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5 Smartest Coffee Filter Substitutes Found in Your Home: Ranked (With Pictures)

best coffee filter substitutes

You just woke up, you’re super tired, and you want some coffee to help get you alert and active. You wander over to your coffee maker and realize that you forgot to buy coffee filters at the store. Oh no! Immediate disappointment ensues. This isn’t how you wanted to start the day. Are there any coffee filter substitutes that won’t ruin your delicious beans?

We have good news for you. Some things around your house can be used as coffee filter substitutes, so you can still enjoy your cup of Joe. We will show you five things that can be used as a substitute for coffee filters, so you never have to go without coffee again.

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Top 5 Clever & Inexpensive Coffee Filter Substitutes

1. Paper Towels & Napkins (Most Common)

Using a paper towel or a napkin as a coffee filter is the most common solution. These are not designed for a coffee maker, but they can have the same effect as a coffee filter, making for an excellent coffee filter substitute.

One caveat: paper towels can contain unhealthy (and not very tasty) chemicals. You may want to think about what kind of paper towels you buy — and stick to the brown, unbleached variety in the future.

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

How: The process is the same as it normally is during your morning routine. You just place the paper towel or napkins where the filter normally would go before adding grounds. Make sure the entire compartment is covered, or else you could end up with grounds in your coffee.

  • Fine weave filters out grounds well
  • Inexpensive
  • Easy to use
  • Flimsy and may break
  • May contain taste-altering chemicals

2. Fine Mesh Sieves (Flavorful, But With Grounds)

If you cook or bake often, you most likely have a mesh sieve in your kitchen supplies. This can also act as a coffee filter. It’s very easy to use and produces a well-flavored cup of coffee.

Mesh strainer coffee filter substitute

How: Put the desired amount of coffee in the bottom of a glass cup. Pour your measured amount of hot water over the grounds. This needs to be stirred once and then steeped for about five minutes. Then, hold the fine-mesh sieve over a mug and pour the coffee through. The result? A full-bodied cup of coffee!

  • Excellent taste
  • Easy to use
  • Environmentally-friendly
  • Less common
  • May not catch fine grounds
  • Harder to clean

3. Cloth Napkin or Dish Towels (Convenient, Not Always Tasty)

As long as it’s clean, a dish towel or cloth napkin will also act as a filter. Remember that coffee can stain, so choose a napkin or towel that you don’t completely adore.

Dish towel coffee filter substitute

How: Drape it into the compartment where your coffee filter would normally go. Add the grounds and let the water run through as you normally would. Afterward, be sure to clean it!

  • Sturdy and inexpensive
  • Trap even the finest grounds
  • Environmentally-friendly
  • Cloth may stain
  • May be too absorbent
  • Can impart unwanted flavors

4. Reusable Tea Bags (Least Common)

If you brew tea at home as often as you do coffee, you might have reusable tea bags — or be able to DIY them! This is by far the most creative method in this list of alternatives, but it works pretty well.

Coffee in a homemade tea bag

How: Put your coffee grounds into the teabag. Usually, two tablespoons or less is best. Then get a mug of hot water and dip the tea bag into it. This just needs to steep for four to five minutes, longer if you like it stronger, and you’re done!

If you don’t have a reusable tea bag, you can make one using paper and string. Fold a piece of paper in half and carefully add the coffee grounds. Then tie the paper shut. Voilà, a homemade tea bag!

  • Steeping produces a strong flavor
  • Easy to use
  • Won’t leave grounds in your cup
  • Less common and may be more expensive

5. No Filter At All (Easiest)

Another option? Use a brewing method that doesn’t require a filter. There are a couple of good options here, like a French press, which has a built-in metal filter, or a percolator.

cowboy coffee on the campfire
Image: Jarno Holappa, Shutterstock

How: If you don’t have a filter-free coffee maker, Cowboy coffee (or its Norwegian cousin Kokekaffe) is easy to make, no matter where you are. All you need is a heat source, a pot, water, and coarse coffee grounds. Boil the water, add the grounds, and let the coffee steep. Then take the coffee off the heat and let the grounds settle to the bottom of the pot. If you pour carefully, you may end up with few grounds in your cup!

  • Don’t need any substitutes
  • Choice of brewing methods
  • May end up with grounds in your cup

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The Bottom Line

Now you know: running out of paper filters won’t keep you from making a tasty cup of coffee. We’ve shown you five great coffee filter substitutes that you can find already in your home. The mesh sieve and the teabags will give you the best flavor results, but you may not have them lying around.

This is the advantage of the paper and cloth options: they are in everyone’s kitchen. However, they can cause a flavor difference in your coffee due to chemicals and detergents. A paper towel or dishcloth might give your coffee a different taste than you are used to, but it’s probably better than no coffee at all! And if all else fails, why try a filter-free brewing method like a French press or cowboy coffee?

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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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