Coffee Facts

Coffee Filter Substitute: Improvising Your Morning Coffee Without A Filter

Just so you know, if you click on a product on RoastyCoffee.com and decide to buy it, we may earn a small commission.

Imagine waking up on a lazy Sunday morning, excited to enjoy your favorite single-origin when you realize that you’ve run out of coffee filters.

More than half of all coffee consumers would rather skip a shower in the morning than skip their coffee. And even though coffee filters are accessible in most stores and you probably have a lot of options where you can get them again, sometimes, leaving the house before your caffeine hit seems like an impossible task.

Or maybe you love your coffee but you are concerned about the issues of cost and sustainability when constantly purchasing paper filters for your brewer.

Either way, luckily, there are alternative coffee filter substitutes that can be commonly found in your household. Which ones would we recommend?

Cowboy Coffee (Perfect For Camping)

The easiest option when running out of filters is skipping the filter component altogether and making a cowboy coffee.

How?

Cowboy coffee is easy to make. Start with adding the water and bringing it to boil. Then, take the pot with boiling water off the heat and wait until the temperature falls and is perfect for making coffee. Add your coffee grounds, stir them well, and let the coffee brew. After you’re finished with brewing, let the grounds settle at the bottom and pour carefully into your cup so you eliminate the coffee grounds as much as possible.

What We Think

This method is easy and doesn’t require any equipment as a substitute for the coffee filter. This brewing method allows you to make multiple cups of coffee at the same time and is ideal for when you’re sleeping under the stars. However, you are likely to end up with grounds in your cup and the coffee might taste bitter and too strong.

Tea Towels (Convenient But Questionable)

This is a substitute for a coffee filter that can be found in every kitchen and is easy to use too.

How?

Get a clean dish towel or a cloth that you don’t mind about being stained. Place the cloth into your pour-over or drip basket, add your coffee and pour hot water over the coffee grounds. Keep adding more water as the coffee drips into your cup.

What We Think

This method is sustainable as well as able to catch even the finest coffee grounds. However, if you don’t have a pour-over funnel, attaching the cloth to your cup ends up being very shallow and can turn into being messy. Also, there is a possibility that your coffee might taste like laundry detergent. Even when using a clean one.

Coffee Filters

Paper Towel (Common But Not Recommended)

This is one of the most common methods since a paper towel can be found in everyone’s home, and it doesn’t require you to change the brewing very much.

How?

Similarly to when using a tea towel, line your drip basket with the paper towel and slowly pour your hot water over the coffee grounds.

What We Think

As straightforward as this method sounds, it comes with many negatives. Most importantly, paper towels often contain traces of nasty chemicals, glue, or bleach. And that’s not something you want to be adding to your coffee. Additionally, paper towels are thin and flimsy, so the paper can easily break. They also require you have a pour-over or drip basket, even to be able to use them. Even then, your coffee can have a papery and chemical taste.

Sock (Unusual But Effective)

Before you dismiss this option, hear us out. Using a coffee sock as a substitute for coffee filter has a long history, dating to one of the first traditional ways of brewing in Costa Rica, called the Chorreador.

How?

Hold a (clean) sock over your coffee cup, add the grounds, and pour in the hot water gradually, as the coffee drips into your cup. After you’re done, simply rinse the sock and it’s ready to be used again.

What We Think

This is one of the most sustainable methods that produce a good tasting cup of coffee with a medium or coarse grind. And if you don’t like the idea of brewing your cup in something that used to be on your feet, there are also coffee socks made specifically to be used as filters for coffee.

Reusable Coffee Filters And Fine Mesh Sieves

How?

With reusable coffee filters, you don’t have to worry about buying the disposable paper ones and you can use these as normal over and over again. Such filters exist for pour-over methods as well as the Aeropress.

But if you don’t have these, next time you need to brew coffee, you can also use fine metal strainers that are not designed for coffee but you can find them in your kitchen. In this case, you leave the grounds brew and then strain it through the fine sieve into your cup.

What We Think

Coffee made this way may seem quite improvised but it tastes pretty good. Because paper filters are finer than mesh sieves or even mesh coffee filters, they catch more oils resulting in a cleaner and brighter cup of coffee. The coffee tastes similar to the one brewed with a French Press, so if you don’t mind a more robust taste, occasional finest coffee grounds, and higher acidity, this is an excellent backup option.

Reusable Teabags (Not Common)

If you are as keen on tea as you are on coffee, you might have reusable teabags at home for brewing loose leaf tea. While this method is not that common, it works well.

How?

Put your coffee into the teabag and dip it into your mug full of hot water. Allow the coffee to brew for around 4 to 5 minutes and then simply remove the teabag.

What We Think

This method is easy, effective, and produces a tasty cup of coffee, without any coffee grounds. However, not everyone has reusable tea bags at home, and buying them just for this purpose can be quite expensive and not sustainable. But if you already have some and you run out of the filters for coffee at home, why not?

Instant Coffee (Emergency Option)

Instant coffee is never going to satisfy your tastes if you’re used to brewing a coffee from Colombia in your Chemex, but it is a good emergency option to keep in the cupboard. Not only when you run out of the last coffee filter, but in case you run out of coffee too. Scary, we know.

Filter Subs

Alternative Brewing Methods (Without Filters)

To avoid the problem of running out of filters altogether and having to improvise with the coffee filter substitutes, switching to a method that doesn’t require any is a viable option.

The brewers such as the French Press, a percolator, or a Moka pot are designed to be used without a filter, are budget-friendly, and produce a tasty cup of coffee. One thing to consider is that in general, they usually produce a taste that is more robust and full-bodied than a coffee that has been produced with the help of paper filters.

Disaster Averted

Waking up in the morning and finding out that you’ve run out of the filters is a nightmare for every coffee connoisseur. No need to panic. Many common pieces of kitchen equipment can substitute coffee filters.

While some like paper towels or kitchen cloths have significant limitations and aren’t ideal, others, like a fine-mesh sieve or a coffee sock can act as coffee filter substitutes that are surprisingly efficient at removing the coffee grounds as well as producing a tasty cup.

Next time you forget to make sure that you have another coffee filter left for your morning caffeine kick, don’t be afraid to experiment with one of our recommendations that can act as a coffee filter substitute or use alternative brewing methods like the French Press.

Stay caffeinated.

Share the goods

Recommended Reads

Brew like a Barista
from home

The Home Barista Coffee Course 14-lesson video course about brewing consistently amazing coffee at home. Stream or download the entire course to learn how to make coffee as good as your local barista for a fraction of the cost.

Learn more