Monday, February 15, 2010

5 Reasons to use cloth napkins

Paper Napkins vs Cloth Napkins?

Which is the most economical?
Which is the most ecological?

Back in the early-nineties, I was looking to save money on everything. We were living on a small piece of acreage in western Washington, growing all our own vegetables, raising our own chickens for eggs, raising the boys, and living off a single income of less than $25,000 gross. After taxes, insurance and savings our disposable income was around $1,200 per month. Our house payment was $500, our utilities were another $250, gas & vehicle maintenance was about $100, clothing & miscellaneous was another $100. That left about $250 for food, canning supplies, garden supplies and seed, paper products and sundries.

We knew that we had to cut our expenses to a bare minimum. A quick way to do that was to cut out a lot of the paper products that we were using. Paper towels and napkins had to go. TP stayed, of course. With some careful management our grocery bill, all inclusive was $187 per month. We actually were able to save $50 a month for birthdays, Christmas, and school clothes.

We started using cloth towels to clean with and cloth napkins at meals and never went back. Let's go over some of the reasons why switching to cloth napkins is a good idea.

1. It's cheap. You can get started using cloth napkins for about the same price as a roll of paper towels. I buy napkins on the clearance rack. Usually for about $.99 cents per napkin. A roll of Bounty costs $1.91 at Costco. More often than not with a coupon I'll get cloth napkins for about .50 cents. A package (or about a months worth) of 500 count 7th Generation Recycled luncheon napkins will set you back $7.60. 10 Cloth napkins will cost about the same amount but you'll only be buying them once, not every month.

2. It's more sophisticated. (cuz, you know I'm all about sophistication, hahahaha!) Using cloth napkins just feels a little fancier. I have built up an impressive collection of cloth napkins so I never buy them any more. I can come up with enough for a very large dinner party of mix and match ones.

3. Cloth napkins are reusable. The U.S. population generates millions of tons a paper waste per year. By using our napkins over and over again we feel like we are doing our part to reduce this amount.

4. Save the environment. Millions of trees could be saved if American households would switch to cloth napkins. Not to mention cleaning the air of all of the chlorine that is used to make those paper ones white and pretty. Factor in transportation costs on the environment and the energy it takes to generate the paper ones makes cloth a no brainer.

5. Throw them in with your regular wash. Some people don't wash their cloth napkins after every meal though I tend to. Why? Because I'm a pretty messy eater. I can't seem to walk away from the dinner table without wearing part of my dinner. At the end of dinner we just toss our napkins on top of the washer. When we go to put a load of clothes in we just throw the napkins in with. Easy peasy.

We switched to cloth almost 20 years ago and have never looked back. We have so many that only a third of them sit out in the basket waiting for use.

Do you use cloth napkins? Have you thought about using them?



  1. We keep paper towels on hand but we nearly always use cloth napkins. Cheers Michele!!

  2. We use cloth napkins regularly... but not all the time. I have a bunch I bought at some garage sales. I wish I could live without paper towels though. That is a tough one.

  3. When I see how pretty they are, I feel inspired to use them too! :)

  4. Matt: We keep a roll of paper towels on hand also but it will last us about 2 months.

    Beth: I don't live without them I just buy them in a 6 pack once a year from Costco.

    Blue: Those are just my everyday ones. You should see my formal ones. Fan cee!

  5. I bought a small package from and love them! They're organic cotton and so nice. Unfortunately they're always in the dishrag tub under the sink or in the laundry so I really need to get some more. I was thinking I would get around to making some . . .but in the meantime I like the Costco suggestion!

  6. Wendy: Hit the Goodwill and yard sales for cloth also. I got my stock of napkins a little at a time over the last 20 years. Sometimes the best deals are at Pier One, after Christmas.

  7. Honestly? I only use cloth napkins for special occasions. But after reading this, I think I'm going to follow your lead and make the switch. :)

  8. No, we buy the cheapest paper napkins we can get our hands on (that's Beloved's doing; before I met him, I tore a paper towels in half for us to use).

    I don't think I'd object to using them - we use a lot of napkins, so we'd have to buy quite a few right off the bat. I'd have to ask Da Man about it. As for using cloths in place of paper towel, I have a LOT of dish cloths that I use for all manner of things, but I like to dry dishes with paper towels because dishcloths just don't seem to get the job done in that department. (I don't put any of my pots and pans or my good knives in the dishwasher; they all get washed and dried by hand.)

  9. Stacy; I don't think you'll regret it.

    Jan; I air dry my pots and pans and good knives. I use dish cloths for hand drying and counter clean up. Cloth napkins for, well, for napkins and a paper towel sheet to catch potato peelings. I buy paper towels once a year and paper napkins never. It works for us.

  10. I would love to use cloth napkins always. Maybe someday soon!!
    I pick them up at Pier 1 also. Kohls and little decor specialty stores have them on their clearances racks also.

    I havent had paper towels in the house since Thanskgiving. Is it time to put away the holder now??

  11. Kath: I don't even have a paper towel holder. JR won't let me buy any more cloth napkins. I think I'll just have to give a few to the kids. It will give me an excuse to buy more.

  12. We started using cloth napkins when my 19 year old was born. It's so easy. I do buy paper towels for other things, but use so much less.

  13. Maureen; we picked up a few here and there until now we have a ton.

  14. Ben and I use cloth napkins. About a year ago I went to Ross and plunked down $50 for a washing machines worth of napkins & cleaning cloths. I keep them folded up in a drawer, and when they are dirty they go into a big cloth laundry bag that hangs inside the pantry door. When the drawer of napkins is empty I have enough to do a load of laundry. I can even toss the bag in if it needs it. Ben and I aren't very messy eaters so we usually get 2-3 days of use out of each napkin, so I only wash napkins once every month and half or so. It works great!

    I still use paper towels, but way less than I used to. My goal is to wean us off them completely. For now I use the 7th Generation brand select-a-size ones. I can't say enough good things about their paper products!

  15. I was totally raised on cloth napkins, and I much prefer them.
    That said, my husband and his family are all about the paper - plates, napkins, everything. Ecology means nothing to these people. And economy? They use the CHEAPEST paper products that exist, they always fall apart. I'll never understand it.

  16. It has never entered my pea sized brain to use cloth napkins. I thought they were reserved for fancy restaurants. hmmmm...your photos are beautiful and I want to go shopping NOW. Where'd you get them? Cuz I've never seen them with towels and the washcloths. Sorry about the dumb question but I told you my brain is tiny.

  17. I often use cloth napkins, or did when I used to live in a house, but I am not convinced that they are more ecological. Mostly they are made of cotton, and the cheap ones you describe certainly will not be made from green cotton. Cotton is a crop that is very greedy of resources (like water) and is heavy on the use of pesticides.

    Just because you put them in with the rest of your wash doesn't mean you don't have to count the resources used to wash them too.

  18. Duchess: You are right except that as the years go by their carbon foot print goes down. It is always better to keep something out of the landfills. Also, to bleach paper white takes a ton of resources. So while cotton is a greedy bastard of a plant having to only process it once in 20 years is so much better than over and over again for paper.

  19. *sigh*
    I have'em.
    I use'em.

    And I stress. (Because I am an idiot. Or a perfectionist - take your pick.)


    They are never ironed (right, nothing in this house gets ironed). I get tomato and red wine stains on them. The fringe gets all "tangled". The warp and weft stretch and they aren't square anymore ... and so they don't fold perfectly. The hem gets catiwampus ...

    I mean really. I SO admire you.

    Maybe I'm going to get mine out ... and just wash and use them into submission ... and be all cavalier. Can I really ignore that they aren't "perfect"?!?!

  20. Mit: You really must let it go. I use to obsess about whether the napkins were ironed and such but finally had to say to myself, "they are just going to get dirty. they are just going to get dirty." It was a mantra. They only ones I iron these days are the formal ones.

  21. We use both paper and cloth towels...because for draining (sorry Ms. Vegetarian) bacon--you really need paper towels or...perhaps a paper bag.
    We are are at a relatively fancy, but rustic restaurant the other day and they were using the classic dish towels (with the blue or red stripe down each side) as napkins. I thought that was genius--they soft and big and when they get stained you can use them as dish towels.

  22. Great idea, I'd never actually thought about using them in the house. We do save a lot of paper towels by using rags that are cut up receiving blankets to clean up spills and the table after dinner. But napkins, great idea.

  23. You are an inspiration! My mother-in-law, bless her soul, used cloth napkins. She got her supply by stealing one from every restaurant she ever went to.