Sand vs DE Pool Filters

It’s that time of year again, getting your pool ready for the summer, maybe even replacing your original filter, and buying a new one this year. If you have been running a sand filter but have been thinking about changing over to the D.E. filtering system and are not sure, this article will explain the differences. What are the Differences Between Sand and Diatomaceous Earth (DE)  Pool Filters?

Sand will filter to 30 microns
D.E.  filters down to 3 microns
Sand is backwashed without losing media
D.E. needs to be recharged when you backwash & loss DE needs to be captured.
Sand is replaced 3-5 years.
D.E. has to be completely torn down once a year
Sand is more economical & practical
D.E. is costly

DE Filters use a combination of DE powder, also known as Diatomaceous Earth, and sometimes referred to as “dirt” Water is filtered through the media, DE, which is a sedimentary rock composed of chemically inert fossilized, skeletal remains of billions of microscopic organisms called diatoms.

Sand vs DE (Diatomaceous Earth) Pool Filters

Sand and DE (Diatomaceous Earth) pool filters are two popular options for keeping pool water clean, each with its own advantages and drawbacks. Sand filters are known for their simplicity and durability, using sand as the filtration medium to trap dirt and debris.

They are relatively low maintenance and require occasional backwashing to clean the sand bed. On the other hand, DE filters provide finer filtration, capable of capturing smaller particles than sand filters. They offer superior water clarity but require more frequent maintenance, including backwashing and recharging with DE powder. While sand filters are easier to operate, DE filters offer higher filtration efficiency, making them ideal for pools with high bather loads or in areas with heavy debris. Ultimately, the choice between sand and DE filters depends on factors such as water quality requirements, maintenance preferences, and budget constraints.

What is Diatomaceous Earth Used For

Diatomaceous Earth (DE) is a white clay-like powder found in various areas around the world. Diatomaceous Earth is composed of diatoms, a specific type of hard-shelled fossilized algae. Diatoms, at one time, served as a primary aquatic food source for marine life. There are many uses for D.E.

As these diatoms died, their exoskeletons fell to the bottom of the seas and became fossilized. Eventually, after millions of years, large deposits of the fossilized rock formed into what we now know as diatomaceous earth or D.E

Diatomaceous is a very fine powder and is very light due to its’ high porosity. DE contains between 80-90% silica, 2-4% alumina, and 0.5-2% iron oxide. The remaining percentage is mostly traced to minerals like calcium, zinc, copper, and magnesium.

Food grade diatomaceous earth, the only form safe for human use is a white powder, while other forms of diatomaceous earth may have a brown/reddish tint. The Food Grade form of DE is the highest grade of it.

Besides pool filter Media, Diatomaceous Earth has many uses. In food processing and is used as a filtering agent to remove impurities from a variety of foods and drinks such as beer and soda. They are used in toothpaste and polish agents along with cosmetics. They have the ability to absorb water and the Food and Drug Administration endorses it as a safe way of dealing with bugs instead of insecticides.

Diatomaceous earth is also quite frequently used as an insecticide and pest repellant in home gardens and on large-scale farms. Diatomaceous earth actually has sharp edges, which look like shards of glass under a microscope. There are forms of DE that are used in powders and in medicines that are used on pets that will keep pests off of them.

The sharp edges of the D.E. scratch the exoskeletons of insects, which causes insects to lose fluids and die. Diatomaceous earth also has the ability to absorb fluids rapidly, which means insects either have to flee the area or they die very quickly.

Diatomaceous earth can also be used in the same manner naturally as a pest repellant on animals. A simple coating applied to an animal’s fur is more than enough to kill any existing pests and prevent future pests from affecting dogs and cats.

Diatomaceous Earth can also be used to flush the human body of impurities, detox, or cleanse. It has the ability to purge the human body of toxins and heavy metals. This allows the human body to operate efficiently and improve overall health.

Backwashing DE Filters

Most sand filters require from 50 lbs up to 300 lbs of sand, depending on the filter size. Once filled, the sand can last 3-7 years according to use. One big difference between Sand and D.E. is that Sand is reusable and can be backwash and cleaned. In a D.E. system, it can’t.

Once the filter dirties up,  it is lost and needs to be replaced by the pool operator with the new Diatomaceous Earth. There are 2 basic kinds of DE filters the Bump and the Backwash.

The theory behind the bump type is that when the filter gets dirty, 25% above the clean pressure, you ‘bump’ the dirty DE off the grids so it can mix with the dirt and then re-coat the grids with dirty DE.

It’s a way to try and get around the job of tearing it down. But…….

If the pressure does not reduce, then the filter should be torn down and cleaned anyways. The other type is the Backwash type and when the filter pressure rises 25% above the clean pressure you need to flush the DE and dirt out of the filter by backwashing.

After each backwashing, you will need to replace about 50% of the total DE. Be aware that some townships require a DE separation tank for back-washing DE filters. This can add to both the expense and the space they take up on your equipment pad.

Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to backwash a DE filter:

  1. Turn off the Pump: Before starting the backwashing process, turn off the pool pump to prevent water from circulating through the filter.
  2. Release Pressure: If your DE filter has a pressure relief valve, open it to release any built-up pressure in the system. This step helps ensure a smooth backwashing process.
  3. Prepare the Backwash Valve: Locate the backwash valve on your filter system. Depending on your setup, it may be a multiport valve or a push-pull valve. Set the valve to the “Backwash” position.
  4. Turn on the Pump: Turn the pool pump back on to start the backwashing process. The water will flow in the reverse direction through the filter, flushing out the accumulated dirt and debris.
  5. Monitor the Sight Glass or Pressure Gauge: While the pump is running, monitor the sight glass or pressure gauge on your filter system. You’ll notice cloudy water being discharged through the waste line. Continue backwashing until the water runs clear or until a predetermined time has elapsed (usually 2-3 minutes).
  6. Rinse (Optional): Some DE filters have a “Rinse” setting on the multiport valve. After backwashing, you can switch the valve to the “Rinse” position to flush out any remaining debris from the filter system. This step helps ensure that no DE powder is left in the filter.
  7. Return to Normal Operation: Once the backwashing process is complete, set the backwash valve back to the “Filter” position to resume normal filtration. You can now turn off the pump or let it continue running, depending on your pool maintenance routine.
  8. Recharge with DE Powder: After backwashing, it’s essential to recharge the filter with fresh DE powder. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for adding the correct amount of DE powder to your filter. This step ensures that the filter maintains its filtration efficiency.
  9. Regular Maintenance: In addition to backwashing, regularly inspect and clean the filter grids or cartridges as needed. Proper maintenance helps prolong the life of your DE filter and ensures optimal performance.

By following these steps, you can effectively backwash your DE filter and keep your pool water clean and clear. Remember to consult your filter’s instruction manual for specific guidelines and recommendations.

Backwashing Sand Filters

With a Sand Filter, as the Sand gets dirtier the flow will decrease and the pressure will start to rise. This is an indication that it’s time to backwash.

The pressure rate will increase to about 7-8 lbs. over the normal operating pressure. D.E. Filters also work off the pressure gauge.

After backwashing a D.E. filter, the dirty filter powder is discharged, and a new D.E. filter powder is added to the filter, by pouring it into the skimmer directly or you can mix it in a bucket with pool water.

The Pressure gauge will indicate the need to backwash just as a Sand Filter gauge would. With DE Filters once the pressure gauge reads 8-10 pounds over the start-up and normal operating pressure then it’s time to backwash the D.E. Filter.

Sand can filter down to around 30 microns in size so D.E. filters have the advantage of filtering the pool water to the smallest microns and will keep the water cleaner and clearer than any sand media could but additives can be used to lower the microns and raise the efficiency of Sand.

If your swimming pool shows signs of cloudy water, constant high pressure on the sand Filter’s gauge, even after backwashing.

Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to backwash a sand filter:

  1. Turn off the Pump: Before starting the backwashing process, switch off the pool pump to halt water circulation through the filter.
  2. Release Pressure: If your sand filter has a pressure relief valve, activate it to release any pressure built up in the system. This step helps facilitate a smooth backwashing process.
  3. Position the Valve: Locate the multiport valve on your sand filter system. Set the valve to the “Backwash” position. If your filter uses a push-pull valve, simply pull the valve handle out to engage the backwash mode.
  4. Start the Pump: Switch the pool pump back on to initiate the backwashing process. Water will flow in reverse through the filter, dislodging and expelling trapped dirt and debris.
  5. Monitor Pressure or Sight Glass: While the pump is running, monitor the pressure gauge or sight glass on your filter system. You’ll observe cloudy water being expelled through the waste line. Continue backwashing until the water runs clear or for a predetermined duration (typically 2-3 minutes).
  6. Rinse (Optional): Some sand filters feature a “Rinse” setting on the multiport valve. After backwashing, you can switch the valve to the “Rinse” position. This action directs water through the filter in the normal direction, settling the sand bed before returning to the “Filter” position.
  7. Return to Normal Operation: Once backwashing is complete, set the multiport valve back to the “Filter” position to resume regular filtration. You can then turn off the pump or allow it to continue running based on your maintenance routine.
  8. Regular Maintenance: Alongside backwashing, conduct routine inspections of the filter. Occasionally, sand filters require a process called “sand replacement” to maintain optimal performance. Refer to your filter’s manual for specific guidelines.

By following these steps and adhering to your filter’s instructions, you can effectively backwash your sand filter, contributing to clean and clear pool water. Regular maintenance ensures the longevity and efficiency of your filtration system.

Diatomaceous Earth (DE) Pool Filter Problems

D.E. Filter: How Does It Work and Is It Better Than A Sand Filter?
D.E. Filter: How Does It Work and Is It Better Than A        Sand Filter?

A disadvantage of the D.E.  filter is that it requires the most amount of maintenance. DE powder is always needed after backwashing.  Hayward D.E. separation tanks hold up to 10 lbs. of used D.E. filter powder and complement both New and existing vertical grid D.E. filter installations. Also with a DE Filter, you typically have to take apart the filter once or twice per year, to clean the filter grids or tubes with water. Typically a good wash with the garden hose is all that’s needed.

This filter definitely requires the most maintenance but it will filter the water to the smallest micron size, around 2-3 microns. Although DE filters are the most expensive to purchase, and they require more maintenance than other types, they are the best form of filtration available.

The D.E. powder is poured into the skimmers and will soak inside the filter applying a coating to the panels on the grid inside that will filter the pool water. The normal amount after backwashing for a medium to large pool is around  8 lbs.

Diatomaceous Earth (DE) pool filters are known for their effectiveness in keeping pool water clean. However, they can present some challenges. Here are some common problems associated with DE pool filters and possible solutions:

  1. Clogging: DE filters can become clogged with dirt, algae, or other debris, reducing their effectiveness.
    • Solution: Regularly backwash the filter to remove trapped debris. If backwashing doesn’t solve the issue, you may need to manually clean the filter grids or replace them if they are damaged.
  2. DE Powder Leakage: Sometimes, DE powder can leak into the pool, causing cloudy water.
    • Solution: Ensure that the filter grids are properly coated with DE powder and that the filter’s internal components are intact. Replace any damaged parts or seals. Also, avoid adding too much DE powder during the recharge process.
  3. Pressure Fluctuations: DE filters may experience fluctuations in pressure, indicating a problem with the filtration system.
    • Solution: Check for any obstructions in the filter system, such as clogged pipes or valves. Inspect the O-rings and seals for any signs of wear or damage and replace them if necessary. Adjust the filter’s backwash frequency and duration as needed.
  4. DE Powder Clouds: Improper handling or application of DE powder can lead to cloudy water in the pool.
    • Solution: When adding DE powder to the filter, use a proper DE filter aid scoop or a pre-measured DE filter aid. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully to ensure the correct amount of DE powder is added. Avoid adding DE powder directly into the pool.
  5. Grid Damage: The filter grids in DE filters can become damaged over time due to wear and tear or improper maintenance.
    • Solution: Regularly inspect the filter grids for tears, holes, or other damage. Replace any damaged grids to maintain the efficiency of the filtration system.
  6. Water Quality Issues: In some cases, DE filters may not effectively remove all contaminants from the pool water, leading to water quality issues.
    • Solution: Ensure that the filter is properly sized for your pool and that it is operating within the manufacturer’s recommended flow rate. Consider supplementing the filtration system with additional treatments, such as clarifiers or enzymes, to improve water clarity and quality.

Regular maintenance and proper operation are essential for preventing and addressing problems with DE pool filters. Following the manufacturer’s guidelines and troubleshooting steps can help keep your pool water clean and clear.

DE Powder in Sand Filter

 Diatomaceous Earth, used in D.E. pool filters, can also be used in Sand filters to trap particles down to 3 microns in size.  Use 1-3 cups depending on your filter size, by pouring it into the skimmer after backwashing, and it forms a layer on top of and down into your sand bed. Also useful, and some say better to use is Aqua-Perl, a volcanic mineral filter aid used as a substitute for DE powder.

There are plenty of aids that can be used with the Sand media in your filter. Clarifiers with polymer added can with just a couple ounces a week to improve your Sand media or D.E. to add more efficiency and a noticeable difference. The polymer will attract particles so they stick together. Once together they are easier to remove from the pool system. The DE will help the Sand polish the pool just like the Clarifier or Gel Bag which takes filtering down further to about 1 micron.

The Slime Bag™ is another filtering product like D.E. that features a unique combination of materials that allows it to filter particles as small as 1 micron, while returning the clean water to your pool, allowing you to completely clean your pool without dumping water and money down the drain. Once you get the Diatomaceous Earth in the Sand Filter you can use this instead of buying other products that will only do the same thing.

Small amounts of DE can be added to a High-Rate Sand Filter after each backwash to add efficiency to your filtering normally lost with sand. Figuring out how much DE to use:

  • Start by noting the PSI reading on the filter with the pump running.
  • Mix 1/4 cup of DE with water in a bucket and pour that slowly into the skimmer. Remove the skimmer sock, if any, before adding DE.
  • Give the system about two minutes to stabilize.
  • Note the pressure on the filter and repeat the second and third steps until the pressure has gone up by one PSI. This will typically take around 1-2 cups of DE.

The first time you try this keeps a keen eye on the pressure gauge for the next 24 hours so that it doesn’t shoot up too fast. Make sure that DE that you use is the kind for swimming pool use.

Diatomaceous Earth is an option that is often used when the size of the swimming pool is a little smaller and the usage is a little less than normal than a larger size swimming pool. Bigger type public pools are normally High-Rate Sand Filter systems and for good reason.

Even though the results of D.E. systems are very good the maintenance time and cost are somewhat too much. There are many products like the Slime Bag, Clarifiers, and Diatomaceous Earth Powder that when added to Sand can bring it up to the filtering efficiency of a whole D.E. Filter System. Sand is a standard for bigger type pool filters and is practical, economical, and for me the best and easiest way to keep my inground pool looking great every year.


Understanding the different types of pool filters and how they function is essential for maintaining clean and healthy pool water. Whether you choose a sand filter, cartridge filter, or DE filter, proper maintenance is key to ensuring optimal performance.

Regular backwashing, cleaning, and monitoring of filter pressure are necessary tasks to keep the filtration system operating efficiently. By addressing common issues promptly and following recommended maintenance practices, you can prolong the lifespan of your pool filter and enjoy crystal-clear water throughout the swimming season.

If you have any further questions or need assistance with your pool filter maintenance, don’t hesitate to consult with a pool professional for expert advice.

For more great articles on Sand, filters or pool pumps just stay right here at MyWaterEarth&Sky-If my swimming pool shows signs of cloudy water, constant high pressure on the sand Filter’s gauge, even after backwashing. Could it be the sand media in my pool filter?………………………………………. Continue reading

JimGalloway Author/Editor 


Credible Pool and Spa- Sand vs DE Pool Filters


  1. Why is my pool filter not working efficiently?
    • Several factors can affect the efficiency of a pool filter, including clogged or damaged filter media, improper maintenance, inadequate filtration system size, or issues with water chemistry. It’s essential to troubleshoot and address these issues promptly to restore proper filtration.
  2. How do I know when it’s time to replace my pool filter?
    • Signs that indicate it may be time to replace your pool filter include persistent water clarity issues, reduced water flow, damaged filter components, or frequent breakdowns despite proper maintenance. Consult with a pool professional to assess the condition of your filter and determine if replacement is necessary.
  3. Can I use alternative filter media instead of sand or DE?
    • Yes, there are alternative filter media options available, such as glass beads, zeolite, or perlite. These alternatives may offer benefits such as improved filtration efficiency, longer lifespan, or reduced environmental impact compared to traditional sand or DE.
  4. How do I choose the right pool filter for my pool?
    • When selecting a pool filter, consider factors such as pool size, usage, water quality requirements, maintenance preferences, and budget. Consulting with a pool professional can help you determine the most suitable filter type and size for your specific needs.
  5. Is it necessary to use a pool filter if I use chlorine or other sanitizers?
    • Yes, pool filters play a crucial role in removing dirt, debris, and contaminants from the water, complementing the sanitization process. While chlorine or other sanitizers kill bacteria and algae, the filter physically removes these particles, helping to maintain clean and clear water.

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