Bleached Vs Unbleached Coffee Filters – BaristaHQ Comparison

There are lots of factors that go into brewing the perfect cup of coffee. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not just about the quality of coffee grounds you’re using.

Something as simple as the filter you choose can greatly impact taste and consistency, especially when it comes to the filter bleaching processes. While some coffee drinkers prefer unbleached brown filters, others go for bleached white filters.

So what’s the main difference between bleached and unbleached paper filters? And which is better when it comes to the coffee making process? Find out here in this complete guide to bleached vs unbleached coffee filters.

Bleached and unbleached filters both serve the same purpose: to filter hot water through coffee grounds. But there are some major differences between these commonly used household paper products.

The biggest difference between filter types is that bleached paper coffee filters are bright white in color, whereas an unbleached paper filter is naturally brown. This whitening is typically done through a chlorine bleaching method, but in some cases, a more ecofriendly oxygen bleaching process is used.

The word “bleaching” has a negative connotation for naturalists and coffee lovers alike, so why use a bleached paper filter in your coffee machine at all? Let’s find out how each compares when it comes to taste, quality, and the environment.

Bleached Vs Unbleached Coffee Filters – BaristaHQ Comparison

1. Impact On Taste

True coffee lovers focus on taste above all else. Sure, the caffeine boost is a major perk of sipping on a cup of joe [1], but the taste is still a very important consideration.

Some paper coffee filters can leave a papery taste in the mouth, especially those that are unbleached. Aside from the pleasing aesthetic of a bright white filter, minimizing that papery taste is the main reason to go with bleached ones.

Just know that it’s possible to minimize unpleasant taste, even in unbleached filters. All you have to do is give it a good rinse before using it in your pour-over or drip brew machine.

2. Environmental Impact

The brown color of unbleached filters is a major indicator of how Earth-friendly they are. Because they require less processing and no bleaching, there’s no denying that unbleached filters are better for the environment.

Compared to bleached ones that go through a whitening process, brown coffee filters (aka unbleached) are way more environmentally friendly. While bleaching methods have been proven to be fine for health and overall taste, they can have some significant impacts on our Earth. [2]

The good news is that we’ve made progress over the years to reduce our environmental impact, specifically by going from the traditional chlorine process to using oxygen bleach instead.

So if you want to drink coffee that’s better for the environment, be sure to buy oxygen-bleached or unbleached coffee filters.

3. Quality & Thickness

No matter what kitchen products you’re using, especially if they come in contact with food, quality matters. Coffee brewed with bleached filters that are cheap and made with low-grade fibers can cause coffee oils to have an unpleasant taste or texture.

For that reason, it’s best to always choose a quality filter, no matter if you use bleached or unbleached ones. That means you may have to spend a few cents more per filter, but it’ll be worth it!

It’s also important to pay attention to thickness, regardless of whether they’re bleached or unbleached filters. We can’t tell you which thickness is best because it depends on your brewing method - pour over, French press, drip, etc. - so just be sure to do your research before buying.


The Basics Of Bleached Coffee Filters

Because paper originates from trees, paper of all kinds is bleached - even your bathroom’s toilet paper. 

Bleaching coffee filters came about shortly after paper filters were patented in 1908, and it’s pretty much solely for aesthetic purposes. When it comes to white and brown filters, people seem to prefer the look of white paper for its cleaner, more hygienic appearance.

The main concern associated with it is that there can be adverse health effects from drinking coffee that has been brewed through bleached filters. Luckily, that argument was discredited sometime in the 80s.

The other major concern about using white coffee filters is that they’re bad for the environment. In the past when chlorine (a major pollutant) was used as the main bleaching agent, this was definitely the case, but things have improved drastically over the years.

Most of the world has switched to oxygen bleaching with hydrogen peroxide. This method has been proven to be much less harmful to the environment but just as effective for bleaching.

A major coffee blog as well as research studies even say that sustainably bleached paper filters can lower the risk of more oils passing through to the final brew, and some of these oils are associated with higher cholesterol levels. [3]

Bleached Coffee Filter

Pros & Cons Of Bleached Coffee Filters

When it comes time to brew, there are both pros and cons to using bleached coffee filters:

Pros
  • Quality bleached coffee filters can reduce that “papery” taste that’s often associated with using a paper filter
  • The white color of a bleached coffee filter looks cleaner and more hygienic
  • More sustainable bleaching methods are being used by manufacturers
  • On average, a bleached filter is cheaper than an unbleached coffee filter, as well as more readily available in local stores
Cons
  • The bleaching process involves chemicals like chlorine and hydrogen peroxide
  • Many are cheaply made, which can downgrade coffee taste

The Basics Of Unbleached Coffee Filters

Unlike coffee filters bleached to bright white, unbleached coffee filters have a light brown coloring. These natural coffee filters aren’t processed as much, so they have a smaller impact on Earth and Mother Nature.

Unfortunately, trying to do your part for the environment can also negatively affect your taste buds. Depending on the quality and thickness, unbleached filters impart a papery taste. The easy solution is to rinse your filter before use, but it’s still an annoyance for regular coffee drinkers.

Unbleached Coffee Filter

Pros & Cons Of Unbleached Coffee Filters

Even a high-quality unbleached filter has pros as well as cons:

Pros
  • Unbleached filters require less processing, so they’re better for the environment
  • These are more naturally manufactured and contain essentially no chemicals
  • Brands are turning to more natural manufacturing methods, so unbleached paper is much easier to access
Cons
  • Without first rinsing thoroughly, an unbleached filter can leave a papery taste in your coffee
  • The cost is higher on average compared to unbleached (but the difference is minimal)

The Origin Of Paper Filters (A Brief History)

Before paper filters were used for brewing coffee, coffee drinkers resorted to a cloth filtering device, also called a “sock.” It wasn’t until the early 1900s that the paper filter was invented when a German housewife named Melitta Bentz started experimenting with filtration methods. [4]

Before discovering the effectiveness of paper, Bentz tried everything to get rid of the grounds in her coffee. She finally resorted to blotting paper, which was without a doubt the most effective coffee filter she came across during her experimentation.

Compared to the first coffee filter using cloth, the paper filtration method left no grounds in the final brew. In 1908, Bentz patented her findings and went on to create the Melitta Bentz Company. Over a century later, the paper coffee filter is one of the most common kitchen items in homes around the world.

FIltering with Bleached Coffee Filter

Bleached & Unbleached Coffee Filter FAQs

Do coffee filters have chemicals in them? Are coffee filters safe?

After lots of research, bleached coffee filters have been found to be perfectly safe. The minuscule amount of bleaching agent used is not enough to leech into your system, and it won’t affect the taste, either.

If you’re still worried about chemicals getting into your morning pot of coffee, try rinsing the filter before use. Or, opt for unbleached filters instead.

How do you remove the papery taste in your coffee?

You can rinse bleached filters once or twice to reduce the risk of that unpleasant taste of paper. However, you shouldn’t experience this issue if you purchase a high-quality, well-made product.

Does the color of the coffee filter matter?

The color of a coffee filter indicates whether it has been bleached or not. Choosing brown or white matters for a few reasons, the main one being the impact on the environment.

Are bleached coffee filters compostable?

Yep! Regardless of bleaching, all paper filters are 100% compostable.

How do I know my coffee filter is bleached?

Just take a look at the paper’s color to determine if a filter has been bleached. To determine the whitening method - remember, oxygen bleaching is best - just take a look at the label. The letters “TCF” mean that the product is made “totally chlorine free”.

What are the healthiest coffee filters?

Unbleached filters are often seen as superior to bleached products, but there’s no proof that this is actually the case. But try to look further than health effects and look into environmental impact as well.

The most ecofriendly coffee filters haven’t gone through any bleaching whatsoever. If you do prefer white filtering, oxygen bleached filters are great bleached options to go for. Chemex filters are a great choice, as is the Hario brand.


Conclusion

When it comes to bleached versus unbleached, there are some key differences to be aware of. The first noticeable difference is that bleached filters create a cleaner, less papery taste. The downside is that not-so-eco-friendly chemical processing is needed to achieve that pretty aesthetic.

On the other hand, unbleached products are a better alternative for the environment. The only real drawback is that some unbleached filters can leave a papery taste, but rinsing beforehand can easily remedy that.

No matter which of these two filters you choose, remember that quality matters. If you choose to purchase bleached filters, just be sure to find an eco-friendly oxygen bleached process.

References:

1. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/9-reasons-why-the-right-amount-of-coffee-is-good-for-you
2. https://www.nationalgeographic.org/topics/resource-library-human-impacts-environment/
3. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/high-blood-cholesterol/in-depth/reduce-cholesterol/art-20045935
4. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/05/obituaries/melitta-bentz-overlooked.html