Substitute Coffee Filter in a Pinch


What can I use in place of coffee filters for one morning?

By Paula from Birmingham, AL


Recent AnswersAnswer this Question

By Rose Smith [46] 08/07/2010

Try using a paper towel or paper napkin.

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By bryguy [2] 08/10/2010

I wouldn't use napkins or paper towels, both are made to absorb water which is not what you want. And the boiling water will definitely disintegrate the napkin, and probably the paper towel too. Binder chemicals may also melt into the coffee.

The best solution is probably a cheese cloth. And if you don't have that, a very clean thin cloth (without any dyes). Even a very clean t-shirt that you don't mind staining.

Or better yet, if you have tea bags, cut them apart, discard the tea leaves and use them. Two or three bags should be enough. And you don't want to waste the tea leaves, simply use the tea bags first before cutting them.

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By Beth [5] 08/10/2010

I have used paper towels, also, but only for a day and in a pinch. We use the filter basket and run it through the dishwasher monthly.

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By Tara D. [7] 08/10/2010

Honestly paper towels are totally fine. They say don't use any with dye but I have and it worked. It's just one morning...not everyday. I noticed no difference with my coffee and nothing dissolved. I wouldn't use a thin napkin though, I would use paper towel.

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By 08/10/2010

I too have used paper towels in a pinch and they work just fine.

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By bryguy [2] 08/11/2010

No, in general, regular paper towels are not recommended in high heat situation. I just verified this with a coworker, a dietitian. Paper towels, like all papers, are wood fibers bounded by a resin. Furthermore, an adhesive is used to glue layers together. High heat can melt these resins and adhesives, and prolonged exposure, as in constantly dripping boiling water, can carry the chemicals into your coffee. Normal paper towels were not meant for prolonged high heat exposure. That's why they make microwave-safe paper towels. Microwave ovens also bring the temperature to water's boiling point. If not for this issue, why else would you need special towels for the microwave? Paper is paper, and paper in itself is not problematic for microwaves, i.e. Chinese takeout containers. It's a matter of the resins holding up to heat, and the resins being non-toxic.

It's important to keep in mind that not all paper towels use the same chemicals. Some cheaper brands made be made in countries where more toxic chemicals are used. And that's not illegal because paper towels are not made as food utensils. Decorative lead crystal utensils, for example, are poisonous, but they're not illegal because they weren't made to hold food.

Also consider why cheap paper towels break apart when wet. The resins have dissolved in the water so the wood fibers are no longer bounded together. Guess where that resin goes, yep, in the water. We're not even talking about the boiling water in a coffee maker here. If cheap paper towels break apart when wet, imagine what prolonged exposure to boiling water would do.

@samsmomie24 claims that s/he has even used towels with dyes and there were no problems. I'm not sure how one can assess whether dyes leeched into the coffee given the coffee's dark color. Keep in mind that all sources recommend using white towels only. Think about it this way: we separate colors and whites in the wash because the dyes leak from colored clothes -- even after repeated washes. And the washer water isn't even boiling. Plus, clothes dye is designed to remain in the cloth. If dyes can leak from old clothes in hot water, why wouldn't dyes leak from fresh paper towels in BOILING water? But more importantly, many of the adhesives, resins and binders are probably colorless and tasteless, especially in coffee, so there's no way an ordinary person can know if they went into the drink.

There is very little official information on using paper towels as a coffee filter because it's not what they're meant to do. Most of the info come from college students, homemakers, etc, none of whom know much about the composition of paper towels. Here, however, are some resources supporting my claim:

1) Bounty Towels explicitly says that they don't recommend using their towels as coffee filters. Since they want to sell towels, wouldn't you think that they'd endorse this use if they thought that it was safe? Here is the exact quote:

"Can I use a Bounty paper towel as a coffee filter?

We haven't designed or tested Bounty for use as a coffee filter. The thickness and absorbency of Bounty are very different from that of coffee-filter paper.
[.... and later...]
A translucent substance called resin is added to the mixture to strengthen the paper when it is wet. The water is removed and the fibers bond to form sheets of paper. Two layers of paper are combined with a thin layer of adhesive and embossed to form many tiny air pockets that rapidly attract moisture."


2) On the government's FDA website, they specifically say that only white microwave-safe paper towels are safe for microwaving. Why specify "microwave-safe" if all paper towels are safe? They're all flammable when overheated, and they all allow microwaves through so it's reasonable to assume that the reason is toxicity and durability when heated. Note that all the other items are meant to be used with foods.

"Microwave plastic wraps, wax paper, cooking bags, parchment paper, and white microwave-safe paper towels should be safe to use."

http://www.fsis.usda.gov/factsheets ... ng_safely_in_the_microwave/index.asp

3) "All paper products are manufactured with chemicals. Never use grocery bags, paper plates, newspapers, butcher's wrap or other paper items to heat food. The microwave can cause chemicals in these products to transfer into your food. Use white paper towels only if the label states they are microwave safe. Wax paper, parchment paper and oven cooking bags are safe to use. Don't overheat!"


As a medical researcher, I simply can't recommend using regular paper towels for such prolonged exposure to wet heat, when the water goes directly into your body. One exposure won't kill you, but is coffee so important that you'd want potential toxins in your body? Why not just go buy the coffee or get instant coffee?

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By Patty Hamburger [1] 07/07/2015

I had this problem today when I was trying to make iced tea in my Mr. Coffee iced tea maker. I used a well washed pair of silk long johns that I used to wear to ski. I cut a piece off the leg measured to fit the basket, closed the bottom with a plastic bread wrapper fastener and made tea as usual. It actually worked better than the filters.

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Thrifty Fun has been around so long that many of our pages have been reset several times. Archives are older versions of the page and the feedback that was provided then.

Archive: Substitute Coffee Filter in a Pinch

Run out of coffee filters for your coffeemaker? Don't worry. Just use a doubled paper towel in it's place. Works great.

By Robin

RE: Substitute Coffee Filter in a Pinch

Another great tip:

At Wal-mart they have those gold filters to fit any coffee machine. You pay about $5 for one and it lasts you forever. You not only save money in the long run, but paper and you never have to worry about running out of coffee filters. (01/31/2005)

By MrsCatherine

RE: Substitute Coffee Filter in a Pinch

You don't want to use printed paper towels for this. The dye chemicals go right into your coffee cup. (02/05/2005)

By Diamondee

RE: Substitute Coffee Filter in a Pinch

I tried the paper towels. It worked great. Thanks a lot. (12/14/2005)


RE: Substitute Coffee Filter in a Pinch

It tasted gross. I used Bounty and still have the paper towel taste in my mouth. I don't know how much bleach and other chemicals they use, but it is a bad idea to use paper towels. (05/05/2008)


RE: Substitute Coffee Filter in a Pinch

Yeah, okay do not do this with napkins, paper towels, toilet paper, or anything like that. The prints contain trace amounts of cyanide and other chemicals.

A better idea is to use cheesecloth, if you have any, folded over itself a few times. A metal mesh strainer (very fine) can be used. Last, but not least, you can put the coffee directly in the hot water, let it simmer (like tea) and then carefully pour the coffee off, leaving the grounds behind. (08/24/2008)


Archive: Substitute Coffee Filter in a Pinch

I am looking for something to use as a coffee filter other than paper towels or coffee filter? I am out of them.

By Brandi from Albany, MO

RE: Substitute Coffee Filter in a Pinch

Well, there's not much more you can use to substitute a coffee filter with other than a paper towel or large heavy duty paper napkin.

If you can, go to a store like WalMart or Target and purchase a coffee pot that has a mesh basket that fits into the draining basket. I've had one for a couple of years and found it for about $15.00. The cost has more than made up for the price of coffee filters and all you have to do is rinse after each use and wash by hand every couple of days. (11/06/2009)

By Deeli

RE: Substitute Coffee Filter in a Pinch

Maybe try cutting up a linen kitchen towel? (11/07/2009)

By kghsave

RE: Substitute Coffee Filter in a Pinch

Just came up with another idea! As long as the grounds aren't too small cheesecloth might work? (11/08/2009)

By Deeli

RE: Substitute Coffee Filter in a Pinch

Once, I emptied some tea bags and refilled them with coffee. They don''t have any chemicals, like paper towels, or flavor, like napkins. Just don't over-fill them or they will leak. (04/02/2010)

By fall16leaves