Can I Use a Paper Towel as a Coffee Filter? (2024)

A lot of people kickstart their day with a cup of coffee. But what if you find out you’ve run out of coffee filters just before making your morning brew?

Some people choose to use a paper towel instead of a coffee filter to strain their coffee grounds in such situations. But is this a good solution, or will it affect the taste of your coffee? Let’s find out.

Why Use a Paper Towel Instead of a Coffee Filter?

There are a few reasons why you may need to use a paper towel as an emergency coffee filter:

  • You’ve run out of actual coffee filters and don’t have time to run to the store.
  • You’re traveling or camping and don’t have access to coffee filters.
  • You want to test if a paper towel can work in a pinch.

Can a Paper Towel Replace a Coffee Filter?

To answer this question, we must understand the functions of both coffee filters and paper towels. Coffee filters are made to filter out coffee grounds, so they don’t end up in your cup. On the other hand, paper towels are great at soaking up liquid but aren’t designed for the filtering needed for coffee.

Coffee filters are good at trapping even the smallest coffee particles, ensuring your cup doesn’t have any grit. On the other hand, paper towels aren’t as precise as filters, but they can still catch some of the larger grounds.

So it depends if you want a perfectly smooth cup of coffee using a filter, or if you just want a quick and easy method using a paper towel. Filters provide better filtering, but if you’re in a hurry, paper towels are more convenient.

Pros and Cons of Using a Paper Towel as a Coffee Filter

A quick and easy alternative for coffee filtersProne to tearing with hot liquids
Readily available in most kitchensChemicals, scents, and bleaches in paper towels may mix into the coffee
Thickness helps trap some coffee particlesGenerates more waste compared to filters

How to Brew Coffee with a Paper Towel Filter

If you want to give it a try, here are some methods:

Hand Brewing

A person placing folded paper towel in a empty cup as a coffee filter

  1. Fold a paper towel in half. Select a thicker towel to prevent tearing.
  2. Place the folded towel into your mug.
  3. Add 2-3 tablespoons of your favorite coarse ground coffee.
  4. Slowly pour heated water over the grounds in a circular motion. Hold the paper towel edges to prevent collapsing. You can also secure it with a rubber band.
  5. Allow it to brew for a few minutes, then gently remove the soaked towel and discard. Enjoy your paper towel-filtered coffee!

Coffee Maker Brewing

You can also use a paper towel in your drip coffee machine:

  1. Fold a paper towel in half and place it into the coffee filter basket. Make sure it’s not hanging over the edges.
  2. You may want to use rubber bands to help it keep its shape.
  3. Add coffee grounds to the filter as usual.
  4. Brew as normal, allowing the towel to filter the coffee into the pot.
  5. Remove and discard the wet paper towel once the brewing is complete.
A person placing folded paper towel in a coffee filter basket in a Coffee Maker

Remember: These two methods are a temporary solution, not a permanent solution. The taste might not be as refined as using a regular coffee filter, but it’ll do the trick when you’re in a hurry!

Tips for the Best Results

  • Choose a thicker, more absorbent paper towel to prevent rips and tears.
  • Unbleached paper towels may be safest if you have health concerns.
  • Hold or secure the edges of the paper towel to stop it from falling into your coffee.

Potential Health Risks

While paper towels may work in a pinch, there are some health risks to consider:

  • Bleach residues – Most paper towels are bleached during production. Small amounts of chemicals like chlorine dioxide or peroxide, which are used in the bleaching process, might transfer to your coffee.
  • Other chemical residues – Dyes, fragrances, and inks on paper towels are meant for external use only and may not be safe for filtering a drink that you consume.
  • Toxins – Paper towels are not required to meet the same safety rules as real coffee filters regarding chemical use and waste products from manufacturing. So harmful compounds could be present.

To address these concerns, opt for unbleached or white paper towels without dyes, scents, or prints.


In an emergency where you’re out of coffee filters, a paper towel can work as a substitute. While not ideal, it will brew coffee. For best results, use thicker, unbleached towels. And replace them with proper coffee filters as soon as possible. The flavors and health risks make paper towel filters a temporary quick fix, not a long-term solution.


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