How To Strain Yogurt with Paper Coffee Filters

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Sneak Preview: Learn how to use paper coffee filters and a dollar-store plastic colander to strain the whey from regular yogurt and turn it into Greek yogurt.

A Cheap Way To Strain Yogurt Without Using Cheesecloth--story board of how to do it.

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Some people say using cheesecloth to strain yogurt is not that much trouble. I’m afraid I have to disagree. Yep! I’ll admit to loving shortcuts and even a bit of laziness when it comes to kitchen clean-up. I would rather spend time at the cutting board or the stove.

You can save time and money by using paper coffee filters to strain regular yogurt and transform it into Greek yogurt. No messy cheesecloth or expensive equipment is required!

Why I don’t strain yogurt with cheesecloth:

Because you have to:

  1. Scrape it (Although you don’t always have to do this. But if you do, well…WHAT A MESS!)
  2. Rinse it
  3. Wash it
  4. Dry it
  5. Fold it
  6. Store it
  7. Own several pieces if you make a lot of yogurt (1 1/2 gallons) at once as I do.

No, thank you. I prefer a disposable solution or a dishwasher for the task.

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My go-to straining system has always been a high-quality bouillon strainer, but my favorite one is pricey. Typically, it works great until you make a batch of thin yogurt that flows right through it (sad face).

Recently,  a reader named Doreen left this comment detailing her method of straining yogurt:

“I wanted to say I found a great way to strain. Although I bought a fine-mesh sieve, for some reason it stopped working as well- maybe dishwasher damaged it, not sure. Instead, I bought some institutional-size coffee filters and placed them inside a standard-sized colander. It will strain all 2 quarts in your recipe. Then I put the colander inside a mixing bowl and top it with the same lid that I incubated my casserole dish of yogurt. Finally, I put the whole straining set up in the fridge and leave it for a few hours. When it is thick enough it pulls right away from the filter. The whey is perfectly clear so there is no loss of yogurt. Thank you again for homemade goodness!”

Doreen

Thank you for writing, Doreen. You are a genius! You changed my yogurt-making process for the better.

What I didn’t realize about using coffee filters to make Greek yogurt:

To those who have already written to me suggesting coffee filters:  I assumed you were talking about the little ones I use every morning to make coffee. It would take me forever to strain a gallon of yogurt with that size filter.

Being a woman of action, the day I read about Doreen’s method, I looked for large paper filters. My local restaurant supply stocks 13 x 5-inch filters designed for a 1-1/2 gallon coffee brewer. Purchase them here if you like.

In addition to the coffee filters, you will need a colander. Again, the dollar-store variety works just fine.

Here’s a tip: Use the basket part of your lettuce spinner if you like.

clear whey strained from yogurt with a coffee filter
Clear whey strained from yogurt with a coffee filter

Want to know the best part about using coffee filters?

  1. No solids are lost (see picture above).
  2. Paper filters are disposable.
  3. It’s inexpensive. For example, my cost was $1 plus tax for the orange colander and less than 3 cents per filter. I use 2 filters to make a double layer for ease of handling yogurt.
  4. Strained yogurt easily separates from the paper filter for quick clean-up.
  5. A cheap colander or a colander-substitute work fine to hold the paper filter.
  6. Strain 2 quarts of yogurt at a time (using 13 x 5-inch size filter).
thick, unstirred yogurt after being filtered of excess whey
Here is a sample of the thick Greek yogurt I love.

p.s. I do not place my yogurt in the fridge when straining out the whey. Contrary to what Doreen does, I leave it on the counter.

In my experience, yogurt strains faster at room temperature. Besides, who has room in the fridge for the whole setup? If you do, go ahead.

The yogurt is acidic enough to sit safely on the counter for several hours. In my mind, it makes the most sense to strain immediately after incubating.

yogurt crash course signup

More ideas for straining yogurt

If you have questions or suggestions, email me privately to Paula at saladinajar.com. Hope to see you again soon! Paula

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36 Comments

  1. CommonSenseMom says:

    This is how I do it as well. I got my larger filters at Sams Club. However, I usually use three filters to line my colander. One is not big enough. Maybe my colander is larger. I also strain it in the fridge…but I strain overnight.

    1. Hi CSMom, I suspect my filters are larger than yours. They will hold two quarts of unstrained yogurt. My restaurant supply had at least 3 different sizes and I bought the largest size. Didn’t even think to check Sams. I’m going to check Costco on my next trip and see what they carry. Surely cheaper than buying online.

  2. Great stuff, will give it atry. (I learnt to make yogurt a few weeks before I found your Swedish Apple Pie that led me to your blog, but I’m “whey” in love with your yogurt posts since there’s always something new to learn.) I’ve been straining yogurt like Ina Garten did in one of her shows; lining a regular colander with paper towels, just on the countertop to thicken it a little bit for a cake recipe. I also strain it overnight in the fridge for fear of the summer temperatures here that soar to 40+ degrees celcius.

  3. Quick question…Do you use the whey for anything or just discard? Thanks for getting back to me on this…just about to make a batch of yogurt this week.

    1. Helen, Here are some ideas for the whey.

  4. Great idea! I never thought about using commercial sized coffee filters. I will look for some. So, you are cold brew coffee convert, too? I tried it about a month ago, and I am sold. I love the convenience, the mellow coffee flavor, and the decrease in acid. My stomach is loving it, too.

  5. why not use kitchen paper towel on a tea strainer. of course some amount attached to the paper will be waster.

  6. Patricia R. says:

    Ok, this was sheer genius. I could not find a cheap source for the filters and ended up paying about $23 including shipping for 500 of them. I had my ancient Tupperware colander and the perfect size bucket for it to sit in in my fridge. I used two filters as you suggested but I might try one next time just to make them last longer, but not if it is more of a hassle. This is way faster then having to thoroughly clean the very expensive bouillon strainer. Just a quick rinse of the strainer/bucket and I am done. I make the yogurt and strain it for both me and my mother so I am constantly making and straining yogurt. Thanks for the new info. I do use my strainer for other things so it won’t go to waste but for those that don’t have one, this is a great alternative to strain two quarts at once.

    1. Sorry you had to pay so much for those filters. Maybe you can find some at a restaurant supply before you need to buy again. Surely they would be cheaper.

  7. I usually make a gallon at a time. I have found that lining a colander with paper towels works well for larger quantities.

    1. Somehow I tend to make a mess with paper towels. They aren’t shaped right. 🙂 But if they work for you–fantastic!

    2. Hello!!! I would like to know, how long can you keep replicating your culture till it gets lower in active bacteria? Does it get better as you go? Or the live bacteria get reduced as you keep feeding with warm milk.

      If it does get old and inefficient as you keep using it to produce another batch, when does this happen? After how many batch of production? How do you even know?

      1. Hi Yinka,

        You have asked some excellent questions. How long you can keep replicating your culture depends on the type of culture you are using among other things. If you use yogurt from the grocery store, many people recommend no more than 3-4 batches. You might get lucky and go for a lot longer, especially if you make yogurt regularly every week.

        If you use freeze-dried cultures, aka traditional cultures, you can theoretically use them for years. They cost a little more and you need to use them every week to 10 days but they are much sturdier. You can read all the dirty details in this post about slimy yogurt.

        In my opinion, when using a traditional starter, your yogurt does get better IF you use it regularly. The live bacteria is not reduced. Just the opposite, it multiplies when it has new material to feed on.

        How do you know when you need to start over? Wild yeast will be able to take hold and disturb the balance. The yogurt is still safe to eat but the texture is off. It can be a little slimy or stringy. All this is explained in the post I referred to earlier.

        In a nutshell, yogurt from the store as a starter is like a greenhouse-produced flower compared to one that pops up along the side of the road (traditional starter). When hard times come along, the greenhouse flower is too tender to fight and poops out quicker. The wildflower is much tougher and can fight off trouble. Hope this helps.

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  9. Scott Pardee says:

    The coffee filters are a good idea, but I think the difficulty of using cheesecloth is greatly exaggerated. I use a piece big enough to fold in half and still easily cover the collander. I keep it in a zip lock bag. At straining time I dump to yogurt from the incubation pot into the large cheesecloth lined collander. The collander sits in a large salad bowl to catch the whey. When the desired amount of whey has drained, pick up the cheesecloth by the corners and set it in the salad bowl after dumping the whey out of it. Pull on two corners of the cheesecloth and the yogurt flips right into the bowl. Usually none stick to the cloth. Stir or whip yogurt and scoop into small containers. I use 4oz strofoam cups from the restaurant supply (about $3 for 50 and I reuse them, too). Now the easy way to clean the cheesecloth. Rinse good under hot tap, squeege a few drops of dish soap onto the cloth, squish it around in your hands for a few seconds and rinse real good. Stuff to cloth into a coffee mug, fill with water and microwave until water is boiling. Cheesecloth is now clean and sterile .Put it on a clothes hanger, or something like that. When dry fold and put it back in the ziplock. Done. I know this might seem complicated but it is only about a minute from first rinse to microwave. And while it dries, you don’t have to be there. And cheesecloth never tears.

  10. Scott Pardee says:

    Need some quick ricotta cheese? Use the drained whey from your yogurt. Fill a coffee mug halfway with milk. Add about 1 inch of whey and stir (4 parts milk to 1 part whey). Microwave until boiling (watch out for boiling over). Pour contents of mug into a funnel lined with a coffee filter. If you have one a plastic manual drip coffee maker works even better. When the whey drains out what is left in the filter is the best and quickest ricotta you ever saw. Even more decadent is to add a little heavy cream before boiling.
    Recipe can be made larger, just use the 4 to 1 milk/whey ratio.
    I have seen recipes online where you can make ricotta from just the whey. It doesn’t work. Apparently yogurt uses all of the milk protein. Dairies that use whey to make Ricotta use the whey from Mozzarella, which only uses some of the milk’s protein.

    1. awesome idea! thanks!

  11. I put my yogurt into large nut milk bags, hang them on my cupboard door knobs, and put a bowl underneath. Perfect!

  12. Hi Paula. Do you have a recipe for your cold brew coffee? I have seen several post, but I love your blog and recipes so much. Thanks for sharing your Icelandic yogurt recipe and where to buy industrial size coffee filters.

    1. Hi Connie,

      My recipe is basically a knock-off of Pioneer Woman’s recipe. I add 12 ounces of fresh ground coffee to 6 quarts of water. Stir and let it sit on the counter for about 24 hours. A little more or less is no big deal. Strain using large coffee filters inside a cheap colander. Store in Mason jars in the fridge up to 3 weeks.

  13. Pingback: August 2018 - Dynamic Fermentation
  14. My friend suggested I use Chux which are a washing up cloth. They work really well and can be rewashed multiple times. I don’t know if they are called that in other countries?
    CHUX® Biodegradable Superwipes® are made from 100% natural and reneweable viscose cellulose fibres. Viscose cellulose, is a naturally super absorbent fibre, with one Superwipes® absorbing up to 10 times its own weight in liquid.

    1. Hmmm. This is very interesting. In America, when you say “Chux,” we think of bed pads. And they are super absorbent. But the idea is that no moisture will leak through onto the bed. So this clearly is something different. Maybe same brand/company, but a different product? I’m skeptical of anything that absorbs 10 times it’s own weight. I want the whey to strain right through. I have discovered a new product that works fantastic and I would assume, last for years although I haven’t had it very long. Planning to blog about it soon. Thanks so much for writing Sherrill. I learned something new today.

  15. Hi, I’m making my first batch of skyr. As I read the draining techniques, and given your propensity for time saving short cuts, I was wondering if you ever used a salad spinner to extract the whey? I’m thinking one could spin the coffee filter or bag to speed up the process.

    Thanks.

    1. Well George, it seems like an ingenious idea. Not sure it would work with the coffee filter but it might work with the bag since you can close it up. I’ll try it next week and report back.

  16. Great blog on homemade yogurt. Nice to know I’m among such cultured people. 🙂

    I liked the idea of coffee filters, but thought, “If I’m making a gallon or so at a time, I really don’t want to strain more than I have to.” With all the recommendations for straining only two quarts at a time, that sounded like too much of a strain! So I found my colander had an 11-inch diameter, too big for the smaller filters – so I found these 3-gallon size and I can strain a whole gallon’s worth in one go. https://smile.amazon.com/gp/product/B06XYC6WSM/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_asin_title_o07_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1#feature-bullets-btf

    1. Hi Patrick,

      Your comment made me smile. I’m going to remember that line about cultured people.

      I have commercial filters but they aren’t quite that big. That’s fabulous. I am ordering those now. Thanks SO MUCH for sharing.

    2. Hi Patrick,

      Me again. I ordered those huge coffee filters. Now I’m straining yogurt by the gallon. Those things are the BEST. The filters fit inside the plastic basket that came with my lettuce spinner.

      I also have a new Kitchen Aid with the heavy glass bowl. It holds a gallon of milk and I can put it in the microwave. Fewer dirty dishes.

      Just wanted to thank you again for the suggestion. From one cultured person to another. :-).

  17. I have used paper towels to line a strainer and they work great. It is good to know that I don’t have to leave it in the oven at bread proof temp. for 8 hours. I have left it in overnight and it tastes mild and good, but I will try the 6 hour idea. I was also glad to learn I don’t need 1/2 cup of starter for a half gallon of milk. I will use less next time. Thanks for all your pointers!

  18. Very useful information 😊😊

  19. Judy Horn says:

    Hi Paula, I was able to buy the large coffee filters at Smart & Final , 500 for about $15. I used regular coffee filters until I found the large ones. Wet regular filters (double thickness) and overlap them around the top, then one in the bottom. It doesn’t come off as nicely, but it works in a pinch!

    1. Thanks for the tip, Judy. You found a good price on those large filters.

  20. The Amazon link for commercial size filters states they are no longer available, like so many other things in this time. Thanks for the informative series on yogurt

    1. Hi Bobbie,

      Thanks so much for taking the trouble to write about this. I have found other filters that will work and changed that link. Wish you were my neighbor because I’m pretty sure I have enough filters for two lifetimes of homemade yogurt. 🤣