Cartridge filters are of the most common pool filtration systems. They offer easy cleaning, reliable micron density, and simple maintenance procedures. However, there are far too many cartridge filters on the market to know which one is best for your pool. Choosing the wrong filter can result in algae blooms, broken cartridges, and more.
The best overall pool cartridge filter is the Pentair Clean & Clear 320 Filter. This durable filter is designed to withstand direct heat and up to 120 GPM. It includes a one-year warranty, four high-quality cartridges, and an adjustable pressure gauge. You can use it with any in-ground equipment pad.
Depending on your situation you might prefer one of the following cartridge filters instead:
- If you have a large pool, try the Hayward SwimClear 525 Filter.
- Those with small in-ground pools should get the Pentair Clean & Clear 150 Filter.
- The best option for above-ground pools is the Intex Krystal-Clear Filter.
- If you deal with constant algae, opt for the Hayward SwimClear 425 Filter.
- The top pump-filter combo is the Hayward XStream Above-Ground Filter.
- For a user-friendly setup, get the Jandy CS200 Filter.
In this post, I’ll break down what you need to look for in a new cartridge filter and a review for each of the filters listed above. Enjoy!
What to Look for in a Pool Cartridge Filter
Choosing the right cartridge filter can make your pool much easier to maintain. Cartridge filters are easy to clean, but they often come in sets. Some filters have four cartridges; others have one or two. Numerous variables determine how well your filter cleans the water and handles the pump’s pressure.
Here’s what you need to know before choosing a cartridge filter:
- Square footage: Every pool filter has a square footage capacity, regardless of its media. The square footage determines how much of the pool the filter can clean in a designated amount of time. If your filter is too small, it won’t clean the pool; if it’s too big, you’ll have spent too much money on the filter.
- Unions and plumbing: Some filters are designed for in-ground pools, whereas others are made for above-ground pools. Check the unions to know if they’re made for corrugated plastic or PVC pipes. Never choose a filter with copper plumbing (they’re extremely rare and completely useless with modern pool plumbing).
- Gallons per minute: Much like the filter’s square footage, the GPM relates to the pool’s gallon total. This metric determines how much water goes through the filter each minute. If the filter’s GPM is too low or too high, you won’t get enough filtration, and the water will look cloudy and dirty.
These three factors play a significant role in the cartridge filter that you choose. Let’s take a deeper look at each of these details below to help you understand what to keep an eye out for.
Choose a cartridge filter with square footage that’s about 100 sq. ft. per 10,000 gallons. This ratio will help you get a filter that’s sizeable enough to handle the incoming pressure and debris without breaking the bank. However, you can go a bit overboard if you deal with a lot of algae, pets, people, and natural debris in the water.
Here’s a brief range recommendation for each filter square footage:
|Pool Gallon Total||Minimum Square Footage||Maximum Square Footage|
|5,000||50 sq. ft.||100 sq. ft.|
|10,000 gallons||100 sq. ft.||150 sq. ft.|
|15,000 gallons||150 sq. ft.||250 sq. ft.|
|25,000 gallons||250 sq. ft.||450 sq. ft.|
|35,000+ gallons||350 sq. ft.||550 sq. ft.|
If you don’t want to get the highest square footage recommendation available, you could pair your filter with a pool vacuum for algae. Fine mesh filters trap all sorts of debris, lowering the contaminants that get into the filter.
Using a pool vacuum can make your cartridge filter last much longer. It reduces the chances of wear and tears ripping the pleats and shredding the bands.
Pro Tip: Always make sure your pump’s GPM is close to the filter’s GPM. If the pump’s GPM is higher than the filter’s GPM, it could send the pressure gauge much higher than it needs to be. This isn’t much of an issue if you have a variable-speed pump since you can lower the RPMs, thus reducing the GPM.
Unions and Plumbing
There are two things your new cartridge filter has to have when it comes to the unions and plumbing:
- The unions need to be the right size for the plumbing. For example, if you have 2-inch PVC pipes, the unions need to be big enough to fix them. If they’re too small or too big, you’ll need an adapter. Union adapters limit the water flow, so I tend to recommend against using them if possible.
- Your cartridge filter needs to have the right plumbing. If you have PVC pipes, the unions need to fit them. If your equipment pad uses corrugated plastic hoses, you’ll need the correct size and bands for them. It’s nearly impossible to fit PVC to corrugated plastic hoses without leaking water everywhere.
In-ground pools usually have PVC pipes, whereas above-ground pools typically have corrugated plastic hoses. There are some exceptions, but they’re few and far between. Very few pool filters can be used with PVC or corrugated hoses; They usually work with either/or. You typically can’t change your pool’s plumbing since it depends on the suction and return lines.
Another thing to consider is the filter’s union orientation. Some unions are right next to each other, while others are on opposite sides of the filter. Some unions are on top; others are on the bottom. While this feature is rarely a deal-breaker, it can help you choose between two filters with similar features.
For example, the Hayward SwimClear series has unions with one on top of the other. This orientation makes it easy to plumb if you have a small equipment pad. On the other hand, the Pentair Clean & Clear series has unions on exact opposite sides. This orientation is better for those who want a neat, easy installation.
Gallons Per Minute (GPM)
A cartridge filter’s gallons per minute (GPM) shows how much water it can filter each minute. This number is often multiplied by 60 to determine how efficient it is over the course of an hour. For example, a 100 GPM filter can clean up to 6,000 gallons per hour. If you have an 18,000-gallon pool, it’ll take three hours to filter all of the water.
The filter’s GPM is crucial for removing algae, dissolving chemicals, and ensuring you run the pump long enough. I often suggest people run their pump enough for one to two full cycles each day during the summer. One cycle daily during the winter is enough for most swimming pools, though.
Your filter’s GPM should match the pump’s GPM. These numbers don’t have to be exact, but a close match is preferred. The good news is that you can get a high-quality variable-speed pump to adjust the RPMs and GPM to the desired total. Variable-speed pumps can push hundreds of gallons per minute or less than 50, depending on their speeds.
Remember these GPM facts:
- The filter’s size doesn’t always determine the GPM.
- Some filters can handle high GPM but not a lot of PSI.
- Always choose a filter that can cycle the pool’s gallon total within five to six hours.
- I’d suggest steering clear of cartridge filters with a GPM below 100.
Without further ado, I’ll dive into the best pool cartridge filters below!
Our Top Choices
- Best Overall: Pentair Clean & Clear 320 Filter
- Best for Large Pools: Hayward SwimClear 525 Filter
- Best for Small In-Ground Pools: Pentair Clean & Clear 150 Filter
- Best for Above-Ground Pools: Intex Krystal-Clear Filter
- Best for Pools with Algae Blooms: Hayward SwimClear 425 Filter
- Best Pump-Filter Combo: Hayward XStream Above-Ground Filter
- Best User-Friendly Filter: Jandy CS200 Filter
Best Overall: Pentair Clean & Clear 320 Filter
The Pentair Clean & Clear 320 Filter remains my top choice because it includes four high-end cartridges and a similar footprint to all other Pentair filters. The high and low suction and return lines make it fit into almost any equipment pad easily. It also has a secure body band to prevent the filter from leaking.
Pentair designed this cartridge filter will all pool sizes in mind. It comes in multiple sizes, all of which have the signature Pentair beige appearance. This durable fiberglass exterior is designed to withstand years of direct sunlight without leaking or corroding. Furthermore, many of the parts are universal, making them easy to find replacements if necessary.
The company provides a one-year warranty with this filter, though I doubt you’ll need it. My experience with the Pentair Clean & Clear series shows that it’s one of the most reliable filters available. It’s hard to find a comparable quad-cartridge filter for such an affordable price. Cleaning this filter is as easy as removing the band, spraying the cartridges, and replacing the band.
Bottom Line: The Pentair Clean & Clear 320 Filter is my top choice and likely will be for many years to come. It’s beginner-friendly while maintaining expert-level cleaning and filtration. The high-sitting pressure gauge is easy to read and comes with an adjustable meter. It tells you when it needs to be cleaned, removing all of the guesswork.
|Square Footage||320 sq. ft.|
|Gallons Per Minute||120 GPM|
- Includes four high-end cartridges per filter
- Comes with an adjustable pressure gauge
- Adds a one-year warranty for replacement parts and repairs
- Very easy to install compared to other quad-cartridge filters
- Only needs to be cleaned once every couple of months
- The kit doesn’t include unions, so you’ll have to buy them separately if necessary.
Best for Large Pools: Hayward SwimClear 525 Filter
The Hayward SwimClear 525 Filter is a tank of a filtration system. This bulk filter is a quad-cartridge setup, much like the previously mentioned Pentair filter. However, it can filter up to 525 square feet, making it ideal for the biggest pools on the market. It can be used for residential and commercial pools without a problem.
One of my favorite features of the Hayward SwimClear series is the union placement. The inlet and outlet unions are right next to each other, making it extremely easy to plumb into your equipment pad. The unions are labeled to prevent confusion and help you know which way the water flows through the filter.
Unlike most high-capacity cartridge filters, this one isn’t much bigger than the average setup. The low-profile design keeps the filter at a manageable size, preventing you from having to bear hug the filter lid to remove it. All you need is a pipe wrench to remove the body band and clean the filters with a garden hose.
Bottom Line: The Hayward SwimClear 525 Filter is the top choice for people with large swimming pools because it can handle a higher GPM and RPM than anything on the market. This filtration system is easy to clean, clears the pool in a few hours, and doesn’t need cartridge replacements more than once every few years.
|Square Footage||525 sq. ft.|
|Gallons Per Minute||150 GPM|
- Can handle the biggest swimming pool pumps on the market
- Close union placement makes it very easy to install
- Maintains a low-profile design for simple management and maintenance
- Filters up to 150 gallons per minute (9,000 gallons per hour)
- Large, high-quality cartridges only need to be replaced once every three to five years
- It’s far too large for most small to mid-sized pools.
Best for Small In-Ground Pools: Pentair Clean & Clear 150 Filter
If you have an in-ground pool at or below 15,000 gallons, I recommend the Pentair Clean & Clean 150 Filter. This filter is small enough to fit on almost any equipment pad, but it packs a punch. The tall, bulky cartridge pulls countless particles of bacteria and debris from the water in less than an hour each cycle.
The Pentair Clean & Clear 150 Filter is a single-cartridge version of the previously mentioned Pentair 320 Filter. Rather than using four 80 sq. ft. cartridges, it uses one massive 150 sq. ft. cartridge. However, it provides the same bands and pleats for high-quality filtration. You can pair it with a water clarifier for up to four times the cleaning power.
I often recommend the Clean & Clear 150 Filter to beginners because it’s extremely easy to use. The pressure gauge is on the left side, and the air relief valve is on the right. Twist the ergonomic valve to release all of the air from the system without harming the pressure gauge. The separated design is unique and prevents the gauge’s glass cover from breaking.
Bottom Line: It’s hard to go wrong with any Pentair Clean & Clear filter. The company’s 150 sq. ft. cartridge filter is the perfect fit for small in-ground pools, though it can be used with above-ground pools that use PVC plumbing. The pressure gauge and air relief valve is designed with the customer in mind, too.
|Square Footage||150 sq. ft.|
|Gallons Per Minute||150 GPM|
- Perfect for pools up to 15,000 gallons
- Easy to clean the cartridge and remove air bubbles from the system
- Comes with Pentair’s reliable manufacturer warranty
- Filters an impressive 150 GPM (much higher than most small filters)
- Narrow, sleek design lets you plumb it into almost any equipment pad
- Uses low-sitting unions that can be difficult to reach in crowded equipment pads
- Comes with a plastic body ring that’s not as durable as the band on other Pentair filters
Best for Above-Ground Pools: Intex Krystal-Clear Filter
Intex makes several swimming pools and high-quality above-ground equipment. The Intex Krystal-Clear Filter is a compact, low-profile, beginner-friendly filter that gets the job done. Despite its small size, this filter can clean most small pools within two hours. It has a massive 1,000 GPM rating.
This cartridge filter uses corrugated plastic hoses and metal rings to fit into the plumbing. You can also use the provided plastic clamps to prevent leaks and cracks. You can set the built-in timer between two to ten hours for an automatic daily filtration setup. There’s also a manual option if you don’t want to run it every day.
This compact filter has a built-in motor, removing the need for a pump. Keep in mind that it’s made for pools of around 500 to 1,000 gallons. However, this unique combo saves space and energy. You can also choose from a variety of sizes ranging from 330 GPM to 2,500 GPM, depending on your pool’s gallon total.
Bottom Line: The Intex Krystal-Clear Filter is a top choice for those who have small above-ground pools. It doesn’t have the same muscle as bigger filters, but you don’t need more than this filter if your pool is smaller than 1,000 gallons. Set the timer and enjoy this hands-free filter for your above-ground pool.
|Square Footage||N/A (designed for inflatable pools)|
|Gallons Per Minute||1,000 GPM|
- Compact filter-pump combo is ideal for blow-up pools
- Uses small single-use filters that don’t need to be cleaned often
- Filters up to 1,000 gallons per minute with a powerful motor
- Budget-friendly price doesn’t overshadow the pool’s cost
- Comes in a wide variety of sizes
- You have to replace the cartridge once every two to four weeks.
- The provided plastic clips are fragile (I suggest metal clamps).
Best for Pools with Algae Blooms: Hayward SwimClear 425 Filter
The Hayward SwimClear 425 Filter is my top suggestion for people who always have algae blooms and organic matter in their pools. This filter is ideal for pools between 25,000 to 35,000 gallons. However, you could use it if you have a 20,000-gallon pool with a ton of dirt, pet hair, pollen, and other natural debris nearby.
My favorite part of the SwimClear 425’s design is the simple quad-cartridge setup. Removing the body ring reveals four identical cartridges with a durable manifold to hold them in place. Remove the manifold, spray the cartridges, and place them back into the filter’s body. Cleaning this high-end filter takes less than 15 minutes.
Much like most other filters in Hayward’s SwimClear series, this one has the unions right next to each other. You don’t have to worry about making complex plumbing configurations. You’ll also enjoy the air relief lever that doesn’t require you to touch or scratch the pressure gauge. Everything on this filter is designed to last.
Bottom Line: The Hayward SwimClear 425 Filter removes algae like no other filter available. It’s durable, long-lasting, and great at clearing the pool in less than a day. Flip the small pressure lever to get rid of all of the air in the plumbing for seamless, high-quality water flow.
|Square Footage||425 sq. ft.|
|Gallons Per Minute||150 GPM|
- Comes with four durable, high-quality cartridges
- Easy to install into your pool’s plumbing
- Separate pressure gauge and air relief valve prevents unwanted damage
- Durable filter tank withstands direct heat and pool chemical exposure
- Includes all of the necessary unions, gauges, etc.
- Fiberglass gets itchy after about 5 to 7 years of use.
Best Pump-Filter Combo: Hayward XStream Above-Ground Filter
If you’re looking for a high-end pump-filter combo that can handle a lot of PSI and GPM, try the Hayward XStream Above-Ground Filter. This impressive combo combines Hayward’s reputable, long-lasting cartridge filter designs with a top-of-the-line pump. The pump is a 1.5 HP PowerFlo Matrix, which is one of Hayward’s best sellers.
One of the best features of this filter is that you don’t need special tools to remove the body ring. It has textured handles to help you pull it off when the pump isn’t on. Remove the lid to reveal and clean the cartridge, then seal it until it can’t turn anymore. This setup has a built-in pressure gauge and a pressure relief nozzle.
You can use this setup with PVC or corrugated hoses, making it extremely unique. Almost every filter and pump on the market is only compatible with one or the other. Each cartridge is designed to get evenly coated rather than concentrating and damaging the bands or pleats.
Bottom Line: There aren’t too many pump-filter combos that compare to this one. The XStream series offers multiple sizes of GPMs, RPMs, and PSI capabilities. Furthermore, it offers debris baskets, long-lasting air relief valves, and unique locking mechanisms to prevent leaks and the need for tools.
|Square Footage||150 sq. ft.|
|Gallons Per Minute||120 GPM|
- Compatible with corrugated plastic hoses and PVC pipes
- Includes a 1.5HP pump and a 120 GPM cartridge filter
- Easy locking mechanism prevents the need for pipe wrenches
- Low-profile design makes it easy to maintain and clean the filter
- Available in multiple sizes to accommodate any above-ground pool
- Built-in pressure gauge can’t be removed, which means you have to replace the whole upper body if it breaks
- Small pump basket needs to be cleaned frequently
Best User-Friendly Filter: Jandy CS200 Filter
Jandy’s CS200 Filter is an excellent choice for those who don’t want complex designs. Whether this is your first pool filter or you don’t want to spend too much time plumbing and cleaning the cartridge, this could be the perfect match. It has a long, narrow body that makes it much easier to handle than bulky filter bodies.
Perhaps the best feature of this filter is that it has a tall cartridge. The debris evenly coats the cartridge, preventing too much debris from hitting one spot over another. You won’t have to deal with broken bands, torn pleats, and damaged plastic nearly as often. Furthermore, the locking ring seals everything without a washer.
The CS200’s UV-resistant tank is designed to withstand heat, chemicals, and direct sunlight for several hours each day. It’s made to last as long as the internal components, which means the only thing you’ll need to replace on a schedule is the filter (which typically lasts between three to five years). The universal pressure gauge can be replaced with any top-down meter.
|Square Footage||200 sq. ft.|
|Gallons Per Minute||125 GPM|
- Made with durable materials to prevent frequent replacements
- Includes a large drain to remove all of the water from the filter in minutes
- Uses a childproof locking clip to keep the body ring from opening on accident
- Maintains a narrow profile to fit into almost any equipment pad
- Comes in multiple sizes ranging from 100 sq. ft. to 250 sq. ft.
- Comes with a plastic air relief valve, but you can replace it with a metal one
- Uses high-low unions that could be challenging to plumb into the equipment pad