So you’re about to make coffee, everyone’s waiting for their cup, arranged in the living room and laughing.
But you’ve got no coffee filters to speak of. Wat do ?
No worries, I’ll help you MacGyver a coffee filter that’s actually going to work, and not fall apart when you take it out.
1. Stocking, double lined or high den
This is going to be easy if you’ve got any sort of party or elegant clothes items around the house.
I mean, if you’ve ever went to at least one wedding/anniversary/birthday/bridal shower/anything, then you’ve probably had to wear stockings.
This goes for guys too. I don’t judge.
Regardless, most folks happen to have some clean stockings lying in a drawer somewhere.
Why are stockings good ?
Well, they’re elastic and will hold their own when filled with hot, wet coffee grounds.
And they’re fine enough that they’ll keep the grounds from ever reaching your drink.
Stockings are a fine material. They can get nicked very easily, and one layer isn’t enough to trap everything in.
So I recommend you use either two layers stockings, or use a thicker pair altogether.
The standard thickness is 15 den (denier), for the sheer stockings.
So a 15 den stocking, used in two layers should be alright.
Of course, it will look silly, stuffed into the coffee basket but hey it does the job, right ?
You can take one leg of stockings, cut it from knee to ankle, and twist it at its half over itself. This way you’re getting a sort of double lined bag, which you can adjust to whichever size you need.
Once you’re done with the stocking you can simply take it out of the coffee machine, and it will drip like a MF. But it should keep the contents well enough and not break or rip open until you reach the garbage can.
Just remember that coffee does stain, so your stockings will need a thorough washing if you plan to keep them as a back-up reusable filter.
2. Cheese cloth or muslin
Another option is to use cheese cloth, or a piece of muslin. They might even be the same material.
In short it’s a very fine mesh, that’s usually used to make cheese and hold it suspended while the whey drips out of it.
You can find cheese cloth or muslin at practically any store, especially a textiles store.
They’re sometimes a bit elastic, so take that into account.
This kind of material should be at least double lined as well, since coffee grounds have a way of escaping when you least want them to.
You’ll need to fold a large square or piece of the cloth so it lines every part of the coffee basket, and make sure it won’t snag where the dripping nub is.
As with everything else on this list, the cloth will get stained.
Just rinsing is not enough. You’ll need to very thoroughly wash it, since lots of coffee oils will be trapped in the textile and later impart an odd flavor into other brews.
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3. Large, disposable teabags
Another option to try out is the big, flappy empty teabags.
They’re great for making tea, but also making coffee.
This would work great as a substitute for French press, in that you can let the coffee steep in the water, as you would with tea, and simply remove the teabag when you’re done.
This will allow absolutely zero debris or coffee dust on the bottom of your cup, which is a blessing as far as I’m concerned.
If you were to try and use this in a coffee machine, like a drip filter machine, you’d have a hard time using it.
Generally the opening of these teabags aren’t large enough to reach the sides of the coffee basket, so you’d end up with one side of the teabag on top of the coffee.
Which will double filter your coffee, which will take away from flavor and body.
Coffee filters are generally thicker than teabags, so do expect them to not be able to hold very much.
Which is why I recommend you use this method with single-serve mugs, or at least in small portions at a time.
You’re also limited by the amount of coffee the teabag can comfortably hold, without letting any escape.
This means not filling the teabag more than halfway up.
As much as this sounds like a fussy method, I think it’s one of the simplest and cleanest ways to improvise a coffee filter.
Once you’re done with the teabag, you can simply take it out and throw it away.
4. Any fine fabric that you’re okay to part with
If teabags and anything else I mentioned until now isn’t available, then you can try using some sort of fine cloth, which is clean, and you’re alright to part with.
For example a silly scarf you’ve had forever and stopped wearing 6 years ago could be an idea.
In a worst case scenario, you could even use a cotton T-shirt that you’re okay with throwing away.
Some runner/gym shirts have a very good material, that’s kind of sheer but still closely knit.
They’re most often a sort of very thin nylon, which means they will not keep water for very long and are meant to let the body breathe and the sweat evaporate.
It might not be what you want to hear right now, but it’s something what would work.
As long as it’s clean, and has no strong detergent smell or chemical residue, you should be fine.
If it does have some reside, rinsing it under hot water for a few minutes should help get most (or all) of it out.
Fine fabrics should work well enough in one layer, so I doubt you’ll need to use a double.
As always, wash thoroughly afterwards, possibly soak in water and baking soda for half an hour to be sure you get everything out.
5. A metal sieve, especially if using coarse coffee grounds
Alright, what if you have none of the items I mentioned above ?
What kind of hermit are you ?
Seriously though, if you have none of the things I mentioned, then a metal sieve should work well enough.
It will catch most of the coffee grounds, and if you want to get really fancy you can use a double sieve.
Place one sieve inside the other, and pour the brewed coffee through the sieve.
You’ll get some coffee dust in your cup of coffee, but you’re a hermit and you don’t care. The coffee grounds won’t be in the cup.
This works especially well if you’re using coarse or at least medium coffee grounds.
It’s kind of like an improvised French press.
The upside is that your cup of coffee will have much more body, flavor, and a bit of wonderful coffee oil to round off the flavor.
What to NEVER use as replacement for coffee filter
Some things should never be used as a coffee filter.
And I’ll tell you what, and why this is a problem.
The job of a coffee filter is to:
- hold the coffee grounds
- not fall apart in hot water
- keep intact when lifted out of the coffee basket
Some items simply can’t manage to do that. What do I mean ?
If you’re using paper-based filters, you’ve noticed they’re kind of sturdy. They have lots of fibers merged into them, and this helps them keep their shape.
They’re also thicker and thinner, more compressed, which means they will hold up to the weight of wet coffee grounds.
When improvising coffee filters, you need to keep that in mind as well.
Kitchen paper towel/toiler paper are bad ideas
A kitchen paper towel, or toilet paper is a horrible idea to try.
I’ve seen this recommended by other people and I have trouble getting over it. It’s not a safe or reliable way to replace paper filters.
For several reasons, which I’ll discuss here.
First, toilet paper and paper towels are meant to disintegrate when in contact with water.
This is because they need to not block up the sewers and your plumbing.
They don’t hold up to wet coffee grounds at all, since they will rip very easily.
You’d need at least 4-ply to be sure your improvised filter works.
And even then, you have the following problem.
Second, paper filters are treated so they do not impart any ‘paper’ flavor to the drinks. You know what I mean, especially if you’ve ever had some very cheap teabags which tastes of paper, no matter what you did to that tea.
Toilet paper and paper towels are no different. They’re not made to be used as something that doesn’t impart flavor.
This means that the dyes (if you have colored ones) will impart an odd flavor, and if you’ve got scanted ones… I’m not even going to finish that.
So please, please do not use any kind of paper towel or toilet paper for coffee filters. There are so many other things to use instead.
Finding a good substitute for paper coffee filters is not easy, but with a little creativity you;ll get some funny but useful ideas.
I hope what you found here in this article is going to help get you out of a pinch.
If you want to know more about coffee or tea, feel free to check the related articles below. Who knows what else you might find ?