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Are Reusable Coffee Filters Any Good? [In Practice & For The Environment]

reusable coffee filters

Do you love drinking coffee but hate the waste? Are you looking to find a reusable coffee filter that’s reliable, brews great coffee and is better for the environment?

If so, you’re in the right place – I’m exactly the same. 

As the name suggests, reusable coffee filters can be used over and over again. This is where they differ from paper coffee filters, which are single use items. The major benefit is that unbleached coffee filter papers are compostable.

With permanent reusable coffee filters, you don’t need the paper filter too. 

Less resource and less material usually means greater sustainability. 

So, let’s take a look at mesh coffee filters to see if they’re worth it and the best eco friendly coffee filters to look out for. 

How do reusable coffee filters work?

Reusable coffee filters work on the simple basis of coffee being filtered through a fine mesh or semi-permeable material with the help of gravity.

Most reusable coffee filters work in one of two ways:

  • Sit on top of your cup and drip straight down
  • Positioned in a filter coffee machine and drip into the jug

Once your filter is in position on top of your vessel, you’ll add the coffee grounds directly into the filter, then pour your hot water over your grounds. 

It’s best to pour a small amount of water over your grounds first to soak them. Then, when the initial water has filtered through, pour more hot water to create a full cup. 

I love this process. It can feel almost ritual-like and you always get a delicious cup of coffee at the end.

reusable metal coffee filter zero waste club
Stainless steel reusable coffee filter

Are mesh coffee filters any good?

A major question you need to ask is are reusable coffee filters any good?

There’s not much point in making more sustainable choices if the end product is not as good. This will make the process unsustainable, as you’ll be switching back!

So, mesh coffee filters – what’s the deal?

Yes, mesh coffee filters are a great choice for the job of coffee making. Once you have your coffee to water ratio right, reusable filters brew a consistently good cup of coffee. 

In the past, I’ve used a couple of different types including stainless steel and silicone. I haven’t yet tried a cloth coffee filter. However, according to Java Presse, cloth coffee filters produce a clean and rich cup of coffee – more on these types of coffee filters shortly. 

Reusable coffee filters are also an excellent choice as they’re transportable. You can take your reusable coffee filter into the office (I have) or with you if you’re travelling around. 

All you then need is some good ethical coffee to brew with. A couple of my favourites are Cafedirect Machu Picchu and Balance Coffee

london fields cafedirect coffee

Are reusable coffee filters better for the environment?

Reusable coffee filters are a good option if you’re considering the environment. 

On the surface of it, they’re a more sustainable choice for brewing coffee than paper filters as they require less resource use. 

Reusable filters can be used as they are without the need for anything else. With paper filters, you still need the casing that it sits in, plus a new filter for each brew.

Then after each brew, the paper filter gets thrown away. As unbleached paper filters are compostable, these are a better choice – then everything can go into the food waste bin.

You might only use a paper filter a few times a week, but across the world billions are being used every year. 

However, there are other things to consider if you really want to get into how environmentally friendly each filter is. 

With a metal reusable coffee filter for example, it’ll need to be at least rinsed out with water each time, potentially cleaned with washing up liquid and an eco friendly cloth

Do you still need a paper filter with reusable filters?

compostable coffee filters and cup
Silicone coffee filter with filter paper

No, on a good reusable coffee filter you don’t need to use a paper filter too. 

Standalone coffee filters have come a long way in terms of brewing quality coffee. The fine mesh and material used means you don’t need a paper filter as well to correctly brew a cup of coffee. 

There are some reusable coffee filters that do need paper. For example, somebody bought me a silicone coffee dripper as a present many years ago and it’s still going strong. I have used it quite regularly in work, but it does require a paper filter each time.

As a material, silicone is a half-way house between plastic and rubber – you can read more on is silicone eco friendly here.

Types of reusable coffee filters

There are numerous times of reusable coffee filters out there that you can use with needing paper filters.

Each might produce a slightly different brew quality, but to all intents and purposes, you’ll be drinking a good cup of coffee at the end. 

Let’s take a look at the main type of reusable coffee filters and their main qualities and potential drawbacks. 

Stainless steel and metal filters

reusable coffee filter stainless steel zero waste club
Stainless steel coffee filter from Zero Waste Club
  • High quality food grade stainless steel 
  • Very durable, can last for years
  • Fine mesh for good coffee filtering
  • Non-reactive material, meaning no odours and taste impacts
  • Easy to clean
  • Dishwasher safe
  • Let micro-grounds and oils pass through – creates a more full-bodied coffee with potentially a little bit of sediment settling at the bottom of your cup (the same as a cafetiere or French press would)
  • Easily recyclable 

I find stainless steel quite a fascinating material for the fact that it’s infinitely recyclable and non-reactive. I have lots of items made from this material, including stainless steel lunch boxes and a trusty steel water bottle – all of which I’ve used for years without a deterioration in quality.

You can read up more on stainless steel environmental impact here.

Cloth

  • Can be made from fabrics such as cotton and hemp
  • More natural choice
  • Don’t last too long – a few months upto maximum of a year
  • Come in a range of sizes
  • Little sediment transferred into cup
  • Harder to clean – rinse with water and hang to dry
  • Catch all micro-grounds and filter the coffee oils out
  • Difficult to recycle 

Nylon

  • Durable material, will last years
  • Nylon filters are common in classic coffee machines
  • Nylon is a type of plastic
  • Easy to clean
  • Let micro-grounds and oils pass through
  • Recyclable in specialist facility 

You can read a little more here on how sustainable is nylon.

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are a few FAQs about reusable coffee filters that may come in useful. 

How to clean a reusable filter?

This depends on the filter in question.

For metal and nylon coffee filters, it’s simply a case of letting them dry out before brushing the grinds out into your food waste bin. Then it’s a quick rinse out, air dry and you’re good to go again. 

For cloth filters, once the grinds have cooled, empty them out into your food waste bin. Then you have to rinse the cloth and get the remaining spent grounds out. Cloth filters then need air drying before using again. 

With cloth filters you want to strike the fine balance of not letting them dry out too much but not keeping them damp for long periods. 

Are reusable coffee filters dishwasher safe?

This depends on the material of the coffee filter. For each you will have to check the product itself for a dishwasher safe logo or text. 

Coffee filters made from stainless steel and ceramic are dishwasher safe. 

Some silicone filters are dishwasher safe too, but you’ll have to check the individual product as this can differ. 

Whereas you wouldn’t put a cloth coffee filter in the dishwasher. 

How many times can you use reusable coffee filter?

You can potentially use a reusable coffee filter hundreds, if not thousands, of times. 

Coffee filters made from durable materials such as stainless steel for example, will last for years. This is because stainless steel is in incredibly strong and non-reactive material. 

Other reusable coffee filter materials such as cloth won’t last as long. You might get 100+ turns from cloth material. This is for a couple of reasons. 

Firstly, they are much harder to clean than other materials. 

Secondly, the natural fibres will break down over time with us and become worn. 

cup of coffee with grass and dog in background

Wrap up on reusable coffee filters

Reusable coffee filters are a great choice for brewing coffee at home. 

There is little between the main types of permanent filters (the ones that don’t require paper filters) in terms of sustainability. 

Yes there is an initial cost to get the raw materials and manufacture into the product. With the likes of stainless steel and nylon, this can be quite costly. 

The benefit is that stainless steel coffee filters in particular will last for years and years. Potentially indefinitely. 

Cloth filters on the other hand are made from more natural materials, such as hemp and cotton. Of course, these materials come with an environmental impact too, although not as much as stainless steel and nylon. It is possible to get organic versions of cloth filters, which are better when it comes to environmental sustainability. 

The downside is that cloth coffee filters need to be replaced much more frequently than their reusable coffee filter counterparts. 

All in all, my choice goes to a stainless steel reusable coffee filter.

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If you liked that, read more on the topic of sustainable coffee

Ben & Murphy Peaks Mam Tor

Ben is the Creator and Editor of Tiny Eco Home Life. I write and publish information about more sustainable, environmentally friendly living in and around the home.

Alongside this website, I love spending time in the natural world, living a simple life and spending time with my young family (Murphy the dog!) I round up my thoughts and recent blogs on the Eco Life Newsletter.