Coffee Filter Substitutes: What to Use When You Don't Have Filters

Coffee Filter Substitutes: What to Use When You Don't Have Filters

Coffee is almost a morning ritual we all follow. But if you suddenly find one morning that you don’t have any coffee filters left, no worries. Good news is that you don't have to skip coffee just because of the filter shortage. 

There are lots of things you can use in place of them, and they'll work just as well! Let's take a look at the best coffee filter alternatives.

What is a Coffee Filter?

Coffee filters help you brew a perfect cup of coffee. It can be made of cloth, paper, or metal. The filter's purpose is to draw less acidity from the grounded coffee and to enhance the coffee's intricate flavor - and of course, to keep the grounds from showing up in your cup of joe.

Substitute of Coffee Filters

Let's look at some coffee filter substitutes.

1. Paper Towel

paper towel

Paper towels can replace your disposable paper filter. Paper towels have a lot in common with a paper filter. They are absorbing and thick to the touch. It is almost the same thickness as a paper filter. 

This is what we use to make coffee when we go camping! 

How to Do it?

  • Take a full paper towel and fold it vertically into half.
  • Fold it one more time to give it a square shape.
  • Open the square shape from the center like a cone. 
  • Put the paper on the cup.
  • Pour the required amount of coffee inside the paper.
  • Add hot water and let the coffee drip.

Alternatively, if you have a flour sifter sometimes I would place the paper towel over that and brew the coffee - it helps keep the paper towel in shape and there's less chance of the paper towel getting too wet and showing up in your coffee cup.


  • Easy to use.
  • Paper towel resembles paper filter.
  • Disposable, no cleaning involved.


    • Paper towel is not made to be used as a coffee filter. It has some chemicals and glue traces that can leach through to your coffee.

    However, traces are very small, and it's okay to use them once in a while; just don't make a habit of it. 

    2. Cheesecloth


    Cheesecloth can also be used for brewing coffee. These are muslin cloths used to separate liquids from solids. Cheesecloth is available in different grades. You can use a fine-grade cloth for brewing coffee.

    How to Use Cheesecloth?

    • Spread it over the cup pressing a little inside so that water can stay inside for a while. 
    • Secure the cloth in a place with a rubber band around the cup.
    • Add your favorite coffee and pour hot water over it.


    •  Cheesecloth is safe to use. No risk of chemicals leaching into the coffee.
    • Cloth is stronger than paper, so there is no risk of falling apart in the cup or kettle.
    • You don't have to discard them later. You can reuse it later after washing it.


    • Not everyone has a clean cheesecloth in the kitchen.
    • It may give a different taste of coffee depending on the thickness of the cloth.

    3. Fine Mesh

    fine mesh for coffee filter

    If you have a fine tea mesh in your kitchen, you can use it for brewing coffee. However, the mesh is good for coarse grounds, not finely grounded coffee. Still, you can try. 

    How to Use a Fine Mesh?

    • Put a mesh sieve over the cup. 
    • Add coffee and then hot water over it.
    • Let the coffee steep, and you may stir it for a while.
    • Lift the sieve and enjoy the coffee.


    • Good coffee without the mess
    • Reusable; you are not wasting anything. 
    • It is easier to use than paper towels or cheesecloth. 


    • You may not have fine mesh for tea if you love coffee. 
    • Fine coffee grounds can pass through it to your coffee.

    4. Cloth Napkin

    Napkin as coffee filter substitute

    Much like cheesecloth, you can use a cloth napkin. However, the cloth napkin is usually not as thin as cheesecloth.

    How to Do it?

    • Drape it over the cup or kettle. 
    • Secure it around the cup with a rubber band.
    • Add the amount of coffee you are using.
    • Pour the hot water over the coffee grounds. 
    • Clean it as soon as possible as it may leave stains. 


    • Every kitchen has a dishcloth.
    • Traps all the coffee ground traces.


    • Dripping may take forever as cloth napkins can be thick.
    • If you already have washed the cloth napkin with detergent, your coffee may smell like detergent.
    • Coffee stains are hard to remove from a napkin so you may not be able to use the napkin later.

    5. Reusable Tea Bags

    reusable Tea bags

    If you have some reusable tea bags in the kitchen, you can also use them to brew some coffee. 

    How to Do It?

    • Add the required amount of coffee to the reusable bag. 
    • Put it in a kettle or cup of hot water.
    • Let it steep in there for a while, and then simply take it out with the help of a spoon. 
    • Discard the tea bag and used beans and enjoy the coffee.


    • Easy to use, with no chance of spilling or other accidents.
    • No chemicals are involved since the tea bag is a food-grade material.


    • You are making coffee like tea so it may not taste as delicious as you like it to be. 

    6. Use of French Press

    French Press

    If you have a French press, you can use it to brew coffee. It brews great coffee, and many people like the taste better than other brewing methods. 

    How to Do It?

    • Add coffee grounds to the French press device
    • Add hot water(not boiling) to the cup.
    • Stir the liquid one or two times.
    • Move the plunger down the cup. 
    • Your brew is ready to transfer liquid to the cup as the coffee ground remains under the plunger.


    • A great cup of coffee.
    • Hassle-free method.


    • If you use a moka pot or other brewing technique, you may not have a French press device at home.

    Final Words

    Yes, you can do many things if you are stuck in a situation and don't get your hands on filters. But all of these substitutes can't replace filters. Using a paper filter or cheesecloth is not a permanent replacement for a filter. Both of these substitutes are too complicated to use and untrustworthy. Make sure you always stock up on coffee filters or invest in a mesh filter. Mesh filters are not disposable, and you can clean them and reuse them for as long as you like without having to worry about being out of stock. Still, there can be situations like if you forget to take the filter to your camping or RV trip, then a paper towel or a cheesecloth seems like the two most appropriate coffee filter substitutes. 

    Related Articles:

    How to Clean French Press?

    What you can do with used coffee beans?

    Can You Use Buttermilk in Coffee? 

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