The Best Chemex Filter Alternatives

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Chemex coffee makers were invented in 1941, though they’ve only become exceptionally popular, at least in North America, in recent years.

A new generation of coffee aficionados demand carefully brewed, high-quality coffee. Still, pour-over and other “slow” methods of coffee are becoming vogue in the shops, too.

Slow coffee bars are in all the hip new coffee shops, if not the model of some new elite coffee shops.

More coffee drinkers are demanding the exceptional quality of a pour-over coffee in their own homes, too.

Chemex coffee makers are the one of the best brands of pour-over coffee makers, priced to be accessible to everyone.

The most troublesome feature of a Chemex coffee maker is getting the right filter, especially when the filters designed for your pour-over method are unavailable to you.

So what are the best Chemex filter substitutes? While there is no perfect substitution for Chemex filters, in a pinch you can use other coffee filters made of paper, cloth, or metal, preferable in a cone shape when possible.

In this article, we’ll carefully explain why Chemex filters are the best filter you can buy whenever you have a choice, and then continue to elaborate on what your alternatives are if you’re in a pinch.

Each alternative has benefits and disadvantages. After reading this article, you’ll know which direction you want to go personally, or you’ll be ready to experiment with all of them.

What is Chemex Coffee?

A Chemex coffee maker is a pour-over coffee brewer. It provides a time-honored way of making coffee which can be both incredibly simple and shockingly complicated, depending on how elite your coffee preferences are. 

The coffee maker is essentially an hourglass-shaped beaker with a wide, open mouth. There are various styles and sizes, each with this basic shape. Some models wrap the center in wood and leather to be used as a handle and others feature a dainty glass handle. 

Regardless of the model or the size, they’re all designed to use specific Chemex filters. 

Unfortunately, along with exclusivity often comes availability shortages and it’s not always easy to get your hands on the brand filters.

Lucky for you, though perhaps not so lucky for Chemex, many competing products have come forward with filters that can be used in a Chemex coffee maker. They’re not all equal, but throughout the rest of the article, we’ll outline how they each work and help you decide which option is best for your home.

Why Are Chemexes so Good?

There are many pour-over coffee style coffeemakers but what makes Chemex better than all others is their filters. This admittedly makes it more difficult to find a suitable replacement but, if you understand why Chemex filters are brilliant, you’ll be able to make the right adjustments to brew a cup of coffee that is just a shade less than perfect.

What is a Chemex Filter?

Chemex filters are specially designed to remove every speck of impurity from your coffee, including sediment, oils, and fats. The filter paper is heavy and thick compared to other coffee filters you may have used before.

In addition to acting as a premium-quality filter, this thickness helps provide the perfect brew times for your coffee grinds.

As a pour-over, the water will soak in the grinds longer and picking up more of the caffeine and flavor before filtering through the paper, infusing your coffee with a fuller flavor and less bitterness. Although like other slow-brews, this will leave your coffee on the more acidic side.

Their filters are also guaranteed not to break, which means even if you pour your water a little more hot and heavy than you intended, your filter won’t burst and turn your coffee into grainy sludge.

Chemex Filter Health Benefits

Chemex filters have been extensively studied and found to make coffee that is healthier than some traditional brews.

Many of their studies and results are not entirely conclusive yet, meaning they need more research, but here are some of the early trends and health claims being made:

  • Filtered coffee of any kind doesn’t raise LDL cholesterol levels as unfiltered coffee will.
  • Because of the quality of the Chemex filter, coffee brewed in this system will have even less cholesterol.
  • Again because of the quality of the Chemex filter, more potentially harmful impurities are filtered out, including oil, fat, and even acidity.

The claim that filtered coffee is better for you than unfiltered is one that’s been out there for a while and one that seems to be better supported.

In general, filtered coffee (meaning most of your regular “drip” makers, chemexes and many other pour-overs) tend to be better for cholesterol levels than unfiltered coffee (such as French Press, Moka pot, or many other other espresso-like coffees).

But whether Chemex filters are so much better than any other filters for health reasons is inconclusive.

Which Chemex Filter is Best?

Chemex filters are available either pre-folded or unfolded.

The pre-folded filters will not work on pint-sized models. The unfolded filters are designed to be used only in the pint-sized coffeemakers or their Funnex coffeemakers, which are portable, single-cup brewing systems. 

The majority of Chemex owners use the pre-folded filters, which come in circles or squares. Since they’re pre-folded, you’ll find them quite easy to use, already in the optimal cone shape.

The square filters form a cone with two peaks, whereas the circle filters have a nice, even shape. There is no real benefit of one over the other, it’s mainly a personal preference.

There are also both white and natural square filters. The white filters have been cleaned using hot water and oxygen.

This is a similar process to regular bleached papers except that it’s healthier, better for the environment, and doesn’t leave any chemical residue that may impact your perfect brew.

The natural filters are also cleaned, but without the oxygen, so they retain their natural color.

Chemex Filter Substitutes

Now that you understand why Chemex filters are considered the best of the best, let’s discuss what other options are out there and how they compare so you can decide what will work best for your brewing habit.

Chemex Vs Regular Coffee Filters

If you’ve run out of Chemex filters, the easiest and most obvious solution would be to grab a standard coffee filter made for a regular coffee machine. 

The biggest difference is the thickness of the filters. As mentioned, Chemex filters are 20–30% thicker than standard coffee filters.

Can you simply layer multiple regular filters on top of each other to get the same effect? No, unfortunately, there’s more to the story.

Chemex filters are also made out of a special fiber designed to filter out not just solid sediment but also oil and fat from the ground coffee beans. This is what gives the brewed coffee the clean, premium flavor, and health benefits.

If you’re more interested in caffeination than you are worried about the perfect cup of coffee, a regular coffee filter will work in a Chemex coffee maker.

We like the Melitta Natural Brown #2 Cone Filters which are known for letting the natural flavor of the coffee shine. You will notice the difference in flavor, but at least you’ll have coffee.

Regular paper filters are much flimsier than Chemex filters however so you must pour your water gently and carefully. If you pour too fast, it’s very easy to tear the filter and loose the grinds into the coffee maker itself. 

You may also need to very carefully hold the side of a paper filter (or three) to keep the sides from caving in as they won’t stand stiffly like Chemex filters are designed to do.

Pour Over Coffee Filters

Ideally, if you must replace your Chemex filters with paper filters, you’ll be able to find some that are designed for pour-over coffee makers, if not specifically for the Chemex system.

They’ll be thicker and more resilient to aggressively poured water, though not nearly as durable as a Chemex filter.

For example, the Hario V60 Paper Coffee Filters are made for a competing coffee maker but will work well in a Chemex. They’re also oxygen bleached coffee filters, which again help with the flavor.

If you’re using a paper filter not specifically design for the Chemex you will need to be wary of collapsed sides, so pour gently and keep your eye on the filter itself so that it doesn’t cave in.

How to Use Paper Towel as Coffee Filter

If you’re desperate, feeling creative, and brave, you can use paper towels to filter your Chemex coffee. As you can imagine paper towel is very thin and flimsy compared to the thick, specially made Chemex filters, but it is possible. 

The benefit is that most households always have paper towel on hand and the paper has a very fine weave. So, as long as it doesn’t tear, it will filter most of the coffee sediment out cleanly.

You will want your paper towel to be multiple layers thick, which may be attainable by folding a single large paper towel or you may need to use multiple half or quarter-sized sheets.

Simply fold your paper towel(s) into a square and then pull one corner away from the others, forming a cone-shaped pocket. Pour your coffee grinds into the pocket and place carefully into your Chemex.

The disadvantage of using paper towel as a coffee filter is that it will tear more easily than a filter and it may affect the flavor. Most paper towel is bleached and that can let a chemical taste seep into your coffee. 

The water will probably also pour through quickly, brewing a coffee that is less strong than you may be used to. But if it’s that or no coffee, well, a paper towel may still be worth it.

Chemex Paper Vs Metal Filter

Another alternative to Chemex filters is metal filters. There are some designed to fit a Chemex system, though they’re made by competing companies and not recommended by Chemex itself.

They will work, however, they have their own list of pros and cons.

Benefits of Metal Coffee Filters

The main advantage of using a metal coffee filter is that it is reusable. You don’t need to dispose of it every time or worry about constantly buying more either.

Even though Chemex filters are compostable and biodegradable, they are still more wasteful than a reusable filter.

Disadvantages of Metal Coffee Filters

The biggest disadvantage is controversial and is marketed as a benefit by the manufacturers of steel filters. We think it comes down to personal preference.

The reality is that metal filters won’t prevent all the oils and fats from the coffee beans from infiltrating your brewed coffee.

According to Chemex, this detracts from the natural purity of the flavor of the beans, however, some disagree. Since the oils and fats are naturally occurring in the beans, it can be argued that they’re part of the flavor.

For those who don’t like the “pure” taste of a Chemex, however, metal filters could be a significant advantage.

Ultimately, the flavor will be considerably different, though whether this is a benefit or a disadvantage can only be decided by each individual coffee drinker.

Best Metal Coffee Filter for Chemex: Able Cone

Whether you want to use a metal filter for every pot of coffee or just have one in your cupboard in case of a filter emergency, our favorite metal filter for Chemex pour-overs is the Able Kone.

It will fit in 6, 8, or 10 cup Chemex makers as well as Hario pour-over coffee makers, so it’s quite versatile. 

When used in a Chemex coffee maker, the result is similar to using a French press. Very fine sediment from the beans will make it through the metal filter, giving an almost velvety mouth feel particular as you get to the bottom of the pot or cup.

Fabric Coffee Filters vs Chemex Paper

If you’re searching for an immediate coffee fix and you don’t have a filter of any type to hand, you can turn to a cotton or fabric make-shift filter. 

The thicker the fabric, the better filter it will make, provided the water can seep through. You can use multiple layers of cheesecloth or a dishtowel if that’s what you have on hand.

Some people have even used an old t-shirt in a pinch! Though you may want to grab from the clean pile…

The main benefits to fabric filters are that they are reusable and they can be made out of anything you have on hand, though results will vary considerably.

Plus, they will almost certainly filter more effectively than the average metal filter, as the gaps in fibers in your cloth filter are so much finer than is possible with metal.

One of the biggest disadvantages of using cotton, however, as a coffee filter is the compromised flavor. To most coffee drinkers, the flavor impact will be minor. To true connoisseurs, however, it can be like filtering your coffee through a wet wool sock, depending on what material you’re using.

Another major disadvantage is the patience required to brew a cup of coffee. Because the cloth is often thicker than paper, it can take considerably longer to filter the water through the fabric. This can vary, depending on what you’re using as a filter, however.

In most cases, a make-shift fabric filter will also be quite shallow and very flexible. If you’re not confident in your coffee skills, you could make a mess by pouring the water too fast and overflowing your grinds, or burning your fingers while you try to keep the fabric in place.

If you’re going to try this method, we recommend finding a way to pinch the cloth to the edge of your Chemex if it’s long enough. Otherwise, just be patient and go slowly. Chemex-lovers swear by slow, even pouring anyway.

Chemex Coffee Sock

There are reusable cloth filters designed for pour-over coffee makers, including the Chemex.

The CoffeeSock is designed specifically to fit Chemex coffee makers, so if you’re someone who doesn’t trust anything that isn’t the matching brand name, here you are!

These particular filters are made from organic cotton and can last for a year or longer each.

Cotton is ideal for a fabric filter because cellulose, which makes up 90% of cotton, has no taste or odor, so as long as it is cleaned and dried properly, it won’t affect the flavor of your coffee too much.

If you’re looking for another sustainable option, you can also check out this organic hemp option from Bolio, which is even designed to fit makers like the Chemex.

Best Chemex Filter Alternatives Summary [Chart]

Regular FilterCommonly availableFlimsy, may tear, the water will drain quickly and the sides may collapseThe flavor won’t be as pure and the coffee won’t be as strong
Pour Over FilterMade for pour-over coffee makers but are more easily available than Chemex brand exclusivelyNot as thick or durable as Chemex filters, may collapse if not used carefullyThe flavor won’t be as pure
Paper TowelVery available and easy to useTears easy, water pours through quickly and usually bleachedThe flavor will be weak and may have impurities
Metal FilterReusable and simple to useMay allow some sediment through, as well as oils and fatsThe flavor is more like a French Press than a pour-over
Fabric FilterCan be made easily, reusableMaybe messy to use, may take longerMay have compromised flavor, depending on the fabric

Up Next: 7 Best Coffee Beans for Pour Over

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