What is the difference between sand filters and cartridge filters?

At their very heart, both sand filters and cartridge filters are the same. They filter your pool water so that you will be left with sparkling and clean water. But the way they work, what they’re made of, and even cost, vary greatly. Lets go over both types to see which is the perfect filter for your pool. But before we continue, here’s Mr Pool Man himself explaining the main differences between sand filters and cartridge filters.

We hope you enjoyed watching that as much as we enjoyed making that video! Now on to the article!

Pool Sand Filters

From the name itself, sand filters use sand as a media to catch debris and other small particles before sending crystal clear water back into the pool. Expense wise, the initial cost of a sand filter is generally higher than cartridge filters, but over time, it becomes cheaper as you don’t need to replace the filter media as often.

Cleaning sand filters is pretty straightforward and it uses a technique called “backwashing” it’s basically reversing the flow of water and it’s a very simple task that can be done in just a few minutes. In fact, it takes longer to read our backwashing guide than to actually backwash the pool if you’ll believe that. For more information on backwashing your pool, be sure to check out our guide on how to backwash a pool sand filter through the button below.

Every three to five years, you may have to change out the sand in your sand filter as they may have gotten worn out over time. Sand filter media starts off with jagged edges that snag debris down to 20 microns in size and over time, these edges get worn smooth by the water passing through the filter, effectively reducing its filter efficiency until it no longer filters the water properly. For more information about how to change pool sand filter media, click the button below.

Pool Sand Filter Recommendation

Of all the sand filters we offer on our online store, we highly recommend the Water TechniX Sand Filter Aspire. The Aspire is compatible with different kinds of sand filter media such as sand, Zelbrite, and silica media. It also has a 2-year warranty on the valve and gauge and a whopping 10-year warranty on the tank itself! It also has an automatic air bleed to stop buildup of pressure inside of the tank, ensuring that your pressure readings will always be accurate and relieves stress off of the tank. It’s suitable for regular pool systems as well as salt water pool systems as well.

Pool Cartridge Filters

Pool Cartridge Filters are much simpler (and compact!) than pool sand filters. Cartridge filters use filter cartridges that are constructed from synthetic fabrics that are attached to a plastic frame or core. Cartridge filters can trap particles down to 10 microns in size, which means that you’ll end up with much clearer water when compared with that of a sand filter. The downside to this is that since it catches more stuff, then more cleaning is required.

To clean a filter cartridge, you have to take it out of the housing, and rinse it off with a garden hose. There will be times when the cartridge itself can get gunked up by debris or other unmentionables, and if this is the case, then you’ll have to use a specialty cleaner like the Zodiac filter cleaner to give it a good overnight soak to melt the gunk away.

As for replacing the filter cartridges, if you remember the video, there’s really nothing to replacing the cartridge, just open it up, pop out the old one and put in a new filter. The downside to this is that filter cartridges can be expensive and they need to be replaced more often than sand filter media. You can browse our collection of pool filter cartridges by clicking on the button below.

Cartridge Filter Recommendation

If we were to recommend a cartridge filter, our choice would be hands down the Water TechniX Filter Eclipse. When it comes to a price point ratio with its features, it beats everything else that we have online hands down. Read more on why we chose this cartridge filter by clicking on the button below when we answer the question, what is the best pool cartridge filter.

Pool Filter Costs

This is the first major factor that people will consider when choosing their pool filter system. We’ve taken our most popular filter from each category and have laid out a comparison of the costs in maintaining the filter over the course of five years.


Cost Water TechniX Pool Filter Aspire Water TechniX Cartridge Filter Eclipse

Year 1 + Installation

$699 Unit Cost + Approx $160 for Sand Filter Media

$449 Unit Cost + $94 Filter Cartridge + $44 (2x filter cleaner)

Year 2


$94 Filter Cartridge + $44 (2x filter cleaner)

Year 3


$94 Filter Cartridge + $44 (2x filter cleaner)

Year 4


$94 Filter Cartridge + $44 (2x filter cleaner)

Year 5

Approx $160 for Sand Filter Media

$94 Filter Cartridge + $44 (2x filter cleaner)




As we can see, the costs for both pool sand filters and pool cartridge filters are roughly the same when we look at it over the span of five years. After five years, the maintenance cost of pool cartridge filters easily overtake that of the sand filter’s cost. Now we’ve included filter cleaners in the cost of maintenance to make sure that our filter cartridges are at their peak and they don’t break ahead of their time. We’ve also used our Water TechniX branded filter cartridges in order to save up on costs, they’re as durable and effective as the original filter cartridges at a fraction of the cost. Which one is better? First five years, it’s a draw. After five years, pool sand filters are the clear winner.

Pool Filter Ease of maintenance

This is another factor that contributes to the answer of which pool filter is better. For pool sand filters, maintenance is a breeze. Backwashing only takes a few minutes and a few turns of a lever to clean out the filter completely. With cartridge filters, you have to take our the cartridges and give them a good and thorough clean with a garden hose where you have to make sure that every area in-between pleats is cleaned thoroughly.

To make this process simpler, people will usually get a cleaning wand like the Water TechniX Waterwand Cleaning Wand to rinse out 8 pleats per pass, essentially cutting down filter cleaning time by over half. Every few months (or as required) filter cartridges need to be soaked in a filter cleaning solution to melt away tough particles that may have lodged themselves in your filter media. Which is better? Hands down pool sand filters.

Pool filter water clarity

Now this is an issue that never ends with when we’re talking about pool filters. The clarity of the water. This is a very subjective matter as what is clear and acceptable to many people isn’t enough for some people. But suffice to say, cartridge filters trap smaller particles than pool sand filters and does objectively produce clearer pool water. But for many home pool owners, the visual quality is negligible and their decision is greatly affected by the ease of maintenance and the running costs. Which is better? Objectively pool cartridge filters. Subjectively, it’s a draw.

Pool filter water usage

Pool sand filters use a lot more water than pool filter cartridges when cleaning. The backwashing cycle will use anywhere between 300 to 600 liters of water. This is one big thing that cannot be ignored and, in this category, pool filter cartridges are the clear winner.

Conclusion - What's Better? Sand Filters or Cartridge Filters?

While each type of pool filter has their own strengths and weaknesses, the main factors that really determine what’s better for most people are the ease of maintenance and long-term operating costs. This is why in the eyes of many people, pool sand filters are better than pool cartridge filters, and we tend to agree with this assessment.
SEE ALSO: Getting your pool filters ready for summer

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Happy swimming :)

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