The Complete Guide to Choosing the Right Coffee Filter

Coffee Geek Lab / The Complete Guide to Choosing the Right Coffee Filter
Yurii Brown

Certified Barista

February 19, 2022

One of the coolest things about making coffee at home is that you can do whatever you want to make it taste however you want. 

There are so many coffee bean brands, equipment types, and brewing methods you can use! No wonder this can easily get you overwhelmed

But after reading this guide, you will have one less problem of choice. You will find out how to choose a coffee filter, what types and sizes you get to choose from, and even how to make your own one at home! So, let’s dive right in! 

Coffee Filters

Everything You Should Know About Coffee Filter Types: Materials and Use

Let’s get straight to business:  

When trying to find the best coffee filter, your first task is to figure out which type would be perfect for your favorite brewing method and your personal preferences. 

You have countless options, really. But here comes the difficult part: you need to choose something that would work for you the best. And to help you with that, let’s take a closer look at the common coffee filter types and their peculiarities.

Paper Filters (Disposable)

Now, you can come across two main types: bleached (white)Paper Coffee Filter and unbleached (brown) paper filters. Let me warn you right away: the bleaching process does not affect the coffee taste in any way. So, whether you use white or brown filters, your beverage flavor will not change.

The main difference between bleached and unbleached paper filters is in the manufacturing process. Bleached filters require an extra step, which isn’t ideal for our environment. Additionally, such filters are more polluting, even though the amount of bleach used is very small.

Using paper filters comes with a ton of benefits. First of all, they don’t require cleaning, which saves you a lot of time and effort. Just brew your coffee, toss the filter, and you are good to go. Another cool thing about disposable paper filters is that they are able to catch even the smallest coffee particles and fine sediment. As a result, you get a clean, smooth beverage with no surprises at the bottom of your cup.

Of course, there are also downsides to using paper filters. For instance, because of its structure, paper can absorb those precious coffee oils, which means you won’t get as much flavor as you could with a reusable filter. Additionally, since paper filters are disposable, they aren’t the most environmentally friendly option. You can’t recycle them, so all that paper ends up in the landfills. Plus, let’s not forget that paper is a rather flimsy material. And if you pick cheaper filters of a lower quality, they may tear during the brewing process and ruin your coffee.

Paper filters are better in terms of sanitary concerns. Because you use each of them once, there’s no chance for bacteria to grow or the residue to build up on your filter.
When I use paper coffee filters, I rinse them with hot water before brewing to kind of cleanse them from any unwanted flavors. If you want to do the same, just put a filter into your brewing device, run some hot water through it, dump the water, add ground coffee, and brew.

Metal (Reusable)

Even though metal mesh filters can’t catch the smallest particles that may end up in your cup, they don’t retain the natural coffee oils either. That’s why you can achieve a wider flavor spectrum with a metal filter than with a paper one. Coffee brewed using a metal filter always tastes richer, bolder, and more aromatic. 

Additionally, a good metal filter can last you almost a lifetime if you take proper care of it. Such filters are sturdy and durable (plus better for the environment). Additionally, using a metal filter can help you save some money in the long run.

On the other hand, mesh filters aren’t that easy to clean. Some of the smaller coffee bits can get stuck, and you need to be very thorough every time you clean your metal filter. It does take some time and effort, but if you appreciate sustainability (and a richer coffee flavor), the cleaning process shouldn’t be such a big issue.

A reusable metal filter can serve you for a very long time, so you get to save some money. Plus, you never run out of them, which means you can always get a cup of fresh coffee. And if you get yourself a couple of reusable filters, you can use one of them when the other one is dirty.

Cloth (Reusable)

It’s the least common coffee filter material, but it’s still worth your attention (and I will explain why).

Cloth coffee filters are kind of like a golden middle between paper and metal filters. A cloth can catch even the finest sediment and allows users to enjoy smooth beverages with no unwanted bits in them. At the same time, cloth filters don’t absorb much of the coffee oils (maybe just the tiniest percent), unlike paper filters. That’s why many users prefer cloth filters: in order to get a cup of flavorful beverage with a very smooth texture and a medium body.

And here’s the best part: cloth coffee filters are a much more environmentally-friendly option than disposable paper filters.

The main deal-breaker, however, is maintenance. Cloth filters can be finicky to clean, as you have to rinse them very thoroughly after each use. With time, they can absorb flavors (due to the trapped oils and micro-grounds) and transfer those flavors into your coffee. However, this typically happens after a few dozen brews.

Picking the Right Style: Common Shapes of Coffee Filters

Depending on the coffee machine you have (or plan to buy), you can come across four main styles of coffee filters:

  • Conical. Most homeCoffee Filter brewers use this type of coffee filters, so if you are looking for a new coffee machine, chances are it’s going to have a cone-shaped filter basket. Conical filters are wide at the top and narrow at the bottom, kind of like a party hat upside-down. Typically, cone-shaped filters come in sizes suited for 1-10 cups of coffee. Thanks to that, they are often used for manual pour-over brewers as well.
  • Basket. Also known as flat-bottom or cupcake filters, these ones are similar to conical filters but have a flat bottom (hence, the name). Basket filters are often designed to be able to brew more coffee at once (8-12 cups), which makes them a great option for larger-capacity coffee makers.
  • Disk. Typically used for AeroPresses (a manual brewer type), disk filters are much smaller and usually work to brew a single cup of coffee at a time. They can also be used to replace a French Press filter when needed.
  • Bag. It isn’t the most common type, but you can still come across coffee bags on the market. Coffee filter bags usually have two handles, with which you can attach the filter to your mug or a pour-over brewer. They mostly work for single-serve coffee, but you can find larger options as well.

Those who use K-cup coffee makers might also notice the reusable plastic coffee filters made specifically for this type of brewer. Now, instead of purchasing the K-pods, you can brew your favorite coffee blend, which is a great eco-friendly alternative and adds a ton of variety to your coffee drinks.

Paper vs. Reusable: Price and Value

When trying to choose between paper and metal filters, many users are concerned about the price tag.

So, which one is cheaper?

Let me warn you right away: reusable filters are cheaper in the long run. Yes, if you look at these two types side by side, paper filters are more affordable per one piece. But don’t forget that you will have to buy them regularly, pack after pack. This results in more expenses than when you buy a metal mesh (or a cloth) filter once and keep reusing it.

Coffee Filter Sizes

Now that you are already familiar with the types, you should also figure out which filter size you might need. The size determines how much ground coffee you can use and, consequently, the beverage quantity you can get.

Both basket and cone filters can be labeled the following sizes:

  • #1. This type is approximately 2 ¼ inches tall. It is suitable for around 1 cup of coffee, depending on how strong you want your beverage to be. I personally use the #1 coffee filters when I want to make espresso-like beverages and use smaller amounts of water.
  • #2. These are around 3 ¼ inches tall. The #2 coffee filters accommodate enough coffee grounds to make 2-3 cups of coffee.
  • #4. The #4 coffee filters belong to the larger group, as they are 4 ¼ inches tall and are used to make around 4-6 cups.
  • #6. This is the most common larger size you can find on the market. Such filters are approximately 5 ¼ inches tall and can be used for 8-12 cups of coffee at a time.

You can substitute #2 filters with #4 ones, you just need to slightly trim the edges. However, if you’re using a smaller filter instead of a larger one, be sure to pour water slowly and do not fill the cone to the brim, or you may get overflow.

How Many Microns is a Coffee Filter?

Generally, coffee filter pore size falls within the range of 10-20 microns. This is true for both bleached and unbleached coffee filters (although the latter typically have a smoother texture, and hence, smaller pores).

Cloth filters are typically made of cotton muslin because it’s a natural fabric that won’t alter the taste of your drink. The pore size of a cloth filter depends on the weave and density of the fabric but generally tends to be larger than a paper filter.

Metal filters are basically very fine strainers made of stainless steel. The holes in the filter are made with the laser, so they can vary from 5 to 20 microns, and you can choose the one that works best to your taste.

Brown vs. White Coffee Filters

When shopping for paper coffee filters, you will come across two types: brown and white. 

White paper filters are bleached, while brown ones are in their “natural”, unbleached state. Manufacturers mention whether the filters are bleached or not on the packaging, so you will always know what you get.

Unbleached Coffee Filters: Are They Better?

Unbleached Coffee Filters

When it comes to the difference between bleached and unbleached coffee filters, many people argue about the taste. Some claim that unbleached filters add some unpleasant notes to the flavor.

I personally don’t see any difference. To me, both types of filters add some slight hints of paper scent, which is why I prefer using metal filters. And when I only have the paper ones, I rinse them with hot water first.

So, my advice for you is: try them both and see for yourself. Maybe you have sharper taste buds and will feel like unbleached filters can give you a purer flavor. Or maybe you won’t see any difference, just like me.

Keep in mind that thicker paper filters are usually more expensive. But trust me, they are worth the price at least because a thicker filter is not likely to tear during use. Plus, it will hold the water longer, allowing for full coffee extraction and rich flavor.

Another thing you might want to consider is the safety aspect. Many coffee drinkers avoid bleached coffee filters because they know that manufacturers use either chlorine or oxygen to bleach the paper. While the oxygen process is considered safe, chlorine seems like a potentially harmful agent to many people.

But there’s one thing they might not know:

The amount of chlorine used to bleach coffee filters is too small to pose a health threat. Besides, the majority of American manufacturers have given up on this method.

Now, here’s another thought:

Bleached filters aren’t good for the environment. Bleaching implies an extra manufacturing process (and hence more pollution). Just something for you to think about if you consider yourself an environmentally responsible person.

Best Paper Coffee Filters Available on the Market Right Now

If you don’t really know what disposable coffee filters to pick, I have a couple of recommendations.

Hario V60 Paper Coffee Filters

Hario V60 Paper Coffee Filters

Even though I prefer reusable coffee filters, these paper ones satisfy me fully. They don’t add that paper-like scent to my beverages. To be honest, I rarely even rinse these filters before use, even though I have such a habit when it comes to paper filters. Hario V60 Paper Coffee Filters

What’s great about these particular filters is the value for money they offer. Seriously, this is a real steal, given that you get a hundred for only $5.50. Besides, there are 3 sizes available, plus tabbed and untabbed filters. 

These paper filters are quite thick, which eliminates chances of tearing. They fit into cone brewers and pour-overs. Overall, the V60 filters are rather flexible and can be used with different types of brewers.


Chemex Bonded Coffee Filter

Chemex Bonded Coffee Filter

Another great option for your coffee are these Chemex filters. You can actually use them not only in Chemex machines but also in many other pour-overs and cone coffee makers. These paper filters are pre-folded for convenience and they stay in place nicely, so you don’t have to worry about spills and slips.

Here’s the kicker:

These filters are bleached (using the oxygen method). There are also unbleached ones, but they cost a bit more.

Now, this pack is more expensive than the previous option but definitely worth the price. You get a pack of 100, plus these filters are quite large and can brew around 4-5 cups at a time. Additionally, they are extra thick. You won’t find the grounds in your cup and will enjoy a smooth, rich beverage.

How to Make a Coffee Filter at Home?

What if you want a cup of hot, fresh beverage but have run out of coffee filters? Don’t worry, you still can make coffee without a filter. You just have to DIY – do it yourself.

The most popular (and the simplest) way is using a paper towel, as it’s easy to find one in your kitchen. Paper towels serve as a nice coffee filter substitute when you don’t really have any other choice.

And here’s the kicker:

You have at least two different ways to use it.

First, you simply line your brewer with a paper towel (or a few) and place the ground coffee on top.

Second, you can fold the paper towel to turn it into a homemade coffee filter. To do that, you need to fold it in half diagonally to create a triangle, and then again to make a smaller triangle. After that, you might cut off the top part if the filter is too large for your brewer. And finally, open the filter up and place it into the filter holder of your device. Voila! Just to give you a visual, check out this simple tutorial:

Important to note:

When you use a paper towel as a coffee filter, make sure it is thick enough.

You see, paper towels are usually very thin and tear easily when wet. It’s better to use a couple of layers. This way, no coffee grounds will get into your mug. Additionally, make sure that your paper towels are not scented and don’t have any colored patterns on them. After all, you want a pure tasting cup of coffee, not something mixed with chemical colorings or flavors, right?

What Else Can You Use as a Coffee Filter?

What Else Can You Use as a Coffee Filter
Source: leaf.tv

Paper towel is not the only coffee filter replacement you can use. Here are more options:

  • Toilet paper. Even though you might feel a bit embarrassed using it as a filter, it works like a charm (pretty much like paper towels). However, you need to use more, and preferably the two-ply paper to avoid tears. You can shape it like a filter or simply layer it inside the filter holder.
  • A fine sieve. Now, it probably won’t fit into your brewing device, but at least you can hold the sieve over it (or over your mug) and pour hot water on it while it holds the coffee grounds. You can also steep the grounds in a jar or a container and then pour the beverage into a mug through the sieve.
  • A piece of cheesecloth or muslin. It will hold the coffee grounds just fine. Plus, you can use it multiple times (just make sure you wash it after each use).
  • A cotton sock. This might seem ridiculous, but a nice clean sock will work like a coffee filter bag just fine. Again, you can use it multiple times. Simply place your grounds into the sock, hold it over your mug, and pour hot water over the coffee grounds.
  • A French press or a stovetop Moka pot. You are lucky if you have one of those. You see, these two simple devices already have filters in them, which means you don’t even have to come up with an alternative to brew coffee. A French press mimics the pour-over style method but allows grounds to steep, resulting in strong, rich coffee. And Moka pot uses pressure to force the boiling water through the grounds, allowing them to extract and reveal their rich aroma.

How do you brew your coffee? And what filter do you use for it? Let us know in the comments below!


Which coffee filter takes less time to clean?

From this perspective, a paper coffee filter is the easiest: you just discard it after use or throw it into a compost bin (filter paper and coffee grounds are totally compostable!). With the metal filter, it’s also pretty straightforward: just rinse it under the tap water and let it dry. However, metal filters require deep cleaning in a dishwasher from time to time to remove the oils and residue.

Will the type of coffee filter impact the final taste of my cup?

It might. The paper filter is less porous, which means that it can trap more aromatic compounds from your coffee, and might leave a less complex body taste. Metal filters have a mesh structure, so they allow some oils to pass through, and you’ll end up with a bold and flavorful cup.

Can you reuse a paper coffee filter?

Some people do reuse paper filters 2-3 times. However, most paper filters are one-time use, because the filter paper quickly ruins when exposed to water.

Does coffee made with paper filters taste better?

It depends on your taste preferences. Paper filters trap a bigger amount of coffee oils and granules and produce a lighter body, both in terms of color and taste. This coffee is usually tasty without any additives, so if that’s what you like, you will probably enjoy it.

What can I use instead of a coffee filter?

The easiest replacement would be a tea strainer since it can withstand hot water. Other substitutes are thick paper towels or a piece of fabric — make sure you’re using natural ones.

Yurii Brown

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