Why Do My Coffee Filters Keep Breaking? (Frustrating!)

Brewing coffee can be frustrating if your coffee filters keep breaking. So why does this happen?

Coffee filters can break if you’ve got the wrong-sized ones for your machine, haven’t fitted them correctly, or have allowed them to get wet causing the grounds to burst out. To make paper filters stronger you can fold them at the bottom, along both edges and in the middle to make a more sturdy cone.

Let’s dive down into the topic of breaking coffee filters in more detail, and find out why it happens, how we can stop it from happening – and how long coffee filters last and can be used for…

Why Do My Coffee Filters Keep Breaking?

How Do I Stop My Coffee Filter From Collapsing?

You’ve been looking forward to your morning coffee – but when you go into the kitchen, what should be a pure brew is a mess of grounds, because the filter has collapsed, again. You can prevent coffee filter collapse, and here are a few handy tips.

Firstly, have you got the right size filters? We’ve all been there – got home, realized we’ve picked up the wrong size but thought what the heck and used them anyway? This never works.

The best way to prevent a filter from collapsing is to choose the correct size for your machine. Here’s a quick guide to choosing the right size coffee filter papers.

Then, you need to make sure that you fit the filter in the machine correctly – which we sometimes fail to do when we’re in a hurry. Folding the base of the cone can help it sit more neatly in the brew basket (we’ll look at how to fold a filter further on). 

Some folks swear by using two filters at a time for added strength; however, as well as getting through your filter stock literally twice as quickly, this can affect the taste of your brew: a too-slow extraction can lead to a more bitter flavor.

But of course, sometimes the pesky filters collapse even if we’ve popped them in perfectly. You can pre-wet the filter with boiled or very hot water, which makes it stick to the sides of the brew basket.

This is a far preferable way to taping your filter onto the side of the basket, because there’s a risk that the tape adhesive will melt.

What Causes Coffee Filters to Collapse?

Coffee filters collapse if one side of them becomes heavier with water than the other. They then naturally sag to one side, leaving those grounds free to fall into the jug in a sludgy mess.

The problem is usually with the filter, not the machine. The drip action is designed to fall into the center of the filter, so it’s important that the filter is placed in the brew basket in the correct position. If it’s even a tiny bit out of line, the drip could land in the wrong place and cause a collapse.

How Long Does a Filter Last in a Coffee Machine?

Paper filters are single-use. However most are biodegradable, so you can use them guilt-free then dispose of the whole thing in your compost (your garden will definitely thank you for those nutritious coffee grounds!).

Of course, this means that you can run out, so it’s worth buying in bulk. You can also get cloth filters, which can be used repeatedly, but will need a good rinse after each use (damp coffee is a great breeding ground for mold).

We’ve heard that a good cloth filter should last between 90 and 120 uses.

How Long Do Mesh Coffee Filters Last?

If you’re fed up with collapsing coffee filters, or you’re always running out of spares, have you thought of getting a mesh coffee filter? A good quality permanent filter will last you for years, and a good quality one (upwards of $60) can last as long as seven years.

How Long Do Mesh Coffee Filters Last?
How Long Do Mesh Coffee Filters Last?

Of course, a mesh filter needs daily cleaning. Empty the grounds into the compost, then wash it in the sink, rinsing it well to make sure there’s no lingering scent of dish soap.

You’ll also need to make sure that no coffee grounds get washed down the sink, as they’re really good at clogging drains.

There are other considerations when it comes to choosing a mesh filter, as well as the initial cost. They aren’t as fine as paper, and let oils through into the jug.

These coffee oils do contain LDL cholesterol, so if you like more than two cups a day and need to watch your cholesterol intake, you’re better off sticking with paper filters. 

However, if you’re a moderate coffee drinker, you may like to use this method because a permanent filter makes a full-flavored brew.

Should You Fold Coffee Filters?

If you’re using conical filters in your brew basket, folding them can make them fit more securely. You just need to add a couple of little folds to give the cone-shaped filter a slightly flatter base.

Most conical paper filters have crimped edges, which makes it easier to work out where to fold:

  1. Make a fold in the bottom edge along the crimp (or about half an inch if there’s no crimp)
  2. Then, fold the filter in half (vertically), creating a strong crease. Unfold it again
  3. Fold the two bottom corners inwards so that you’re forming a triangle shape
  4. Open out the filter and place it in the brew basket
  5. Carefully pour very hot water over the filter to pre-wet it and keep it in place

The filter should now be that bit stronger and more stable. Watch this short film that shows you how to fold a paper coffee filter.

If you want a steady paper filter without all this origami, you can get “basket filters” which are flat-bottomed and look like cupcake cases.

The larger, flatter base is more stable, but some aficionados believe that the coffee isn’t as good, because the water can drip through unevenly(unlike the cone, where the water is more directed through the grounds).

How Many Times Can You Brew a Coffee Using the Same Filter?

If you’re using a paper filter, it’s completely trashed after one use. With a cloth filter, you’ll get somewhere between 90 and 120 uses, provided you wash it well and take good care of it.

A permanent mesh coffee filter will last for years (up to seven years if it’s a good quality one), although like the cloth filter, it will need cleaning thoroughly after every single use.

Eventually, as it ages, it might start to impart a flavor to your coffee. That’s when it’s time to change it.

Summary: Why Do Coffee Filters Break?

Who knew there was so much to learn about coffee filters and why they break?

I’m going to be a lot more careful in the future, as I really hate it when water ruins one side and the whole thing gets lopsided.

I think it could be time to invest in some mesh filters to make the whole brewing process more agreeable. 🙂