Is It Safe to Use a Paper Towel as a Coffee Filter

Coffee Filters

A piece of paper towel is generally a safe piece of substance with so many uses. A coffee filter may be one of them in a given household but is it a really safe idea?

Paper towels can contain certain chemicals such as Dyes, Inks, Fragrances, Adhesives, Chlorine Bleach, Formaldehyde, and others. These small traces can be released into your coffee as the hot water passes through the napkin causing you to drink the results of these chemicals.

How is a Paper Towel Made

The beginnings of a paper towel start from harvesting softwood trees with long fibers that are also even and can be easily turned into a smooth pulp. The wood is carefully chipped into small pieces that then go under a churning process with certain chemicals added. This process is to dissolve the bonds that the wood fibers formed separating them out until they become pulp. This mixture can now easily be made into various different products like paper towels, paper, cardboard, etc. 

Now before these products can be made, the pulp mixture goes through several processes that clean and bleach it. This is where unnecessary particles and contaminants are removed. The pulp is then screened to assure that it is as fine as it can be and then a bleaching solution is added to whiten it. It is now processed through several machines which make it into paper and then combined with a resin which causes the fibers to bond again to each other.

Now it is rolled out into very thin layers so that it will be in the shape of paper when it does bond. Machines with heated rollers are used to heat and dry the paper. This is the general process used to create nearly every type of paper, but paper towels go through several more steps.

Now the paper used to create a paper towel is not pressed as hard as other types of paper to give it a more gentle, softer texture. Two of these softer layers are then bonded together to form one sheet. To create the bond a form of light glue is used. At the same time this bond is being formed, these two layers are embossed to produce small pockets of air trapped between the layers. This helps to absorb liquids and the absorption qualities of the towel depend on the quality of fibers used and the different patterns and ways of embossing the layers.

Paper towels can be purchased in 1 ply and 2 ply varieties. The 1 ply is made of a single sheet as described above while the 2 ply is made of two sheets bonded together. Thinking of the integrity of the paper towel and its strength, the most important factor is how the pulp has been bound together, what kind of resin is used, and the whole composition of everything. 

Chemicals in a Paper Towel

Paper products such as paper towels can contain chemicals such as Dyes, Inks, Fragrances, Adhesives, Chlorine Bleach, Formaldehyde, and others. So here’s a few:


Chlorodibenzofurans(CDF) is a chemical group with over 135 types of chemicals. They may affect the nervous system, respiratory system, and irritate the skin and eyes. CDF has been found in paper towels, coffee filters, milk cartons, and tampons.


Triclosan is added to products as an antimicrobial with the intention of reducing or preventing bacterial contamination. The chemical can be found in soaps, toothpaste, cosmetics, clothing, toys, furniture, and paper products such as paper towels or napkins. It can also be found in the bodies of most Americans. Triclosan may be affecting the hormone and reproductive systems and causing increased sensitivity to allergens.


Paper Towels have been found to contain formaldehyde. Formaldehyde is a chemical in the Volatile Organic Compound (VOC) family and off-gasses in the air. People can be exposed to formaldehyde through touching products as well. Of course with paper towel touching, especially when wiping our hands, exposure is pretty common.


Created as an alternative to the toxic chemical BPA (Bisphenol A), BPS (Bisphenol S) has been found to likely have the same effect on people’s health. Found in urine samples from US subjects, BPS may affect the hormone system. Products such as newspapers, food paper, and paper towels have been found to have BPS in them. The BPS may have been from the recycling process.

Chemical Free or Non Toxic Paper Towels 

Companies are not required to list ingredients on paper towels, keeping consumers in the dark about the list of ingredients used to make the products.

There are companies though that make paper towels with nontoxic ingredients, such as hydrogen peroxide instead of chlorine bleach for whitening. Also there are companies that simply leave out certain ingredients such as dyes, and inks but it can be really hard to know.

The next best thing would be to choose paper towels that say it does not have dyes, fragrances, and bleach in them. You could also opt to use fabric towels mostly and limit paper towel use to cleaning soiled areas and toilets etc. Choose fabric towels made from organic, natural fabric and dyes, and hang these in bathrooms and kitchens for hand drying after washing. It may take a little to get use if you have a habit of using lots of paper towels but it will help in reducing your household spending on paper supplies and reduce the chemicals in the home.

Chemical Free or Non Toxic Coffee Filters

With the growing concern of chemicals and unwanted contaminates in our coffee, toxic free filters is a very good place to start. The white filters on the grocery store shelf are white because they are chemically bleached to look nice and white. Simply start with buying the ones beside them- the brown ones. These are the ones that are not bleached and are brown because that is there natural color from the natural products they’re made from.

Studies have found that if you make your coffee using white paper filters, 20-40% of the filters dioxins (including TCDD the most toxic Dioxin) can leach into your coffee.

Another option to avoid chemicals from paper filters is to choose the Coffee Makers with stainless steel washable filters, or the French Press coffee maker with a stainless steel filter. You can also purchase washable options for the Chemex coffee maker and others.

Pure water is also the key to a pure contaminate free cup of coffee and great flavor. Purchasing a coffee maker where all the moving parts are accessible and easy to get at to clean, will result in controlling mold and bacteria levels that can come from water and moisture setting for long periods of time.

So back to the question at the beginning – “Is It Safe to Use a Paper Towel as a Coffee Filter”? Paper towels have the composition to be able to be used as a coffee filter if that is all that is available in an extreme situation. However, paper towels are not made to be used for coffee filters. With the findings of what could be leached into your coffee if used, it is not recommended. 

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