Can You Use a Paper Towel as a Coffee Filter? (Plus 4 More Alternatives)

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Remember that huge pack of coffee filters you thought would never run out? Surprise, it’s empty, and it was your last one! Oh no! But hold on, could a paper towel step in as a makeshift coffee filter?

Need a quick coffee fix but out of filters? Try using a paper towel! Simply fold it to make a pouch for your coffee grounds. It’s not ideal for everyday use, but it’s a handy trick when you’re in a bind. Just remember, it has its downsides.

In this post, we’re diving into a cool coffee hack: using a paper towel as a temporary coffee filter! I’ll guide you through picking the right paper towel, why it might not be a perfect solution, and share some other quick fixes for when you’re out of filters. Perfect for those “oops” moments!

Can You Use a Paper Towel as a Homemade Coffee Filter?

A neatly folded paper towel can save the day as a makeshift coffee filter. It’s not a forever fix, but perfect for those moments when you’re out of filters and craving your next coffee fix.

To use a paper towel as a makeshift coffee filter, fold it just right so it fits snugly. Surprisingly, the everyday kitchen paper towel isn’t too different from a real coffee filter. They’re similar in thickness and both are great at soaking things up. But, remember, it’s not a perfect match for a standard coffee filter.

Are Bleached Paper Towels a Health Concern?

Paper towels are bleached to look white. This process uses chemicals that might worry you if you use the paper towel method often. Keep this in mind for your coffee adventures!

When you use paper towels as a coffee filter, be careful. The bleaching process adds chlorine, which can leave harmful chlorinated dioxins behind. Hot water can make these chemicals seep out from the towel into your coffee.

Did you know that not just paper towels, but also coffee filters can contain harmful dioxins? According to a 1980s study, there’s a tiny risk (like, one in 10,000) that these dioxins might leak into your coffee. While it’s super rare, in the worst cases, these dioxins could potentially lead to certain cancers. But remember, it’s incredibly uncommon, so don’t let it scare you off your morning brew!

Using a paper towel as a DIY coffee filter isn’t great for the long haul. However, for a quick fix, it’s okay. Just remember, the bleach in them isn’t a worry if you steer clear of piping hot water.

Should You Use Recycled Paper Towels or Not?

Paper towels are made for wiping surfaces and soaking up spills, not for touching your food or drinks. They’re not crafted with eating or drinking in mind, so it’s best to keep them separate.

Regular Paper Towels

To create paper towels, we start with pulp. Then, we mix in colorful dyes and special agents to make it stronger. This mix helps change its color and ensures it stays together, so it doesn’t fall apart when you use it.

Some paper towels from certain brands may contain chemicals like BPA. While these are usually safe in small amounts, it’s important to know that paper towels aren’t meant for constant use with food and drinks.

Recycled Paper Towels

When using recycled paper towels, it’s important to think about their past. They’ve touched many things before getting to you. Even though they’re recycled, not all chemicals they met along the way are removed. That’s just how it goes.

If you’re out of coffee filters, recycled paper towels can be a backup. They’re good for the planet, but for the best coffee taste, regular paper towels work better. Keep it eco-friendly when you can!

How to Use a Paper Towel as Coffee Filter

Have you ever noticed that a torn paper towel is a rectangle, not the usual shape of a coffee filter? No worries, we can easily transform it to fit our needs.

Discover the simple, 8-step magic to transform a paper towel into a drip coffee maker filter. Perfect for beginners!

  1. Tear off a piece of paper towel (a full-sized one is best). Place it flat on the table. If you have a window open or a fan going, we’d advise you to fix that first to prevent breezes from making the next steps harder.
  2. Halve the paper towel by folding it in half vertically.
  3. Now repeat the fold to create another half. Because paper towels are rectangular, it’ll only look kind of like a square at this point.
  4. Lift the paper towel carefully. Create an opening at one end, ready to pour in your fresh coffee grinds. It now has a pocket. Place the fancy new filter inside the filter cup of your coffee maker. 
  5. Pour your selected coffee grounds into the pocket that you’ve created. 
  6. Take care with the edges of your new filter to ensure it won’t prevent the coffee pot lid from closing fully.
  7. Pour hot, but not boiling, through the filter cup. Your new paper towel filter will gradually let the coffee drip into your pot.
  8. Settle in for your first taste of coffee today. Between the imperfect filter and the lower temp of the water, your coffee probably won’t taste as good. But at least you’ll have a shot of caffeine to start your day.

Are There Any Other Alternatives for Coffee Filters?

No coffee filter? No problem! You can use a napkin, cheesecloth, tea bag, or even a mesh sieve to brew your coffee. Explore these handy alternatives!

Napkin (Cloth)

A fresh cloth napkin can cleverly brew tasty coffee.

Wrap a cloth napkin over your mug and secure it with a rubber band to keep it from sliding off. Don’t worry if some of the cloth dips into the mug – it’s all part of the process!

Add a couple of tablespoons of ground coffee onto a napkin. Gently pour hot (not boiling) water over it. Finally, take off the rubber band and remove the napkin. 

Sometimes, coffee spills over the mug and onto the table. It happens! Just wipe it up and enjoy your brew.


Cheesecloth can replace paper towels for coffee filtering. It’s not common in kitchens since it’s mainly for making cheese.

It’s similar to a fine mesh, used to separate cheese solids from liquids. This same technique applies when you use it instead of a coffee filter, ensuring only the flavorful coffee makes it into your cup.

If you have cheesecloth at home, you’re in luck! It’s stronger than paper towels and works great as a coffee filter alternative. Perfect for brewing a delicious cup!


Love tea bags? Good news: You can also use them to steep coffee for a unique brew!

Put finely ground coffee into a teabag and seal it tight. Pour warm water into your mug and dip the teabag in. Let it steep long enough; too quick, and you’ll end up with a bland coffee. Trust me, you don’t want that!

Take out the teabag when your coffee reaches your desired strength. It won’t be as potent as coffee from a percolator or espresso machine, but you can still make it as robust as drip coffee.

Mesh Sieve

Our final pick is a fine mesh sieve, perfect for brewing. It’s all about those tiny holes!

Start by grabbing a cup and tossing in a few tablespoons of your favorite ground coffee. Next, add hot water—make sure it’s not boiling. Let it sit and brew. For a lighter taste, wait about 5-6 minutes. Love a bolder flavor? Give it 10 minutes.

Grab your mesh sieve and pour your coffee from the cup into a mug waiting below. You’ll need both hands for this. It’s an easy way to make coffee when you’ve run out of filters.

When you use a sieve to make coffee, there are a couple of downsides. First, the flavorful oils from the coffee beans can sneak past the filter and into your cup. Second, tiny coffee grounds might slip through the sieve too. That’s why using coarsely ground coffee is a good move to avoid these issues.

Mesh sieve coffee is richer, much like French press coffee, because it keeps more oils.

What’s Next?

These tricks can help in a pinch, but they’re not a lasting fix. To ditch paper filters for good, think about getting a coffee machine with a built-in filter. For example, check out the Ninja coffee makers. They’re a great choice!

Consider a Keurig or an espresso machine; both are filter-free options for your coffee journey.

Now you’ve got a cool trick up your sleeve: using a paper towel as a quick coffee filter fix. So, sip on your coffee and have a great day ahead!

paper towel as a coffee filter