Using A Paper Towel As A Coffee Filter - Coffee Filter Hacks!

Using A Paper Towel As A Coffee Filter – Coffee Filter Hacks!

Last updated on November 24th, 2023 at 13:31

If you are wondering whether using a paper towel as a coffee filter is a good idea, you need to first read this article to get the facts before you jump ahead and start using one.

In this article you will get the low down on the use of a paper towel with step-by-step instructions on how to use one and a good list of alternatives and how I classify my emergency coffee filter into three tiers.

Keep reading to find out whether you should use a paper filter and get a list of emergency filters that make great coffee.

Using A Paper Towel As A Coffee Filter – Bounty Paper Towel As Coffee Filter (or Any Other Brand)

Unexpectedly finding yourself caught short of coffee filter or proper filter paper and in dire need of a cup of Joe…

(trust me, we’ve all been there!)

Thankfully, using a paper towel as a coffee filter is a viable option, and it is the one item that we have around the home that we can use, amongst others. As a quick note, you don’t need to use Bounty paper towels as coffee filters; any brand will do.

Using A Paper Towel As A Coffee Filter
Using A Paper Towel As A Drip Coffee Filter

Read: Alternative coffee filters

Can You Use A Paper Towel As A Coffee Filter?

Yes, you can use a paper towel as a coffee filter. You can also use paper napkins and cloth napkins as a coffee filter substitute too.

This is all they are – a backup emergency coffee filter hack that you can easily use to make your morning coffee. It’s an old trick that perhaps your college roommate used to make a fresh pot of coffee using only a paper towel as a coffee filter.

It is as easy as it sounds, make a good-sized pouch with your origami skills and some paper towel and put it in the filter cup and add your coffee grounds.

It is not the greatest of methods due to the chemicals used in the manufacturing process which may not be so great for your health, which is why this is only an emergency temporary solution until you get yourself a proper filter.

If it is a drip coffee or pour over coffee that you are making, pay attention to the pour or flow rate and the rate of which the coffee is dripping out as it is often slower than a regular filter paper and thus with your pour over coffee this means an increased contact time.

With your drip coffee, if you don’t manage it well, it can mean a messy filter bucket / filter holder. Depending on your drip coffee maker, you may need to use a stop-start-stop-start technique to avoid making a mess of your machine.

When you are using a paper towel as a makeshift pour over coffee filter, I suggest making a tiny taster to test out the contact time and how it brews. Adjust your technique as required.

Can You Use A Paper Towel As A Coffee Filter
A Paper Towel As A pour Over Coffee Filter

Read: How to make coffee without coffee filters

What If The Papers Towels Are Bleached?

This is obviously a concern, and word to the wise – your coffee filters may be bleached also! This is why I seek out unbleached filters.

If you are regularly making your coffee with an unbleached filter then kudos, this one time is not going to cause any great harm. It is true that some of the chemicals used in processing paper towels include bleach which, due to the hot water used, can leach into your cup of coffee.

It is, in my opinion, not a bad thing for a one-off DIY coffee filter; just be aware of the health risks if you use paper towels or paper filters that are bleached.

Please seek out unbleached ones as the hot water will effectively become an extracting agent and will extract any of the industrial chemicals such as chlorinated dioxins and the chlorine used in the bleaching process as they will pose a long term health risks when you use them for your daily morning coffee.

Figures dating back from studies conducted in the 1980s put 1 in 10,000 cases of cancer among coffee drinkers being attributed to dioxins from paper filters.

To mitigate this risk, use an organic unbleached filter – as a bonus, nothing to do with coffee, use unbleached toilet paper and unbleached paper towels.

This small step will reduce the risk of dioxin intake.

What About Recycled Paper Towels?

Regardless of how good recycled paper towels may be, a makeshift homemade coffee filter there is one thing to be mindful of…

They are not designed to be used as a coffee filter or for the filtration of any food products, as a result of this have not undergone any toxicity testing.

Even if they are recycled, they contain contaminants, dyes, bisphenol-A (BPA), phthalates and more.

It is a sad fact that recycled paper towels do have traces of chemicals. They are approved by the authorities as safe due to the belief that they are not going to be in contact with the food that we eat, and thus we will not eat food that is in contact with them.

This is perhaps a reason why you should not cover food with a paper towel as the chemicals may seep into the food.

It is also a reason why you should not use them as a temporary coffee filter. As a one-time substitute for coffee filters, it should be fine, just not regularly.

This is why they are something that I would (and have) used but seek out other items that I can use as coffee filter alternatives first.

What About Recycled Paper Towels
Recycled Paper Towels

Read: Coffee filter substitute 

Using A Paper Towel As Coffee Filter – Step-By-Step Instructions

It is never a good thing when you open your filter box and find that you are flat out of filters, and you are like a zombie and in desperate need of a caffeine kick to wake you up.

This is when, and only when, you can dig out your paper towels and put together a fairly decent coffee filter hack.


make sure, for the sake of your health, have a look around for a reusable tea bag (metal preferred), a clean tea towel, clean napkin, handkerchief, French press, or a fine-mesh sieve.

When none of them are available, you can use a paper towel as a coffee filter; just don’t make them your first choice.

Step 1: To make a good makeshift temporary coffee filter with paper towels, ensure it is a full sized paper towel and place it flat on your table.

Step 2: Fold your paper towel in half vertically.

Step 3: Fold your paper towel in half again. It should now be almost square.

Step 4: Use the open ends of your folded paper towel to make a pocket and add your coffee grinds and put it in your filter cup. I wouldn’t use your favorite coffee grounds since this is only a temporary filter.

Step 5: Take care that your coffee pot lid can close fully and completely.

Step 6: Add hot water into your filter cup and allow your coffee to drip into the coffee pot.

Step 7: The best part, pour and enjoy your coffee, thanks to your coffee filter hack.

Step 8: Set a reminder on your phone to buy coffee filters!

This last step is perhaps the most important. You can buy your filters online from all the usual outlets, Amazon, Target, Walmart, and eBay and have them delivered.

What About Alternatives To Using A Paper Towel As A Coffee Filter?

Of course there are plenty of alternatives to using a paper towel as a coffee filter, many of which I have already lightly mentioned.

Personally, I categorize emergency temporary coffee filters into three tiers as follows:

  • Tier 1: Fine-mesh sieve, metallic reusable teabags, French press coffee maker.
  • Tier 2: Clean dish towel, cheesecloth, cloth napkin, handkerchief, material based reusable teabag, nut milk bag.
  • Tier 3: Sock or stocking, paper towel, paper napkin, kitchen paper.

As a coffee lover, geek and generally an all round coffee nerd, I have based the three tiers on their ability to produce the best tasting cup of coffee, and of course ease of use.

Tier one filters produce the best tasting cup due to both their ease of use and the fact that all the coffee oils get into your cup, and results in a full-bodied cup of coffee that is full flavored.

Frequently Asked Questions About Using A Paper Towel As A Coffee Filter

Is It Safe To Use Paper Towel As A Filter When Brewing Coffee?

It is not going to hurt you or make you sick if you use a paper towel as a backup emergency coffee filter. You will need to use two-ply paper towels and fold them in two to create a little pocket to hold coffee grounds or a cone shape for pour over coffee.

Your coffee taste is okay, of an acceptable standard but is not as good as it can or could be, but when you are out of paper filters and have nothing else it will do until you get some.

What Is The Best Improvised Coffee Filter?

It is a three-way tie here and bonus points if you can use any one of them when you are clean out of coffee filters. The best of the best improvised coffee filters are:

  • 1. Metal reusable tea bag.
  • 2. French press coffee maker (It has a built-in mesh filter).
  • 3. A fine-mesh sieve.

Any one of these three will get the job done excellently and produce a great tasting full-bodied flavorful cup of coffee.

If You’re Out Of Coffee Filters, Is It Okay To Use A White Paper Napkin In Place Of A Coffee Filter?


I’ve found myself in that awkward situation where I’ve been caught short and in need of makeshift coffee filter substitutes  and have turned to using a white paper napkin. You may need to adjust the brew time and watch out for flooding of your coffee basket, but most importantly it does work and will make a more than acceptable brew.

It is very easy to make a makeshift filter from a piece of paper towel.

Can I Cheap Out On Coffee Filter Paper?

Yes, you can “cheap out” by buying a reusable coffee filter. These filters come in all types of material from a semi-reusable cotton cloth filter to fine mesh filters and full-on solid metal coffee filters that are permanent filters and will outlive even you!

If you are in the market for a permanent coffee filter, you might as well get your hands on the best one that you can find and spend good money on it as it will save you a lot of money on paper filters over the years.

Make sure you get the right size for your machine.

What you can’t do is cheap out on your coffee filter paper by using paper towels all the time or using low quality paper filters as you will succeed in compromising the quality of your cup of coffee.

Is It OK To Use Paper Towels As Coffee Filters?

Paper towels and dish towels are the most common and popular alternative and emergency coffee filters used. It is perfectly okay to use either to make your cup of coffee. Just be sure to rinse your fabric-based materials to remove the flavors and chemicals from the detergents and fabric softeners used when you cleaned the dish towel.

White paper towels are perfectly okay for using too and don’t interfere with the coffee taste and flavor.

Can I Use Tissue Paper Instead Of Coffee Filter?

Yes, despite paper towels not being designed for the purpose of acting as a coffee filter they work perfectly for this purpose as they will prevent even the finest of coffee grounds from getting into your cup of coffee and thus are good makeshift coffee filters.

What’s A Good Substitute For Coffee Filters?

You have multiple options that you can use as a substitute for a traditional coffee filter. paper towels, tissue paper, fine mesh sieve, cheesecloth, a napkin, handkerchief, an old towel or old T-shirt and reusable T bags.

Is Coffee Healthier With Paper Filter?

I’ve checked out and read a number of peer-reviewed studies and while I am not a medic or doctor there is evidence to suggest that coffee is healthier with a paper filter and that it is healthier without.

Studies that indicate that it is healthier state the reasoning being the health benefits is the reduction and removal of the coffee oils that cause bad cholesterol levels to increase.

The studies that indicate that not using a paper filter is healthier are due to having more cafestol, one of the coffee oils that gets removed by a paper filter and the anticancer benefits that it provides. Cafestol also has antioxidant capabilities.

Even the experts and scientists can’t agree on this one. What I can say is that if you are fit and active and don’t have high cholesterol, enjoying a paper filter free coffee is not likely to be too much of a problem, and you can enjoy the anti-cancer benefits.


if you have elevated cholesterol levels, it is perhaps healthier for you if you use a paper filter to not increase your cholesterol level unnecessarily.

 Final Thoughts – Using A Paper Towel As A Coffee Filter

You can now decide if using a paper towel as a coffee filter is something you want to do or if you are better off using one of the tier 1 alternatives that I mentioned in this article.

I’m open and straight about what my preferred choice is – a metallic reusable teabag or fine-mesh sieve and taking advantage of the built-in filter that is in a French press coffee maker and my top choices.

Did you use a paper towel or did you opt for one of the other choices that you have?

How did your coffee turn out?

Or do you have an alternate super “secret” emergency coffee hack that you use?

Join our online coffee community on Facebook/Meta and share your coffee secrets and help the community.

Derek Marshall, a certified barista by the Specialty Coffee Association possesses over two decades of experience in specialty coffee shops. He holds professional certifications for coffee brewing and barista skills. Derek is also an author with authoritative books covering various coffee topics including specialty coffee, sustainability and coffee, coffee brewing, coffee recipes, coffee cocktails and books focusing on Brazilian coffee, Vietnamese coffee, Indonesian coffee and Malaysian coffee. As a barista for over two decades, Derek Marshall has worked in specialty coffee shops across the United Kingdom, Spain, Thailand, Malaysia, Cambodia, Indonesia, and Vietnam. His expertise extends to the distinct coffee cultures, specialty beverages, and brewing techniques of each nation. Functioning as a coffee consultant, Derek charges US$50 per hour. To learn more about Derek Marshall and Latte Love Brew, visit his About Me Page. For coffee inquiries, contact him at +34-639-410-375 or, mentioning your name and location

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