Sand vs Cartridge: Which filter is right for you?

It’s that time of year again– hot days spent in the pool (hopefully with an ice cold drink in hand). The pool is my personal favorite place to spend hot summer days, but it takes work to keep a pool crystal clear all season long. When it comes to filtering your pool, you’ll come across the age-old dilemma: Sand vs Cartridge Filter.

Both have their benefits and downsides, and it’s very important to understand which is best for your pool and your lifestyle.

Sand Filters

56671EG-1[resized]Sand filters have been around for quite a while. Sand filters the water by flowing it through a bed of granulated sand. The more sand the filter uses, the cleaner the water can become; Meaning, bigger is better. Sand filters are easily recognizable because they’re large spherical-shaped globes with a valve. Sand filters can work non-stop for days (or even longer) before back washing is needed to clean and stir up the bed of sand inside the filter. When pressure reaches a pre-determined point, the filter is stopped, the direction of the water flow is turned around, and the dirt and unwanted particulates are flushed away.


Sand filters usually don’t have to be cleaned as often, and nothing has to be taken apart. Backwashing your sand filter takes only about 30 minutes. Sand pumps are efficient and low-maintenance, and the sand in the pump can last up to five years on average without the added cost of filter cartridges. Plus, maintenance is pretty easy with a sand filter.


Sand filters are quite large and heavy, making them very difficult to move once they’ve been filled with sand and used. Back washing is how sand filters clean their sand, but back washing uses pool water, and in some cases, this can get expensive and a wasteful use of pool water.


Cartridge Filters

resourceCartridge filters are much smaller than  sand filters, and is usually tall and narrow in shape. Inside this type of filter are several paper filters that look like tubes. Pool water flows from the outside of these tubes, through the micro-sized pores, then that water is returned to the pool. Cleaning a cartridge filter is a much different process than that of a sand filter and takes longer than just reversing a valve. The filter housing must be disassembled, and each cartridge has to be hosed off to remove dirt and debris. Cartridge filters pull water from your pool through the filter and strain any debris that was in your water, just like an air filter in your home. Cartridge filters should be replaced as regularly as every two weeks.


Cartridge filters are an easy way to filter your pool’s water. They’re relatively inexpensive and are very easy to maintain. Cartridge filters have much more available area to filter than sand. Most start at 100 sq. ft. and the majority of cartridge filters sold are larger than 300 sq. ft. That means they don’t clog up as quickly, and you have to touch them less frequently.


Although cartridge filters are easier to maintain, they can be more expensive than sand filters in the long run. Cartridge filters usually have to be replaced every year or so. Cleaning cartridges mid-season can also be a hassle for pool owners. Individual cartridges need to be removed and hosed off by hand periodically during the season to maintain crystal clear water.


When deciding on what chemicals, pump and filter your pool will need, it’s a good idea to understand how often you’ll need to purchase new equipment and how much that will cost per year. Estimating yearly maintenance costs will help you understand what you can afford and which option best fits your wallet, especially when it comes to deciding on Sand vs Cartridge Filters for your pool.

Still need more advice? Check out our Above-Ground Pool Buyer’s Guide for more helpful tips!

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  1. 1
    Ronald Mckendree

    I have owned both a sand filter and a Pentair cartidge system(4 cartridges), the cartridges are a pain to clean compared to a sand system. Thinking of replacing my Pentair Ron

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