The Best Above Ground Pool Filters of 2022

Keep your above-ground pool clean and sparkling clear with one of these top filters.

By Tony Carrick | Updated Jul 6, 2022 5:53 PM

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Best Above Ground Pool Filter Options

Photo: amazon.com

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.

  1. BEST OVERALL: Intex 26645EG 2100 Gph Krystal Clear Sand Filter Pump
  2. RUNNER UP: Hayward EC40AC Perflex Extended-Cycle D.E. Filter
  3. BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: Summer Waves SkimmerPlus 1000GPH Filter Pump System
  4. BEST FOR SMALL POOLS: Intex Krystal Clear Cartridge Filter Pump
  5. BEST FOR LARGE POOLS: Hayward W3EC50AC Perflex D.E. Pool Filter
  6. EASIEST TO USE: Intex 28635EG Krystal Clear Cartridge Filter Pump
  7. BEST FEATURES: Hayward W3S180T ProSeries Sand Filter
  8. BEST FILTER CARTRIDGES: Intex Filter Cartridge Replacement Type A and C
Best Above Ground Pool Filter Options

Photo: amazon.com

What to Consider When Choosing the Best 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.

Type

Above-ground pool filters can use three different types of media to remove particles from the water: diatomaceous earth (D.E.), cartridge, or sand.

  • D.E. filters are the most effective. They consist of diatomaceous earth, which is fossilized remains of microscopic organisms and skeletons from tiny animals. D.E. is a powder that coats the grids inside the filter. As water passes through the filter, the D.E. removes particles as small as 2 microns, which include algae, dirt, and some, but not all, bacteria. D.E. is one of the more costly media, as it must be changed about once a month and replaced with new D.E. to the tune of 1 pound for every 10 square feet of filter surface area.
  • Cartridge filters aren’t as effective as D.E. 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 D.E. but are popular because they are easy to maintain. Whereas D.E. requires the user 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 D.E., 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.

Pump Compatibility

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 (gallons per hour), while a 1.5-horsepower pump has a flow rate of about 4,000 GPH.
  • A pump between .75 and 1.5 horsepower is typically enough to handle any in-ground pool.
  • A .75 horsepower pump, which can move about 1,500 gallons per hour, is adequate for small- to medium-size, in-ground 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.

Additional Features

Above-ground pool filters include features that make them easier to use. Some higher-end models have pressure gauges, which allow the user 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 D.E. 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, the user 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 D.E. filters are more complex, requiring the user to adjust the filter to different settings to backwash, rinse, and even winterize the filter. They also require the user to add sand or D.E. 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, the user simply turns off the pump, opens the top of the filter, replaces the cartridge with a new one, closes the lid, and turns 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.

Installation

Unlike in-ground 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.

D.E. and sand models are usually more complicated, requiring connections between the pump and filter as well as the application of the sand and D.E. 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.

Cleaner Type

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.

Our Top Picks

The products below are chosen based upon the above considerations to narrow the field of pool filters to some of the best models on the market. These filters include light-duty filters for above-ground pools under 10,000 gallons and larger models for pools up to 57,000 gallons.

Best Overall

Best Above Ground Pool Filter Option: Intex 26645EG 2100 Gph Sand Filter Pump W/GFCI
Photo: amazon.com

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 gallons per hour flow rate and integrated 0.3-horsepower pump are enough to handle small to medium above-ground pools up to 16,800 gallons.

Six operating functions allow the user to backwash, rinse, recirculate, drain, filter, and close the system, making it easy to perform routine maintenance. Features like a 24-hour timer make operating the pump easier by eliminating the need to turn it off and on manually. Its 12-inch filter tanks will hold up to 50 pounds of sand, which lasts for about 5 years.

Product Specs

  • Type: Sand filter
  • GPH: 2,100
  • Ease of Installation: Moderate

Pros

  • Pressure gauge keeps pressure in safe range
  • Six operating functions
  • Integrated strainer basket
  • 24-hour timer makes filtering effortless
  • No cartridges to replace

Cons

  • May require hose adapters not included with pool or pump

Get the Intex sand filter pump on Amazon, The Home Depot, and Lowe’s.

Runner Up

Best Above Ground Pool Filters: Hayward EC40AC Perflex Extended-Cycle D.E. Filter
Photo: homedepot.com

Diatomaceous earth filters are the most effective of the three filter options for above-ground pools. With its ability to remove particles as small as 2 microns, this model from Hayward is one of the best in this category. This filter also possesses more power than a sand filter, making it ideal for larger above-ground pools.

While D.E. filters can require more maintenance than other filter types, this filter increases the time between cleanings by using a flex-tube design that recycles the D.E. powder repeatedly. It also has a bump feature that allows the user to manually clean the flex tubes without stopping the filter operation. This pump has a 16-inch filter tank, which holds 4 pounds of D.E. This pump works best with a 1-horsepower pump, making it suitable for larger pools of 20,000 gallons.

Product Specs

  • Type: Diatomaceous earth filter
  • GPH: 2,400
  • Ease of Installation: Moderate

Pros

  • Removes particles as small as 2 microns
  • Suitable for large pools
  • Flex-tube design
  • Easy to clean without turning off

Cons

  • May be difficult for some to install
  • Pricey

Get the Hayward Perflex filter at The Home Depot.

Best Bang For the Buck

Best Above Ground Pool Filter Option: Summer Waves SkimmerPlus
Photo: amazon.com

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 gallons per hour. 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.

Product Specs

  • Type: Cartridge filter
  • GPH: 1,000
  • Ease of Installation: Easy

Pros

  • Combination skimmer/filter/pump reduces clutter
  • Integrated skimmer extends cartridge life
  • Attaches to side of pool for safety

Cons

  • Suitable for smaller pools only at 1,000 GPH
  • No integrated backwash system

Get the Summer Waves filter pump on Amazon or at Overstock.

Best For Small Pools

Best Above Ground Pool Filter Option: Intex Krystal Clear Cartridge Filter Pump
Photo: amazon.com

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 easy to install. It has a capacity of 1,000 gallons per hour, 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.

Product Specs

  • Type: Cartridge filter
  • GPH: 1,000
  • Ease of Installation: Easy

Pros

  • HydroAeration Technology inlet fitting increases circulation
  • Suitable for pools up to 6,000 gallons
  • Air release valve prevents overpressurization
  • Cartridges easy to get, rinse, and replace

Cons

  • Hoses are 1¼-inch size; others will need adapter
  • No integrated skimmer or backflow option

Get the Intex filter pump on Amazon.

Best For Large Pools

Best Above Ground Pool Filter: Hayward W3EC50AC Perflex D.E. Pool Filter
Photo: amazon.com

Large above-ground pools require a powerful pump similar in capacity to in-ground pools. This filter, which is compatible with a 1-horsepower pump, can treat enough water to handle a large, above-ground pool up to 25,000 gallons.

Its large filtration tank holds 5 pounds of D.E. to filter small particles out of the water. As with Hayward’s other filtration systems, this model uses its “flex-tube” technology to recycle D.E. 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 the user to monitor the internal pressure of the filter to determine when it’s time for maintenance.

Product Specs

  • Type: Diatomaceous earth filter
  • GPH: Unlisted
  • Ease of Installation: Moderate

Pros

  • Suitable for pools of up to 25,000 gallons
  • 5-pound D.E. filter tank
  • Flex-tube technology
  • Pump lever
  • Internal pressure gauge

Cons

  • May be difficult for some to install
  • Some users report ineffective use

Get the Hayward D.E. pool filter on Amazon.

Easiest to Use

Best Above Ground Pool Filter Option: Intex 28635EG Krystal Clear Cartridge Filter Pump
Photo: amazon.com

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 1,180 gallons per hour flow rate, which is enough to treat round pools up to 18 feet in diameter or oval pools up to 20 by 12 feet. 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 D.E. 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 auto-timer, which allows the user to preset 2- to 12-hour cycles, eliminating the need to turn the system off and on manually.

Product Specs

  • Type: Cartridge filter
  • GPH: 1,500
  • Ease of Installation: Moderate

Pros

  • Quick, easy upgrade to filters included with most pools
  • Double insulated for safe and quiet operation
  • 1,180 GPH system flow rate
  • Sediment flush valve and backflow outlet keep maintenance easy

Cons

  • Plunger valves and 1½-inch inlet fittings not included

Get the Intex cartridge filter pump on Amazon, The Home Depot, and Target.

Best Features

Best Above Ground Pool Filters:Hayward W3S180T ProSeries Sand Filter
Photo: amazon.com

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 the user 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 the user 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.

Product Specs

  • Type: Sand filter
  • GPH: 2,100
  • Ease of Installation: Difficult

Pros

  • 7 operating modes
  • Pressure valve
  • 150-pound sand tank
  • Suitable for medium- to large-sized pools

Cons

  • May require professional help to install
  • Some users report poor construction

Get the Hayward sand filter on Amazon or at The Home Depot.

Best Filter Cartridges

Best Above Ground Pool Filter: Intex Filter Cartridge Replacement Type A and C
Photo: homedepot.com

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 12-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.

Product Specs

  • Type: Cartridge filters
  • GPH: 1,000 to 1,500
  • Ease of Installation: Easy

Pros

  • 8-filter multipack so replacement is always ready
  • 13.5 feet of Dacron filter debris as small as 10 microns
  • Type-A filter fits most above-ground pool cartridge filter pumps
  • Sturdy enough to rinse and reuse several times

Cons

  • Nonrecyclable cartridges add to landfill quickly if you don’t reuse

Get the Intex filter cartridges at The Home Depot or at Lowe’s (6-pack), and Overstock (6-pack).

Our Verdict

The Intex Krystal Clear Sand Filter Pump simply does the best job on most above-ground pools. Its flow rate is appropriate for smaller pools, but it can still safely handle larger-size framed pools and keep the water sparkling. The sand filter reduces waste and is easy to maintain, filtering out both large and small debris. Alternatively, the Summer Waves filter pump is a budget-friendly option for small pools only and requires little to no maintenance to operate, all while filtering over 1,500 gallons per hour.

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 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, 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.

FAQs

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 gallons of water per hour is suitable for pools with 6,000 gallons of capacity, whereas a pool filter capable of treating 7,000 gallons of water per hour 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?

You should run the filter in an above-ground pool enough to turn all the water in the pool over one time a day. This process usually takes between 6 and 8 hours.

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?

An above-ground pool filter should last between 3 and 5 years, depending on the quality of the filter and how often it runs.

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 D.E. 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.