Sand Filters vs Cartridge Filters: Which Is The Better Pool Filter?

Last Updated on April 13, 2021

No one would dare jump in a swimming pool with cloudy water or noticeable algae growth. This is why a well-maintained and clean pool is the ultimate goal for pool owners.

To achieve this, you must know every little detail about a pool filter, one of the most integral parts that keeps your pool clean and safe to swim on. There is no such thing as a “general filter” that you can easily purchase on the market and install in your pool. There are various types of filters you can choose from, and we’re often asked to pick between sand filters vs cartridge filters.

Now, for you to choose the best type of filter, you must first consider the size of your pool, its location, and how often you use it.

Choosing between sand filters and cartridge filters can be a bit tricky. It may all boil down to your long-term goals and personal capabilities, and capacity in maintaining a pool.

Having a swimming pool and keeping it safe and attractive is not that easy to accomplish. Some failed for not having the proper knowledge when it comes to selecting the right pool filter to use in their pool.

Take note that pool filters act as your primary defense line against dirt and debris in your pool water. The water in your swimming pool typically goes through the pool’s skimmer that is powered by a pool pump and into your filter to “segregate” the unnecessary impurities that chemicals in your pool water cannot get rid of.

This provides you with a clear and pristine pool water to enjoy. Here are some important terms to remember when choosing a filter system for your pool.

Microns

This is a metric system used to measure things in a micrometer that equals one-millionth of a meter. The primary purpose of a pool filter is to “remove” particles and debris, and its performance as a pool filter is rated based on the microns it can catch.

Surface Area

The size of the pool that the filter will be installed on is rated in surface area. Since the type of pool filters are constructed differentially, each one has its specific surface area it can work on. The more square feet of filter media your filter system has, the better its performance will be.

For example, sand filters usually have 3 to 7 square feet of for its filtration area, while cartridge filters can be utilized in a more extensive and large-scale build pool system with a surface area of 200 to 500 square feet.

The main reason why sand filter systems have such a small filtration surface area is because they don’t have any layered filtering materials that cartridge filter systems have. The best way to know what filtration area you will need for your pool is to check the turnover capacity in gallons on the specifications of your desired filtration system.

While pool filters, regardless of type, has almost the same objective and purpose, each variant still has its pros and cons. For this guide, we’re going to compare the two most popular pool filter mediums today: sand and cartridge.

To help you decide, we will compare both filters in terms of efficiency and performance, maintenance, cost, and size requirements. Hopefully, you’ll be able to determine which one is the better pool filter for your pool system.

Sand Filters vs Cartridge Filters

Filtering Capabilities

The sand filter is the least effective in catching unnecessary debris and particles, with a rate ranging from 20 to 40 microns. While the cartridge filter can catch particles with a size range of 10 to 20 microns, making it possible to catch finer and smaller debris such as mold spores. If we’re going to compare the two based on their filtering performance, it’s safe to say that the best solution to have clean and clear pool water is to use a cartridge filter system.

Efficiency

Cartridge filter does not require backwashing, which lets you save more on your water consumption. Using a cartridge filter means you also lessen the water flow entering your filtration system, and this means less work for your pump, which leads to more energy savings and a longer lifespan for your pool pump.

Currently, there are other alternatives if you prefer having a sand filter that can increase its efficiency.

  • You can add D.E. powder after backwashing to increase filtration efficiency a little bit.
  • You can replace the #20 silica component of the sand filter with Zeosand or Filter Glass.

For Zeosand, the required amount is only half of the requirement for a standard pool filter sand. This filter is shaped as crystals that make it more efficient in trapping smaller particles than silica. With this, it requires fewer backwashing schedules and can last for five years.

The filter glass, on the other hand, is made of crushed recycled glass, has a negative electrical charge that attracts positively charged particles such as iron. It can filter particles rated as low as 5 microns and can last longer up to 15 years. That is why we recommend using filter glass in your sand filter, saving you more time and money.

Maintenance

The most obvious advantage of cartridge filters over the sand filter is its maintenance cost.

Maintaining a cartridge filter is pretty straightforward and will only require you to remove the cartridge from the filter and use your garden hose to wash away the remaining debris on it. You can rely on a gauge built-in on your filter system that will tell you when you need to clean the cartridge. It typically requires a minimum of 2 to 4 scheduled cleaning days in a year, depending on your pool size and how often you use your swimming pool.

Meanwhile, the sand filter needs more effort, time, and energy to maintain. The ideal rate to backwash your sand filter is once a week, and to do this, you might need to release water from the pool resulting in you adding extra water and chemicals to replace what has been lost in this maintenance process.

Cost

Sand filters are generally cheaper than cartridge filters to purchase since the latter is a product of innovation and newer technology. In terms of cost, you must also take into consideration other expenses you might incur in the long run, such as:

  • Installation Cost – Sand filters are cheaper to purchase than cartridges, but you will need a plumber to install them in your pool system.
  • Operational/ Maintenance Cost – As mentioned earlier, a cartridge filter generates more savings on your energy, water, and chemical consumption rate. You got considerable savings on your water bill because it does not require backwashing at all. If you paired your cartridge filter with the right pump, you could expect to save as much as 75% on your energy consumption.
  • Replacement Cost – We know that sand is cheaper than cartridges, leading to the conclusion that the replacement cost for glass/sand filters is more affordable. As a rule of thumb, you must replace your cartridge filter every 1-3 years, while the sand/glass replacement can take place after 4-6 years.
  • Size – The size is a crucial matter to consider since different pool size requires different filter sizes. A cartridge filter is highly recommended for most standard size pools, while if for a larger-scale pool system, we suggest a sand filter. Another critical matter to point out is the size of the filter with the size of your pump. This is because every filter has a determined flow rate that needs to be professionally aligned with your pump. Considering this, you can prevent damaging your pump and plumbing system caused by excessive back pressure on your pool filtration system. 

Pros and Cons: Sand Pool Filters and Cartridge Pool Filters

Pros of Sand Filters

Cons of Sand Filters

  • Easy to use and operate

  • Low upfront costs

  • Inexpensive filter media and can last for 5 to 7 years

  • Lower filtering ability

  • Needs backwashing

  • May affect pool water chemistry due to constant backwashing

Pros of Cartridge Filters

Cons of Cartridge Filters

  • More efficient and better filtering capability

  • Low maintenance and low energy costs

  • Less wear and tear on your pool pump

  • High upfront costs

  • Not recommended for large pools

  • Cartridges need to be replaced every few years

Recommendation: Choosing Between Sand Filters and Cartridge Filters

Selecting the best pool filter is an important decision to make that will affect your entire pool experience starting from its construction to maintaining it. So remember that the right filter depends on your pool’s basic requirements and your priorities.

When deciding which one is better, you should factor in each one’s initial, operational, maintenance cost, ease of operation, efficiency, and performance rate to give you a better understanding of which one aligns with your pool’s need.

If you are working on a tight budget, then sand might be the right filter for you. If you prioritize low maintenance cost above all other concerns with better filtration capabilities, then a cartridge filter is the best option for you.

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