Can You Use Paper Towels as Coffee Filters?

If you’ve ever found yourself in a coffee emergency, you may have wondered if you could use paper towels as a makeshift coffee filter. In this article, we will explore whether or not this is a viable option and discuss the potential Pros and Cons of using paper towels in this way. By the end, you’ll have a clear understanding of whether or not you can use paper towels as coffee filters and if it’s something you should consider in a pinch.

The Coffee Brewing Essentials

Before we dive into the world of using paper towels as coffee filters, let’s recap the essentials of coffee brewing.

  1. Coffee Beans: Start with high-quality coffee beans. The flavor of your coffee depends significantly on the beans you choose. Freshness matters too, so opt for beans roasted within the past two weeks.
  2. Grinding: Invest in a good coffee grinder, preferably a burr grinder. The grind size is crucial, as it affects the extraction process. Coarse for French press, medium for drip coffee, and fine for espresso.
  3. Water: Your coffee is over 98% water, so ensure it’s clean and of high quality. A general rule is to use water between 195°F and 205°F (90°C to 96°C).
  4. Brewing Method: The brewing method can vary, from a French press to a pour-over, drip coffee maker, and espresso machine. Each has its nuances.
  5. Filters: Traditional coffee filters, usually made of paper or cloth, are used to separate the coffee grounds from the liquid. But what if you don’t have them handy?

Can You Use Paper Towels as Coffee Filters?

Can You Use Paper Towels as Coffee Filters?

The short answer is yes, you can use paper towels as a substitute for coffee filters. However, the effectiveness of this method depends on a few key factors.

  1. Quality of Paper Towels: Not all paper towels are created equal. Opt for thick, high-quality paper towels, as they are less likely to tear or allow coffee grounds to seep through.
  2. Fold and Layer: To prevent the coffee grounds from passing through, fold the paper towel multiple times and create layers. A double or triple layer should work well.
  3. Size Matters: Ensure the paper towel is of adequate size to cover the entire surface of your coffee filter basket.
  4. Pre-Rinse the Towel: Before using the paper towel, rinse it with hot water. This helps eliminate any residual paper towel flavors and preheats the coffee maker.

How to Use Paper Towels as Coffee Filters

Here’s how to use paper towels as a coffee filter:

  1. Take a high-quality paper towel and fold it to create multiple layers.
  2. Place the folded paper towel in your coffee maker’s filter basket. Ensure it covers the entire basket.
  3. Add your coffee grounds to the paper towel as you would with a regular coffee filter. Use the recommended coffee-to-water ratio for your brewing method.
  4. Boil water to the desired temperature and pour it over the coffee grounds.
  5. Allow the coffee to brew, then serve and enjoy.

Pros and Cons of Using Paper Towels


  1. Emergency Solution: When you run out of coffee filters, paper towels can save the day.
  2. Cost-effective: Paper towels are readily available and much cheaper than specialized coffee filters.
  3. Customizable: You can adjust the thickness of the paper towel layers to control the brew strength.


  1. Flavor Impact: Some paper towels may impart a subtle flavor to the coffee, affecting the taste.
  2. Potential Tears: Lower-quality paper towels may tear or allow grounds to escape.
  3. Environmental Concerns: If you’re eco-conscious, using disposable paper towels may not align with your values.

Emergency Coffee Filter Alternatives

Many coffee enthusiasts may not approve of paper towels as a substitute for paper filters, so here are some other options.

Emergency Coffee Filter Alternatives

1. Cheesecloth

Cheesecloth is a versatile and readily available alternative to paper towels for making coffee. It is a loosely woven fabric that allows for optimal water flow while keeping coffee grounds contained. Simply fold the cheesecloth into a square or rectangular shape, place it in your coffee maker or pour-over device, and add the desired amount of coffee grounds. The cheesecloth will effectively filter the coffee, resulting in a smooth and flavorful brew.

2. Fine Mesh Sieve or Strainer

If you have a fine mesh sieve or strainer in your kitchen, you can use it as an emergency coffee filter. Place the sieve over your coffee cup or pot, add the coffee grounds into the sieve, and slowly pour hot water over the grounds. The fine mesh of the sieve will prevent the grounds from passing through while allowing the coffee to flow freely.

3. Cloth Napkin

A cloth napkin can serve as a makeshift coffee filter in a pinch. Simply fold the napkin into a square or rectangular shape, place it in your coffee maker or pour-over device, and add the desired amount of coffee grounds. The napkin will act as a filter, trapping the ground and allowing the brewed coffee to pass through. Be sure to use a clean napkin that is free from any residue or debris to ensure a clean and flavorful cup of coffee.


In the world of coffee brewing, adaptability is key. While using paper towels as coffee filters is a viable solution in a pinch, it’s essential to consider the quality of the paper towel, the folding technique, and the potential flavor impact. As a true coffee enthusiast, you can always explore alternative brewing methods and invest in high-quality coffee filters for a consistently excellent cup of coffee.

So, can you use paper towels as coffee filters? Absolutely, but it’s not the only option. The next time you find yourself in a coffee filter emergency, you’ll know how to make the most of what you have on hand. After all, every coffee lover deserves that perfect morning brew.


Can I reuse coffee filters?

It is generally not recommended to reuse coffee filters. The filters can become clogged with coffee oils and residue, which can affect the taste of your future brews. Additionally, reusing coffee filters may increase the risk of bacterial growth. It is best to use a fresh filter for each brewing session to ensure the best flavor and cleanliness.

Do paper towels affect the taste of coffee?

Yes, using paper towels can introduce a slightly papery taste to your coffee.

How do I properly dispose of used coffee filters?

Used coffee filters can be disposed of in your regular trash. If you are concerned about environmental impact, some coffee filters are compostable and can be added to your compost bin. Be sure to check the packaging of your specific coffee filters to determine if they are compostable or if there are any special disposal instructions.

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