Coffee Filter Substitutes: 5 Best At-Home Alternatives

Many of us have faced that dreaded moment when we realize there are no more filters for brewing the morning pot of coffee. You have the brewer itself, the coffee beans, and the need for caffeine, but you’re out of filters, so what are you to do? 

Luckily, there are a few different things you can use as a coffee filter substitute, and many of them are probably in your kitchen pantry already. Use this guide to learn what you can use as a coffee filter substitute in place of traditional paper filters.  

Let’s jump right into it. Here are the top 5 items that can be used as a substitute for a paper coffee filter: 

1. Paper Towels & Napkins 

Using paper products like paper towels or napkins is viewed as the best substitute for coffee filter shortages. A big reason for this is that paper products are a staple in the average household, as well as the fact that most coffee filters themselves are made from paper.  

This method for using paper products is easy, and it’s very similar to using an actual paper coffee filter. Simply place the paper towel or napkin in your coffee maker’s filter chamber, ensuring that the entire compartment is covered. If your paper towels/napkins are thin, you can fold them in half so that they can act as a sturdier filter. 

The only downside of using paper towels or paper napkins is that many of these products contain chemicals that you don’t want leaching into your coffee pot. That’s why you should try to use natural, unbleached paper products if you opt for this coffee filter substitute. 

paper towel coffee filter substitute

2. Fine Mesh Sieves 

Another great option is to use a mesh sieve that you’d typically use for cooking or baking. If you’re fond of baking, chances are you already have one of these in your kitchen cabinet or pantry. 

Start by placing your grounds in the bottom of a large measuring cup (glass is best). Then, pour your desired amount of hot water over the grounds. Allow the mixture to steep, and when you’re ready, hold the sieve over a mug and pour the contents into it. This will filter out the grounds and leave you with a robust, full-bodied cup of coffee.  

The main downside to this method is that not everyone owns a fine mesh sieve. Another drawback is that fine grounds can make their way through the holes in the sieve, so it’s best to use coarse coffee grounds to avoid that. 

3. Cloth Napkin Or Dish Towel 

Another convenient coffee filter alternative is to use a clean cloth napkin or dish towel. Just drape the cloth into the compartment where your coffee filter would normally go, add the grounds, and let the water run through as you normally would. That’s it! 

The downside? The thickness of the fabric means that the steeped coffee will travel slowly through this filter, so it doesn’t always result in the best-tasting coffee. But if you don’t consider yourself a coffee snob, then it certainly does the job. Also, be mindful that this method will stain the cloth, so make sure to choose a piece of fabric that you’re not overly fond of. 

4. Reusable Tea Bags 

As it turns out, reusable tea bags aren’t just useful for making tea.

These tea bags are designed to allow you to steep loose tea over and over again without needing a new teabag each time. 

So instead of using tea leaves, add coffee grounds to the tea bag, allow it to steep in hot water, and remove the bag when you’re happy with the strength of the beverage. 

This method is mess-free, waste-free, and easy, so if you have a reusable tea bag, it’s definitely a great choice for making coffee without a filter. 

tea bags as Coffee Filter Substitutes

5. Cheesecloth 

Cheesecloth is a gauze-like material that’s primarily used in cheese-making, but can also be used for brewing coffee.  

A cheesecloth substitute coffee filter can be used in a few different ways. You can add the cloth to the filter compartment of your coffee brewer, or you can fashion a cheesecloth bag filled with coffee grounds and allow it to steep directly in hot water.  

Can I Make Coffee Without Filter? (No Filter At All) 

If you don’t happen to have any of the above items in your home, there is another alternative: to not use a filter at all. Many coffee brewing methods don’t actually require a filter, such as a French press or a percolator. Even if you don’t own a filter-free coffee maker, there is yet another alternative.  

Using a heat source, a pot or kettle, coarse coffee grounds, and water, simply add the grounds to boiled water and allow the mixture to steep.

Once you’re content with the steeping time, just allow time for the grounds to settle to the bottom of the pot and pour the coffee carefully into a mug. Pouring too quickly might result in grounds in your cup, so the slower you pour, the better.  

Coffee Filter Substitute

Frequently Asked Coffee Filter Alternative Questions

Are paper towels chemical-free? 

It depends. Some paper towels are manufactured with chemical-free practices, but many products contain 2 harmful ingredients: chlorine and formaldehyde. If you choose to use a coffee filter substitute paper towel, it’s best to find green products that don’t contain chemicals to prevent harmful ingredients from leaching into your coffee.  

Can I use socks as a coffee filter? 

Technically, yes. Although this isn’t the most desired method for filtering coffee, it is possible to use a sock (just make sure it’s clean!) to make your morning coffee. You can put the coffee grounds in the sock, place the sock in a mug or pot, and pour hot water over it. Allow it to steep for a few minutes, remove the sock, a voila, you have yourself a cup of coffee.  

Can I use parchment paper as a coffee filter? 

Parchment paper is not a desirable alternative for coffee filters; it’s very different from paper filters in terms of how it's manufactured. While coffee filters are porous and designed to absorb liquids, parchment paper is coated with food-grade silicone to prevent sticking.  

If you use parchment that’s covered in wax as your coffee filter paper substitute, the liquid won’t be able to move through the material into the coffee pot. 

Can I use toilet paper as a coffee filter?  

Yes! Some people prefer to use thicker napkins or paper towels, but using toilet paper as a coffee filter substitute is another option. It’s actually a better choice than thicker paper towels if you want the steeped coffee to travel through the filter chamber at a faster rate.

Also See - Flat Bottom Vs Cone Coffee Filters

What are the best coffee filter brands? 

Before settling on a brand, you first need to decide which type of filters are best for your coffee brewing method. There are paper filters, metal filters, nylon filters, and cloth filters. Most people use the traditional (and cheap) paper filters, in which case some of the best brands are Melitta, Chemex, and Bunn. 


Now that you know what can be used as coffee filter substitutes, you never have to worry about a filter shortage. Even if you don’t have paper towels, napkins, or any other alternative mentioned here, it’s still possible to make coffee without a filter at all.