Your Ultimate How To Guide to Cleaning Your Pool Filter
Is your pool water getting gross, murky, or even slimy?
Are your kids starting to avoid the pool instead of enjoying it?
Is it time to clean the filter?
Cleaning your pool filter can be a scary thought, but sometimes, there’s no way to get around it. When you own a swimming pool, you’ll always have to clean your filter at some point, and that’s okay! Even though it sounds difficult, we’re here to help you.
In this article, you’ll learn everything you need to know about cleaning a pool filter from start to finish. You’ll find out about the different types of filters available for you to choose from and which one might be right for your pool.
Best of all, in the second half of the article, you’ll find step-by-step guides to help you clean up the filter media in your filter, no matter which kind you have. You’ll be well on your way to perfectly clean swimming pool water in no time when you follow our tips and pay attention to our guides.
So what are you waiting for? It’s time to start cleaning those filters!
What are Pool Filters?
Simply put, a pool filter is a device that filters out the water in your swimming pool. However, there’s a little bit more to it than just that. Your pool filter hooks up to the pipes in your pool to help water flow through the filter before it ever makes its way into your pool. You usually fill up your swimming pool through the filter, and this ensures that you never have to worry about swimming in dirty water.
You may think of the tank of your filter as the whole setup, but there’s actually a little more to it than just that. While the tank is an important part of your filter, the media inside is actually the part that does the filtering.
Depending on the type of filter you have, you may be working with very different kinds of filter media. The media can be found inside the tank, and it may be attached in one of a few different ways.
Another important component of your filter system is the pump. This hooks up to the filter to help pull water through it. This is what keeps the water in your pool clean after the initial filling process.
As the water is pumped through your filter, it’s cleaned again and again until the filter media gets too dirty to continue performing this process as it should.
Every swimming pool should have a filter. Depending on the type of pool you have, you may see your filter as part of the pool wall itself, or the filter may be mounted to the outside of the pool. In more modern setups, it’s usually attached to the pool but stationed on the ground nearby for safety purposes. However, this isn’t always the case, and it usually depends on whether or not your pool is in-ground.
Types of Pool Filters
There are three main types of pool filters: cartridge, sand, and diatomaceous earth. Each one has its own strengths and weaknesses, and each one works best in different situations. Depending on the type of pool you have, the frequency with which you use your pool, and how often you want to clean the filter, you may want to choose one of these over the other two. Your initial and long-term budget may also have something to do with the filter style you end up choosing. Check out this breakdown below to help you decide which type is right for you.
Cartridge filters are the most common. This type of filter operates with a paper or fabric cartridge placed inside the filter housing unit, which may or may not be part of a larger tank. Usually, it’s not.
- It may be found behind a flap or screen in the wall of your swimming pool, depending on the type of pool you have.
- You can remove and clean pool cartridge filter media, then replace it to be used over and over again until it becomes damaged or worn out.
- Cartridge filters are usually very affordable, to begin with, but buying replacement cartridges can cause the cost to add up a lot over time.
- This type of filter is great for above-ground pools, and it’s the only kind that can be used in pop-up swimming pools for safety purposes.
- While these filters are good at removing contaminants from the water, they aren’t as good as other types of filters, and you may still run the risk of some types of contamination being present in your pool water.
- Sometimes, if your water is incredibly hard, these filters cannot be used successfully, because the buildup from hard water makes the media ineffective almost right away.
Sand filters have started getting more and more popular, especially as a great mid-range filter option.
- This type of filter usually sits beside the pool and is shaped like a large cylinder or sphere.
- This part of the filter is the tank, which is filled with sand. The pump portion of the filter pushes the water through this sand, which picks up any contaminants that might be found within the water.
- This type of filter is generally much more capable of removing contaminants than cartridge filters, and it’s better for dealing with hard water as well. Cleaning sand filter swimming pool media is generally quick and easy.
- Sand filters may be considerably more expensive to set up in the beginning, but since you won’t need to replace the sand completely very often at all, they can be very cost-effective to operate in the long run. You’ll mostly need to budget the cost of the electricity it will take to run them, and the rest of the cost will be nominal.
- These filters are great for above-ground swimming pools, but can’t be used with pop-up pools. Sometimes they can be used with in-ground pools, but it depends on both the pool and the filter.
3. Diatomaceous Earth
DE filters are the most expensive type of filter on the market today, but they are also the most effective.
- They can get rid of pretty much any type of contaminant, and they look a lot like sand filters on the outside. Inside, they have manifolds fitted with grids. These grids hold the wet DE, which is the real filter media.
- As water is pumped through the DE, it removes the contaminants just like a sand filter does. Cleaning pool pump filter media like DE is very quick and simple.
- These are pricey to set up and can be more costly to keep up than sand filters, but more affordable in the long run than cartridge filters.
- They are usually used with in-ground pools and with some above-ground, but not pop-up, pools.
Why is a Clean Pool Important?
Clean swimming pool filter media is very important for a number of different reasons. Although you might think it goes without saying that you need to keep your pool water clean, when the time comes to clean up your filter media, you may want to be a little lazy about it. That’s okay—we all do it! Just remember that skipping a cleaning now and then will add up over time, and eventually, you may be dealing with some very big problems associated with dirty water in your pool. In this section, you’ll find a few tips to help you remember just why clean pool water is so important.
- Clean pools are safe for you and your family. The cleaner your pool water, the less likely it is to contain parasites, waterborne illnesses, and bacteria that could make you or your family sick. Although it’s certainly possible that a swimming pool may never see any of these dangerous contaminants, it’s generally best not to run the risk. One missed time cleaning swimming pool filter media could cause something very serious to get into your water if you aren’t careful.
- Clean pools are safer for the environment. When you let your pool water get dirty, murky, or contaminated and then eventually flush it out, you’re allowing that dirty water to make its way into the surrounding environment. This is one of the many ways groundwater in residential communities tends to get very seriously polluted or contaminated. If you keep your filter clean, your pool will stay clean and the environment will stay safer. Because of this potential danger, some areas require pools to stay clean by law.
- Clean pools are better for the pools themselves. A lot of times, when pool water gets very dirty or contaminated, it causes the filter to quit working properly. This, in turn, causes the pump to stop functioning, and it may cause damage to the pipes and lines throughout the pool too. Pretty soon, a job that could’ve ended with the best way to clean pool filter media or a simple replacement process ends up being something that damages your whole pool setup. This can be very costly and very damaging to your swimming pool, and it may mean months without having your pool up and running.
How to Clean a Cartridge Filter
So how do you clean a pool filter? Cleaning a cartridge pool filter is a little bit complicated, but when you understand the process, it’s much easier and can be done fairly quickly. One of the best things to keep in mind when you’ll be regularly cleaning pool cartridge filter media is that it’s much easier to complete this process when you have at least two different cartridge filter media canisters at all times. This way, you can rotate the one you’re cleaning with one that has already been cleaned. This can help you get your pool back up and running after regular cleaning almost right away, rather than having to wait until your filter is completely clean and dry before starting everything back up.
- Work Gloves
- Large plastic pickle tub
- Garden hose
- Optional second cartridge
1. You will need to set aside at least an hour to take care of this process. If you don’t have a secondary filter cartridge media canister to alternate with the one you’re cleaning, it may take up to 48 hours to complete this process.
2. Note that, while some people recommend acid wash pool filter cleaning processes, this guide sticks to a more traditional method of cartridge cleaning.
3. Before doing anything else, turn off the pool filter and the pump. If possible, flip the breaker or unplug the filter system so there’s no power flowing to the filter. This makes working on it much safer overall.
4. Turn the air relief valve on the top of your filter to remove the air inside slowly. This is much safer for the lines than simply opening the filter right away and letting all the air escape.
5. Your filter should have a clamp that holds it together or keeps it in place. You need to remove this. You can probably do this by hand, especially if you have a newer filter, but if your filter is older you might need to use a wrench or screwdriver to remove the clamp. If you can do this by hand, put on your work gloves to prevent any injury to your hands.
6. Remove the lid of the cartridge filter unit so you can see the inside of the filter.
7. Remove any other clamps or holders keeping the cartridge in place inside, then take the cartridge out of the filter.
8. Set the cartridge aside and take a look inside at the other pieces of the filter. If anything looks broken at this time, you’ll need to have it repaired before you put the filter back together. If everything looks okay, give the inside of the unit a quick rinse with your garden hose before continuing. This can help remove any grime that might be starting to build up on the walls of the canister’s holding unit.
9. Check the cartridge for any signs of damage. Chances are good the filter cartridge is going to be very dirty at this time, and that’s normal. However, you should still be able to tell if the media is torn or has any holes in it. If anything looks amiss, discard this filter and start fresh with a new, clean one.
10. If it’s time for you to replace this filter media altogether, you can do the same thing. Just discard this one and put in a new one. That’s all you need to do in this instance.
11. However, in most cases, you’ll want to clean this cartridge and put it back in for more use. If this is your plan, place the filter cartridge in the pickle tub.
12. If you have another cartridge to alternate with this one, put it back into the filter now. Close any clamps or bolts to hold the filter media in place, and then close and lock the lid to the filter housing unit once again. Reattach the filter to the pump if needed and turn the power back on. After the pump and filter cycle once, the pool will be ready to be used again.
13. Now it’s time to get back to cleaning that other filter. At this point, you have a couple of options. First of all, you can add a little bit of filter cleaning solution or even, in some cases, laundry detergent to water in the pickle tub and soak your filter overnight. This is a common choice for many people who have another filter cartridge to alternate with since it requires a little bit more time to complete.
14. If you prefer, you can also coat the filter thoroughly with a specialized formula designed for cleaning these types of filter media. Depending on the cleaning solution you use, you may need to let the filter soak overnight, or you may be able to soak it for only a couple of hours. Be sure to check on the packaging for your cleaner to determine the right way to use it.
15. After soaking, rinse the filter cartridge media. You can use a filter flossing device at this time to help you get in between all the pleats, or you can just open the pleats on your own by hand and rinse them out with a garden hose. Whichever way you choose to clean the filter, be sure you remove every drop of the cleaning solution or soap you used. If there is even a little soap residue left on your filter media, the water in your pool will get sudsy and will be very difficult to clean. This can also throw off the pH balance in your pool, which can lead to algae growth.
16. In some rare instances, you may need to soak the filter again and rinse it once more to completely remove all the grime. This is usually only true if your cartridge is very dirty, very old, or has been exposed to very hard water.
17. After the filter has been completely rinsed, let the media sit out in the sun to dry for at least 24 hours. At this time, you can either store it until next time or put it back in the filter, depending on whether or not you’re using two cartridges at a time.
18. To store your filter, place it in an airtight container such as a plastic tub with a locking lid. Make sure the filter is completely dry before you do this to prevent the growth of mold. Keep it in a dry place and check it regularly to be sure no rodents have tried to chew on it, especially if you’re keeping it in the attic or garage.
19. Congratulations! You should have a clean above ground pool filter ready to use.
Cartridge filters may be a little more complicated to clean than other types of pool filters, but that doesn’t mean they’re impossible to take care of. Remember to completely replace your old cartridges about once a year, depending on how often you use your pool.
How to Clean a Sand Filter
Cleaning a sand filter is a generally much easier process than cleaning a cartridge filter is, but that doesn’t mean it’s a walk in the park either. However, with a little experience and plenty of information to help guide you through it, you never have to worry about cleaning it the wrong way. Cleaning a sand filter pool pump and replacing the sand entirely tend to follow the same steps, with only a few differences, so this section will outline both for you. That way, whether you need to completely change out your sand or just rinse and backwash the sand you already have, you’ll be ready to go when the time comes.
- Work Gloves
- Small plastic cup
- Garden hose
- In some cases, replacement sand or sand alternative
1. Cleaning a sand pool filter will take about an hour to complete. If you’re completely removing and replacing the sand in your filter, it may take longer.
2. Before you start, take note that you will need to clean and backwash your sand filter much more often than you will need to add more sand to it. You should only need to replace your sand once every several years. However, you will need to clean your filter about once a month to keep it operating properly. It’s important to understand that, while these two processes are related, they aren’t the same thing.
3. Turn off the pump and filter. If possible, unplug them or remove their power source by shutting off the breaker that controls them. This is the safest way to work with your swimming pool components.
4. Clamp your backwash hose to the water outlet on your filter and unwind it completely. Be sure to check for kinks in the line that might cause the process to fail.
5. Turn the backwash valve on your sand filter to the backwash position. This may be labeled with different terms, such as “push-pull,” depending on the filter you have.
6. Lock the handle in place to ensure that the entire process continues as it should.
7. Turn the filter and pool pump on again. You’ll see water coming out of the backwash valve almost right away.
8. Let this continue for about 3 minutes or so. You’re waiting for the water to be clear as it comes out of the filter. When that happens, turn off the filter and pump once again.
9. Turn the backwash handle back to its usual position and gather up your hose. Be sure to empty the hose of any water that’s still inside.
10. Turn on the filter and pump and open the air relief valve on the filter. When water comes out normally, close the valve again.
11. To simply backwash pool sand filter media, you can stop here! If you need to change the sand, however, it’s time to move on to the next part of the process.
12. Turn off the filter and pump once again and remove the lid to the filter tank. You may need the wrench or screwdriver to do this. If the filter is held on tightly with clamps or bolts you can remove by hand, put on your work gloves first before you remove them.
13. Look inside the filter. You’ll see a manifold that turns inside the filter, as well as plenty of sand.
14. Remove the manifold, taking care not to break any of the fingers.
15. Using a small plastic cup, remove the sand a little at a time until the filter is light enough for you to pick up and dump it out.
16. Once you’ve removed all the sand you can, rinse out the inside of the filter with a garden hose to remove the remaining sand.
17. Add back the right amount of sand to your filter. Your filter’s instruction manual should tell you how much you need to have in order to get your filter up to the right pressure. Take note that some sand filters are a little more temperamental than others and that they may cause error messages to display or cause the filter not to work properly if you are even as much as a cup off in terms of how much sand you put inside.
18. If you’re using a sand alternative, be sure to read on the package to determine how to properly convert this material into the right amount for a sand filter.
19. Put the sand or sand alternative back into the filter and replace the manifolds. It’s usually a good idea to start filling the tank with sand about 1/3 of the way, then put the manifolds back in place before you continue to fill the tank. Be careful not to break any of the fingers on the manifold during this process, too.
20. Once the tank is filled, you’ll need to backwash it once again. Refer to the first steps in this section to see how to properly perform a backwash.
21. After the tank has backwashed with the new sand, you’ll be ready to go. Let the filter cycle for about 30 minutes to 1 hour before you use the swimming pool again.
22. Congratulations! You have a clean pool sand filter and know how to optionally change your sand.
To backwash swimming pool sand filter media, it only takes about an hour once a month. When it’s time to replace the sand, however, this can be a lengthy endeavor. Luckily, this is only necessary once every five to seven years. In some cases, sand filters can run for ten years without replacement sand.
How to Clean a Diatomaceous Earth Filter
Although diatomaceous earth filters may seem a little intimidating, they’re not any more complicated to clean out than a sand filter is. All you have to do is follow the simple directions outlined below to be able to completely clean your DE filter perfectly the first time. Just like with a sand filter, the process for replacing the DE in your filter is very similar to the steps you need to take to simply clean the existing DE, so we will explain how to do both in the steps below. Whichever option you need to choose, you’ll be ready to clean up your filter in no time.
- Work Gloves
- Plastic bucket
- Garden hose
- If replacing DE, you will need fresh DE
1. This cleaning process will take about an hour to complete. If you’re adding more DE to your filter, it may take a little longer.
2. Before you get started, take note that DE is generally considered harmful to the environment. Try to perform this cleaning process in a place where the water filled with DE will not simply run into your flower beds, into storm drains, or into your neighbor’s yard. Be careful with disposing of DE when possible.
3. Your diatomaceous earth filter will have a valve that allows you to place the filter in the backwash position. Begin by turning this valve to start the backwashing process.
4. Start up the pool pump and let it operate like normal. After a while, the water that comes out of the filter will be clear, and this means backwashing is complete.
5. If you only need to perform a swimming pool filter backwash, then you’re all set! However, in most instances, you’ll need to do a few more steps before your filter is ready to get started up again.
6. Turn off the pump to your pool filter before you go any further.
7. Open the air relief valve on your filter and remove the drain plug. This will let all the water in the filter tank flow out.
8. Release the bolts that hold down the lid of your filter. You may need to do this with a wrench or screwdriver, or you may be able to simply untwist the bolts. If you must do this, put on your work gloves first in case the bolts are tight or rusty.
9. Remove the lid and open the tank.
10. Remove the manifold inside, which is the turning part of the filter that looks like fingers.
11. Remove each grid from the manifold. Use a garden hose to rinse off every grid until the pieces of DE clinging to them have been removed.
12. Use your garden hose to rinse out the inside of the tank as well. If you’re replacing all of the DE in your tank, be sure to remove all the old DE first. If you’re simply cleaning the filter, you don’t have to worry about getting rid of every piece of DE right away.
13. Replace the grids on the manifold and put the manifold back in place in the filter.
14. Use a lubricant on the ring on the outside of the tank. This will make it easier for the tank to close and the filter to operate properly.
15. Remove the lid to the strainer basket and let the basket fill with water from the pool.
16. Close the lid to the filter tank and tighten all clamps and bolts so that the tank is properly closed again. Once again, you may need your wrench, screwdriver, or work gloves for this step.
17. Turn on the air relief valve and turn on the pool pump again. When water starts to come out, turn off the air relief valve. Wait until the pool pump is running properly before you worry about adding more DE to your filter.
18. While the pump is starting up, look on your filter to find out how many square feet it is. Your instruction manual will also tell you this. Most DE filters are either 24, 36, 48, or 60. Divide this number by 5 to know how many scoops of DE you need to add back to the filter. Note that you will need to add more than this if you’re completely refilling the filter from nothing.
19. In a separate bucket, combine the right amount of DE with enough pool water to make the mixture creamy and thick.
20. While your pump is still running, pour this mixture into the skimmer basket portion of your filter. The DE will naturally coat the grids on your filter as the filter runs.
21. Close any bolts or clamps that are still open and let your filter run for at least 30 minutes before using your pool.
22. Congratulations! You’ve successfully cleaned your DE filter.
Diatomaceous earth will need to be replaced once every few years in your filter, depending on how frequently you use it. However, the regular backwashing process is very easy to perform, and adding a little more DE back to your filter after backwashing doesn’t take long at all either.
Pool Cleaning Pros and Cons
In this section, you’ll find out a little bit more about why to clean a pool filter yourself versus calling in a professional to help you get the job done. There are good reasons to consider both options, and depending on your circumstances, you may find that one is better than the other for you.
1. Doing it Yourself
Cleaning your pool filter yourself is a great option when you feel like you can take care of the required tasks on your own. However, there may be some things you need to keep in mind when you’re considering tackling this job.
- You can control the cleaning schedule. You won’t have to worry about fitting a pool technician’s schedule into your own, and you don’t have to worry about making sure someone is at home every time the pool tech comes by.
- You can control what you clean the filter with. If you’re worried about certain chemicals or prefer to save money on cleaning solutions, you can be completely in control of this when you clean your filter yourself.
- You can tell whether or not your filter really needs to be replaced. Many pool techs will suggest replacing the filter media sooner than necessary, but when you clean the filter yourself, you’ll be able to keep an eye on this on your own.
- You can save a lot of money by not having to pay someone else to do this job for you every time.
- You will need to learn how to clean pool filter media yourself. You’ll need to understand the inner workings of your pool and how to turn off the power to the filter system, and you’ll need to know how to replace the filter media when necessary as well.
- You will need to purchase all the required parts and cleaning solutions to get the job done. This will mean a trip to the pool supply store or regular online ordering. You may feel confused when looking at all the different parts and model numbers, although experience with this should help. Cleaning Hayward pool filter media, for example, can be hard to figure out when you have a lot of different models to deal with under the same brand name.
- You’ll need to remember regular cleanings on your own, even when you don’t feel like taking care of the filter. Sometimes, if you’re very busy or tired, or if the weather has gotten foul, you may not want to deal with this. However, you’ll still need to stick to your regular schedule to ensure the filter operates properly.
2. Hiring Someone
Although you might prefer to clean up your pool filter on your own, there are still some reasons to consider hiring someone. Check out this section to help you determine whether or not this is the right solution for you.
- If you feel uncomfortable taking care of the pool filter cleaning process, having someone else do it can give you some peace of mind. You don’t have to worry about hurting yourself or damaging your pool when you know someone who’s very experienced in the process is taking care of it.
- If you have a specific brand name filter that requires certain brands of replacement media, you may have better luck calling someone. Jandy pool filter cleaning, for example, may be easier to deal with if you have someone else help you, especially if you’re looking for specific parts.
- It can be very expensive to regularly pay a pool tech to do this job. If you’re already operating your pool on a budget, you may find yourself struggling to come up with regular monthly payments for your pool tech.
- You may have trouble finding a good pool tech in your area. If you live in a small town or a place where most people don’t have pools, you may have difficulty locating a technician you can trust who won’t charge even more to come from a neighboring town.
- If you do hire a pool tech to help you with a specific brand name, you may notice them charging a lot for brand name replacement pieces. A clean Hayward pool filter doesn’t have to cost you a fortune, and neither does any other brand name filter.
As you can see, it’s usually more beneficial, especially in the long term, to clean your pool filter yourself. However, remember that you should only do this when you feel like you can perform the required tasks without harming yourself or your pool. If you feel like you can’t, it’s always best to call a pool cleaning expert to handle this all for you instead.
How to Tell It’s Time to Clean or Replace Your Pool Filter
Depending on the type of pool filter you have, there are a few different ways you can tell when it’s time to think about cleaning or replacing your filter media. In this section, you’ll see a few tips to help you understand more about how your filter operations, no matter which type of filter you might be working with.
1. Cartridge Filters
- Every month, you should check on your cartridge filter. If you have very hard water or if you use your pool quite frequently, you probably need to at least rinse the filter monthly.
- Every three months, you should clean and soak your filter media thoroughly. This is a good time to switch filters if you’re using alternating cartridges.
- Every year, you should completely replace the filter cartridges you’re using with new, fresh ones. This will keep your water looking clean and make sure your pool is operating properly at all times.
- Other than these suggested times, you can tell if your filter needs to be cleaned when your pool water starts to get grimy or dirty. If the pool looks murky, feels slippery or sudsy, or has algae growing on it, you need to clean your filter immediately.
- If you hear a knocking sound in your filter lines, you need to clean your filter right away.
2. Sand Filters
- Every month, you should backwash your sand filter. This will keep the sand from collecting too much contamination by sitting in one place for too long without being stirred up properly.
- Every three months, you should check the levels of sand in your filter to be sure you don’t need to add more. In most cases, you won’t need to. However, this can help you notice a problem before it gets out of hand.
- Every year, you should completely take the filter apart and check the sand inside. Stir it around by hand and rinse it if necessary with your garden hose.
- Every five to seven years, you will need to replace the sand completely. Sometimes, you can go even longer, and if your filter is very dirty, you may have to do this a little more frequently. However, this suggested timeline is a good place to get started.
- If the pressure in your sand filter gets too high, it’s time to backwash the filter. Be sure to check the pressure about once a week to be sure it hasn’t gotten out of hand.
- If you know it’s getting close to time to clean your filter, check the pressure daily.
- If you see sand in the bottom of your pool, it may be time to replace the sand in your filter.
3. Diatomaceous Earth Filters
- Every month, you should backwash your diatomaceous earth filter. This will keep the filter operating properly and will keep your water clean and clear, too. You will probably need to add a little DE back to the filter after every backwash.
- Every three months, you’ll need to backwash and check the DE levels to be sure they haven’t gotten too low. If they have, you’ll need to add enough of this filter media to get them back up to par.
- Every year, completely take the filter apart and check the DE levels again. Although you shouldn’t have to completely replace the DE yearly, it’s a good idea to check up on everything once a year to be sure everything is working as it should and nothing has broken over time.
- Check the pressure in your DE filter weekly to be sure it doesn’t get too high. When it does, you’ll need to backwash and add some new DE to the filter.
- If DE flows back into your pool, it’s time to clean the filter.
- If the pool water gets murky or cloudy, you’ll need to check your filter.
There is a lot of information to keep in mind when it comes to cleaning your pool filter. No matter which type you have, there are several steps you need to take before you can successfully get your filter media clean and ready to go for another few weeks. However, when you keep our tips in mind, your filter cleaning experience doesn’t have to be an intimidating one.
Remember our advice about how to tell when it’s time to clean your filter, and don’t neglect this important process for too long. There are plenty of reasons why you need to keep your filter clean and your pool operating properly, and as long as you perform regular maintenance, you won’t have to encounter any problem areas.
All that’s left now is to get out there and start cleaning!