inside the filter. As water passes through the filter, it removes contaminants as small as 10 to 15 microns, which is tiny but still visible to the human eye. This includes dirt and tiny insects but not oils, bacteria, or viruses. Cartridge filters aren’t as effective as DE but are popular because they are easy to maintain. Whereas DE requires you to backwash the system once a month, cartridges can simply be removed and replaced about once every 2 weeks.
- Sand filters are among the most popular options because they work well and are inexpensive. Sand filter systems have large tanks that hold sand. As water passes through, the sand removes contaminants as small as 20 microns. Like DE, sand filters require backwashing. However, they don’t need a continuous new supply of sand, as the sand can last about 5 years before needing to be replaced.
For the filter to work correctly with an above-ground pool, it must be compatible with the pump to ensure there is the right amount of flow and pressure to send water through the filter. If the filter is too large for the pool pump, the pump won’t produce enough pressure to push water through the filter adequately. With too small a filter, the pump can overload the filter, hurting its performance and even damaging it.
Most manufacturers rate their swimming pool filters by flow rate, which is the amount of water they can filter in an hour. Pool pumps also have a flow rate, which is directly related to the horsepower of the motor. A pump and filter should operate no more than 8 hours each day to avoid straining the pump and filter and running up the electric bill. They should be able to turn over all the water in a swimming pool once during that period.
- A pump with 1 horsepower produces a flow rate of about 3,000 GPH, while a 1.5-horsepower pump has a flow rate of about 4,000 GPH.
- A pump between 0.75 and 1.5 horsepower is typically enough to handle any inground pool.
- A 0.75-horsepower pump, which can move about 1,500 GPH, is adequate for small- to medium-size inground pools of under 15,000 gallons.
- A 1.5-horsepower pump is suitable for larger pools of up to 60,000 gallons.
Some filters and pumps are conveniently sold as a single unit, eliminating the need to determine compatibility.
Above-ground pool filters include features that make them easier to use. Some higher-end models have pressure gauges, which allow you to monitor the pressure of the pump and filtration system. The pressure inside the filter is a good indicator of how well the system is drawing water and helps to determine if the filter is full and needs to be backwashed.
Using the filter’s drain port, sand and DE filters must be periodically backwashed to clear out the debris they’ve collected from the swimming pool. By attaching a hose to these drain ports, you can direct the waste to an appropriate drainage area when backwashing the filter.
Some filters have removable skimmer baskets that help collect and remove large debris such as leaves and twigs.
Ease of Use
Above-ground pool filters vary in their ease of use. Sand and DE filters are more complex, requiring you to adjust the filter to different settings to backwash, rinse, and even winterize the filter. They also require you to add sand or DE to the system periodically.
Cartridge-based filters are easy to use. Most cartridge filters consist of a combined pump and filter. When the filter is full, you simply turn off the pump, open the top of the filter, replace the cartridge with a new one, close the lid, and turn the pump on. They require no backwashing and typically have a single switch that turns the pump on and off.
Higher-end models of all three types of filters may have programmable timers that automatically cycle the pump and filter on and off, eliminating the need to turn the pump on and off manually.
Unlike inground pool filters, which are more complicated to install and often require professional installation, most above-ground filter installations are simple. Many models feature filters integrated with pumps, eliminating the need to make connections between the two pieces.
Installation typically involves connecting tubing from the pump to the pool, which draws water into the filter and an outflow that sends the water back into the pool. The inflow connection is typically on the wall near the bottom of the pool, while the outflow is usually on the wall near the surface of the pool water.
DE and sand models are usually more complicated, requiring connections between the pump and filter as well as the application of the sand and DE media. These filters generally take about an hour to set up. In contrast, setting up a simple cartridge filter system can take 10 minutes or less.
While pool filter systems do an excellent job of removing contaminants and impurities floating in the water, they can’t remove muck sticking to the walls or floor. Pool cleaners that attach to the pool filter perform this duty. Pool cleaners consist of three types: robotic, pressure side, and suction side. Suction-side pool cleaners are suitable for smaller pools with less powerful pumps, while robotic and pressure-side cleaners are ideal for pools with larger pumps and filters.
- Robotic pool cleaners are the most advanced of these options. These pumps move around the pool automatically, crawling along floors and climbing walls, removing debris and dirt as they go. Some are so sophisticated they can “see” the pool’s surfaces and dimensions, ensuring they don’t miss a spot. Robotic vacuums typically run off of rechargeable batteries.
- Pressure-side cleaners, per their name, attach to the pressure side of a pump. The pumped water propels them throughout the pool, allowing them to collect debris in an attached filter bag. While these models are cheaper than robotic cleaners, they sometimes require a booster pump to have enough power to operate, which can add to their cost.
- Suction-side cleaners are the most affordable of the three options. These vacuums attach to the suction side of the pump, using that force to draw water and debris into the filter, which catches the dirt and sends the water back into the pool. This type of cleaner will wander randomly around a pool or can be operated manually. While suction-side cleaners are the most affordable pool cleaner, they do put more strain on the pool filter.
If you’re wondering how large a filter you need for your pool or how to install and operate your new above-ground pool filter, then read on for answers to some of the most commonly asked questions about these pool accessories.
Q. What size filter do I need for my above-ground pool?
The filter size depends on how many gallons of water the pool holds. Generally, a pool filter should be able to treat the entire contents of the pool in 8 hours. A filter capable of treating 750 GPH is suitable for pools with 6,000 gallons of capacity, whereas a pool filter capable of treating 7,000 GPH is suitable for a pool with up to 56,000 gallons of water.
Q. Is a sand filter better than a cartridge filter?
It depends on the application. A sand filter is more efficient at removing contaminants from a pool; however, it does require more maintenance. You must backwash a sand filter to rinse out impurities periodically, whereas a cartridge filter system uses disposable cartridges that can be replaced in a few minutes. With this in mind, most cartridge filter systems are well suited for smaller pools of 10,000 gallons or less, including those that aren’t used year-round. Sand filtration systems are ideal for larger permanent above-ground pools.
Q. How often should I run the filter on an above-ground pool?
The filter on an above-ground pool should be run daily when used regularly. It should be run long enough to filter the entire pool’s contents. The size of the pool, filter, and the power of the pump will obviously have an impact, but for most people, this will mean running the filter for 6 to 8 hours a day. Many experts say that the filter doesn’t have to be run consecutively. In other words, it could be run for 4 hours in the morning and 4 hours in the evening. This schedule may make it possible to benefit from lower electricity rates by running the filter at off-peak times.
Q. Do I leave the above-ground pool filter on all the time?
No. Leaving an above-ground pool filter on all the time will wear out the filter and pump, and it isn’t necessary to clean the water. The filter should run long enough to turn the pool water over once a day, a process that should not take more than 8 hours.
Q. How often should you change an above-ground filter?
A number of things will impact how often you should change an above-ground filter, including the type of filter medium or cartridge, frequency of use, product quality, and how well it is maintained. A key issue is always following manufacturers’ recommendations to maximize the filter’s working life. Generally speaking, life expectancy is likely to be 5 years or more, though this could be as low as 3 years in areas where lots of debris gets into the pool. A drop in pool water quality indicates the filter is past its best.
Q. How do I change my pool filter?
Changing a pool filter involves the following steps:
- Begin by assembling the pool filter according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
- Make sure the pump is turned off and unplugged.
- Attach a hose that runs from the filter’s pump port to the discharge side of the pump.
- Next, attach the filter’s return port to a hose that connects to the side of the pool.
- If you have a sand or DE filter that requires backwashing, then connect a hose to a waste port that extends to a drainage area.
- Turn the pump on to check for leaks and to make sure the system has the appropriate pressure.
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