Cloth Napkins — This Season's Hottest Accessory

by Katy on February 27, 2009 · 11 comments


The following is a reprint of an previously published blog. Enjoy.


cloth napkins

What’s small, square, flexible and happy to be smeared with food? No, it’s not your seventh grade best friend. It’s the lowly cloth napkin.

We have been greening our house to try and rid ourselves of the disposable goods habit.

Paper towels? Adios!

Bottled water? Never!

Paper napkins? Be gone!

Using cloth napkins saves trees and cuts an unnecessary never-ending expense from your grocery bill. 

We have a motley collection of cloth napkins. Some I received as gifts, others were picked up secondhand, and the rest made from old tablecloths. We use them with every meal. Formal feasts, kid’s birthday parties and everything in between. They add something special to our meals, and I’ve noticed that my sons’ friends sit up a little straighter and use their good manners when they are invited to dine at Casa Wolk-Stanley.

Many eschew cloth napkins because of the perceived maintenance. The extra laundry. Would I have to iron them?  They can be added to existing laundry loads, and I have yet to hear a complaint about wrinkles. (Botox for the cloth napkin set?)

Note: If a napkin is particularly greasy, I’ll wait to wash it until I’m laundering towels or sheets. Otherwise they put grease stains on our clothes. I’m perfectly capable of adding grease stains to my wardrobe without any extra help, thank you very much.

Colin Beavan, a.k.a. No Impact Man, brings his own cloth napkins when he dines out. Although I do like this idea, I have yet to remember this practice when I undertake that rare restaurant voyage. I do bring one for my work lunches, though.

So let’s be clear on this. Cloth napkins:

  • Good for Planet Earth. No de-forestation required.
  • One-time expense, maybe even free if you put your creative skills to use, such as scamming from mom or sewing your own.

So next time you make out your grocery list, omit the paper napkins. It’s a small sacrifice towards a greater goal.

Are you still using disposable paper goods such a paper napkins, kleenex and paper napkins? Tell us about it in the comments section below.


-Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Pennie February 27, 2009 at 11:24 pm

I am trying to cut down on my disposable paper use…

I still use paper towels when cleaning up dog barf, but have quit using them to cover foods when microwaving them (just put a plate or bowl over it), to grate cheese on (set a platter under it), to clean surfaces (use newspaper for windows and old towels for scrubbing) and have always used washable washcloths and handtowels sinkside.

Lately I’ve have been collecting pretty (used) cloth napkins, and will begin using them in place of the paper napkins I have on the table now, once the supply runs out. I’m not sure my husband is going to be on board with this one at first–for some odd reason he likes to set his toast on a paper napkin while he’s eating his breakfast, and he may at first balk about this change..

I’m a little squeemish about breaking the Kleenex tissue habit, for as a nurse i hate to see those nasty little germs getting packed around on a cloth handkerchief in a purse or pocket like in the old days. This is one area i plan to hold my ground on for now.


Angela February 28, 2009 at 11:31 am

We use way too many paper towels. Once we got dish rags, we used a lot less but still have the bad habit of using paper towels for napkins sometimes. One of the things I’m committed to changing this year is to use cloth napkins more often, maybe always. I think you bring up a good point about the laundry. That had always been my objection, but I’ve been noticing it’s been no big deal to wash them along with the other laundry. Now I just have to get more of them so we don’t run out all the time because I only own about 12 or 14.

On the other hand, I have a slight case of hay fever and am the type of person who always needs to carry a tissue with me, in my purse or in a pocket. I take after my mom, although she used to store hers in her bra. Anyway, my dad still uses a handkerchief (which my mom did used to iron when they were first married!), but I think hankies are really gross and just don’t think I could use them.


knittinandnoodlin February 28, 2009 at 12:53 pm

I love cloth napkins! I’ve been using cloth napkins for at least the last five years. I’ve heard of people using cloth toilet paper…but haven’t gone quite that far, yet..but I love the idea of using cloth handkerchiefs. Cloth napkins are not much extra work…I just throw them in with the towels when they get dirty.

The trick for me was to just go cold turkey. I ran out of napkins and just didn’t buy anymore…then I brought out the pile of cloth napkins from the closet where all of the “good” linens were stored. Really, it makes every meal feel just a bit more special — if you’re going to eat, why not use the silver and the china and the cloth napkins? Otherwise they’re just gathering dust.


Mandy February 28, 2009 at 1:58 pm

I stopped buying paper towels and napkins summer 2007. I think there are still rolls of paper towels somewhere in the house. I also stopped buying tissue – not because I wanted to stop using it, but because my mother’s house (where I moved after she died) had an ungodly supply. I even started using tissue instead of toilet paper when I ran out of that. I still use toilet paper and now I am using up the remains of some hospital tissue that they always send home with you. I did start blowing my nose with a cut up old t-shirt at home, but I don’t have any pretty hankies to take with me in public yet.

As for meals – I really just use dish cloths and tea towels. I didn’t buy any special napkins. Not saying I don’t plan to, just that I haven’t gotten there yet.

I am about to move in with a new room mate, she is a very good friend of mine – and I am hoping that I can convince her to just use cloth towels and napkins in the kitchen. We are both struggling students, so I am not sure why’d she would have a problem with it. I’d never ask a room mate to use hankies.


BethNPA February 28, 2009 at 4:55 pm

I have used cloth napkins for YEARS!!!! Back in the 70s I decided paper napkins were very wasteful. So I started using cloth napkins. I bought some rayon linen in several colors and cut out 12 inches squares. I sewed a line 3/4 inches from the edge and then fringed the edges. I actually still have some of them. I had a brownie troop back in those days and I had the girls each fringe a napkin I had already prepared. They loved doing the fringing and I saved a lot of money for the troop by not having to buy paper napkins. They liked having their own napkins too…. It is no big deal to thrown them in a wash load. And with the rayon linen I never have to iron.


alunatunes March 1, 2009 at 9:33 am

I’ve noticed a lot of us say “I don’t know if my husband, significant other, etc will be on board.” I use cloth napkins but Significant Other prefers paper towels.
This is an interesting dynamic, as I am much more conscious about thrift and economy than he is. Could it be a “girl” thing? Hmmm


Angela March 1, 2009 at 11:54 am

Tammy, that’s funny that you mention the factor of the husband/Significant other being reluctant. My husband seems to have an aversion to cloth napkins. Last night he put it aside at the end of the meal and said it was clean and he hadn’t used it because we didn’t eat anything with our hands. I asked “didn’t you even wipe your mouth?” Its’ funny, I think he’s just not used to them since in the past we’ve only used them when we have company or a “special” dinner.


aaron simmons March 1, 2009 at 1:06 pm

In my opinion paper towels are the best invention ever. Couldnt stand spending large amounts of money on posh fabric towels.


thenonconsumeradvocate March 1, 2009 at 2:46 pm


I don’t I’ve spent a penny on any of my napkins.

And posh?

Hardly. Let’s just say there are some I would put out for guests, and others that hide in the drawer.

Katy Wolk-Stanley
The Non-Consumer Advocate


Lori March 1, 2009 at 6:52 pm

I quit buying paper napkins a few months ago. We are now using bandanas for our napkins. I found we had quite a collection being useless in a closet so I put them to work. I have assigned each family member a different napkin ring (hair scrunchy) and each person puts their napkin back in the ring to be used again, if possible. If it is messy it gets tossed into the laundry. Works for us!


kelly March 2, 2009 at 1:45 pm

I’m also struggling with the spouse on a different wavelength. I’ve always used cloth napkins and my husband is okay with that (though he doesn’t really use them) but he loves paper towels and has a hard time giving them up. We have plenty of dishtowels and I even bought these large spongy things that are supposed to replace paper towels, but he just can’t seem to make the switch. I’ve been struggling with whether or not to go cold turkey, but I do still like to use them for things like cat throw up.

Also, a friend of mine gave cloth napkins as holiday gifts to her whole family one year. I loved her idea: her extended family is large, all live in the same town, and regularly have dinner at each other’s houses. She made a matching set of napkins for each household, but stitched a little band of color on each one. Each family member was assigned a different color so they would always know which napkin was theirs no matter which house they were at. This delighted everyone and cut down on washing them after every meal.


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