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Popular Coffee Filter Types Compared

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Coffee Filters 101

Coffee filters come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Anyone who is a daily consumer of coffee has wondered at some point what are all these filters used for.

How do different filters impact the taste of the coffee in the end and should I switch up my filter? Filters actually have a surprisingly large effect on the taste and clarity of your coffee.

What Coffee Filters are Made of

To make a great-tasting cup of coffee, you have to think of everything that goes into it. Even the filter can affect the flavor at the end of brewing. These filters are most commonly made of paper, but you can also find reusable metal and cloth filters.

There are some filters that are made of nylon instead of metal and even filters that use charcoal to filter your coffee as it brews.

Types of Coffee Filters Compared


Paper filters are by far the most common. These are made to be disposable and are used in drip coffee machines around the world. The paper is made thin and porous enough so that water can pass through, but none of the coffee grounds can get into your coffee cup.

You can find these in white or brown. The only difference between these is the white filters have been through a bleaching process. It doesn’t affect the flavor of your coffee, but the brown paper filters are a bit more environmentally friendly.

Paper filters absorb a lot of the oils that are extracted from coffee grounds during the brewing process. This makes the end result a clearer cup of coffee, but it does take away some of the natural flavors that the oils added in. There are better choices if you want to keep the oils for flavor.



Metal filters are less common but have the added benefit of being reusable. These use metal mesh to filter out the coffee grounds and keep it separate from your coffee. These mesh filters have larger pores than the paper filters, so they allow oils and very small particles through. This can improve the taste of your coffee, but it is largly based on personal preference.

Cleaning these filters can be a pain. Never leave your coffee grounds in your metal filter. You have to give them a simple cleaning with every use to keep build up off the filter and give it a deep cleaning at least once a month.



Nylon filters are very similar to metal filters, but they use a nylon mesh that is attached to plastic rings. These work in the exact same way as metal filters and need to be cleaned just as regularly. They are not as durable as metal filters and will have to be replaced over time.



Cloth filters are a good middle ground between paper and metal coffee filters. These filters will contain all the particles from your coffee grounds and still let the oils from that coffee pass through. This gives you a great clean cup of coffee without sacrificing taste.

The big downside to these filters is the upkeep required to use them. You have to hand wash these filters between brews, and you can’t let them get too wet. They generally last for about 30 brews before they start to wear out.

Coffee Filter Sizes Explained

Filter sizes change depending on the shape of the filter and how many cups you are attempting to brew. Most people use a drip coffee maker that uses a basket filter, and these all come in a standard size. They can brew about six cups of coffee each.

Cone filters have many different sizes that depend on the number of cups of coffee you want to brew. These different sizes are categorized by numbers. If you are looking to make a single cup of coffee, you need a number one sized filter.

Cone filters jump up from there with a number two filter that brews four to six cups and is a little over 3 inches tall. A number four filter is 4 inches tall and brews eight to twelve cups. The largest is a number six filter brewing up to ten cups and being 5 inches tall.

Coffee Filter Shapes Explained

The shape of your coffee filters is an important aspect that changes with how you make your coffee. Each type is going to be used in different machines or with different brewing methods. It’s important to understand these differences, so you don’t accidentally buy the wrong type of coffee filters.


Cone filters are usually used for the pour-over method of brewing coffee. There are many different sizes of these filters that are numbered. Most cone filters are going to be disposable and made of paper, although if you can find a good steel cone filter, it will last you a very long time. The coffee grounds are compacted closer together at the bottom, so the water takes longer to cycle through.


Basket filters are the most common filters. They have a standard size that is used in most household drip coffee machines. They are crimped around the edges and have a basket shape with a flat bottom. The increased surface area of the coffee grounds on this flat area allows water to pass through quicker.


Disk-shaped filters are rare and usually are used in special coffee machines. The size of these filters is going to be dependent on the machine that uses them. You won’t come across these filters very often.

Paper vs. Reusable Permanent Coffee Filters

This can be a big debate for many coffee lovers if you are attached to one or the other. Each type of filter, paper, or reusable, has its own conveniences and problems. There are a number of things to consider if you are trying to decide which one to go with.

Paper is going to be much cheaper per filter than any reusable coffee filter on the market. The problem is you have to continuously buy these since most can only be used once. Over time a reusable filter could save you money since you won’t have to buy filters constantly. 

Reusable filters are also more environmentally friendly since they’re being reused and not thrown out. Paper filters these days are made to be biodegradable, but the process to make so many of them still can have an impact on the environment. If you are serious about going green, definitely go with a reusable filter.

How Coffee Filters Work

The entire purpose of a coffee filter is to keep the coffee grounds separate from your liquid coffee during the brewing process. Different types might change the end result, but they all do filter coffee. The last thing you would want is to take a sip of your morning coffee and taste a dirt-like consistency. 

How to Make a Coffee Filter at Home

If you forget to buy coffee filters, but you just can’t go any longer without that precious coffee, don’t panic. There are ways you can make a temporary coffee filter at home using regular kitchen items. The most popular way is to use paper towels. 

Paper towels work the same way as a coffee filter without the added durability. The easiest method is to just line the inside of your machine with paper towels and then add the coffee grounds. Use multiple paper towels to ensure they won’t rip and allow coffee grounds to get through to your cup. 

If you want to have a bit more peace of mind that you won’t encounter coffee grounds in your cup, then there are ways to fold the paper towels, so it is the right shape for your coffee maker. You can find many instructional videos online that walk you through step by step on how to fold them properly. Just think of it as early morning origami, so that you can have your cup of coffee.

What Else Can You Use as a Coffee Filter?

If you have a spare cheesecloth in your kitchen cabinet, this makes a perfect coffee filter that can be reused. It’s relatively inexpensive, and you can wash it after every use to make sure there are no stains left. The downside is it can transfer unwanted flavors from the cloth into your cup of coffee. 

Another filter substitute can be a cotton sock. This is an old method of filtering coffee grounds that has been used all around the world. It works as a coffee filter bag, just place your coffee grounds inside, seal it off, and pour your hot water, though. Make sure you use a clean sock though, or some very unpleasant flavors will end up in your coffee. 

Toilet paper is another surprising yet embarrassing substitute for coffee filters; It is even less durable than paper towels, so make sure you layer a lot of it. It works the same way as paper towels in any coffee machine.

Should I Use a Permanent Coffee Filter?

A permanent coffee filter can have a huge impact on your daily coffee consumption as well as your wallet. The most popular permanent coffee filters are metal filters. These rarely transfer any unwanted flavors into your coffee, and they allow the oils from the coffee grounds to pass through. If the oils can pass into your coffee, it will give it a richer taste that’s closer to the natural beans. 


Another huge benefit is not having to constantly buy coffee filters. While the permanent filter will cost more at first, it will save you money in the long term if you are an avid coffee drinker. The big downside is clean up. A permanent filter will have to be wiped out after each use and will have to be deep cleaned at least once a month.

How to Choose the Right Coffee Filter

Deciding between all these different filters can be difficult for any coffee lover. A large portion of the decision is a personal preference. Try a few different filters out to see what meets your needs. The main things you need to consider are taste, cost, how environmentally friendly they are, and how easily obtainable the filters are.

The taste of your coffee is one of the most important things for any coffee drinker. You will want to experiment with different filters to see how it changes the flavor and consistency of your favorite coffee. Some will make your coffee clearer and more acidic, while others will make your coffee richer but will allow some sediment through.

Cost is an important factor in deciding what filters to choose. If your coffee filters are costing you way too much in the long term, then a permanent filter may be a good investment. If you don’t drink coffee enough to justify an expensive metal filter, it’s best to stick with the paper filters.

In the world we live in, you can’t afford to not be environmentally conscious. Companies making filters these days are aware of this as well, and most try to lower their impact. Paper filters are almost always biodegradable and can be thrown in a compost.

It is better to go with a brown paper filter than a white since the brown filters don’t go through the extra process of being bleached. If you really want to go green, then get a nice reusable filter and take good care of it.

None of these filters are going to do you any good if you can’t get them, so it’s best to choose a filter that is locally obtainable. If you don’t like in person shopping then check online for filters that can be quickly delivered to your door.


In the end, it’s your decision on what kind of filter you buy. It definitely changes depending on how you like to brew your coffee and what your tastes are. You should be able to filter out the ones you don’t need.

Hopefully, I have helped clear up some of the confusion around the effects of each common material and shape. Happy coffee drinking!

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