Need a Coffee Filter Substitute? We’ve Got You!

simple coffee filter substitutes

Last Updated on August 8, 2021

Easy DIY coffee filter substitutes

Java lovers know that coffee can be a lifesaver, but what do you do when you’re not able to brew your cup of joe? It can certainly be a feeling of desperation when you realize that your supply of coffee filters is gone. G-O-N-E. So the frenzied search for a coffee filter substitute begins.

No worries, my friend. We’ve got solutions for you here as well as some timely suggestions for preparing the pantry just in case this happens in the future. You might be surprised at how many filterless coffee-brewing options are available to you!

We’ll provide suggestions and ideas for:

  • substitute coffee filters to be used in a pinch
  • coffee brewing methods that don’t require a filter
  • simple ways to make coffee that are quick, store well, and can be kept on hand for when you need them

For now, though, we’ll focus on coffee filter substitutes. There are several items in your kitchen cabinet or in your home that could work as makeshift filters for now. Let’s review the most popular solutions and you can decide which one will work the best for you.

By the way, if you click on a link and then decide to make a purchase, we may earn a small commission at no additional cost to you. Thank you!

Simple Coffee Filter Substitutes

substitutes for coffee filters in a pinch

Most of us will have some items around the house that we can use in a pinch. When you’re in need of coffee filter alternatives, here are some simple swaps to get you by until the next shopping trip.

Use a paper towel as a coffee filter

Paper Towels: As long as they aren’t too absorbent or thin, this option should work well enough to get you through the morning. Just make sure they’re clean and dry, and don’t overfill with grounds!

Here’s how to use a paper towel as a makeshift coffee filter:

If you have a flat bottom filter (for a drip coffee maker, for example) fold the paper towel like this:

  • fold a paper towel from one corner to the other to form a triangle. It’s probably not a perfect square, so match up one side.
  • fold the long sides of the triangle in, one at a time, to form a 5-sided triangle. They will overlap each other.
  • turn the top edges down toward the outer side of the filter
  • a bit of trimming might be needed to get your makeshift filter to fit properly into the filter itself

If you have a cone-shaped coffee filter (for pour over coffee drippers) use this method:

  • take a full sheet of paper towel and fold it in half. It’s probably not quite square, so line up one side and let the other side ‘hang over’. Now you have a triangle shape
  • fold the triangle in half, and now you have a cone-shape. This is going to be your filter today
  • trim the top of the filter if needed – check the height against your coffee dripper
  • open the filter from one side, not in the middle or it will come apart

Now, place your paper towel filter into your filter, add the coffee, and prepare your brew.

What are the disadvantages of using paper towels as a makeshift coffee filter?

whiskey barrel coffee gift
  • You’ll need a clean paper towel that isn’t too thin, because the ultra-thin brands might allow grounds to slip through or fall apart altogether.
  • If the paper towel on hand has been bleached or chemically treated, those chemicals could possibly find their way into your coffee cup. For a cup or two it most likely won’t do any harm. But a plain, unbleached paper towel would be the best choice.
  • It can be hard to avoid overfilling if you are using a pour over method. Pour slowly, gently, and carefully!

Cloth Napkins or Handkerchiefs

This is another absorbent substitute that could come in handy if you are without your regular paper filters. Lightweight cotton napkins, a thin cotton dish towel, or a handkerchief will work. It is an earth-friendly, sustainable coffee filter substitute!

Here’s how to use a cloth napkin or handkerchief as a makeshift coffee filter:

If you’re going to use a pour over dripper of some kind, this could be worth a try:

  • lay the clean cloth napkin (or what you have chosen to use) into the pour over dripper, fitting it into the dripper the best you can. The edges of the napkin will hang over the sides
  • put your freshly ground coffee into the filter and prepare your pour over as usual
  • be mindful of pouring slowly as this method is not the typical way you prepare your pour over
  • remove the cloth filter when done brewing, discard the used coffee grounds right away, and wash the napkin

What are the disadvantages of using a cloth napkin or handkerchief as a makeshift coffee filter?

  • the cloth may stain easily, so don’t use one that is close to your heart!
  • there is the possibility of unwanted flavors transferring to the coffee

Cheesecloth or Muslin Cloth

Any of these cloth materials can be reused if you’re looking for an eco-friendly option. But be aware that using one of these options to brew a cup of joe may forever change how it looks, so I wouldn’t advise using anything that would make you sad if it had to be discarded.

Here’s how to use fabric as a makeshift coffee filter:

  • Take a small piece of the cloth and secure it over your coffee mug. A rubber band could work well. Secure it as taut as you can, with a small dip for the coffee grounds and to allow you to pour the heated water over them without it spilling over.
  • Make sure your coffee mug is on a surface that is readily cleanable, because it could make a little bit of a mess.
  • Place your coffee grounds into the cloth
  • Slowly pour the heated water over the grounds.
  • Remove the cloth and used grounds carefully, then enjoy your coffee

You could also use this fabric with a pour over dripper as described in the previous section. This would be preferable as it is less likely to cause a mess.

What are the disadvantages of using a cheesecloth or muslin as a makeshift coffee filter?

  • you may see some grounds in your cup that have slipped through the fabric

Fine Mesh Sieve

If you happen to have one of these in your kitchen tools drawer it could make a pretty functional coffee filter alternative. Pull it out and clean it well, then do this:

  • heat your water first
  • put about 2 tablespoons of medium ground coffee into a measuring cup (glass works well)
  • pour in about 8 ounces of the heated water and stir gently
  • set your timer for 5 minutes
  • place the sieve over your coffee mug and slowly pour the steeped coffee into your mug

What are the disadvantages of using a fine mesh sieve as a substitute coffee filter?

  • you may find that some coffee grounds find their way to the bottom of your cup; otherwise it’s not a bad option when needed!

Coffee Brewing Methods that don’t require a filter

coffee brewing methods that don't require a filter

If you’ve ever brewed coffee with a simple French press or Moka pot, you know that these methods don’t require a filter of any kind. They are also easy on the budget, so a one-time purchase will give you years of coffee brewing options with no filter needed.

Cold brew coffee requires some steeping time, so planning ahead is key, but again, no filters are used.

Finally, how about some hee-hawin’ cowboy coffee…no campfire needed. Hey, if you really want to get your caffeine fix, this might be the ticket.

How to make French press coffee:

how to make espresso coffee with a french press

The French press is a well-loved coffee brewing method that requires only the press itself, some freshly ground coffee, and heated water. If you’re a coffee enthusiast, be sure to keep a French press on hand because it brews a rich, full cup of coffee.

Here are some quick instructions:

  • Grind fresh coffee beans to a coarse grind. If you don’t own a coffee grinder, here are some options for purchasing pre ground coffee that is of the proper grind
  • Heat your water to about 200 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Put the ground coffee into the press – about 2 tablespoons of ground coffee per 6 ounces of water is a good guideline to use
  • Pour in the heated water and give it a light stir
  • Place the plunger on the press, but don’t lower it. Leave it at the top and set a timer for 4 minutes to steep
  • After 4 minutes, press the plunger down, then pour yourself a delicious cup of java

Read more about brewing French press coffee here

How to make coffee in a Moka pot

how to make espresso with a moka pot

If you love strong, espresso-like coffee you’ll want to keep a Moka pot on hand.

Here are some quick instructions:

  • Fill the lower chamber with cold water to just below the release valve
  • Grind fresh coffee beans to a fine consistency, enough to fill the chamber of the Moka pot
  • Insert the filter basket funnel into the pot and fill it with the coffee grounds. Do not tamp it down.
  • Screw the upper chamber onto the base and make sure it’s on tight
  • Heat the Moka pot on the stove using no more than medium-low heat, and wait for 5 to 10 minutes for the water to boil
  • When you see a hazel-brown foam appear at the spout, remove from heat and pour. Now pour your cup of coffee and enjoy!

Read more about brewing coffee in a Moka pot

How to make cowboy coffee on the stove

how to make cowboy coffee on the stove

Another one of the coffee filter substitutes that can be a bit of an adventure is brewing up some good ole’ cowboy coffee. No campfire needed. No coffee filters needed, either. Just a little bit of time, a pan, some ground coffee, and of course, water.

Here are some quick instructions:

  • Bring about 2 cups of water to a boil in a stainless steel kettle or pan with a lid
  • Remove it from the heat and let cool for 60 seconds
  • Stir in about 6 tablespoons of coarsely ground coffee and return to the heat
  • Bring it to a simmer, not boil, then remove from heat, cover, and let steep for 2 minutes
  • Stir the coffee and steep for another 2 minutes; repeat.
  • Lift the lid and allow air to enter; the grounds will settle to the bottom of the pan
  • Slowly pour the cowboy coffee into your mug, leaving the last bit of water in the pan along with the grounds

Read more about making cowboy coffee

Plan Ahead with These Affordable Coffee Brewing Alternatives

If the thought of searching for a coffee filter substitute isn’t something you want to go through again, here are a few simple options for brewing a quick, tasty cup of coffee that will fill the need for caffeine and are tasty, too. And, no, we are not suggesting that you keep a jar of instant coffee on hand. Meh.

Reusable coffee sock filter

No, we’re not suggesting that you grab a sock out of the drawer and fill it with ground coffee. That’s gross.

A reusable, sustainable, eco-friendly coffee sock is a filter-shaped fabric that is used instead of a paper coffee filter when brewing your java. I love my coffee sock, and not only does it produce a great-tasting cup of coffee, there is nothing to dispose of except the used coffee grounds.

Reusable metal filter

A small investment in a permanent, reusable coffee filter may solve any filterless woes you have. Many are rigid styles constructed of stainless steel, but thre are also some options that look like fabric and are stainless steel mesh. Pretty cool, huh?

Coffee bags

Visualize tea bags that you steep in hot water for a few minutes, and you’ve got the idea of coffee bags. There are some companies out there that are working very hard to perfect this method of brewing/steeping a fresh cup of coffee. It tastes good and the bags can be kept in the pantry for that “uh-oh” moment when you realize that the paper coffee filters are gone.

And, you might just decide that these little buddies are too tasty to be kept in the dark!

Coffee packets

Is it instant coffee? Kind of, but not really. Folks like Starbucks have created a blend of freeze dried and instant coffee that is actually pretty good in a pinch. I’ve used them when traveling and I’m a coffee snob, so that says something for the taste of the brew. They have a longer shelf life than some of the coffee bags, too, because of the way they are produced.

the coffee files

Sum It Up

Discovering that you’re out of filters at the last minute is never fun, my friend. Hopefully these coffee filter substitute options have carried you through for the short term (like right now!) and also offered some solutions for the future.

Because if you love coffee, you never want to go without!