Can You Use A Paper Towel As A Coffee Filter Substitute?

This article answers an unusual question: can you use a paper towel as a coffee filter substitute? We propose some ideas for improving the taste if you’re out of options.

stack of three paper towel in a kitchen counter - paper towel as a coffee filter
A paper towel is the closest coffee filter substitute you can find at home

You lazily walk into the kitchen with disheveled hair and eyes half-open to brew an aromatic pot of Java, only to realize that you are out of coffee filters. OMG! What will you do?

This may spark feelings of anxiety, and my true condolences are with you. But, you are not alone! Almost every coffee enthusiast or others faces this predicament when there is not enough time to rush to a store to get filters, and you also don’t want to go to the coffee shop.

So, what’s the other alternative? A paper towel because this is the closest substitute you can get for a filter. Just make sure you do not make it a habit to use paper towels frequently, and you will not have to worry about any health hazards.

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Can You Use a Paper Towel As A Coffee Filter?

Yes, you can. When you run out of coffee filters and badly need your morning fix, you can try your old college roommate’s method for a quick fix. As you put that paper towel in the filter cup, you may wonder if you are doing the right thing.

What about chemicals in the paper towel? Will they leach into your cuppa? Is this method harmful to your health? Let’s find out.

Your coffee filter has a lot in common with paper towels. Besides the thickness and ability to absorb, there are few differences between the two. However, if you thought paper was only made of wood pulp, you are mistaken.

You need to keep a few things in mind when using a paper towel as a substitute filter, and I have mentioned them below:

Are The Papers Towels Bleached?

When the thought of using a paper towel in the place of filters crosses the mind, the first thing or concern is the chemicals used for bleaching paper towels. Paper bleaching is certainly an issue, and it can allow unwanted chemicals to leach into your cup.

However, in most cases, the contaminants are not severe, and the health risks are negligible (unless you make it a habit to use paper towels every day).

When you pour hot water over the grounds placed inside the paper towel, water acts as an extracting agent for any industrial chemical used in the manufacturing process. As most paper towels are bleached using chlorine, the chlorinated dioxins present in the product may pose some health risks.

Pouring hot drink to the mug
Water acts as an extracting agent for any industrial chemical

Surprisingly, a study in the ’80s revealed that one in every ten thousand cases of cancer among coffee drinkers was due to dioxins leaching from the paper filters. While the chemicals leaching from coffee filters are low, the number of dioxins extracted from paper towels may certainly be harmful to your health in the long run.

While the recent improvements in the paper bleaching industry have reduced this risk to a large extent, some traces of dioxins may still be present in the bleached paper. If you wish to eliminate the risk of dioxin intake completely, switch to natural paper!

Are The Paper Towels Recycled?

Well, let’s not forget that the paper towels were not designed to be used as a coffee filter. It is meant for wiping, but you may use it as a makeshift paper filter when you badly need coffee, and the box is empty. Everyone does. I have done it too.

However, the paper contains contaminants that it gets during the manufacturing process. These contaminants like strengthening agents, fillers, and dyes have rarely gone through toxicity testing. Some papers may even contain phthalates, Bisphenol-A (BPA), and other hormone-imitating chemicals.

Food regulators approve these products because they believe that the papers will not come in contact with the food we consume. When the paper is recycled, contaminants also get recycled with the wood pulp, resulting in traces of chemicals in recycled paper towels.

That does not mean you should not buy recycled paper towels because they have many environmental benefits. Just that using them for filtering your coffee is not the ideal way to start your mornings.

How To Use A Paper Towel As A Makeshift Coffee Filter?

Running out of coffee filters on a cold winter morning may feel like a big deal. You certainly don’t want to go out of the house without something filling your grumpy stomach. This is when paper towels can come to your rescue.

Almost every household has paper towels, so when you are in a situation like this, just grab a towel and make a temporary filter out of it. While your coffee may not taste as great, it is better than no coffee!

  • Step 1: To make a temporary coffee filter, always use a full-sized paper towel and lay it flat over a table.
  • Step 2: Now fold the paper towel vertically into half.
  • Step 3: Again, fold the paper towel into another half (you will now get an almost square shape).
  • Step 4: Now take the folded paper towel and use the open ends to create a pocket to put your coffee grinds and keep it back into the filter cup.
  • Step 5: Put your favorite coffee grounds inside the pocket.
  • Step 6: Remember to fold the outer edges to ensure that the pot lid closes completely.
  • Step 7: Now add hot water (not boiling hot) slowly into the filter cup and let the coffee drip into the pot.
  • Step 8: Now enjoy your morning coffee. This may not taste as great as the coffee flavor you are used to, but you can still manage to have coffee without any filters.

What Are Other Alternatives To Paper Towel?

Many coffee enthusiasts may not approve of paper towels as the right substitute for paper filters. If you have similar feelings, here are some alternatives that you may try. Each method has its own set of pros and cons, but as I said, these come in handy as a quick-fix solution when you suddenly run out of coffee filters.


Cheesecloth is a cotton cloth used to make cheese, and it resembles a gauze used to separate liquids from solids. They come in different grades ranging from very fine to open ones. You may use a fine cheesecloth to brew when you have run out of coffee filters.

Use the same method as mentioned for the paper towels. Fold or cut it into halves to fit your brewing equipment. The biggest advantage of using cheesecloth as a substitute is that the fabric is stronger than paper towels and will not tear when brewing.

On the downside, not many people have cheesecloth as easily available as paper towels. Even if you do, you will need to cut it and discard it after one use.

Cloth Napkin

Kitchen napkin laid on top of a table
Set a cloth napkin on the automatic drip or pour it over the basket

If you have no paper towels at hand, you may use a dishtowel or a clean cloth napkin to brew your coffee. To use a cloth napkin as a filter, set it on the automatic drip or pour it over the basket (you may use a rubber band to secure the cloth on the top while letting it slightly droop inside).

Now, put two tablespoons of freshly ground coffee inside the napkin and slowly pour hot water (again, not boiling hot) into it. Carefully remove the cloth napkin from the mug to prevent the grounds from dropping into the mug, and rinse the cloth.

The advantage of using this method is that almost everyone has a clean towel somewhere in the house, which is reliable. The cons include the probability of staining the cloth napkin, puddles on the sides of the mug, and your coffee tasting a lot like laundry detergent.

Mesh Sieve

Another way to save your mornings when you run out of coffee filters is using a mesh sieve. To use this option, put two tablespoons of coffee grounds in a measuring cup and pour not-very-hot water into the cup and stir it using a spoon. Let it sit for 5 minutes or more if you prefer a really strong coffee.

Now you can pour out the coffee into a mug using a fine mesh sieve.

The advantage of using this substitute is that it is extremely scalable, and you may brew a whole pot of coffee using this method. You can also control how strong you want your coffee to be.

On the downside, a mesh sieve cannot hold the finest coffee grounds that drip into the mug and does not retain the oils that are usually absorbed by the filters. Using a mesh sieve, your coffee may taste different, but this is certainly better than no coffee!

Can You Use A Paper Towel As A Coffee Filter: The Final Word

Just because you ran out of coffee filters or you don’t have access to one while traveling does not mean you have to give up the joy of treating yourself to a delicious cup of Joe. Using paper towels instead is a quick and reliable substitute that can save your mornings.

While coffee purists may disapprove of this method citing various reasons, I feel this is the most sustainable solution. After all, who doesn’t have paper towels?

You may also try the other methods mentioned in this post to see what works best for you!

FAQs About Using A Paper Towel As A Coffee Filter

Can you use a paper filter with a permanent coffee filter?

If you want to more effectively separate coffee grounds from your cup of coffee or if you have high cholesterol (in particular, LDL cholesterol) and should drink filtered coffee rather than unfiltered coffee, you may use a paper filter with a permanent filter when brewing coffee in most situations.

What is the coffee filter holder called?

The term “portafilter” describes both the handle device and the filter basket inside the coffee filter holder. They are often formed of a robust, heavy metal like steel or brass. They may have a single, double, or “bottomless” spout, exposing the filter basket’s bottom.

Do you need a coffee filter for a percolator?

The traditional percolator coffee maker has a filter basket built into the design, so it doesn’t need a filter to brew a nice, strong cup of coffee. The holes in the basket allow for the passage of grounds into the finished product when the water restarts its perking cycle.

How do you make coffee filter art?

White coffee filters (basket style), liquid watercolor, and droppers or pipettes are needed to paint coffee filters using the fluid watercolor technique. You will transfer the liquid paint to the coffee filter using a dropper or pipette. It is suggested to stack 2 or 3 coffee filters at once.

How do I know what size coffee filter to buy?

Naturally, your selected coffee filter needs to function correctly with your coffee brewing method, regardless of its form or construction. Since there are many sizes of coffee makers, there are also various sizes of filters for each. Refer to your machine manual to select the correct size.

Do I need a water filter for my coffee machine?

Always use filtered water in your coffee maker since it affects the quality of the espresso you make in a significant way. In addition, using unfiltered water could shorten the lifespan of your coffee machine.

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