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So I have a 15 gallon fish tank at home with just a couple fish and a plecostomus bottom feeder which does a good job keeping the glass and things clean in there, but obviously I still need to replace my filter every so often as it gets filled with garbage from all the fish in there.

I'm curious, considering the pleco eats all the junk from the fish tank, could I just take the dirty filter, put a clean filter in it's place, and toss the dirty filter into the tank - and if I did would the pleco clean it to even being usable again? Or would the pleco even clean it at all just as a matter of feeding him - would it be nutritional to the pleco?

Is this just silly, or is there some merit to the idea I'm speaking about?

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2 Answers 2

up vote 8 down vote accepted

No, this won't work. Plecos don't eat garbage: they're often thought of as 'cleaner fish' because some species will conveniently eat algae and leftovers, and because they tend to be pretty inconspicuous, but none of them will thrive for long on detritus. The muck in your filter media is a mix of rotting food, fish poop, and bacterial growth. Even if they could clean it out completely, it wouldn't be a healthy diet for them.

There are hundreds of species of plecos (or, more formally, loricarids) and they all have particular diets composed of plant matter, microorganisms, meat, and even driftwood. And naturally, a diet that works for one species may not work for another. You probably have what was sold as a common pleco, which likely to be Pterygoplichthys pardalis, but could be one of several similar species. All the fish sold by this name are omnivorous, and as grazers which a need to eat nearly constantly, they tend to eat a lot of plant matter -- they'll eat algae when they're young, but they benefit from blanched vegetables like squash or zucchini, and that type of plant matter becomes more important in their diet as they grow.

(As a warning, anything sold as a 'common pleco' will outgrow your 15 gallon tank and then some; they can grow to about two feet long, and even when relatively small are high-capacity poop machines that will overload a small tank's filtration. My frank opinion is that these plecos are not really suitable for most home aquaria.)

Some filter media can be easily rinsed off with some light hosing, by the way -- though you have to be careful to not kill your biofilter when you do this, of course. A lot of hang-on filters don't have what look to me like very durable media cartridges, but sponge and canister filters are designed to be cleaned and reused.

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If it's getting sufficient nutrients, it would have little need of any other possible nutrients on the filter (assuming they exist). It would seem unlikely that it would do much in the way of significant cleaning of it as a result and even then, any active parts of the filter have already been used up, so reuse potential isn't really there.

In other words, I'd just toss the filter.

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As for the nutrients part, we do have to toss in those little supplement pellets for it because there's not enough grime in the tank to feed it sufficiently. That said if the filter has no nutritional value to it then yeah it would be pointless. Do you think it would have nutritional value to it? –  Jimmy Hoffa Dec 12 '13 at 17:57
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@JimmyHoffa - It is doubtful there would be anything there your pleco would benefit from enough to warrant trying. Just tossing the filter back into the water risks reintroducing contaminants your filter removed originally. –  user9 Dec 12 '13 at 18:48

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