Green Tip #239: Cloth Napkins


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If you think about it, using cloth napkins seems like a pain in the neck. After all, with cloth napkins, you have to wash them after one or two uses. You may be wondering if that doesn’t really up the amount of laundry you are doing?

Here’s My Story

When our daughter was little, one of her friend’s moms said she used cloth napkins. I thought I would give it a try, never imagining that many years later I would still be using (many of the same) cloth napkins.

Let me digress, I am lazy. I don’t like to cook, do laundry, or clean much. So I never thought I would stick with the cloth napkin habit.

Here’s how this exceptionally green habit stuck.

I had lots of cloth napkins, which I rarely used.

I stuck them in a handy drawer near the silverware. They are really convenient to access; very important.

If a habit is hard, it’s less likely you’ll stick with it.

Whoever was setting the table, stuck the cloth napkins on the table!

After the meal, if a napkin is dirty, I shove it in a basket to take to the laundry at the end of the day. I certainly don’t make a special trip. I might even throw a dirty dish towel in the basket!

I have a bunch of napkins so I never run out.

After I do the laundry, they go back in the drawer.

The Savings

I have no idea how much money or energy we have saved using the cloth napkins.

I like using them because I’m messy and they are more absorbent than paper.

And less paper in the land fill is a good thing.

Finally, who doesn’t want more money? I haven’t bought more than a pack of paper napkins once a year or so.

Have you ever tried cloth napkins? What do you think?

Barbara Friedberg, MBA, MS is editor-in-chief of Barbara Friedberg Personal Finance.com where she writes to educate, inspire, and motivate for wealth in money and life. Learn about personal finance from a real life Portfolio Manager & MBA professor! Stop by the website and download a valuable free eBook, 20 Minute Guide to Investing.

22 comments to Green Tip #239: Cloth Napkins

  • brad

    We’ve been using cloth napkins forever, and I agree that they’re a better choice than paper ones. However, my girlfriend insists on ironing them before they’re put away, which does contribute to their energy footprint over time. The thing to remember with paper napkins is that even if you buy recycled paper napkins it takes energy and water and chemicals to produce recycled paper, plus paper napkins generally come wrapped in plastic so that’s another thing to manufacture and send to the landfill.

    Cloth napkins are a classic example of source reduction: you buy something once, there’s no packaging, and you reuse it for years. Most of our cloth napkins are 10-15 years old, and some are even older than that.

  • I don’t think it ever would have occurred to me to use cloth napkins for every day dining. I associate them with fancy meals or holiday dinners.

    (As a side note, my mom bought a new tablecloth and matching napkins for Thanksgiving a few years ago. They were made out some high tech stain resistant fabric. It turned out the fabric was hydro-phobic, meaning that it doesn’t like water. If you spilled something on the table the liquid would bead up rather than getting absorbed. And yes, the napkins were made of the same fabric.)

  • Mid Life Miser

    I grew up using cloth napkins. My parents still use them to this day. However, I cant get my wife to embrace them. Maybe its time to try again — I’m going to put cloth napkins on my gift list.

  • Never really tried them in our house. Growing up I just used a dish towel and threw it in the laundry. I always enjoy using cloth napkins in restaurants. It seems more fancy.

  • My wife and I converted to cloth napkins last year. Don’t regret it and you hardly notice the difference when you are doing a load of laundry (I pay for coin laundry, so that’s saying something too)….Saves money and the planet – win-win!

  • My wife uses cloth napkins to dress up a meal. Generally when we have guests, we use cloth napkins. I never really thought about before.

  • We implemented cloth napkins a year ago in our house and we love them. Not only do they feel nicer on the skin but they are much more green. We save money too because we buy way less paper towels. I have enough as well for numerous meals so I don’t feel the pressure of having to wash them daily. It is a win win.

  • Jillian

    Wow! I never thought to use cloth napkins…these are great tips!

  • Yes, we do use cloth napkins. I also think of them as ‘classy’ – but then the everyday ones and the ones for push meals are different.

  • Barb Friedberg

    @Brad-Tell your girlfriend to forget the ironing….. too time consuming :)
    @Penny, Most of the napkins are really old, but they are soft and so much better to use!
    @Mid life-Pick up a bunch of cheap ones and try it. I’s super lazy wrt to housework and cloth napkins are really easy.
    @Cashflow-They’re smaller than dish towels, but the towels work okay too:)

  • Barb Friedberg

    @20’s & Ms. T-See, you didn’t even need my nudging!
    @Krantcents-Give it a try!

  • Lisa @ Cents To Save

    I am guilty of using paper napkins. And paper plates. You could probably call that laziness, (and you might be right). Time to try new things and break out the cloth napkins. Well…..hit the Thrift store and find some first.

  • We use cloth napkins made by Mrs. 101, to go with the tablecloths, also made by the Mrs. Occasionally we’ll use paper napkins when there’s messy BBQ on the table.

  • I have to say that we really don’t seem to have much of a need for napkins for our day to day dining, but they are a nice way to dress up a more formal meal. We are guilty of using paper napkins for big gatherings and BBQ’s, perhaps something we can work on.

  • Barb Friedberg

    @Lisa, Give it a try, it’s not as hard as it sounds.
    @101-I like the Mrs!! Sewing is one of my hobbies too :)
    @Shaun, Are you a really neat eater?

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