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5 Simple Coffee Filter Substitutes: DIY Coffee Filters

Are you trying to brew coffee but don’t have any more filters? We’ve got five coffee filter alternatives you can try immediately without sacrificing flavor or time.

It’s morning. You go to the kitchen to brew your usual cup of coffee only to discover that you’re out of coffee filters. The local coffee shop is closed, or maybe too far away for convenience, and you’re wondering what to do next. Fear not—brewing coffee without a filter is easier than you may think!

In this article, we take a look at five simple, effective ways to make coffee without a filter that still tastes delicious. Whether you’re looking to make a coffee filter substitute or are curious about alternative brewing methods, we’ve got you covered. So grab your coffee beans, a mug, your DIY cap, and let’s get started!

Our Picks: 5 DIY Coffee Filter Alternatives

The first way to solve your coffee filter dilemma is to craft your own from scratch. You can make your own filter using common items around the house, like paper towels or cloth napkins.

Keep in mind that these DIY alternatives for making your own coffee filters primarily apply to coffee makers and machines that require the use of basket-shaped filters and cone filters. As not everyone may need to use filters when making pour-over or percolator coffee, for example, how you apply these methods is up to you!

1. Paper Towel

The texture and thickness of paper towels are close enough to coffee filters that they make a great first choice when looking for a substitute. Paper napkins may also work, but are usually too thin and will shred if you’re not careful.

To use a paper towel in place of a coffee filter, fold it into the compartment where your paper filter would normally go. You may need to cut part of the paper towel or double it up for a seamless fit—just be sure the whole basket is lined to prevent grounds from filtering through into your cup.

For best results, we recommend using either brown, unbleached paper towels or those that are tree free; this ensures a better flavor while preventing undesirable chemicals from transferring into your cup of joe.

2. Cloth Napkin or Kitchen Towel

Cloth napkins or kitchen towels are another reliable coffee filter substitute in a pinch. They’re convenient, eco-friendly, and prevent fine grounds from trickling into your cup of joe. 

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To use, simply place your towel or cloth napkin into the filter basket or compartment. Add the grounds and brew as usual. Consider adding an extra scoop or two of ground coffee, as the thickness and higher absorbancy of the cloth can result in a weaker concentration of coffee compared to a paper filter.

When you’re done, compost the grounds, rinse out your towel, and wash as soon as possible. Choose a kitchen towel in a darker color, or one you’re okay to stain, as coffee filtering through will inevitably alter the color of the cloth.

Keep in mind that any laundry detergent scents or fabric softeners can alter the flavor and aroma of your coffee—for best results, use a fairly new cloth napkin or towel that’s been recently washed in a scentless, eco-friendly detergent.

3. Cheesecloth

Using a cheesecloth as a coffee filter substitute is especially handy for making pour-overs. It can work with drip machines, too, though sometimes the fine mesh of the cloth can result in a slow percolation time at odds with the speed of water—i.e., a potential recipe for a mess!

Place the cheesecloth in the pour-over maker where your regular filter would go, add the grounds, and slowly pour the hot water. Let the grounds bloom between pours and proceed as usual. When using cheesecloth in place of a basket filter in your coffee pot, simply shape it into the basket as usual.

If you don’t have a pour-over maker, you can also place the cheesecloth over the top of your coffee mug. Secure the cloth with clips or a rubber band. The cloth should “sink” into the mug a bit, so it’s not flat across the top. Slowly pour the water and voila, DIY pour-over coffee is yours to enjoy!

4. Mesh Sieve

Like steeping tea, use a mesh sieve or other fine strainer to brew coffee without a filter. If you have a tea infuser, this will be even easier. Add two tablespoons of ground coffee to the tea infuser, place it in your mug, boil water in a kettle, pour the water in, and let the coffee steep for four to five minutes.

If your sieve doesn’t fit neatly into a mug, then add the grounds directly into the mug or a glass measuring cup along with the hot water. After about five minutes, carefully strain your mixture into another cup through the sieve. This won’t always catch all of the grounds, depending on how finely ground the coffee is, though will still make for a delicious cup of coffee!

5. Tea Bag

Tea lovers will find this coffee filter substitute easy as pie, delivering a strong, delicious cup of coffee in only a few minutes. Scoop two tablespoons of coffee grounds into a reusable tea bag if you have one, steep for four to five minutes in a mug of hot water, and you’re good to go. If you don’t have a reusable tea bag, you can get crafty with a simple DIY hack—carefully open up a tea bag, empty out the tea leaves, add in the coffee, and reseal with a staple or some string.

How to Make Coffee Without a Filter

If coffee filter substitutes aren’t readily available in your home—or aren’t quite doing the trick—you can also try using an alternative brewing method. There are a number of options here, but the easiest will be to make cowboy coffee (or Turkish coffee without sugar)—boil water, add coarse coffee grounds, and serve.

How to Make Cowboy Coffee

For a hearty cup of coffee reminiscent of starry nights next to a campfire, try this. It’s one of the most straightforward ways to have coffee next to going out and buying a cup from your local café.

Ingredients and Supplies:

  • 4 cups water
  • ½ cup coarsely ground coffee
  • Pinch of salt (optional)
  • Saucepan or small pot
  • Mug
  • Sieve or another type of strainer (optional)

For a single serving, use two tablespoons of coffee with about 12 ounces of water.


  1. Heat your water in a saucepan over medium to high heat. Add a pinch of salt for a slightly bolder flavor.
  2. Pour in your coffee grounds once the water has almost boiled.
  3. Bring to a rolling boil. Let the coffee “brew” for three to five minutes. Stir occasionally.
  4. Turn off the burner and remove the pot from the heat. Let it sit for a minute or two to allow the grounds to settle. Adding ¼ cup of cold water can also help.
  5. Carefully pour your coffee into a mug. If you like, you can strain it first through a sieve to remove the loose, swirling grounds.

That’s it! For best results when making this cowboy coffee, we recommend using whole bean coffee ground fresh for use. Visions of the dusty prairie and singing a campfire song are optional but certainly welcomed.

Other Ways to Make Coffee Without a Filter

Like the stars overhead, ways to make coffee are numerous and varied. If DIY coffee filter substitutes and cowboy coffee aren’t your cup of tea, try one of the methods below if you have the supplies available:

  • Moka Pot
  • Percolator (with a built-in metal filter)
  • French Press
  • Keurig
  • Instant Coffee

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Once your coffee is ready, stir in any creamer and sweetener for coffee exactly how you like it. For those cold, blustery mornings, try some of our winter coffee recipes that are sure to warm you right up!

Sustainability at Public Goods

Sustainability matters, whether you’re looking for alternative methods for how to make coffee without a filter or simply need to stock up on pantry essentials (like organic ground coffee). At Public Goods, everything we do is designed to help you build a more eco-friendly lifestyle, from our grocery staples to personal care products that are vegan-friendly, bio-degradable, paraben-free, and good for the planet. We even plant a tree for each order you place to help offset carbon emissions.

Looking for more tips on how to shop sustainably? Check out our blog for eco-friendly guides, DIY tutorials, recipes, and more!

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