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No Coffee Filter? 6 Coffee Filter Substitute Ideas That Work

It’s morning again, so you stumble over to the coffee maker and reach for the coffee and a filter. But you’re out of filters!

Oh no! Now what?

You might be thinking – what can I use instead of a coffee filter? The answer is lots of things – from a paper towel to a dish towel.

Keep reading for more DIY coffee filter ideas that can help you get that cup of joe in a pinch.

What To Use If You Have No Coffee Filters?

Listen, we’ve all been there – jonesing for a cup of coffee and panicking because there’s no filter in the kitchen. The worst is when you’re in a hotel or vacation rental and this happens.

Luckily, there are lots of way for you to MacGyver a coffee filter that will get that coffee brewed for ya.

So, if you want to know how do you improvise coffee filters when you’re out of them, here’s some awesome ways to do that.

1. Use A Paper Towel or Napkin

As any coffee addict knows, this is the best way to hack a coffee filter out of household items. Plus, it ends up being the closest you get to a regular paper coffee filter.

Honestly, I feel like I’ve had to do this so many times it’s not even funny.

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You can see a quick video demonstration of how easy it is to use a paper towel as a coffee filter.

You can also use a napkin as a makeshift coffee filter, but I think that paper towels are the better option.

They’re usually thicker than napkins, so you don’t have to worry about them breaking and getting grounds in your coffee.

2. Use A Tea Bag

If you’re also a tea drinker, then you probably have some of those empty disposable tea bags. You know, the ones that are designed for loose leaf tea and often called tea filters.

paper tea filter
image: CITEA

Well, you can put coffee in one of those and use it as a coffee filter. It works pretty well, as long as it stays closed and prevents coffee grounds from ending up in your brew.

If you don’t have any empty tea bags, then you might have some tea bags with tea in them, like if you’re at a hotel.

So, just carefully open that up and dump those tea leaves and then use the bags as a filter. With this method, you’ll likely need more than one tea bag to layer in the coffee filter spot so that coffee grounds don’t end up in your cup.

3. Use A Clean Dish Towel

I feel this is one of those drastic measures that you take only if you don’t have either of the two items above. And honestly, who won’t have access to a paper towel or napkin?

So, they key here is that you’re using a CLEAN dish towel because you don’t want anything nasty in your coffee.

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Also note that this probably won’t be a good solution for your drip coffee maker, but it will work in a pinch in your Chemex or pour-over coffee maker.

The big problem with this solution is that towels are soluble, so it will soak up a lot of the coffee water and the brewed coffee. And you never know if it will make your coffee taste like detergent.

Plus, it will definitely stain the dish towel. But hey, if you’ve got no other options and you need that cup of coffee, then I’d do it too.

4. Use Cheesecloth

If you do a lot of cooking and baking at home, then you might have some cheesecloth in your kitchen. Personally, I’ve never had this in my kitchen, but my mom did a lot of baking and usually had it.

Cheesecloth is used by people who make nut milks, so if you don’t have some maybe your neighbor does.

image: Elenadan/Flickr CC2.0

If you do have some cheesecloth, then you can fashion a coffee filter out of it. However, do expect some coffee dust to end up in your cup and make that coffee sludge that’s sometimes waiting for you with that last sip.

Of course, if you’re grinding your own coffee beans, then just don’t grind them as fine to prevent the sludge in your cup.

5. Use Pantyhose

If you happen to have some pantyhose, tights, or trouser socks in your home, then they can be used a coffee filter in a pinch. Obviously, these should be clean and it’s even better if they are brand new.

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For this method, just put the coffee grounds in the hose and tie it off to prevent any leakage of the grounds. And now you’ve got yourself an improvised coffee filter.

If your coffee is a fine grind, then like with the cheesecloth, you may end up with that sludge at the bottom of your coffee cup. But hey, that’s better than no coffee!

6. Use A Mesh Sieve or Strainer

Though not found in my kitchen, people who do a fair amount of baking are bound to have a mesh sieve in the kitchen. If that’s you, then you’ve got yourself a pretty handy DIY coffee filter substitute.

These are often used for loose leaf tea and for making cocktails.

mesh sieve

The mesh sieve should act as a filter to keep the grounds out of your cup of coffee, but it’s not foolproof.

If your coffee is a fine grind, then some of these coffee dust will make it through the sieve and give you that sludge in your cup bottom that I keep talking about.

Final Thoughts

As you can see, there are several household items that you can use as a coffee filter substitute.

Of course, you can always skip the coffee filter entirely and go for some something like cowboy coffee or Turkish coffee.

But, if you’re looking the closest thing to your normal morning cup of coffee, then one of the options above should do the trick.

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