Coffee filter in coffee cup with coffee beans

10 Best Coffee Filter Substitutes: How to Make Coffee Without a Filter

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Most of us brew our morning coffee purely with muscle memory – chances are you find yourself standing in your kitchen automatically measuring ground coffee without really remembering how you got there.

Running out of paper coffee filters is a sure way to disrupt your early-morning ritual. Must you emerge from your home, un-caffeinated, to shop for filters? Fortunately, you have several options for a coffee filter substitute. 

Read on to learn how to make coffee without a filter.

10 Best Coffee Filter Alternatives

Depending upon what kind of equipment you have lurking in the back of your cupboards, you have several different options if you need to make coffee without a filter. 

Cheesecloth

Remember when you were on a homemade-yogurt-making kick? Grab that cheesecloth out of your drawer and use it as a coffee filter substitute!

How to Do It:

Take a square piece of cheesecloth and fold it a few times. You may need to trim it to fit your coffee maker basket. The finer the weave of the cheesecloth, the better. Add ground coffee and brew as usual.

Pros
  • Easy to find
  • Low preparation
  • Inexpensive
  • No grounds in your coffee
  • Food-safe material
Cons
  • Might not have any cheesecloth on hand
  • Large-weave cheesecloth might leave grounds in your coffee

Paper Towel

What kitchen doesn’t have paper towels or napkins lying around? While this is certainly the most available option – and I have to admit, one I’ve used a time or two – it has a few downsides. Most household paper products contain bleaching agents and other chemicals that are not food-grade. Guess where that ends up when used as a filter? They will likely alter the taste of your coffee and probably aren’t great for your body long-term.

How to Do It:

Grab a paper towel (or napkin) and fold until it’s roughly the size of a paper coffee filter. Insert into your coffee maker and add your favorite coffee. Brew, and enjoy.

Pros
  • Easily available
  • Inexpensive
  • No coffee grounds
Cons
  • Could contain chemicals like bleach
  • May alter the taste of your coffee

Socks

Okay, we’re not suggesting you start digging through your laundry basket out of desperation for caffeine. Coffee socks are specialized cloth filters attached to a handle or frame for support.

They are made of unbleached cotton, so they won’t affect the flavor of your coffee. A household staple for years in many Latin American countries, coffee socks are finally gaining some traction in the U.S. as a coffee filter substitute.

How to Do It:

A coffee sock works a lot like a reusable tea bag. All you need is a mug, ground coffee, your coffee sock, and a method to boil water. Place your coffee sock in a mug with a few tablespoons of ground coffee inside. Carefully pour boiling water over the sock and into the mug. Leave the sock inside the cup for about three minutes for a stronger cup. Don’t forget to rinse it out when you’re done. Coffee socks should be air-dried to prevent mildew. 

Pros
  • Eco-friendly
  • Doesn’t affect the taste of the coffee
  • Easy to use
  • Inexpensive
  • Washable and reusable
  • No grounds
Cons
  • Not as readily available as other methods

A Clean Dish Towel

You’re essentially MacGyvering your own coffee sock with this one. You’ll get the best results with a 100% cotton, undyed kitchen towel, if you have one. Keep in mind that dyes and detergent can all seep into your brewed coffee and affect the taste.

How to Do It:

Lay the dish towel inside the coffee basket and add ground coffee. Brew as usual, and remember to throw the towel in the washing machine afterwards!

Pros
  • Readily available
  • Durable
  • Inexpensive
Cons
  • May alter the taste of your coffee
  • Might ruin your dish towels

Reusable Tea Bags

Some tricks from the world of tea can teach you how to make coffee without a filter.  While disposable, fill-your-own tea bags made out of filter paper are available, we prefer the cloth version because they can be rinsed out and reused.

How to Do It:

Small, unbleached cotton drawstring bags can hold coffee as well as tea leaves. Place the bag gently in a mug of hot water and let it steep for about five minutes for fresh, ground-free coffee.

Pros
  • Reusable and eco-friendly
  • Won’t alter the taste of your coffee
  • No grounds in your coffee
Cons
  • May not be have any available in your home

Fine Mesh Sieve

Long a favorite of cold-brew folks, the fine mesh sieve can be adapted to brew a hot morning cup, too. You’ll get the best results with one made specifically for coffee with a tight enough mesh to keep the coffee from washing out, but you can adapt other strainers lying around your kitchen, too.

How to Do It:

Measure your coffee into a cup and slowly pour hot water over it. Allow it to steep for about five minutes, then slowly pour the coffee through the strainer into another cup.

Pros
  • Easy to use
  • Reusable and eco-friendly
  • No grounds in your coffee
  • Can brew a strong cup
Cons
  • May not have on hand
  • Uses an extra cup to brew

Mud Coffee

This method doesn’t require any filter at all, but it works best if your coffee is finely ground. 

How to Do It:

Boil water and stir in a couple of tablespoons of ground coffee. Seriously. That’s it.

Pros
  • Easy
  • Quick
  • No special equipment needed
Cons
  • Grounds in your coffee 

French Press Coffee

Dig around the small appliance graveyard in the back of your cupboard and find the French press that your brother-in-law gifted you years ago. We promise it isn’t as tricky to use as it looks.

How to Do It:

Add about two tablespoons of coffee to the bottom of your press. Pour hot water over the coffee and steep for about five minutes. Slowly push the plunger down to filter, then enjoy your coffee. Ideally, you should boil the water first and then pour it into the press. Some people make do with really hot water from the tap, though there may be a taste difference.

Pros
  • Brews a strong cup
  • Quick
  • Easy
Cons
  • Requires a French press
  • Creates more dishes to wash

Instant Coffee

In some cultures, instant coffee is more commonly consumed than the brewed version. 

Many brands include sugar or flavorings in their ground coffee, so make sure to check the packaging if you prefer your coffee black.

How to Do It:

Mix 1 to 2 teaspoons of instant coffee granules into hot water, much like making hot chocolate. Add cream or sugar if desired, and enjoy!

Pros
  • Quick
  • Easy
  • Inexpensive
Cons
  • Usually not as strong or fresh tasting as brewed coffee

Cowboy Coffee

Just like mud coffee, cowboy coffee requires little more than a pot, water, and coffee. How you grind your beans makes all the difference between the two methods. Some people swear by boiling their coffee using either the cowboy or mud coffee methods, saying it makes for a smoother, easier to digest cup.

How to Do It:

Boil water in a pot and stir in about two tablespoons of coarse-ground coffee. Steep the coffee for about five minutes, then very slowly pour the liquid into your cup. A steady hand is key here to keep the grounds in the pot.

Pros
  • Quick
  • Easy
  • Inexpensive
  • No special equipment needed
  • Boiling coffee may make it easier to digest
Cons
  • Grounds in coffee

Final Note

You may not even need to use a coffee filter substitute, since there are so many filter-free methods available. Or, running out of disposable coffee filters may be the crisis that encourages you to try one of the coffee gadgets languishing in your drawer and branch out into something new. 

Coffee lovers know that there’s an enormous difference in taste and texture based on the brewing method. Who knows, you may even discover a passion for cowboy coffee along the way!

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