Coffee Filter Substitutes: 5 Best At-Home Alternatives

Out of coffee filters? We've all been caught short in the morning and it's always when we really need a caffeine boost! 

Luckily, there are a few different things you can use as coffee filter alternatives, and many of them are probably in your kitchen pantry already.

Keep reading this guide to learn about the best substitutes for when you run out of 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.

This coffee filter method with 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 machine filter chamber, ensuring that the entire compartment is covered. 

If your paper napkins or towels are thin, you can fold them in half so that they can act as a sturdier paper filter. 

Then, brew coffee as normal and enjoy!

Advantages:

  • Great filter replacement as most coffee makers already use paper coffee filters
  • Cheap way to filter coffee - you probably have the materials already
  • Paper towel method works well with fine coffee grounds

Disadvantages:

  • A makeshift coffee filter made from paper may contain chemicals. Look for natural, unbleached white paper towels to use as a coffee filter replacement. 
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. 

Just place coffee grounds in the bottom of a large measuring cup (glass is best). Then, pour your desired amount of hot water over the ground coffee. 

Allow the mixture to steep, and when you’re ready, hold the fine mesh sieve over a coffee mug and pour the freshly brewed coffee into it. This will filter out the grounds and leave you with a robust, full-bodied cup of coffee.  

Advantages:

  • Probably have this makeshift coffee filter already 
  • Great for filtering high volumes of coffee in one go
  • Works in a very similar way to the French Press brewing process and is very simple

Disadvantages:

  • Not everyone owns a fine mesh sieve
  • This cowboy coffee technique won't filter out the finest coffee grounds, so it's best to use coarse coffee grounds instead 

3. Cloth Napkin Or Dish Towel 

Another convenient cowboy coffee filter alternative is to use a clean dish towel or cloth napkin. 

Just drape the cloth into the compartment where your filter would normally go, add the grounds, and let the water run through as you normally would. That’s it! 

Advantages:

  • Everyone has dish towels or napkins at home 
  • Filters out even fine grinds to give you a clean cup of coffee

Disadvantages:

  • This can stain the cloth - so it should only be an emergency coffee filter! 
  • Takes longer for the steeped coffee to travel through and to let the grounds settle (depending on the thickness of the material)
  • Can remove some of the flavor, so not great coffee filters for a coffee enthusiast

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 and make it single serve coffee bags! Allow it to steep in hot water, and remove the bag when you’re happy with the strength of the beverage. 

Advantages:

  • Mess free, and waste free
  • Easy to do 
  • Can even work with instant coffee
tea bags as Coffee Filter Substitutes

Disadvantages:

  • Won't filter very fine grounds 
  • Not everyone has a reusable tea bag handy

5. Cheesecloth 

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

Cheesecloth substitute coffee filters 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.  

Advantages:

  • Very similar to paper filter or paper towel and filters effectively 
  • Can be easily folded to fit in a coffee maker
  • Completely safe

Disadvantages:

  • Has larger holes (depending on which grade you buy) so it can't filter some finely ground coffee beans 
  • Quite expensive compared to paper coffee filters so it's a bit of a waste

Can I Make Coffee Without A Filter? (Expert Opinion)

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 coffee cup, so the slower you pour, the better.  

Making Coffee Without Filter

Frequently Asked Coffee Filter 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 paper towel, it’s best to find green products that don’t contain chemicals to prevent harmful ingredients from leaching into your coffee.[1 

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. 


Conclusion

If you're out of paper filters there's no need to settle for instant coffee or run out to coffee shops.

There's lots of different options to filter your coffee, from using a paper towel, a dish cloth, or even a coffee sock! 

Hopefully this guide has given you some useful ideas so that even if you run out of filters, you can still have a great cup of coffee.

References:

1. https://www.consumerreports.org/cro/news/2010/04/best-green-cleaners-paper-products-for-your-family/index.htm

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