For pool owners, keeping your swimming pool sparkling clean is a top priority. But with so many pool filtering options available, it can be challenging to choose the right system. Two of the most popular choices are filter balls and sand filters. But which one is better for your pool? This comprehensive guide examines the pros and cons of pool filter balls vs sand to help you decide.
What Are Pool Filter Balls?
Pool filter balls are small, multi-faceted balls made of plastic that are used to filter pool water. The balls range in size from 1/8” to 3/4” in diameter. They have a rough, textured surface that effectively traps dirt, debris, algae, and other contaminants as water passes through the filter system.
The balls are placed inside a filter housing or tank and work similarly to sand or diatomaceous earth (DE) filters. As water flows into the tank, it passes through the layers of filter balls, which catch any particles and prevent them from returning to the pool. This leads to cleaner, clearer water.
Some key advantages of pool filter balls include:
- Very effective filtration – the shape and texture of the balls trap even tiny contaminants.
- Require less backwashing than sand filters.
- Easy to maintain – just periodically clean the balls with a hose.
- Long lifespan – balls can last 5-10 years.
- No need to replenish filter media annually like DE filters.
- Can filter very fine dirt that might pass through sand.
How Sand Filters Work
Sand filters have been used for decades and remain a very popular choice. Inside these filters, pool water is pumped through layers of specially graded sand. The sand grains provide a dense filtering bed that captures contaminants and particles from the water.
The filter housing contains laterals on the bottom that distribute water evenly through the sand. As the water works its way through the sand bed, dirt and debris become trapped in the spaces between the sand grains. Clean, filtered water then flows back into the pool through return lines.
Key benefits of sand filters include:
- Proven reliability and effectiveness.
- Removes particles down to 20-40 microns.
- Simple design with few parts to fail.
- Sand is relatively inexpensive to replace when needed.
- Easy to maintain by backwashing regularly.
- Simple to operate – turn pump on and off.
Now that we’ve reviewed how each type works, let’s compare them head-to-head.
Pool Filter Balls vs Sand – Key Comparisons
When deciding between pool filter balls vs sand, there are several factors to consider:
- Filter balls trap smaller particles – down to 5-10 microns. Their multi-faceted shape grabs contaminants like dirt, pollen, pet hair, bacteria, and algae very efficiently.
- Sand filters are effective down to 20-40 microns. But very fine dust and some bacteria can slip through sand.
- Edge: Filter balls
Ease of Maintenance
- Filter balls only need periodic cleaning, like backwashing or spraying off with a hose. Cleaning intervals can be 2 weeks or longer.
- Sand filters require backwashing more often – sometimes every few days if the pool gets heavy use.
- Edge: Filter balls
- A complete sand filter system costs $300-$800. Sand replacement every 3-5 years runs $50-$100.
- Complete filter ball systems cost $800-$1,500. But the balls last 5-10 years with almost no replacement needed.
- Edge: Sand filters (lower initial cost)
Durability & Longevity
- Filter balls are virtually indestructible and typically last 5-10 years.
- The sand in sand filters needs replacing every 3-5 years depending on use. Backwashing erodes the sand over time.
- Edge: Filter balls
- Sand filters require plumbing by a pool professional. The sand media also needs periodic replenishing.
- Filter ball systems are easier for DIY installation. The balls don’t need replacement for years.
- Edge: Filter balls
Flow Rate Performance
- As filter balls collect more dirt and debris, the flow rate through the system drops. Backwashing brings the flow rate back up.
- Sand filters tend to maintain higher flow rates before they need backwashing.
- Edge: Sand filters
Filter Media Options
- Filter balls come in standard white color. There are no options or grades.
- Sand filters allow choosing different sand grain sizes and types. Pool pros can customize the media for your pool.
- Edge: Sand filters
As we compare pool filter balls vs sand, a few key themes emerge:
- Filter balls provide superior micron-level filtration down to very tiny particles. This leads to clearer water.
- Balls are extremely durable and long-lasting. Sand requires replacing every few years.
- Sand filters have a lower upfront cost. But over the long run, balls have lower overall cost due to their longevity.
- Sand filters have better flow rates between backwashes. But balls don’t need backwashing nearly as often.
- Sand allows custom media for optimized filtration. Balls are a “one size fits all” option.
Now let’s dive into the pros and cons of each system.
Pool Filter Balls vs Sand at a Glance
|Pool Filter Balls
|Higher, can capture particles as small as 3 microns
|Lower, typically filters between 20-40 microns
|More expensive per pound, but requires less material due to higher efficiency
|Less expensive per pound, but requires more material
|Much lighter (1 pound of balls replaces 50 pounds of sand)
|Heavy and can be cumbersome to handle
|Easier to clean and may not require backwashing, depending on model
|Requires regular backwashing to remove trapped debris
|Lasts 5-10 years on average
|Lasts 3-5 years on average
|Compatible with all pool chemicals
|Compatible with most pool chemicals, may require adjustment with certain clarifiers
|Higher flow rate due to less pressure buildup
|Lower flow rate due to tighter packed media
|More eco-friendly, made from recycled materials
|Neutral impact, natural, readily available material
The Pros and Cons of Pool Filter Balls
The unique shape of filter balls traps more microscopic contaminants than sand. This leads to unparalleled water clarity.
Filter balls rarely need backwashing – just an occasional hosing off or soaking in solution. Their cleaning is quick and easy.
Balls typically last 5-10 years with no media replacement needed. Their durable plastic construction resists breaking down.
DIY-friendly ball filters don’t require special plumbing or media grading. Set-up and maintenance are straightforward.
Filter balls systems have a smaller footprint than sand filters. They fit easily into tight equipment spaces.
Filter balls won’t clog up with debris like sand sometimes does. Flow remains smooth and consistent.
Higher Upfront Cost
Complete filter ball systems cost $800-$1,500 – more than sand filters. But their longevity makes up for this over time.
Frequent Cleaning at First
New balls require frequent cleanings until the bed fills in with debris and stabilizes. After break-in, cleanings are infrequent.
Lower Flow Rates
As balls collect more dirt between cleanings, flow rates gradually drop. Sand maintains higher rates for longer.
No Media Options
Balls only come in one size and material. With sand you can fine-tune the media grade and composition.
Not Ideal for Large Pools
For pools over 30,000 gallons, a larger sand filter may be a better choice for adequate flow rates.
The Pros and Cons of Sand Filters
Lower Initial Cost
Complete sand filter systems cost $300-$800 – less expensive than balls. The media is also very affordable.
Simple & Proven Design
Used reliably for decades, sand filters have stood the test of time. Few parts can break or fail.
Smooth Water Flow
Sand maintains excellent flow rates for longer between backwashes. Media options allow customization.
Easy to Maintain
Basic backwashing keeps sand filters clean. No need for soaking or chemical cleaners like balls require.
Good for Large Pools
With proper size and media, sand filters accommodate very large pools up to 40,000 gallons or more.
Media Choices Available
Pool pros can choose the ideal sand composition and grain size to optimize filtration for your pool.
Requires Pro Installation
Only pool professionals should install sand filters due to electrical and plumbing requirements.
Sand traps particles down to 20-40 microns only. Very fine contaminants can slip through back into the pool.
Time Consuming Backwashing
Sand requires frequent and thorough backwashing – sometimes for several minutes multiple times per week.
The sand media itself needs replacing every 3-5 years as it slowly erodes. This adds to long-term costs.
Can Clog Over Time
As debris collects in the sand bed, clogging can occur leading to reduced flow. Clogged sand filters are common.
Not Ideal for Small Pools
Oversized sand filters on small pools (under 15,000 gallons) result in short run cycles and frequent backwashing.
Choosing Between Sand and Filter Balls
When choosing pool filter media, carefully consider these key factors:
- Pool Size – Sand is better for pools over 30,000 gallons. Balls are ideal for small to mid-sized pools.
- Filtration Needs – Those seeking the cleanest water should choose filter balls. Sand also filters well but not to the microscopic level.
- Initial Budget – Sand filters carry a lower upfront cost. But filter balls save money long-term.
- Maintenance Preferences – Do you want less frequent but longer backwashes (sand) or quick rinses every couple weeks (balls)?
- DIY Installation – Opt for balls if you want to install the system yourself with minimal plumbing.
- Durability vs Cost – Balls are virtually indestructible but cost more initially. Sand filters have lower first cost but require replacing sand every few years.
There is no universally “best” option. The right filter depends on your pool, budget, and preferences. Work with a pool professional to determine the ideal filtration system for your specific needs.
Maintaining Pool Filter Ball and Sand Systems
To keep your pool filter running optimally for years, follow these maintenance tips:
For Filter Balls:
- Check pressure gauge – clean balls when pressure rises 8-10 PSI over starting point.
- Every 2 weeks, backwash balls for 1-2 minutes to dislodge accumulated dirt.
- Remove and spray balls with hose quarterly – let dry completely before reinstalling.
- For thorough deep cleaning annually, soak balls in pool filter cleaner solution.
- Replace any broken or visibly worn balls. Balls should last 5-10 years under normal use.
For Sand Filters:
- Backwash sand when pressure reads 8-10 PSI over clean starting point.
- Run backwash cycle for 3-5 minutes at a time, until water runs clear.
- Take care not to backwash too frequently or erode sand bed over time.
- Replace sand media every 3-5 years depending on pool size and use.
- Occasionally stir sand with a rake to prevent compacting and channeling.
- Avoid air-related clogging by keeping water level above sand bed.
With proper maintenance, either filter balls or sand will provide years of reliably clean, clear pool water. Monitor pressure gauges closely and perform cleanings before flow gets restricted. Both systems function at their best with preventative care.
When comparing pool filter options, both filter balls and sand have benefits. Filter balls offer finer filtration down to microscopic levels, for the cleanest pool water possible. And their durable plastic construction ensures years of near maintenance-free operation.
Sand filters feature simple, proven designs that stand the test of time. And sand itself is an affordable media option that’s easy to replace periodically. Plus, sand filters accommodate large pools with excellent flow rates.
Carefully weigh your particular needs and preferences when choosing pool filter media. Factor in pool size, your filtration goals, maintenance preferences, and installation considerations. Work with a pool professional to select the right filter and media for your pool.
With knowledgeable design and proper preventative maintenance, you can enjoy crystal clear water for years to come – whether you choose versatile filter balls or time-tested sand. Your pool will sparkle all season long.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Which filters pool water better – balls or sand?
A: Filter balls remove particles down to 5-10 microns while sand filters to 20-40 microns. So filter balls provide superior micron-level filtration for the cleanest water.
Q: How long do pool filter balls last compared to sand?
A: Filter balls typically last 5-10 years. Sand media needs replaced every 3-5 years as grains erode from backwashing. Balls are more durable and longer-lasting.
Q: Is it better to get a smaller sand filter or larger ball filter?
A: Due to superior filtration, a filter ball system can often be smaller than a sand filter on the same pool. Aim for 1.5-2 gallons per square foot flow rate.
Q: Can I install a filter ball system myself?
A: Most filter ball systems allow for DIY installation since no special media grading or plumbing lines are needed. But you may need a pool pro for electrical hook-ups.
Q: How often do you need to backwash filter balls vs sand?
A: Sand needs backwashing every few days sometimes. Balls only need quick backwashing every 2-4 weeks typically. Less frequent cleaning is a major advantage of balls.