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What Can I Use Instead of a Coffee Filter? (Coffee Filter Substitutes)

Have you ever set out to brew your morning cup of joe, the promise of a delicious hot cup of coffee being the only thing fuelling you, only to discover that you’ve run out of coffee filters? This realization is enough to make your heart stop as you come to terms with the fact that such a small thing can get in the way of your essential morning fuel.

The good news is, there are actually loads of options you try, some of them work as a quick fix, and some options work as a permanent solution to this problem.

The best coffee filter substitutes range from reusable options to common household items or even just brew your coffee without a filter. The correct choice for you depends on your coffee brewing set-up as well as how urgently you need a solution.

Here is a huge range of options to suit every need so read on and you’ll be the most creative barista in no time at all!

Some ground coffee sitting in a paper coffee filter

Paper Filters

The very best choice for filtering coffee has to be paper filters. They’re inexpensive, compostable, and remove all the fine micro sediment that causes a grainy texture in your cup of coffee. It’s always a good idea to wet them with a little boiling water before use as this removes any papery taste.

Paper filters work best for drip coffee makers, pour-over devices like the Chemex, and Aeropress. If you don’t have paper filters to hand then here are some coffee filter alternatives so you never have to miss out on your morning java again.

Mesh Filter

Washing a mesh AeroPress Filter

You can buy reusable filters for most brewing methods and these come in the form of mesh or metal filters. They’re a great option to have to hand as you can simply discard the used coffee grounds and use them again for the next batch of brewed coffee. They don’t absorb the coffee oils as paper filters can so your coffee will have a bolder flavor which can edge towards bitter. Reusable metal filters also tend to require a coarser grind setting as well otherwise you’ll end up with the fine coffee grounds at the bottom of your cup.


A great coffee filter replacement idea is using a cheesecloth to strain away the ground coffee. Also known as a Muslin cloth these are cotton cloths with a tight weave designed to separate the cheese curds from the whey. You can buy them in most homeware stores as well as online. Simply brew your favorite coffee in a pot and pour it carefully into your coffee mug using the cheesecloth to catch any loose grounds.

Paper Towel

A quick DIY option if you really don’t have much equipment to hand is to use a paper towel in your coffee machine. Simply fold it into quarters and make a pocket out of it to add your coffee grounds. Be very careful removing the filter as paper towels can tear easily and may end up spilling coffee grounds all over your kitchen.

Similar to paper filters it’s a good idea to gently soak the paper towel with hot water once you’ve placed it in your coffee maker. This helps it hold its shape as you add the coffee and removes any papery taste. I would not recommend using toilet paper instead of paper towels as this is too thin and falls apart when it gets wet.

French Press

A Bodum Chambord French Press with the sun shining through it

French press coffee is the perfect choice for any coffee enthusiast who’s looking to avoid using filters. The device has a metal filter built-in and all you need to do is press it down once the coffee has brewed. Make sure you use a coarsely ground coffee bean and let the coffee stew for 4 minutes before you press the plunger.

Cowboy Coffee

Cowboy coffee is the simplest coffee filter substitute. Also known as mud coffee, this is a brew method where you simply add the coffee grounds to hot water, let it brew and then let it sit so the grounds settle to the bottom of your cup. Sip it gently so as not to disturb this and you get a cup of joe that’s not too gritty! This method is not for the faint of heart and often brews a bitter cup of java so isn’t the best method if you prefer your coffee mild and sweet.

Coffee Bags

You can buy reusable coffee filters in the form of coffee bags. These are paper filter bags that you add fresh coffee to stew similar to teabags. You can even buy empty tea bags to use for the same purpose.

The company Coffee Sock makes reusable coffee bags in the form of small reusable teabags, larger sock-sized ones, and even filters designed for use in your coffee machine. The cotton socks are all organic last for up to a year, saving you from using hundreds of paper filters.

Tea Strainer/Infuser

A tea strainer can be the perfect way to brew coffee if you don’t have a filter you can use. A tea infuser can also be a great option for a bolder cup of coffee. It’s really important to thoroughly clean any tea-making equipment after use as coffee oils get into all the small gaps and leave a bitter taste for the next tea drinker.

a cup of instant coffee with granules dissolving

Instant Coffee

It may come as no surprise that instant coffee is on this list. It may not be a suitable choice for the fresh coffee lover but it is damn easy to make and requires no specialist equipment. The trick with instant is to choose a good quality brand and make sure the water isn’t too hot otherwise you’ll burn it. Let the kettle cool for a minute or two after it’s boiled and you’ll avoid any nasty bitter taste.

Fine Mesh Sieve

Similar to a tea strainer, a fine-mesh sieve can remove a good amount of coffee grounds from your cup of joe. It works better for a coarser grind of coffee and can be used to filter the coffee after it’s brewed or you can use it as a pour-over setup. If the sieve isn’t fine mesh enough then you can always combine it with a paper towel to really take care of those pesky finer bits of coffee.

Dish Towel or Cloth Napkin

A final resort if you really need to get rid of those chewy coffee pieces but you have none of these other options to hand then why not use a dish towel or cloth napkin? Please, please use a clean one and be prepared for the coffee to stain it a deep brown color. Do not use your wife’s favorite dishcloth or the fancy napkins otherwise divorce may be on the cards!

This is only a good option if you don’t mind risking the item for the greater good of coffee making. Try to use the finest weave option you have and avoid any that are prone to leaving lint residue. If you find this method works well for you then you can even have a towel set aside for specifically this use.

Final Thoughts

There are so many great options when it comes to the issue of not having enough coffee filters. Some of these solutions are great long-term options that help reduce waste and are a better choice for the environment. Some are better for a coffee-related emergency and will save you in a time of great need.

Don’t let a lack of filters ruin your morning, where there’s a problem there’s always a solution.!

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