A table setting with a stripe cloth table napkin.

Cloth Table Napkins – A Simple Step To A Greener Kitchen

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I was already looking for ways on how to cut back on our plastic waste since the summer of 2018, and one of the simple steps I took was replacing our disposable table napkins with cloth table napkins.

Are Cloth Table Napkins Better Than Paper?

Maybe you’ll ask, why ditch the disposable table napkins when they’re not made of plastic?

Yes, they’re made of paper, but they are packed in plastic. And our aim here is not only to lessen plastic waste but our household waste in general.

But are cloth napkins really better than paper? The Are Paper Napkins More Environmentally Friendly? of Treehugger explains the answer in detail.

In the article, the author made an investigation comparing paper and cloth napkins in the restaurant and home settings considering all factors involved like the greenhouse gas emissions and amount of water consumed in growing each type of materials, the greenhouse gas emission and water consumed in washing and drying the cloth napkins, and how many times it can be used before finally discarding each type. The type of fabric used in cloth napkins was also considered.

Paper napkin was the winner in the restaurant setting, while cloth wins as more environmentally friendly in the home setting.

What Are The Best Fabric for Cloth Table Napkins?

Linen and cotton were the ones used for comparison in the investigation and the author found out that linen has lesser greenhouse gas emission and a lesser amount of water used in growing than cotton.

It is recommended to buy cloth napkins made of linen.

But really, deciding on the type of fabric for your reusable table napkins is a personal choice.

I bought 4 pieces of table napkins made of polyester (I’m not sure anymore) in 2018 to replace our paper napkins, but I ended up throwing them because we (especially the husband) didn’t like them because they felt so harsh when wiping and they grew molds once thrown into the laundry basket. Arggg.

So, I re-purposed one of our old bedsheets (my husband has a lot when he was still single because his mom bought him a lot) that is 100% cotton and was able to make 52 pieces that are still in use up to this day.

a photo of homemade cloth table napkins on a rack.
My homemade table napkins, made from an old bedsheet.

Is There An Ideal Size?

According to hunker.com, cloth table napkins come in different sizes, but the most common sizes are 16 inches x 16 inches, 18 inches x 18 inches, 20 inches x 20 inches, and 21 inches x 21 inches.

Before I converted our old bed sheet into table napkins, I was also wondering what size should I make.

Then an idea comes to my mind. I took one paper napkin and use it as a pattern in making our cloth table napkins.

Maybe your family is accustomed to a small, medium, or large size table napkin, so, it’s a good idea to use the size of the paper napkin that your family is using as a basis in making your own or buying for an easier transition.

Benefits of Cloth Table Napkins

1. Environment-friendly. If one person uses 3 paper napkins per day (one for each meal), then he will be consuming 1,095 pieces of paper napkins in 1 year. And just multiply that by the number of persons in your home.

The amount would be more if you have kids in the house because 1 paper napkin for each meal is not enough. I can testify to this because we have 2 kids at home.

We definitely used more than 1 table napkin for each meal for #1.

Then when we switched to cloth table napkins, I also bought a set of cloth wipes that are only designated for wiping the kid’s face during and after eating.

They’re already stained and faded now, but still very functional and I am now using the set for both #1 and #2. That’s a lot of paper napkins saved from going into the landfill!

Just like cloth diapers and washable menstrual pads, your family will save a lot of trash from going to the landfill by switching to cloth table napkins.

2. Budget-friendly. It’s just a one-time purchase and after that, you don’t have to buy paper napkins every time.

An article said that cloth table napkins usually last 5 years, but for sure they’ll last longer if you’ll take very good care of them and if they’re made of high-quality materials.

If you inherited some from your grandparents, that’s clear proof that they really last for a very long time!

3. Absorb more. It is said that one cloth napkin can absorb water 3-4 times than a paper napkin.

4. Soft to the skin. This is the very reason why the husband likes our switch from paper to cloth napkin.

He finds paper harsh to the skin. And I like that it doesn’t disintegrate and leaves small pieces of paper in your mouth.

5. More classy. They’re more classy and presentable than paper napkins, especially if you have nice, colorful prints.

But ours is not definitely classy at the moment because they are re-purposed from an old bedsheet, but they get the work done. 🙂

I Grew Up In A Home Without Them

The transition from paper table napkins to cloth table napkins is so easy for me because I grew up in a home without one. 🙂

We just wiped our mouths with the back of our hands or with our clothes. I’ll tell you in another post about the other things that we don’t have growing up. 🙂

Even when we already switched to cloth napkins, we still buy paper napkins at home because my in-laws don’t like paper napkins.

So, when they come for a visit, I put paper napkins on their plates and also when we have other family and friends coming for a visit. One pack lasted for a long time.

But I made experimentation, I didn’t buy another pack of paper napkins once the last one I bought was finished.

When the in-laws came for another visit, I informed them that we ran out of paper napkins already.

So, I put cloth napkins on their plates, and they didn’t ask for paper napkins ever since.:)

We don’t have paper napkins at home now. But maybe I’ll buy a pack since the 3rd birthday of #1 is approaching, just in case some invites are not comfortable using cloth.

Or maybe I’ll buy a set of cloth napkins with a nice print that we can use for special occasions. What do you think?

Are you already using cloth table napkins at home? If yes, why and when did you decide to make the switch?

If not yet, are you planning to give cloth table napkins a try? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comment section below.

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  1. Hi Julai, This is an interesting topic, and you are right. We use all kinds of paper stuff, and there is so much waste out there because of this. I know that my grandmother and mother always used cloth napkins. And I still have them. 

    I have to admit when I think about using cloth napkins; It comes to my mind if we might then use too much washing powder, which is also not good for the environment and uses too much water to wash the cloths. What do you think about it!

    1. Hello Sylvia,

      thank you for dropping by. I also had the same thought about the washing detergent and washing, and others have also raised this concern. But in my own experience, I don’t use extra washing powder and extra water in washing our cloth napkins because I just throw them to our normal laundry since they are small and don’t occupy much space at all.

  2. Hi Julai,

    Thanks very much for this article – resonates so well with me!

    The world is in such trouble due to plastic waste! I sometimes get the feeling that the battle against plastic waste is very close to being lost totally! Any efforts at reversing the current trend, as your research and advocacy, are more than welcome. It’s disheartening to read reports from even the Developed World, of plastic waste including wrappers, that is being retrieved from oceans and seas. Of course in some instances that would be after it has killed whales, etc.

    I would definitely support the use of cloth table napkins in the home setting, and paper in restaurants. And for the Developing World or parts thereof, my further motivation for disposable paper would be the shocking observation of the ongoing use of cloth table napkins to wipe hands after meals. Unfortunately, you have not invited questions about the topic – I would have wanted to know how widespread that practice is in the Developed World. It is so unhygienic, especially no steps are taken to ensure the cleanliness of those hands before the meals. In the home setting, the risk of transmitting diseases like COVID-19 is less, but by no means insignificant.


    1. Thank you very much for your very interesting comment. I am definitely ok with the use of cloth table napkins in the home setting, just like what we are doing at home. And if someone uses his cloth table napkin for wiping his or her hands after meals, i think it’s ok since he or she’s the only one using it. If it’s shared with others then it’s definitely a NO NO!

  3. Right from the time of my mother, we’ve never used the paper table napkins. I don’t think she knew anything about how her act was helping the environment but bless her now that she has instilled that in me and now I understand this imoortance. Very thoughtful of you to give such information and also advise people to choose the cloth over the paper table napkins.

    1. Thanks Jackie. Indeed, the ways of our mothers and grandmothers are very environment-friendly without them knowing about it. It’s so nice to go to old traditions and practices because they’re less wasteful.

  4. This a very interesting take on what is becoming a controversial subject. I have never thought to add up how many napkins or in my case paper towels that my house goes through in a year. By pointing this out it appeared to me that I have a lot of waste in my house. Even though paper is biodegradable the cost of production is high. Great idea of using the bedsheets for napkins. My question did you hem the edges? One thing to consider for my family is we also use paper plates. This will a big transition. Something to deeply consider.

    1. Hello Chuck, glad that this post has helped evaluate paper towel usage. I agree about paper being biodegradable, but the cost of production is high, that’s why many agree that cloth napkin is still more eco-friendly. Yes, I hemmed the edges with my sewing machine, but I read a lot of moms who don’t bother to hem the edges.

      We also had paper plates before that we use during special occassions like birthdays,etc. But since we started this journey, we just used up the paper plates and didn’t buy more. We just use our everyday plates now during birthdays and I also saved our old plates just in case we have more visitors.

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