14 Surprising Coffee Filter Substitute Options For All Situations

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Coffee filters–I think we’ve all wondered whether they are really necessary to use when making our favorite morning beverage. I know people use them every day. Suppose you ran out, and a trip to a store would be inconvenient, because of bad weather, or you were sick? Is there an easy-to-use DIY coffee filter or coffee filter substitute that might work just as well and possibly be easier to use? 

You may be skeptical because you’re used to using them. I don’t blame you. What could work as well or be as simple? Let’s look at some alternatives. 

Cowboy Coffee

I suppose you know the cowboys who rode the range with their broad chaps and wide-brimmed hats during cattle drives didn’t have coffee filters. Yet, the times were tough; the rides were rough, and it was that strong black cowboy coffee that helped them survive the hard work. 

Cowboy coffee isn’t hard to make. Add the same amount of water to a coffee pot as normal when making the morning beverage. When warm, add the coffee and stir well. Remove from the heat and let sit for a minute to let the grounds settle to the bottom.

I will admit you may still see some coffee grounds. It’s easy to get rid of them by adding 1/4 cup or less of cold water or straining the coffee. Drinking cowboy coffee may seem like cheating when you’re not on a cattle drive, but it will work if you are out of filters. 

Paper Towels

paper towel can be a substitute for coffee filters.

I know this may surprise you, but you can make a coffee filter easily out of a paper towel if you have a large basket. Start by lining the basket with a paper towel and then add the ground coffee. Pour almost boiling water over the coffee. Then throw the paper towel and the grounds away, and you have coffee without a filter. 

Advantages and Disadvantages of Using a Paper Towel to Make Coffee

The obvious advantage is everybody has paper towels. I think that is a great advantage because you never have to run out of coffee or rush out to a store to buy filters if it is inconvenient to do so. A disadvantage is that, on occasion, glue or other chemicals are used to process paper towels. Because some paper towels are flimsy, an automatic drip basket should be used. 


This is normally used when making cheese to strain liquids. I know you may have never thought of it, but a cheesecloth can be used to make coffee. 

Measure out medium-sized coffee grounds and put them in your cheesecloth. Put the cheesecloth over a dispenser and pour boiling water over it slowly. 

If You’re a Tea Drinker Too, Try Reusable Tea Bags

Reusable tea bags

If you’re a tea drinker too, your reusable tea bags can be used to make coffee. All you need to do is to add one to two tablespoons of freshly ground coffee to a reusable tea bag. Add the tea bag to a mug and boiling water. Let it steep for a few minutes. 

Advantages to this Method

Reusable tea bags make good coffee, aren’t messy, and don’t leave grounds at the bottom of your cup. However, if you only have one reusable tea bag, you may not end up with very strong coffee since there won’t be many coffee grounds infusing with the water.

Another Alternative: Fine Mesh Sieves

fine mesh sieves can be used to filter coffee.

To make coffee using fine mesh sieves, put two tablespoons on the bottom of a measuring cup. Pour a cup of water that is almost boiling over the grounds and stir. It will take about five minutes or so, depending on your preference for coffee strength, for it to be ready. Then use the fine mesh sieves to filter the grounds by pouring coffee through the mesh set over a cup. You could also use a cheesecloth to catch them. 

Advantages of Sieves

I think it is a major advantage that you don’t have to throw anything away like with disposable coffee filters. I like that you could even make a whole pot this way if desired and control how strong the coffee is and how long you steep the coffee–depending on your preferences. A disadvantage, however, is the sieve won’t catch the finest coffee grounds. 

Cloth Napkin

cloth napkin with sliverware

Another coffee filter substitute is a cloth napkin or dish towel. This method can work well, but I need to warn you to use a cloth napkin or dish towel you don’t care about. It will continue to be coffee-stained, even if you wash it well. 

How To Make Coffee From a Napkin

Drape your cloth napkin or dish towel in a single layer over whatever cup you want to use. After you add two tablespoons of medium ground coffee, pour boiling water over it. Then dump the extra grinds from the napkin and wash the cloth napkin or towel. 

Thick Cotton Socks

I know this may sound strange, but it will work, as long as the socks are clean. If that isn’t enough to convince you they are safe to use, make sure you use an unworn pair. Pour two tablespoons into your coffee sock, and allow it to steep for three to four minutes. On the other hand, you could hold the coffee sock over the pot, pour water, and allow it to drip into the pot. 

Pros and Cons of Using a Sock

This will make a reliable cup of coffee, and socks filter out the grounds quite well. A sock can also be reusable. Some people might not like the idea of using a sock to make coffee, however, and it can be hard to clean. 

Instant Coffee

I know some of you, when thinking of a coffee filter substitute, would never think of instant coffee. It’s true, that some may not like the taste of instant coffee, but others really do. Regardless of what your feelings are, it’s convenient. 

French Press as a Coffee Filler Substitute

french press with a cup of coffee

Do you have a French press? Of all the coffee filter substitutes, a French press may be one of the best, because it has a built-in mesh filter. You don’t need anything else, other than the coffee and water

How to Use a French Press

French press is a cylindrical pot with a plunger. Take the plunger out. It has a built-in filter screen that presses hot water through the ground coffee, but you will need to use medium grinds. After adding a heaping tablespoon of coffee to the pot, you will need to add hot water, but not boiling, into the pot, and stir. Reinsert the plunger, but don’t use it yet before allowing it to steep for three to four minutes. 

Then press the plunger down slowly, but in a steady manner. The pot will need to be washed with mild detergent and water after each use, and dried thoroughly. 

Advantages and Disadvantages of a French Press

The coffee is easy to brew, and you won’t need any extra equipment. It can be easy to oversteep, and some grounds can end up at the bottom of your cup. 

Have You Ever Heard of the Kopi Tubruk Method?

close up of mug of kopi tubruk style coffee

You can make coffee as many do in Indonesia, and you won’t need a coffee filter. Add your fine grounds to your cup, and if you use sugar, add it at the same time. Heat the water to almost boiling, add to the coffee, stir, and let the grounds seep to the bottom. This is one of the simplest coffee filter alternatives. 

Moka Pot

While uncommon to some, Moka Pots are amazing for those who like bold coffee. Water sits on the bottom of a Moka pot. When it is heated, steam will push the water into the upper section, which is filled with coffee. 

To make, fill the bottom of the Moka pot with hot water. Fill the basket with coffee grounds, and let them settle loosely. After placing the basket on the bottom, screw the upper and lower part of the pot. Warm at medium heat, and coffee will collect in the upper chamber. 

Permanent Metal Sieve

pour over coffee using dedicated metal sieve

I know you might have wondered if there are any permanent coffee filter alternatives, so you might never have to buy them again? A permanent metal sieve might be just such an alternative. This will work with both a pour-over brewing method and AeroPress. The one downside is a metal sieve won’t hold fine grounds, so a paper filter will work better in that scenario. 

Clean Handkerchief


If no other coffee filter alternatives are available, I suggest a handkerchief. Fold the handkerchief in the shape of a cone and use close pins or paper clips to attach it to your coffee cup. A small depression will form to hold the coffee grounds as water drains through to your cup. After the water has drained, you should throw the grounds away and rinse the handkerchief in cold water, so it won’t stain. 



I know this may sound strange, but if you don’t have coffee filters, pantyhose can work as a substitute. Naturally, they should be clean, and new ones will work best. Put one hose inside the other, after cutting the feet off. This will give you layers for the coffee to pass through. This will keep grounds out of a coffee mug.

Clean just like you would a cotton sock. It is better if you don’t use fine ground coffee, because there may be sludge at the bottom of your cup. At least, you won’t have to do without coffee. 

No Filter Doesn’t Mean No Coffee

If you have coffee and a way to grind the beans, you can make a cup of coffee. Though some filter substitutes can be a little strange (*I’m talking to you socks and pantyhose*), you likely already have what you need to brew coffee without a filter. So be bold and try something new!