8 Coffee Filter Substitutes

What do you do if you find yourself without coffee filters? Here are 8 household items that you can turn into coffee filter substitutes in a pinch.

Picture this: You wake up to your alarm blaring and stumble into the kitchen to make a pot of hot steamy goodness so you can face the day. You open your trusty kitchen drawer only to find that you’re out of paper filters.

Suddenly, your day has gone from good to terrible. How could you have let yourself run out of coffee filters? You need coffee, and it needs to be filtered because you’ve read that it’s heart-healthy.

Are you doomed to being a caffeine deprived, cranky mess for the rest of the day?

Of course not! There are tons of common household objects you can use to rig up a quick coffee filter substitute.

All it takes is a bit of patience and a little ingenuity. Obviously, you’ll want to make sure that whatever you use is clean, but other than that, feel free to Macgyver your way into starting your day off the way you like–with a hot cup of joe.

We’ve come up with 8 ways to rig up a coffee filter substitute on the fly.

Coffee Filter Substitutes – When You Need an Alternative Fast!

1. Handkerchief

In a pinch, clean handkerchiefs can work great as coffee filter substitutes.

They work best for making pour-over coffee: Fold one into a vaguely conical shape and attach it to your coffee cup with paper clips or clothespins. Let a small depression form at the top of your mug to hold the coffee grounds as the water slowly drains through the fabric.

Once the hot water has drained through, carefully remove the fabric, toss the grounds in the trash, and rinse the handkerchief in cold water so the fabric doesn’t stain.

2. Cheesecloth

A piece of cheesecloth can be used for both pour-over coffee or in a coffee maker.

Fold the cheesecloth at least once so the coffee will be thoroughly filtered. Mold it into a vaguely conical shape if you’re making pour-over coffee.

If you’re making coffee in a coffeemaker, use scissors to cut the cheesecloth so it fits precisely into the drip basket and doesn’t sag while brewing, leading to grounds in your coffee pot.

Discard the cheesecloth with the grounds after use.

3. Coffee Sock

Coffee can be filtered through a cotton sock
Coffee can be filtered through a cotton sock

Yes, you read that right, you can use a clean cotton sock as a coffee filter. There are even special coffee ‘socks’ you can buy if you find this method particularly useful or tasty.

Add several tablespoons of fine coffee grounds to the sock, then hover the sock over a mug and slowly pour hot water over the grounds and through the sock.

Discard the coffee grounds and rinse the sock in cold water after use.

4. Pantyhose

I know this sounds weird, but a clean pair of stockings can work great as a coffee filter substitute. Cut off the feet and place one inside the other so you have two layers for the coffee to pass through. This will keep grounds from getting into your mug.

Use and clean this the same way you’d use a cotton sock.

5. Fine Mesh Sieve

A sieve with fine mesh holes can also be used if you’re ok with coffee that hasn’t had the oils filtered out. Both fabric and paper filters soak up coffee oils, but metal filters do not.

Steep coffee grounds in hot water for 4 minutes and then pour through the sieve into your mug.

After you’re done, dump the coffee grounds into the trash and wash the sieve with hot soapy water.

6. Napkins or Paper Towels

Paper napkins are an effective coffee filter substitute
Paper napkins are an effective coffee filter substitute

Napkins, a paper towel, or even a bit of toilet paper can be used as a coffee filter during a coffee emergency. Fold the paper into a square or bowl shape, add your coffee grounds, and carefully pour hot water through.

These are not recommended for use in the drip basket of a coffee maker because they can tear easily; the pour-over method is best for single-use paper products like a paper towel because you can carefully control how much and how aggressively water goes through them.

Discard with the grounds after you’ve brewed coffee.

7. Tea Bags

If you drink tea regularly, there’s a decent chance you have disposable or reusable tea bags hiding in your kitchen somewhere. They can easily be used as a coffee filter substitute!

Just fill them with finely ground coffee instead of tea leaves, and steep in hot water until it’s turned into a hot, black brew.

8. Gravity Is The Simplest of All Coffee Filters

To be honest, you don’t actually need coffee filters to make a great cup of coffee.

To make coffee without a filter, all you need is a pot. Cowboy coffee is incredibly simple!

  • Heat about 15 ounces of cold water and 1/4 cup of coarse coffee grounds in a pot.
  • Once it boils shut off the heat, cover with a lid, and let it steep for 4 minutes.
  • When it has steeped, carefully add 2 ounces of cold water. This helps the grounds settle at the bottom of the pot.
  • Carefully pour the coffee into mugs or a carafe, leaving behind the grounds and a small amount of liquid.

Another way to use gravity is to pull out that old camping percolator that’s sitting in your garage. Clean it, set it on the stovetop, and fill it with coffee grounds and water. It’ll make good, strong coffee for you in no time.

Coffee Filter Alternatives FAQ

Can you make filter coffee without a machine?

Absolutely! You just need to put together a simple apparatus to hold the filter and grounds. A small funnel on top of a mug will work for a single cup. A fine-mesh sieve over a bowl or pitcher will work for an entire pot of coffee.

How do you improvise coffee filters?

Whatever you decide to use, inspect it first to make sure it’s sturdy enough for nearly boiling water to pass through it without breaking. You may need to fold the material several times to make it thick enough so it won’t disintegrate while brewing.

The Last Word on Coffee Filter Substitutes

No matter what kind of coffee maker you have, there are going to be times where you find yourself without a coffee filter and need to improvise something fast.

With these 8 coffee filter alternatives, you should never be without coffee. There will always be a way for you to come up with a good, hot cup of java to power you through your morning.


  • AE Inman

    A E Inman is a direct response copywriter and humor blogger. When she's not poking fun at her attempts to start a writing business, she can be found in the tea aisle of her local import store, arguing with strangers over the merits of rare tea varietals. She enjoys writing copy while consuming copious amounts of coffee and gunpowder tea.