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Coffee Filter Substitute Using Everyday Household Items

April 01, 2021 6 min read

Coffee Filter Substitute

What can I use as a coffee filter? Almost anything, it turns out! Try one of our creative solutions below to make yourself a delicious cup of coffee without a traditional filter. 

#1: No Filter At All!

It might seem obvious, but first, consider if you have a French press tucked deep into the back of one of your deepest kitchen cupboards. If so, it's time to pull it out and dust this baby off because a French press has a built-in mesh filter that doesn't need any extra accessories other than coffee (and if you run out of that, this article won't be of much help anyway). 

If you don't have a French press at home, it's time to whip out a pot and make some good, old-fashioned cowboy coffee, as they did on the campfires in the old West, presumably. 

How to use:

You'll need a small or medium-sized pot, a stovetop or heat source, and coarsely-ground coffee. 

Place your small pot on the stovetop and bring enough water for a cup to a boil. Then, add 2 tablespoons of coffee grounds for each cup of water added, and let it steep over the heat. After 3 minutes, take the coffee off the heat and let the grounds settle at the bottom of the pot. Once settled, slowly pour the brewed coffee into a mug; the slower the pour, the fewer grounds will end up in the bottom of your cup. 

Pros

  • No extra tools or materials needed
  • Easy to brew

Cons

  • Some coffee grounds will end up at the bottom of your cup
  • Cowboy coffee can easily over-steep 

#2: Paper Towel

Paper towels make a simple coffee filter alternative, but they have a few drawbacks that make people hesitant to use them as a substitution. By folding the paper towel for coffee filter use, you can form a small pouch and design yourself an improvised coffee filter that fits right into your pour-over. 

The biggest roadblock to using paper towels as coffee filters is its treatment - you don't want to use bleached or chemically-treated paper towels in your coffee maker, as those chemicals can leach into your coffee cup. There are, however, plain, unbleached paper towels that tend to be a more inexpensive and earth-friendly option, too. 

Paper towels may also fall apart and break down under the pressure of the hot water, which might get a little messy and leave paper crumbs in your coffee cup. 

How to use:

  1. Fold one piece of paper towel in half, then fold the sides up slightly to form a conical shape.
  2. Place the homemade coffee filter in the pour-over maker, and add 2 tablespoons of medium-fine ground coffee to the filter.
  3. Boil your water and pour as you normally would, being careful not to overfill the makeshift pour-over coffee filter. 

Pros

  • Tightly woven fibers filter out most coffee grounds
  • Inexpensive
  • Easy to use and likely already kicking around your kitchen

Cons

  • May contain bleach and other chemicals
  • May disintegrate or break as it weakens under hot water
  • May taste acidic and "papery"

#3: Cheesecloth

Another of the very best DIY coffee filter options is cheesecloth, which looks and feels almost identical to a paper filter, but with slightly larger holes.

Cheesecloth comes in much bigger pieces than a filter, so cut a piece to the correct size to fold twice over as an emergency coffee filter. 

How to use:

Cut a piece of cheesecloth large enough to fit into your pour-over when folded over 2 times, and place it into your brewer. Add 2 tablespoons into the alternative coffee filter, and pour boiled water from a gooseneck kettle over the grounds. Take care not to overfill this coffee filter replacement.

Pros

  • Good quality filter that you can reuse

Cons

  • Some grounds may fall through the mesh
  • Less available at home than some other options

#4: Socks (Yes, Really)

Wondering how to make coffee without a coffee filter? Believe it or not, thick cotton socks are a long-used solution in place of paper filters. 

Make sure they're clean, and if there is still an 'ick-factor' there for you, grab a brand-new, unworn pair. They even make reusable coffee socks meant specifically for this purpose. 

You can make a sock coffee without filter papers by placing grounds in the sock and pouring in some boiling water. 

How to use:

Place 2 tablespoons of medium or coarsely-ground coffee into your coffee sock. Either hold the sock over a pot and pour the water, allowing it to drip through into the pot, or place the sock directly inside the pot and leave it to steep for 3-4 minutes. 

Pros

  • Filters out coffee grounds quite well
  • Brews a fairly reliable cup of coffee
  • Reusable filter 

Cons

  • Might feel gross to some people
  • Not as easy to clean 

#5: Fine Mesh Sieve

If you ran out of coffee filters but own a fine-mesh sieve, it's an almost identical substitute for a reusable metal coffee filter.  

Check your cupboards and get ready to strain your way through one of these replacements for coffee filters. 

How to Use:

  1. Place 2 tablespoons of medium ground coffee beans in the bottom of a glass cup, then top with one cup of hot water.
  2. Stir once, and leave to steep for 5 minutes.
  3. Place your mesh sieve over an empty mug, and pour the brewed coffee through the sieve into the cup. 

Pros

  • Delicious tasting, full-bodied cup of coffee
  • Reusable and zero-waste alternative

Cons

  • Less commonly found in kitchens
  • May let some fine grounds pass-through

#6: Cloth Napkin or Thin Towel

The easiest Chemex filters alternative that you're sure to have at home is a dish towel, or better yet, a cloth napkin! 

While this method works fairly well to make coffee without filter papers, be sure to choose a towel or napkin you don't care about, as it will likely be coffee-stained even after a good wash.

How to use:

Drape the towel or napkin in a single layer into your pour-over. Add 2 tablespoons of medium ground coffee and pour over boiling water as usual. Afterward, lift the napkin from the pour-over, dump the extra grinds, and toss it into the laundry bin. 

Pros

  • Sturdy and inexpensive option
  • Likely to have around the house
  • Allows virtually no grinds through the filter
  • Reusable and environmentally-friendly

Cons

  • Your towel will likely stain
  • The material may absorb too much water
  • May add unwanted flavors

#7: Reusable Tea Bag

If you're not only a coffee lover but also a tea lover, you can use reusable tea bags as coffee filter alternatives in a pinch. 

This no coffee filter method works pretty well and won't leave any unwanted grounds in your cup, as the teabags are paper filters designed to keep small bits of tea out of your cup!

How to use:

  1. Place 2 tablespoons of coffee grounds in a reusable teabag.
  2. Fill a mug with boiling water and place the bag inside your cup, allowing it to steep for 4-5 minutes.
  3. Remove the bag, and enjoy your cup of coffee!

Pros

  • Produces a strong, flavorful cup of coffee
  • Doesn't leave grounds in your cup

Cons

  • Less available in most kitchens
  • May cost more than traditional coffee filters

#8: Instant Coffee

If you want to know exactly how to brew coffee without a filter, look back to the past, as one staple of the 1970s is still kicking today - instant coffee!

Not everyone loves the taste of instant, while others can't get enough of it. One thing is undeniable - it's handy!

You may have a tub of instant coffee kicking around your cupboard that can tide you over for a day or two until you can get to the grocery store to replenish your coffee filter supply.

How to use:

Place 2g of instant coffee into a mug, then top with hot boiling water. Stir with a spoon until the crystals fully dissolve, then enjoy your cup!

Pros

  • Incredibly easy and convenient to make
  • No extra waste
  • Can easily control each cup's strength

Cons

  • Some don't like the taste
  • Not as commonly available in pantries

Final Notes: Which Coffee Filter Substitute is Best?

Most of these methods will work well in a pinch, though using a paper towel as a coffee filter can make a little more mess than some other options.

The best option will always be the one that's available to you, so check your cupboards to see which supplies you have on hand and choose from your available options.

We hope you enjoy experimenting with various filters in your pour-over coffee maker!


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