Above-Ground Pool Filtration Systems

Three Types Filter Systems

Throughout my career as an above-ground pool installer, I am asked some pretty relevant questions about filtration systems. Particularly what makes one better than another. I liken this question to what is a better Ice Cream, Chocolate, Strawberry, or Vanilla?

Homeowners who aren’t familiar with pool filtration systems often confuse the different components. Let’s first determine some basic facts before diving more into which is the better system.

The 3 Above-Ground Filter Types

  • Sand
  • Cartridge
  • DE ( DE stands for DIATOMACEOUS EARTH)

There are two functioning parts to every system. It doesn’t matter if it’s a sand, cartridge, or DE Filtration system. The two parts are Filter Media and Pump.

Water from the pool goes in one direction. Water comes into the pool skimmer and down the hose into the Pump. The Pump transfer the water to the Filter Media. Then from the Filter media back into the pool through the return opening.

This water flow is the circulation process. When you hear the term GPM it means “Gallons Per Minute.” This is your Pumps capability. It is how fast your pump can circulate the water volume per minute.

Variable speed pumps do a great job controlling gallons per minute for the least amount of power.

The smaller your pool the smaller your pump can be. The larger your pool the higher you’ll want a more powerful pump.

Next is water “Turnover”

This is a standard measure in the Industry. It’s the max volume of water the pump can circulate in an 8 hour period. To determine your pump 8-hour turnover rate.


GPM x 60 Minutes= GPH. This is “Gallons Per Hour” Now all you need is “Turnover” This is GPH x 8 Hours equals your Turnover per 8 hours.

A good rate will be to turn over at least the full amount of your pool’s volume in this 8 hour period. Water Turnover Explained in more detail.


Important to note the United States “Department Of Energy” has instituted new regulations. The older pumps are being phased out for newer more energy-efficient pumps.

You can see these regulatory changes on Hayward’s Website here. New DOE Regulations.

Any older model pump system can still be in circulation. When inventories warrant the new systems will replace the old systems.

What is Inside my Above Ground Pool Filtration System?

Now that we have determined what the pump is. Let’s now take a look at the Filter Media. When a pump and Filter Media get paired.

The Filter Media puts the pump 2nd. The name of the Filter Media becomes the name of the paired pieces.

So when your pump gets connected to the Media Filter. The entire unit is now called by the Media Filters name.

“Pump” meets “Filter Media” and they become a pair! Filter Media says I will take the name for the both of us! I digress.

The Three Media Types:

  • Sand Filtration
  • Cartridge Filtration
  • DE Filtration ( DE stands for DIATOMACEOUS EARTH)

Sand Filters use Silica sand, ZeoLite, Recycled Glass, and Foam Balls. I will get to all these in another article. For ease of this article let’s stick to Silica Media. Silica systems represent the largest share. About 80% of all Sand Filters use actual Silica sand.

sand zeolite and glass filter mediums

Silica sand is high in Silicon Dioxide. You can find out its entire journey here on the UCGS Website.

The Silica sand traps micron-sized particles during circulation. Please note larger-sized particles are first trapped in your skimmer basket. Then it passes through your Pump system which also has its own basket.

You will need to replace the silica sand every 1-3 years depending on the usage of your pool.

DE Filtration Media

Next is the DE Filtration ( DE stands for DIATOMACEOUS EARTH). An environment-friendly powder. The Media housing contains little fingers wrapped in filer bags.

DE Powder

The DE runs in through the skimmer and is forced into these little filter bags inside the housing. The little bags filled with DE powder. The trapped DE then filters the micron-sized particles in the water.

Those who own DE Systems love how clean their pool water gets. They do an awesome job filtering tiny micron particles from the pool’s water.

DE Systems cost more than sand systems but also filter smaller micron-sized particles. The DE powder has a low cost as does silica sand.

On average DE Systems can be 30% more than sand media.
As a long-time pool installer, all these systems do a great job.

Cartridge Filter Media

This type of Media Filter is a larger one-piece filter that sits in the media housing. It resembles an air filter. Its surface area determines its useful effectiveness.

A typical surface area is 100ft per 10,000 Gallons of water. You can expect to replace this filter with a new one every 2-3 years. Larger surface area cartridges last longer and some last 3-5 years.

How Often do we change the Filter?

When you first start up this system. You’ll have your base PSI reading. When the Pressure reading goes 10lbs over the initial number. This is when you need to clean the filter.

The ring tightener that holds the two parts of the filter together is removed. The top part comes off.

Extremely Important: Pressure in the system needs to be released before loosening the ring. Otherwise, pressure will force the top off and could hurt you. See picture.

A con this Media Filter has. When pool water is dirtier than normal. The filter will need to be taken out and cleaned by a water hose. I’ve seen this done 10 times over the course of one day to get water back to normal. This isn’t fun and pools are supposed to be fun.

Winterizing a Pool Filtration System

With all these systems winterizing is important. The following will need to be done for each system when closing your pool for the winter.

A sand system will need all the water drained out of the tank and drain plugs removed. Once completely dry, the hoses are removed.

The pump is disconnected and brought inside. The tank part of the unit can be wrapped in plastic and left out during winter. If all the water is not removed the tank will burst during the colder weather. So be sure to remove all water before wrapping. Leaving the drain plug off will ensure it stays dry.

The DE is a little more involved. The pump is brought inside. The tank is taken apart and all the DE powder needs to be removed from the little filter bags. Once cleaned it is also brought indoors.

The cartridge system is similar as you drain water from the system. The Cartridge is emptied of water. then the entire system is brought inside.

We hope this information about the three main systems was helpful. Please have a look around to learn more about above-ground pool ownership.

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