A pool filter is absolutely vital to the function of any swimming pool. It’s responsible for removing contaminants from the pool water, ensuring that the pool not only stays crystal clear but also free of bacteria and other contaminants that present health hazards.
Pool filters use a variety of means for filtering water, including sand, paper cartridges, and diatomaceous earth. They come in various sizes to meet the needs of above-ground and inground pools, both large and small. With so many shapes, sizes, and brands to choose from, selecting the right model for one’s pool can quickly become an overwhelming process.
This guide dives into the world of pool filters to identify what factors are crucial to consider when shopping for the best pool filter, while evaluating some of the top models on the market.
- BEST OVERALL: Hayward DE6020 ProGrid D.E. Pool Filter
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: XtremepowerUS 19″ Above Inground Pool Sand Filter
- BEST CARTRIDGE: Pentair 160332 Clean and Clear Pool Filter Cartridge
- BEST SAND: Hayward ProSeries Pool Sand Filter
- BEST ABOVE-GROUND: Carvin Laser 22.5 Inch Above Ground Pool Sand Filter
- BEST WITH PUMP: Hayward W3CC15093S XStream Above-Ground Filter Pump
- BEST FOR SMALL POOLS: Intex Krystal Clear Cartridge Filter Pump
- BEST FOR LARGE POOLS: Hayward W3C12002 StarClear Plus Cartridge Pool Filter
What to Consider When Choosing the Best Pool Filter
There are a variety of factors one needs to consider when shopping for the right pool filter including type, flow rate, and compatibility. Read on to learn more about these and other attributes of pool filters.
Types of Pool Filters
Buyers must consider three types of pool filters, each of which has its pros and cons.
- Sand: A sand pool filter works by sucking water through a filtration tank filled with sand. As the water passes through, it grabs particles of dirt that measure 20 microns or larger. The best pool sand filter requires minimal maintenance and is more affordable than other filters, but doesn’t capture particles as small as other filter types can nab.
Sand filters come in two types—top-mounted and side-mounted filters. Top-mounted sand filters are less expensive and take up less space than a side-mount filter; however, the side-mount filter makes it easier to change the sand, since it doesn’t require you to disconnect pipes.
- Cartridge: Cartridge filters use a replaceable filter that collects dirt and debris as it passes through. Cartridge filters are effective because they can trap particles as small as 10 microns. Maintaining a cartridge filter is relatively easy since it can be removed and sprayed clean with a hose.
- D.E.: D.E. filters (the D.E. stands for “diatomaceous earth”), works similarly to a sand filter but rather than pump water through sand, it pumps water through D.E., which is a fine powder that can capture particles as small as 5 microns. D.E. is the most effective filter due to its ability to remove tiny particles from the pool; however, this type of filter is more expensive than cartridge or sand types and requires the most maintenance.
Flow Rate and Capacity
Filters come in different sizes to handle swimming pools of various capacities. Most filters are rated by gallons per minute. A filter must have a flow rate that at least matches the gallons per minute of the pump, or higher. The GPM of a pool filter is a great indication of how large a pool the filter can handle.
A pool filter should be able to filter the entire contents of a pool in about 8 hours. So, a pool filter with a flow rate of 50 GPM has enough filtering capacity to service pools up to 24,000 gallons (50 x 60 x 8).
A filter won’t work without a pump to push water through it. When selecting a pump and filter, it’s crucial to make sure they are compatible with each other. The pump must be powerful enough to push water through the filter without being so powerful that it damages it.
When selecting a filter, choose a model with a flow rate that’s a little higher than the pump’s flow rate. Never choose a filter with a flow rate that is less than the pump’s flow rate, since this can damage the filter. Working together, the pump and filter should be able to clean the entire contents of the pool about every 8 hours.
Most pool filters have features that make them easier to use. Pressure gauges measure how well the system is drawing water from the pool. This lets the user know if the filter cartridge should be changed, in the case of a cartridge filter, or backwashed, in the case of a sand or D.E. filter.
Filters typically have features that make performing routine maintenance easier. Many use quick-release knobs that allow the user to quickly open the filter’s lid without having to remove a lot of hardware. Other models have multiport designs with switches that allow the user to winterize, rinse, and backflush the filter with the turn of a knob.
Our Top Picks
The list below narrows the field to some of the top pool filters on the market. It includes all filter types as well as both above-ground and inground models with flow rates for pools both large and small.
Though more expensive and requiring more maintenance than other filter types, D.E. pool filters do the best job when it comes to cleaning contaminants out of a pool. Of all the D.E. filters out there, this model from Hayward is one of the best. The DE6020 has an ample flow rate of 120 gallons per minute and is constructed out of durable glass-reinforced copolymer, ensuring it will endure the elements.
D.E. filters have high maintenance requirements but Hayward makes them easier to perform with a few useful design features, including a one-piece flange clamp that makes it easy to open the filter to access its interior and a quick release valve for bleeding air out of the pump to improve flow.
- Type: D.E.
- Flow rate: 120 GPM
- Size: 24 inches wide by 46.5 inches tall
- High flow rate and capacity
- Quick-release flange clamp for easy maintenance
- Durable construction
With price tags that go into the thousands of dollars, a pool filter replacement can quickly become a major investment. That’s why this sand filter from Xtremepower is such a nice option. It boasts a flow rate of 40 gallons per minute, which is enough to service a 24,000-gallon pool.
Multiport controls located on the filter’s lid allow the user to change the filter’s flow to handle rinsing, filtration, backwashing, and even winterizing with just the turn of a lever. A large pressure gauge makes it easy to see when it’s time to backwash the filter. In addition to being affordable, this filter is also versatile, since it will work with both inground and above-ground pools.
- Type: Sand
- Flow rate: 40 GPM
- Size: 19 inches wide by 45 inches tall
- Affordably priced
- Works with above-ground or inground pools
- Multiport controls make maintenance tasks easier
- Smaller capacity than some pool filters
With a broad filtration surface area and high flow rate, this cartridge filter from Pentair is a great option for larger pools. The filter boasts a flow rate of 150 gallons per minute, making it a worthy choice for larger inground pools of 30,000 gallons or more. Unlike sand and D.E. filters that require periodic backwashing, Pentair’s cartridge filter is easy to maintain. Simply remove the filter, rinse it with a garden hose, and replace it.
The Pentair also self-regulates its internal pressure, thanks to its Integrated Continuous High Flow Internal Air Relief, which automatically releases pressure that can inhibit the flow of water through the filter.
- Type: Cartridge
- Flow rate: 150 GPM
- Size: 21.5 inches wide by 56 inches tall
- High flow rate can handle larger pools
- Easy-to-maintain cartridge filters
- Automatic air pressure relief
With its tough polymer construction, this Hayward sand filter’s tank is built like a tank and is one of the most well-built sand filters on the market. In addition to being durable, this model makes it easy to conduct regular maintenance, thanks to a six-position multiport valve on the top of the filter. With the valve, a pool owner can easily set the filter for backwashing, rinsing, winterizing, and other functions.
The ProSeries Pool Sand Filter comes with some useful additional features, including a top diffuser that ensures even distribution of water through the sand, a self-cleaning drain that makes it easy to empty the filter come wintertime, and a gauge for monitoring pressure.
- Type: Sand
- Flow rate: 62 GPM
- Size: 24 inches wide by 42 inches tall
- Top-mounted handle eases performance of maintenance tasks
- Tough polymer construction
- Self-cleaning drain makes winterizing easier
- Smaller capacity than other sand filters
This sand filter’s flow rate of 20 gallons per minute can keep the water in a 20,000-plus gallon pool sparkling clean. Couple that with a six-position valve that makes it easy to backwash, rinse, drain, winterize, or test the filter, and the Carvin Laser is one of the best above-ground pool filter options on the market.
The filter efficiently filters water by using a side-slotted lateral design and an underdrain to distribute water evenly across the surface of 250 pounds of sand. It is durably built with a molded plastic UV- and corrosion-resistant tank. A drain located at the bottom of the tank makes it easy to empty the filter for winterizing or sand changes.
- Type: Sand
- Flow rate: 20 GPM
- Size: 24 inches wide by 41 inches tall
- Six-position valve makes maintenance easy
- Evenly distributes water for efficient operation
- Easy to winterize
- Good capacity for above-ground pools
- Bulkier than other above-ground pool filters
Stop worrying about pump and filter compatibility with this pool pump and filter combo from Hayward, which includes both. It comes with a Hayward XStream Cartridge filter and a 1.5 horsepower Hayward PowerFlo Matrix Pump. This powerful combo can move up to 120 gallons of water per minute, making it ideal for a large above-ground pool.
It’s also easy to maintain, thanks to an Easy-Lok ring design that allows access to the filter’s internal parts in a single turn. This versatile pool pump and filter combo will work with flexible or rigid plumbing. Both units sit on a rigid base, making it easy to mount on the ground next to the pool.
- Type: Cartridge
- Flow rate: 120 GPM
- Size: 21 inches wide by 37 inches tall
- High flow rate of 120 GPM
- Easy access to internal parts for easy maintenance
- Works with rigid or flexible plumbing
- More affordable than buying units separately
- Not as powerful as some filters
This simple pump and filter are ideal for smaller, temporary above-ground pools. Its 750 gallons per hour filter and the pump are suitable for above-ground pools with up to 6,000 gallons of water, which includes 10-foot to 18-foot round Intex Easy Set and metal frame pools.
The pump housing opens to hold a disposable cartridge, which lasts about 2 weeks. An air release valve prevents too much pressure from building up inside the pump and filter, slowing water flow. Setting up the pump/filter is easy. Simply attach 1.25-inch hoses to the fittings and to the intake and outtake holes in the pool.
- Type: Cartridge
- Flow rate: 750 gallons per hour
- Size: 10.6 inches wide by 15 inches tall
- Easy to install
- A disposable filter for easy maintenance
- Compact size with combined pump and filter
- Filters only last 2 weeks
- Only works with Intex pools
This Hayward filter might look a little more like a fire hydrant than a pool filter, but that’s because it’s built to be tough. Its single-piece injection molding construction is well suited for enduring the elements. In addition to its durable construction, it’s also easy to maintain. A single knob-release that securely fastens the filter head to the tank makes it easy to access the filter cartridge.
With its flow rate of 120 GPM, this filter can service large inground pools with up to 60,000 gallons of water. Despite its high capacity, the filter is fairly compact at just 14 inches in diameter and 38 inches tall.
- Type: Cartridge
- Flow rate: 120 gallons per minute
- Size: 14 inches wide by 38 inches tall
- Durable single-piece injection molding
- Single knob-release grants easy access for maintenance
- High flow rate
- Compact size
- Doesn’t clean as well as D.E. filters
For its high flow rate of 120 gallons per minute and ability to filter out contaminants down to 5 microns, the Hayward DE6020 ProGrid D.E. Pool Filter is one of the top pool filters on the market. Those looking for more affordable options should consider the XtremepowerUS 19″ Above Inground Swimming Pool Sand Filter, which can handle pools up to 24,000 gallons.
How We Chose the Best Pool Filters
In evaluating dozens of pool filters for this guide, we considered several criteria. A pool filter should be both easy to maintain and durable. We chose models with tough, molded plastic construction that could resist harmful UV rays as well as extreme cold.
For ease of maintenance, we chose models with designs that allow the user to conduct maintenance quickly. For cartridge filters, we chose models with quick-release fittings that allow the user to access the cartridge without having to remove a lot of hardware first. For sand and D.E. filters, we selected models with multiport valves that allow the user to easily change the filter to different operating modes for back-flowing and winterizing.
If you’re wondering whether a cartridge of a sand filter is better or if all filters can be used or how often a cartridge filter should be replaced, then read on for answers to these and other commonly asked questions about pool filters.
Q. What type of above-ground pool filter is best?
For its high 20 gallons per minute flow rate and six-position valve that makes it easy to conduct maintenance, the Carvin Laser 22.5 Inch Above Ground Pool Sand Filter is one of the best above-ground filters on the market.
Q. Is a cartridge or a sand filter better?
In terms of their ability to filter out contaminants, cartridge filters are better. Cartridge filters have a larger filtration area, which allows them to remove smaller particles than a sand filter can. They also are easier to maintain since they require no backwashing.
Q. Are foam pool filters better than paper filters?
Foam pool filters are more economical than paper filters. Whereas paper filters wear out and must be replaced every 1 to 2 weeks, foam filters last around 2 months. You can clean foam filters with a garden hose and put them back into service.
Q. How often should cartridge pool filters be replaced?
Pool cartridges last between 1 and 3 years, depending on how often they’re used and how often they’re cleaned.
Q. Which pool filter system will remove the smallest particles?
D.E. filters remove the smallest particles of the three filter types with their ability to trap particles as small as 3 microns.
Q. How do I change the sand in a pool filter?
To change the sand in a pool filter, begin with draining the tank by opening the drain cap at the bottom of the tank. Remove the hoses connected to the filter’s multiport valve. Remove the old sand with a cup or a shop vac, making sure to first tape off the top of the pipe to prevent sand from getting inside. Carefully remove the lateral assembly and pipe, then wash out the tank with a garden hose. Replace the lateral assembly and pipe and add fresh sand.
Q. Can I use any pool filter in an above-ground pool?
No. You must use a filter designed for above-ground use. This is because most above-ground pool pumps are designed to move water to a level that’s higher than the pump while most inground pool pumps, which are situated above the water level of the pool, are not.