To start, I have a little 3 gallon Eclipse 3 aquarium. Wouldn't suggest them, and if you have one and have money/space for a new tank, dump it. My filter just bit the dust last week, and replacements are hard to find and not worth the cost.
So, I'm stuck without a filter at this time. I don't have room for a new, better tank at this time, but will be moving in November and hope to get a decent tank then. But, because of that and the cost of a new filter ($15 when the whole aquarium was $30, and I just dumped $10 on a new bulb), I'm hesitant to replace this one. What are the ill effects of not running a filter? I've stepped up my water changes to 30% - 40% every other day. I've monitored parameters, and they seem OK for the most part. No ammonia or nitrates, and nitrites are staying around 25 ppm. However, I've noticed hardness drop to about 30 ppm, and pH is down below 6.5, which is not the best for my fish.
I also know another important job of the filter is to oxygenate the water, but that doesn't seem to be an issue. Between my frequent water changes and the plants, I think that's being covered. The fish are acting normal, eating well, and showing no ill effects. I had a female die last week, but that was due to an illness/injury she had when I got her and occurred before the filter issue. I thought she would make it and improved considerably, but never seemed to be 100%.
So, am I issuing a death sentence to my poor fish by waiting on filtration, or will the frequent water changings, stringent feeding, and close monitoring suffice until I get a new tank set up?