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Can you use a paper towel as a coffee filter?

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Imagine that you have stumbled out of bed and make your way to the coffee machine to make your morning cup of joe, only to find out as you reach into the cabinet that you are out of coffee filters. In this article, we will consider whether you can safely use a paper towel as a coffee filter and what other options are available to use.

What are you supposed to do? As you look around your kitchen and try to find a coffee filter substitute, you spot a full-sized paper towel roll and wonder if this could be a suitable coffee filter alternative. As a coffee enthusiast, it is essential to have a backup plan so that if you ever find yourself out of filters, you will know your options.


Paper Towel Coffee Filter?

Can you use a paper towel as a coffee filter?

Yes, you can occasionally use a paper towel as a DIY coffee filter if you run out of actual coffee filters. Using a paper towel as a coffee filter substitute will allow you to use your coffee maker without having to run out and buy filters or head to the coffee shop for your morning coffee fix.

There are essential differences between paper towels and coffee filters, so you shouldn’t use them interchangeably. The construction of a coffee filter is different from that of a paper towel.

Coffee filters are made of mesh cloth woven and stretched across a metal frame. In contrast, paper towels are made from absorbent cellulose pulp that has been dried into sheets of paper. Paper towels also have tight weaves, so they will still work as a filter, but it’s a different material. This means there is less chance of coffee grounds being at the bottom of your cup if you use paper towels as coffee filter alternatives.

One downside to using a paper towel as a DIY coffee filter is that they are cured. This means there are chemicals in them that are likely harmful to your health over the long term. In addition, the chemical makeup of the paper towel may affect the taste of the coffee as well.

Related: Brown Vs White Coffee Filters

Alternative Options

While a paper towel can be used as an emergency coffee filter, other options are also available. These are good if you run out of coffee filters and do not have a paper towel handy or worry about using it for brewing coffee.


Cloth Napkin or Dish Towel

Ruvanti Kitchen Cloth Napkins 12 Pack 18 X 18 Inch Dinner Napkins Soft, Comfortable, Reusable Napkins, Durable Linen Napkins, Perfect Table Napkins, Burgundy Napkins for Dinners, Parties & Wedding.

One coffee filter alternative is to use a cloth napkin or a clean dish towel. However, if you opt to use such items as a coffee filter substitute, you’ll have to prepare your coffee differently.

If you are making pour-over coffee, you can secure the clean towel or clean cloth napkin to the top using a rubber band. Let the cloth droop a little inside the pot. Then add two tablespoons of ground coffee to the napkin and slowly add hot water. The water should not be boiling, just hot.

Once that is done, carefully remove the towel or napkin to prevent the grounds from getting in the mug. Be sure to rinse the cloth after using it.

While the benefit of this alternative coffee filter method is that most people have a clean towel or cloth napkin available, there are downsides as well. For one, your coffee may taste like laundry detergent. You may also stain your cloth napkin or towel if you use it as a coffee filter. Finally, this method tends to be messier, with drips or puddles accumulating. Depending on the person, this could be a big deal.


Mesh Sieve

Makerstep Set of 3 Stainless Steel Fine Mesh Strainers Graduated Sizes 3.38", 5.5", 7.87" Strainer Wire Sieve Sifter with Insulated Handle for Kitchen Gadgets Tools

Another alternative coffee filter option is a mesh sieve. To prepare your coffee this way, add two tablespoons of coffee grounds and pour warm water into the cup. Next, stir the coffee grounds and water and let it sit for several minutes. The longer it sits, the stronger the coffee will be. Then, pour the mixture into a coffee mug using a fine-mesh sieve.

The downfall of this method is that fine grounds will likely drip into your coffee mug and the mesh sieve will not catch the oils typically absorbed by the coffee filter.

However, the fine-mesh sieve is commonly used in cooking and baking, so it may be easily accessible in your kitchen. In addition, if you choose this option, you do not have to worry about the coffee taste changing as it might with dish towels or cloth napkins.

By using a mesh sieve, you can make a whole pot of coffee, not just one cup at a time, which is another large benefit. It allows you more control over the taste of your coffee as well. If you prefer strong coffee, let it steep for longer.

Be aware that the sieve will not filter the coffee grinds entirely with this method. Instead, it will only catch bigger pieces. Unfortunately, this means you will likely see a little bit of “coffee mud” at the bottom of your mug.

Cleaning the used sieve can be a challenge as well. The coffee grounds can really get stuck in the sieve, and cleaning them out will be tedious. However, fine mesh sieves made explicitly for coffee are available. If you want a reusable option so that you don’t have to worry about running out of coffee filters again, this could be worth looking into.


Cowboy Coffee

Larry's Coffee Cowboy Blend - Whole Beans 2 Pound

If you find that you have run out of coffee filters and do not want to use an alternative to make do, consider making cowboy coffee. This is a campfire classic with a long history. Cowboy coffee can be made by boiling water, removing it from the heat, adding coffee grounds, stirring, and then waiting five to ten minutes.

Then, pour the coffee into your mug slowly so that the grounds at the bottom stay in the pot. This strategy does not use a coffee filter at all.


Instant Coffee

Folgers Classic Roast Instant Coffee Crystals, 8 Ounces

Instant coffee is another option if you do not have a coffee filter available. While some people may snub the beverage, there are benefits. You can brew instant coffee even without electricity by just adding water. If you choose this option, you do not have to worry about finding a coffee filter substitute.


Coffee Sock

CoffeeSock ColdBrew Filter - GOTS Certified Organic Cotton Reusable Coffee Filter (CB64-01)

Using a coffee sock is another makeshift coffee filter option for a coffee lover who cannot imagine skilling the morning cup of coffee. A coffee sock is a reusable tea bag that is made of cloth. You put the coffee grounds in the sock, put the sock in your coffee mug, and then pour boiling water over the sock. After a few minutes, you can remove the sock. The result will be freshly brewed coffee that tastes great. You can wash the coffee sock and then reuse it later. This coffee filter substitute will reduce waste and save money compared to a paper filter.


French Press

BAYKA French Press Coffee Maker, Large Classic Copper 304 Stainless Steel Coffee Press, Cold Brew Heat Resistant Thickened Borosilicate Coffee Pot for Camping Travel Gifts, 34 Ounce

A French press is another option available if you want to eliminate paper filters. It is a contraption that uses a cup and a plunger to filter the coffee. First, you put your coffee grounds in the cup and pour hot water, not boiling, in. Then, stir the mixture and wait a few minutes.

Next, slowly press the plunger down the cup. When the plunger reaches the grounds, you are ready to pour the coffee into your mug to enjoy.

Making coffee without a traditional paper filter does not have to be complicated. There are many options available that will allow you to brew coffee in the amount desired with no filter needed. So whether you are looking to make a single cup or a whole pot, you can use a makeshift coffee filter or none at all to enjoy a delicious cup of coffee.

After analyzing the options, if you decide that using a paper towel is your best choice due to its availability and cheap cost, you can follow these eight simple steps to use a paper towel as a coffee filter substitute.


How to use a paper towel as a coffee filter

If you decide to use a paper towel as a coffee filter, the process is simple. Just follow these steps.


Step 1: Lay a full-sized paper towel flat

Lay the paper towel on your table or countertop. Be sure to smooth it out, so it is completely flat.


Step 2: Fold the paper towel

Next, fold the paper towel vertically to make two equal parts.


Step 3: Fold the paper towel again

Fold the paper towel in half horizontally. You should end up with a square-like shape.


Step 4: Create a pocket

Use the open ends of the folded paper towel to create a little pocket. This is where you will put the coffee grounds.


Step 5: Insert the coffee

Now you are ready to put your coffee grounds into the mock coffee filter made from a paper towel. Finally, add two tablespoons of coffee.


Step 6: Fold the edges

To help keep the coffee in place and to ensure that your lid will close well, fold the outer edges of the paper towel.


Step 7: Add hot water

At this point, you are ready to add your water to brew your coffee. Add hot water slowly into the filter cup so that the coffee can drip into the pot. Do not use boiling water for this process.


Step 8: Enjoy

Now you are ready to enjoy your coffee. Be aware that the taste may be slightly different than what you are used to. However, if you are in a bind, this process will allow you to use a paper towel and not quite boiling water to prepare your freshly brewed coffee. While this strategy should not be used daily, paper towels can be used as coffee filter substitutes when you are in a bind.


Can you use a paper towel as a coffee filter? FAQ


Can paper towels be used for coffee filtering?

Yes, you can use paper towels on occasion for coffee filtering. However, they are not effective long term as a coffee filter alternative.


Are paper towels bleached?

Yes, most paper towels undergo paper bleaching during the manufacturing process. This can allow for chemicals leaching into your coffee, so it is not optimal to regularly use paper towels as coffee filters.

Related: Why does my Coffee Tastes Metallic?

Are paper towels recyclable?

No, paper towels are not recyclable after they are used. You can, however, buy recycled paper towels that are unbleached and made of recycled paper.


Related: Can you use a Magic Bullet to grind coffee?

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