Coffee filters are crucial for anyone trying to make their favorite batch of drip coffee. However, situations do arise when people run out of coffee filters, and may not have the chance to go purchase more from the closest grocery store or convenience shop.

So what can one do in these situations? Are there alternatives or substitutes to your typical coffee filter that can be used instead?

The answer to that question is yes, and we will provide a list of the best coffee filter substitutes to use when you’re in a pinch!

Paper Towel

Paper Towel

In order to use a paper towel as a substitute for your coffee filter, there is a fairly simple procedure to follow.

Start by lining a pour-over basket or drip basket with your paper towel and position it over top of your mug or cup. Next, place two tablespoons of your ground coffee into the paper towel liner.

Gradually pour just about a cup of hot, but not quite boiling, water over the top of the grounds nice and evenly.

Once the water has had a chance to completely drain through your apparatus and into the mug, remove the pour-over basket and discard the grounds with the paper towel

Voila! You have your cup of coffee


The paper towel coffee filter substitute method is incredibly simple and easy to perform, Not to mention the fact that paper towels are almost always available in a typical household.

It uses basically the same method as a normal drip filter, and you can be sure that the fine weave of a paper towel will contain all of the fine coffee grounds so that none ends up in your drink!


One of the main drawbacks to using the paper towel coffee filter method is the fact that many paper towel brands may contain traces of bleach, glue or other potentially harmful chemicals used to process them.

This may be something to avoid, as the taste may end up being somewhat off, depending on the brand and materials used.

Paper towels are also often very thin and flimsy. As a result it is very possible that they could break and cause a big mess with all of the loose coffee grounds being used.

Clean Dish Towel Or Cloth

Clean Dish Towel Or Cloth

This substitute coffee filter method is similar to the paper towel method we outlined above. The difference here is the use of a clean dish towel or a cloth napkin instead of the paper towel as a filter.

Choose a towel or cloth that is perfectly clean, but one that you don’t mind permanently staining with coffee. Set the cloth over a drip basket and secure it with a rubber band around the rim of the basket, leaving a concave bowl-like droop in the middle of the cup.

Next, put 2 tablespoons of your coffee grounds in the middle of the towel or cloth, and gradually pour approximately 1 cup of hot, but not quite boiling water over the grounds.

Once the water has passed through and the dripping has stopped, carefully remove the cloth or towel filled with the grounds and discard the grounds. You can reuse the cloth or towel, maybe just give it a quick wash.

Voila, you have your improvised cup of coffee!


This method is super convenient, as most people will have some sort of clean towel or cloth around the house that they can use.

It is also very sustainable, as the towel or cloth can be used many times, and there is literally no waste created whatsoever as the coffee grounds can be composted!

A solid towel or cloth will contain all the fine grinds so that your coffee is nice and smooth with no mud. Definitely a great choice for a coffee filter substitute.


One of the obvious concerns with this method is the permanent staining of whichever cloth or towel you choose to use. Coffee stains are very difficult to wash out, and as a result, whatever you end up using may be a write-off.

There is also the issue of having your coffee taste like detergent or whatever the cloth or towel was washed in. Inevitably, whatever has been trapped in the fibers will effectively leech into your coffee when used as a filter, and as a result, your coffee may taste a little bit funky.

Finally, the potential for leaks, spillage and other messes is real. This may not be the cleanest or most classy way to brew up a cup of coffee.

Reusable Tea Bags

Reusable Tea Bags

It turns out that reusable tea bags are actually a super effective coffee filter substitute and can be used by following a quite simple process.

To start, take one of your reusable tea bags and add 1 to 2 tablespoons of coffee grounds to it, depending on its size and how much you are looking to make.

Seal up your teabag so that it is closed tightly, and then add it to a mug that is full of water that is not quite boiling, but still nice and hot.

Let your tea bag sit, soak and steep in your mug of hot water for something like 4 – 5 minutes. You can leave it in for a longer or shorter time, depending on how full-bodied you would like your cup of coffee to be.

Remove the teabag, discard the grinds, and keep the tea bag to use again next time. Enjoy your improvised cup of coffee!


Using reusable tea bags as your coffee filter substitute is actually a fairly mess-free option. The tea bags keep your coffee grinds contained, so there should be basically no spillage, and the bags are meant to be durable and resistant to breakage.

On top of this, tea bags are made of a food-safe material that is meant for retaining and filtering products similar to coffee grounds.

As a result, you can be confident that there will be no chemicals or other harmful compounds in your coffee, and the taste will also stay relatively unaffected, unlike some of the other filter substitutes.


Reusable tea bags aren’t really the most common household item, as most people purchase pre-filled packages of tea bags that are disposable and easy to use. This is especially true if you or someone in your household isn’t a tea drinker.

Other than that, the only problem here would be the limited amount of coffee grounds you can fit in a teabag, which will limit how much coffee you can make with each bag. If you are only looking to make one cup, this may not be much of a problem.

A Fine Mesh Sieve

A Fine Mesh Sieve

Using a fine-mesh sieve as your coffee filter substitute is another great option, and can be done quite simply as well.

To start, put around 2 tablespoons of coffee grounds into a glass or pyrex measuring cup. Next, pour just about 1 cup of hot, but not quite boiling water into your measuring cup. Stir once and let it sit for about 5 minutes (less or more depending on how strong you like your coffee).

Finally, pour the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve that has been securely placed over top of the mug you would like to drink from. If you want to maximize the number of grounds that are retained, you can use a piece of cheesecloth and lay it over the sieve for extra filtration.

Voila, enjoy your fresh cup of coffee!


This coffee filter substitute method is fully scalable. In other words, you can make as little as a single cup of coffee, or as much as a full pot, as long as you have the right-sized utensils!

Another big positive to the fine mesh sieve method is the fact that you can control how strong or weak your coffee is by changing how long you let the grounds steep in your measuring cup. This is an awesome feature that other methods cannot quite provide.

One final positive aspect of this coffee filter substitute is the fact that there is nothing that needs to be thrown in the trash! From a sustainability standpoint, this method is very effective, as the only discarding will be the used coffee grounds, which can be composted!


The most obvious, and frankly the only downside to using a fine-mesh sieve as your coffee filter substitute is the fact that it inevitably will not catch the finest of coffee grounds. As a result, you may not always get the smoothest cup of coffee.

However, remember our cheesecloth trick that can be used for this exact issue!


Last Updated on February 6, 2022 by Ashok Parmar


My name is Ashok Parmar, and for seven years, I worked as a warehouse manager that strictly dealt with coffee shops all around the United States.

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