Best Above Ground Pool Filter: A Review & Buying Guide for 2019

If you’ve neglected your above ground pool for just a few days, perhaps you were out of town or caught up at work, you know how frustrating it is to see it turn cloudy and green.

But instead of throwing in the towel, you’ve got a quick and easy solution to get your pool sparkling again. The same simple product the hotels use for their crystal-clear swimming pools. A pool filter.

Use a pool filter to remove the algae, dirt and all the other floating contaminants in your pool, and keep it clean, inviting and perfect for a swim. Read on to discover the different types of pool filters on the market, and our picks for the best models.  

Top Picks for Above Ground Pool Filters

We hand-picked the following above ground pool filters based on their popularity, price-points and differentiating features.

A more complete review of each can be found later in this article.

What is an Above Ground Pool Filter?

A swimming pool filter is a piece of technology which allows you to clean and enhance the water quality in your swimming pool, by filtering out any contaminants.

It works in conjunction with your swimming pool pump, which pushes water through the filter which then removes floating debris down to a microscopic level.

If your pool is looking green, cloudy, or just doesn’t have that “clear” look you imagined, you may need a pool filter. It’s your best option for quickly and effectively improving your water quality, ensuring your pool remains safe for swimming.

What Types of Above Ground Pool Filters Can You Buy?

When it comes to selecting an above ground pool filter, most models operate on a similar principle. Where they differ is the type of filter system used to remove debris from the water, of which there are three.

1. Sand Filters

Sand filters are one of the oldest and most robust filtration systems, able to remove dirt, algae and other particles in the water down to 20 microns. (To give you an idea of just how small a micron is, a strand of hair is roughly 50 microns in diameter, and humans can’t see anything under 40 microns)

With a sand filter pool water is pumped through a large tank, two to four feet in diameter, filled with a particular type of pool filter sand that has been properly graded. Water passes through the sand with the clean water returned to the pool from the other side of the filter.

Once the debris collects, you must run a process called a “backwash” to flush this from the filter, which is usually done once or a week or every few days, depending on how exposed your pool is to outside contaminants.

2. Cartridge Filters

If you’ve already bought an above ground pool, it was most likely shipped with a small cartridge filter to help keep your water clean.

Now, these smaller models will often use a disposable cartridge filter which needs to be replaced every couple of weeks, and they typically have a lower flow rate so they’re not the most powerful cartridge filters available.

More powerful versions are easily installed as an upgrade to these smaller filters, offering pool owners the option of reusable “washable” filters, higher flow rates, and are capable of removing dirt and other contaminants down to 10-15 microns.

Inside the filter cartridge you’ll find a dense mesh fabric that does the filtration, and it’s handy to have at least two reusable filters so you can rotate these for cleaning. The filters will need to be soaked in a cleaning solution to remove oil and other greases, every few weeks.  

3. D.E. Filters

Diatomaceous Earth filters or D.E. filters for short are a very practical option, able to remove particles in your water as small as 1 micron. That’s small enough that these particular types of filters can even remove large bacteria from your pool water.

Inside the filter, a series of fabric covered elements are coated with Diatomaceous Earth, a fine white powder that allows you to filter out the smallest of contaminants. And when the filter starts becoming less effective, you can give it a refresh by adding a little more D.E. powder to your skimmer.

These filters are considered one of the most efficient filtration options, providing you with the cleanest possible water in your pool. But they are also one of the most expensive, and you must take care when handling the replacement powder as it is considered a carcinogen.

Sand Filters vs Cartridge Filters vs D.E. Filters

Choosing the right filter for your above ground pool isn’t a simple answer. The best pool filter depends on what boxes you need to tick, and how many.

Sand pool filters are a robust option, and if you’re diligent with the backwash, they will last an average of 5 years. These remain a common choice amongst pool owners and the type I tend to recommend.

Cartridge filters are more effective than sand filters, but they’re also require a little more work to maintain. Instead of backwashing, you’ll need to manually hose down the cartridges every so often to remove buildup.

D.E. Filters are a premium choice but are ideal if you’re looking for a way to keep your swimming pool water in pristine condition. They can’t be beaten in terms of effectiveness. Of course, if budget is a concern, you’ll likely want to rule this one out.

What to Consider When Buying an Above Ground Pool Filter

Knowing which type to look for will narrow down your options, but it doesn’t help you measure the nuances that make or break a product.

Now let’s go over some of the main criteria you should apply to your decision making process when looking for the best above ground swimming pool filter.

Is It Compatible With Your Pump?

For a pool filter to work effectively, it needs to connect into your existing pump system to generate the necessary pressure and flow to send your pool water through the filter.

But you need to be careful. Most pool filters are designed with certain flow levels in mind, and connecting a small filter to a powerful pump can overload the device, so it doesn’t filter very well at all.

It’s also important to consider the connecting valves, as you may need to buy adaptor plugs to get specific filters to securely fasten to your return lines and pumps, especially if you’re trying to connect a non-Intex filter to an Intex pump.

How Easy Is It To Install?

Despite the complexity of a pool filter with all of its corresponding parts, most manufacturers provide detailed installation manuals, and there are plenty of YouTube videos documenting the installation process for every possible model.

Some filters can be set up in under 10 minutes, while others are closer to the 1-hour mark, the ease of installation really depends on the particular model you’ve chosen to buy.

You shouldn’t need a professional to help install your pool filter, it merely needs to connect into your existing pump. But if you’re not confident by all means, have someone come to help you with the installation to ensure it all goes smooth.

How Long Will It Last?

The durability of your pool filter is an important consideration, but it’s to be expected that the cheaper models will not last as long as the premium filters. They’re not made from the same quality of materials and engineering, and they will fail faster.

In general, cartridge filters may get you through a season or two, while the sand filters and D.E. filter options typically last 3 to 5 seasons, and sometimes more. The trick is to take care of your filter, regularly flushing and cleaning this out to ensure this doesn’t jam.

How Much Will It Cost?

Your options for an above ground pool filter range from under a hundred dollars to several hundred, and in some cases a lot more.

Now, it’s important to remember that you do get what you pay for in terms of quality, so make sure you do your research before you buy to ensure it ticks all the right boxes, including meeting your budget.

Reviewing the 7 Best Above Ground Pool Filters

So far we’ve covered what a pool filter is, why you need one, the different types available, and what features to look out for.

In this section, we’ll be looking at specific filters, each of which were hand-picked for review based on the same criteria I’ve outlined in this guide.

Let’s dive right in.

#1. Intex Krystal Clear Sand Filter Pump for Above Ground Pools, 16-inch, 110-120V with GFCI

Designed by Intex, the Krystal Clear Sand Filter Pump is a solid choice, coming with a 24-hour timer to automatically set the timing for your pump to start operating.

Featuring a 6-function control valve, it’s a simple task to move this when you want to backwash, rinse or even drain and close the entire system, operating at up to a 3,000 GPH flow rate.

What I like best is the inclusion of a strainer basket to trap larger contaminants from reducing the life of your sand, but it’s not without drawbacks. Some users have had their pump motors give out after just a couple of years.

Pros:

  • The filter pump motor is incredibly quiet
  • Powerful filter able to quickly clean even larger pools

Cons:

  • The motor has been known to give out after a couple of seasons

#2. Sand Master Soft Sided Above Ground Pool Sand Filter System

Designed by Sand Master this sand filter system is capable of keeping smaller pools up to 9,600 gallons clean and contaminant free.

Working best with pumps providing a 20 GPM flow rate, the 12-inch tank holds 42 pounds of sand, using a 4-function control valve to backflow, rinse and drain the system.

What I like best is just how quiet this pool filter is when it’s running. The only downside is the filter can jam up quite easily, and there is no power switch, it turns on immediately once it is connected to power.

Pros:

  • The filter pump motor is incredibly quiet

Cons:

  • The filter can get jammed relatively easy
  • You need an adaptor to fit this on an Intex pool (the hoses are slightly smaller)
  • No on/off switch

#3. Hayward S210T ProSeries Sand Filter, 20-Inch, Top-Mount

Designed by Hayward, this is a top mounted sand filter which is incredibly easy to install thanks to the flange clamp design allowing for 360-degree rotation of the filter.

Featuring a corrosion-proof filter tank to house the sand, it also has a large pressure drain for fast winterization and to make it easy to access the internals of the filter.

What I like best is the diffuser technology that ensures water is evenly distributed over the entire sand bed (to get the greatest filtration possible). But the biggest downside is the quality, many users have had problems with the seams and top of the tank cracking.

Pros:

  • Unique folding ball-joint gives ready access to the filter assembly
  • Installation is incredibly easy thanks to a smart product design

Cons:

  • Tank quality is weak and is prone to splitting and crack along the seams

#4. Intex 28635EG Krystal Clear Cartridge Filter Pump for Above Ground Pools, 1500 GPH Pump Flow Rate, 110-120V with GFCI

Designed by Intex to fit their range of mid to large-sized Easy Set Pools, this cartridge filter has a flow rate of 1,180 GPH and can be preset to run from a 2 to 12-hour cycle.

Featuring a double insulated pump for added durability, the inclusion of a release valve helps to purge any trapped air in the filter chambers, and the sediment flush valve keeps the filter clean.

What I like best is how easy it connects into your existing pump on your Easy Set pool, but you will need to buy extra valves and fittings to properly install this if you’ve not got an Intex, which is a downside. It’s also rather loud (much more so than other filters) when it’s operational.

Pros:

  • The pump and housing feel high-quality and heavy duty
  • Options for setting the filtration cycles your pool needs

Cons:

  • Very loud when the filter is on and operational

#5. Intex Krystal Clear Cartridge Filter Pump for Above Ground Pools, 1000 GPH Pump Flow Rate, 110-120V with GFCI

Designed by Intex, this cartridge pool filter is one of the most cost-effective options for keeping your pool water clear.

Featuring a flow rate of 1,000 GPH, this filter is best suited for smaller above ground pools, up to about 15 feet in diameter. Much like the larger 1,500 models from Intex, you’ll also find air release and sediment flush valves with this model.

What I like best is that it’s a complete plug and play solution, you get everything you need out of the box to connect it to your existing system and start filtering your water. The downside is the quality, many users experienced the motors in their filters giving out in just a month or two.

Pros:

  • Easy to install for a quick upgrade to your filter

Cons:

  • Recommended not to use this pump for more than 8 hours a day
  • Warranty only covers 30 days; the motors have been known to give out fast
  • Circuit breaker and the power plug is not rainproof

#6. Hayward CC15093S XStream 1.5 HP Above-Ground Pool Filter Pump System

Designed by Hayward, this cartridge pool filter is contained within a glass-reinforced, non-corrosive filter tank and you can just feel the quality.

Featuring a large capacity filter designed to provide years of trouble-free operation, you can use this filter effectively on pools with up to 57,000 gallons.

What I like best is the unique safety catch that is used to access the internal filter assembly, preventing any unnecessary over-tightening. The only downside is the quality of the hoses the product comes with, they split easily, and the tank is fragile, especially the valve at the top of the tank is easily damaged.

Pros:

  • Very difficult to clog the internal filters
  • Comes with a 1-year warranty

Cons:

  • Provided hoses are very low quality and will split
  • The air release valve on the tank is too fragile

#7. Hayward EC50AC Perflex D.E. Pool Filter

Designed by Hayward, this is a D.E. pool filter perfect for treating and cleaning the water in mid to large sized above ground pools.

Featuring a unique “bump” handle, the mechanism allows the flex tubes to be self-cleaning, freeing any stuck dirt or debris, (as well as the D.E. filter powder).

What I like best is you won’t get a better clean with any other filter, you can remove dust, pollen, and other microscopic contaminants down to 1 micron. The downside is the cost, it’s an expensive filter, and you will need to use a flow limiter if you’ve got a pump delivering more than 40 GPM.

Pros:

  • Patented design allows for longer cycles between filter cleaning
  • Integral check valves prevent backflow when the pump is turned off
  • Works fast, able to effectively clean small pools in under 2 hours
  • Heavy duty tank molding feels durable and strong

Cons:

  • Comes with a limited 1-year warranty
  • Nuts and bolts in the internal assembly can work loose

Our Winners

In choosing the best pool filter, our recommendation is to go with the Krystal Clear Sand Filter Pump from Intex. In addition to being able to set the filter times, features like the strainer basket and convenient control valve make it a smart and practical choice, while remaining one of the most powerful filters we reviewed.

The Runner Up

In a close second, the Perflex D.E. filter from Hayward is another good choice. Requiring the least amount of ongoing maintenance (and filter cleans) thanks to the patented design, it’s also the most powerful level of clean in removing contaminants down to 1 micron.

Do yourself a favor and invest in a pool filter to keep your swimming pool crystal clear, and ensure it’s always perfect for a swim. No one likes a gross, dirty pool.

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