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Can You Use a Paper Towel as a Coffee Filter? Pros & Cons

paper towel close up

It’s early morning, and you go to make your cup of coffee, only to realize that you are out of coffee filters. You need your morning pick-me-up, so you look around to see what you can use as an alternative.

Almost every kitchen has paper towels, but can you use one as a coffee filter? Even if it works, does that make it a good idea?

The short answer is that it’s possible to use paper towels as coffee filters, but there are a few drawbacks that you’ll want to consider before brewing your next cup. We break it all down for you here.

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Advantages of Using a Paper Towel as a Coffee Filter

The most distinct advantage of using a paper towel as a coffee filter is that it works and you likely already have a roll. But while you’ll get your morning cup of joe, there will be a few noticeable drawbacks.

Disadvantages of Using a Paper Towel as a Coffee Filter

Paper towels aren’t the strongest material out there, so there’s a good chance if you don’t support them properly, they’ll tear during the filtering process.

There’s also the issue of what’s in the paper towel. Most paper towels have glue, bleach, and countless other chemicals holding everything together. When you use one as a filter, everything goes through all that stuff.

The small chemical content won’t kill you, but it’s probably not good for you either. It may also add a chemical/paper taste to your coffee.

That said, the long-term consequences of using a paper towel as a coffee filter is completely unknown. There aren’t many studies looking into paper towels as coffee filters and their impact on your health, but you may not think that it’s worth the risk in the long term.

paper towels as coffee filters
Image Credit: Brandon Cormier, Unsplash

How to Use a Paper Towel as a Coffee Filter

If you need that morning cup of coffee — regardless of any side effects — and all you have is a paper towel, here’s what you need to do.

Grab a regular coffee drip basket, line it with a paper towel, and then put your coffee grounds in. Pour hot but not boiling water over the coffee grounds, and let it work through the improvised filter.

It’s essentially the same thing that you would do with a regular coffee filter!

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Other Coffee Filter Substitutes

If you’re not up for using a paper towel as a coffee filter, there are several other methods that you can use. Here are three alternatives to a coffee filter that you can use to get your morning fix.

Reusable Tea Bags

freshly dipped tea bag
Image Credit: Tina Witherspoon, Unsplash

This is probably the best way to get your morning cup of coffee if you have run out of filters. The only drawback is that you need a reusable tea bag, and not everyone has one.

But if you do, all you need to do is put a tablespoon or two of coffee inside, seal it up, and then steep it in a cup of coffee. It works the same way, and you get to avoid the taste that comes from using a paper towel.

Mesh Sieve

mesh sieve
Image credit: WikimediaImages, Pixabay

A mesh sieve is another excellent choice if you don’t have a coffee filter. Simply put a few tablespoons of coffee grounds in the bottom of a glass and pour hot water over them.

Let it sit for about 5 minutes, then pour out the water through the mesh sieve to catch the coffee grounds. It’s a zero-waste method to filter your coffee, but it won’t catch the smallest coffee bits.

Clean Cloths

Dish towel coffee filter substitute

This method has the same advantages as the paper towel method, as well as the same drawbacks. You might get a chemical taste to your coffee depending on the detergent that you use, and there’s a good chance that you’ll stain whatever cloth you’re using.

We don’t recommend this method as much as the other two, but it is an option if you really don’t have anything else on hand.

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Final Thoughts

Now that you know the options at your disposal, it’s up to you how you want to get your morning cup of coffee.

If none of the options highlighted here work for you, you can always make a Starbucks or Dunkin’ run on your way to work and then pick up coffee filters on the way home!

Featured Image Credit: Kier… in Sight, Unsplash


Kate MacDonnell

Kate is a lifelong coffee enthusiast and homebrewer who enjoys writing for coffee websites and sampling every kind of coffee known to man. She’s tried unusual coffees from all over the world and owns an unhealthy amount of coffee gear.

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