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Guides & Tips

6 Coffee Filter Substitutes You Have At Home

No one likes running out of coffee filters. Period. I know the pain well. All you want is your morning coffee, but what can you do if you don’t have paper filters? You search through your kitchen drawers, asking yourself, “What can I use as a coffee filter?”

You’re not alone – it’s happened to all of us. The good news is that with so much experience, we’ve learned what makes a good coffee filter substitute. And yes, your brew can be quite satisfying even if you run out of paper filters.

The 6 Best Coffee Filter Substitute Options

1. Mesh Sieve

A fine-mesh sieve can be an excellent way to brew a cup of coffee. After all, small sieves are often called tea strainers because they were made to strain hot liquids.

tea strainer

PROS (+)

  • The brew won’t pick up any of the unfavorable tastes you could get with paper or fabric filters.
  • You’ll get a stronger brew.

CONS (-)

  • A metal strainer misses the finest coffee solubles. 

The first step to using a mesh sieve to make coffee is to prepare your coffee in a pot, measuring cup, or thermos. Place your ground coffee in the pot, add hot (but not boiling) water, stir, and let steep for 5 minutes for a good extraction. Then place the mesh sieve over a mug and carefully pour the brewed coffee through it. An easy brewing process if there ever was one!

Would I use this option? Brewing coffee in a fine-mesh sieve can satisfy even a coffee connoisseur. I have used this brewing method on many occasions, especially when traveling. 

In my opinion, it’s the best way to brew a cup of coffee when you can’t get your hands on coffee filters. Keep in mind that the solubles will settle to the bottom of your cup of coffee, giving a mud coffee effect. It would suit a coffee drinker who enjoys more body in their brew. 

Who misses a cheap coffee maker when you have a sieve eh?

2. Paper Towel

If you run out of coffee filters, you can use one of the most common coffee filter alternatives: a paper towel. Simply place a towel in the filter basket as you would do with a coffee filter. Make sure the paper towel covers the entire filter. 

paper towels

PROS (+)

  • Convenient – you no doubt have paper towels in your kitchen.
  • Paper is very effective at retaining coffee solubles and gives you a brew with less residue at the bottom.

CONS (-)

  • Paper towels tend to dissolve in water, and napkins are even worse!
    White paper towels can impart strong – and unpleasant – tastes to your brew. There may be acidic, chemical, or papery tastes that can overwhelm the taste of coffee.

Once the paper towel is in place with a mug underneath, add about 2 tablespoons of coffee grounds. Slowly pour a cup of hot water over the grounds and brew as you normally would. Be aware that the towel may shift out of place when the water hits it. When the water has filtered through, your cup of paper drip coffee is ready.

Would I use this? I avoid using paper towels or napkins as coffee filter substitutes because of the negative tastes they can inject into the brew. Also, they sometimes dissolve during the filtering process. And speaking of dissolving, please don’t use toilet paper. It dissolves right away, and you will get a very papery cup of coffee.

3. Cheesecloth Or Butter Muslin

A fine cheesecloth can work well as a coffee filter. Simply drape the cheesecloth over the filter basket. Since cheesecloth is rather flimsy and can slip out of place, you may want to tie it to the filter basket or coffee mug with a rubber band. Place coffee grounds in the center of the cloth and slowly add hot water.

cheesecloth

PROS (+)

  • In a pinch, this may impart less unpleasant flavors to the coffee than paper towels, depending on what laundry detergent or fabric softener you used to wash the cloth.

CONS (-)

  • You might not have a clean cheesecloth or other cloth hanging around that you don’t mind staining brown.

This method also works with a dish towel, butter muslin, or a cloth napkin. The idea is, in fact, similar to the internationally popular coffee sock. A coffee sock is simply a cloth coffee filter, generally sewn on a wire or plastic rim, that is used to filter coffee. Keep in mind that any cloth you use will not look the same after you’ve brewed dark coffee in it.

Would I use this? I do prefer this coffee filter method over paper towels, and I have often used a coffee sock as a coffee filter in my years living in Latin America. It’s still not my favorite alternative for brewing a cup of coffee without a filter, since the cloth can be too thick for brewing coffee and is nearly impossible to clean well afterward.

4. Reusable Tea Bags

If you’re a tea drinker, using reusable tea bags as coffee filters may be the best method for you. If the idea of placing ground coffee in a baggie seems odd to you, keep in mind those single serve coffee bags that are all the rage. They are essentially the same idea as this do-it-yourself version.

Add between 1-2 tablespoons of coffee grounds to the tea bag, seal it, put it in a mug, and pour hot water over it. After 2 minutes, your coffee will be brewed, and you can remove the bag.

reusable tea bag

PROS (+)

  • Tea bags are designed to steep in hot liquid
  • They will not fall apart

They will not impart bad tastes to the brew

CONS (-)

  • You might not have reusable tea bags on hand
  • More expensive than other methods
  • Expect a weaker brew

Would I use this? I certainly would use this as a brewing method. Using tea bags as coffee filters ensures that I’ll get a drinkable (if not spectacular) cup of coffee.

5. Cowboy Coffee AKA Mud Coffee

And if you’re in a true coffee pickle and don’t have any of the coffee filter substitutes above, you can just brew coffee the way they do it where I live, in Colombia. 

In many areas, people don’t have coffee makers, and they brew coffee without using any coffee filters at all. In the United States, this brewing method is often called Cowboy Coffee, but here it’s just how they brew a cup of coffee.

cowboy coffee

PROS (+)

  • You don’t need any paper filters.

CONS (-)

  • You will get coffee grounds floating on top.
  • You may get the mud coffee effect, with too many coffee solids at the bottom of the cup.

The simplicity of Cowboy Coffee is that you don’t need anything special – just access to hot water. To make Cowboy Coffee, simply heat water in a pot and add coffee grounds. Stir. Let the coffee steep for about 5 minutes. Stir again, and then let it sit for a minute so the grounds settle to the bottom. Carefully pour the coffee off without using filters at all. 

Would I use this? I make coffee this way often, especially when traveling or visiting friends who don’t have a coffee maker. It’s a huge step up from instant coffee and brews a decent cup of coffee.

6. Cotton Sock

The thought of using a cotton sock as a filter substitute might sound a little in respect to brewing methods, but regardless if you’re a coffee enthusiast or a newbie, the basic sock you wear on your feet can indeed work instead of a paper filter. 

cotton sock

PROS (+)

  • You’ve already got socks! 

CONS (-)

  • Depending on the sock can be hard to get the grind right

This is probably the easiest thing you can use, which will easily fit your filter cup. Yes, it’s a sock, but it’s a simple enough substitute option everyone has at home. 

Would I use this? It’s not something I’ve tried, but it’s an alternative nonetheless. 

Summary

Even if you run out of coffee filters, you can still make a decent and satisfying cup of coffee using an alternative option listed above. 

Of course, these choices will not rival an expensive coffee machine, but it’s certainly something that does the job and then some. 

Try these coffee filter substitutes and find the one that works best for you. They will certainly get you better results than using instant coffee…Or, if all else fails, Instant coffee can boost your energy levels even if it doesn’t taste great!