Cartridge Filters, Sand Filters, or D.E. Filters - What's The Difference?

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When constructing your dream pool, it's important to consider the various types of pool filtration systems available. The three main options are

When constructing your dream pool, it's important to consider the various types of pool filtration systems available. The three main options are Cartridge Filters, Sand Filters, and D.E. Filters. Our team will assist you in selecting the ideal system for your custom pool, but it's helpful to understand the advantages and disadvantages of each option.

Cartridge Filters

Cartridge Filters are frequently used in small above-ground pools, spas, and hot tubs. They consist of one or more cylindrical filters made of pleated paper-like material. The filter is placed in a tank, and water flows through it before returning to the pool. Depending on the cartridge's capability, it can remove particles as small as 25 microns.

Close up picture cartridge pool filters.


  • No Backwashing-  By not having to backwash your cartridge filter, you can save water and reduce your water bill.
  • Energy Saving- Pool pumps can operate at lower speeds and conserve energy when using cartridge filters due to their large surface area, which allows for the same volume of water to be moved through the filter.
  • Easy to Clean and Replace Filters- It's important to replace cartridges every 2-3 years and clean them every six months. Luckily, these tasks are quick and simple to accomplish.


  • More Manual Work - Cartridge filters require more maintenance than sand or D.E. filters since their cartridges need to be cleaned and replaced regularly.
  • Frequently Has to Be Cleaned - To ensure your pool is being filtered to its fullest capacity, it's recommended to clean the cartridges every six months.
  • Can Be Less Effective -When filtering large amounts of water at a fast pace, the filters may become cloudy since they cannot remove the smallest particles.

Sand Filters

The most commonly used pool filter is the Sand Filter, which is made up of a large tank filled with special silica sand. As water passes through the sand, it captures any debris and particles, resulting in clean water being returned to the pool. Sand Filters are great at trapping larger debris and have the capacity to filter particles between 20-40 microns. However, they are not as efficient when it comes to filtering smaller particles.

pool school sand filter


  • Low Maintenance- You need to replace the sand only once every 5-7 years and occasionally perform backwashing to remove accumulated debris in the sand to maintain the filter.
  • Available For Any Size Pool-  The sand filter is a great option for pools of all sizes and shapes. Its durability and ability to filter large amounts of water at once make it highly effective.
  • Relatively Inexpensive- The long-lasting nature of sand can reduce maintenance costs and make it a more cost-effective option compared to other types of filtering systems.


  • Water Can be Wasted- To clean a sand filter, you need to backwash the system. Backwashing involves reversing the water flow through the system to eliminate any built-up debris. However, this method may not be energy efficient due to the significant amount of water required.
  • Backwashing May Alter Pool’s Chemical Balance- Backwashing a sand filter can disrupt the chemical balance of the pool as fresh water is added. It is important to check the chemical levels afterward and make any necessary adjustments.
  • Not as Efficient at Filtering- The sand filter can effectively filter particles between 20-40 microns in size, but there are other filtering systems available that can filter even smaller particles.


D.E. filters, short for Diatomaceous Earth filters, utilize grids coated with diatomaceous earth powder to capture impurities in pool water. These grids are situated within the filter tank and catch debris as the water flows through. D.E. filters are highly accurate, capable of trapping particles as tiny as 1-3 microns.

person holding a scoop of D.E. powder


  • Highest Degree of Water Clarity-  D.E. filters can filter particles as tiny as 1-3 microns. They are regarded as the top choice for achieving optimal water clarity compared to other filtration systems.
  • Filters Large Volumes of Water- D.E. filters are highly effective since they can filter large amounts of water in a single cycle.
  • Filter Grids Can Last Several Years- By taking good care of the filter grids for the D.E. powder, they can last many years without requiring replacement.


  • High Maintenance- To clean the D.E. filter, backwashing is required. However, after each backwash, the DE powder needs to be replaced, which can be costly and inconvenient.
  • Most Expensive- Out of the three systems, the D.E. filter system is the most costly. It has a high purchase cost and requires a significant amount of maintenance, which can add up in expenses.
  • DE Powder Is Toxic If Inhaled- When DE powder is inhaled, it can have negative effects on your body and cause irritation. To ensure your safety, we highly recommend wearing a mask when dealing with DE powder.

Choosing the ideal filtration system for your pool involves considering both your pool's requirements and your personal preferences. To make the best choice, you should factor in aspects such as maintenance expenses, filtration capabilities, initial cost, and ease of use. We suggest taking a look at our blog for recommendations on some of the filters we sell and install!  

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