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Thursday, August 3, 2023

Cloth Napkins vs. Paper Napkins: Which Do You Prefer?

These are our everyday cloth napkins, six sets. They're the napkins that we use for everyday meals and snacks. Six sets may seem like a lot of cloth napkins. However, I've been collecting sets of fabric napkins for about 40 years and I haven't retired a set yet.

The set of the left, the sage green napkins, I sewed to go with a Christmas tablecloth for the kitchen table about18 years ago. We also use them in spring, near Easter, with a table topper in a pink and sage green floral pattern. 

The next set, the pink set, was given to me by my mother about 40 years ago for a birthday gift. The color went with my everyday dish pattern.

The burgundy set I bought for myself about 40 years ago because they (and matching placemats) were on clearance at the department store where I worked. As a manager, I also received a 30% discount from the clearance price. The deal was too good to pass up. The store practically paid me to take these home. Anyway, we use the burgundy napkins year round, depending on my mood. I especially like these because of their dark color. The color hides stains really well compared to some of our lighter-colored napkins.

The next set of napkins is a tan, green, and gold autumn pattern that I mostly use in fall. I bought these napkins at Marshall's about 15 years ago to use at Thanksgiving one year. As it turned out, we liked them well enough to use for daily meals as well.

The pastel plaid napkins are a set of four napkins that my mother sewed for me when I was 21 years old. I was young, living on my own, dating someone who was also on a tight budget and we picnicked a lot for our dates, sometimes just us, sometimes with another couple. My mother put together a picnic basket of plastic dishes, cutlery, and these fabric napkins for me to use on picnic dates. I still use these for picnicking and remember my mother's love that went into sewing them for me.

The last set of napkins, the pink floral napkins, I bought at target about 15 years ago to go with some similar placemats that we use mostly in spring. These napkins have that romantic, English countryside vibe that I love so much.

It was my mother who got me started on collecting cloth napkins, which seems odd as we were a paper napkin family when I was growing up. But somehow my mother could see something inside of me that would enjoy using cloth napkins and would appreciate using fewer single-use items in my daily life, such as paper napkins.

Don't get me wrong. We do use paper napkins on occasion. I've found that guests often prefer paper napkins, as they don't have to worry about staining napkins when blotting their mouths or wiping fingers. So I keep my eyes open for nice paper napkins in the package at garage sales and clearance after season sales. We also use paper napkins when on road trips. I'd hate to lose a fabric napkin at a rest stop or in a hotel room. For the rest of our meals, we really are happier using the cloth napkins. 

If you're wondering, I wash the cloth napkins along with the dish towels, rags, and other linens twice a week. We have enough of each pattern that there are back-ups in case any get too dirty to use again. Otherwise, we each use our own napkin for a few meals, leaving them neatly folded on the kitchen table at each individual's place.

Cloth napkins are more rugged and durable than most paper napkins. Once a paper napkin is used, it looks used. I think a fabric napkin can look fresh, if folded neatly, for a couple of meals. But I also can see the merits of paper napkins. They are more hygienic in the sense that you're likely to replace a paper napkin with each meal. And you can take food to go wrapped in a paper napkin and not worry about bringing the napkin back home. And staining a napkin is not even a consideration with paper napkins.

What do you think? Do you prefer cloth or paper napkins? Do you use a mix of both?


  1. We use cloth napkins or paper towels. I used to use cloth exclusively but then dh remodeled the kitchen and I threw away all the cloth. They were bought at thrift stores, and so ratty looking. About 6 months ago I bought a bunch of cheap cloth napkins on eBay, and we’ve been using cloth again.


  2. Napkins can come in so many pretty patterns. However, most of our cloth napkins are saved for company, but that might be different if we had coordinating ones like you do. But I actually use an old, small dish towel for my napkin most of the time. It's big enough that it can hold a hot (or cold) dish if I'm not eating at a table as well wipe things.

  3. I use only cloth napkins. I don't think I ever bought paper napkins! I love my cloth napkins, and we use them for meals at home or outside. I like things to look pretty/ in good shape so the older ones are either donated or used as rags.

  4. We've used cloth napkins for many years now, though we have a rather random selection. I prefer them to paper even if they weren't also more frugal and eco-friendly.

  5. I'm the outlier here. We use mostly paper napkins--we save and reuse them if they are minimally stained.

  6. We use mostly paper napkins but my favorite thing to use is a thin style washcloth in a solid color as my "napkin". I have one on my work desk, one on my recliner and often that is what we grab.

  7. Cloth napkins for me and my family, I have quite a few and wash them with normal laundry items. When we have guests for dinner, we use paper napkins. Very rarely do we use paper plates, cups, napkins, etc; I think it's a waste. I don't use a lot of paper towels either, I buy an 8 pack that will last me a year.


    1. Shelby, I just wanted to say we also never use paper plates, cups or plastic ware as I too think it's a waste. I often see overflowing garbage bins at the road waiting for the garbage truck and they are piled full of paper plates. Even when the children were little I most often washed dishes by hand. I have a dishwasher but rarely use it for just 2 of us and hand wash everything together with my husband and we never go to bed with dirty dishes piled in our sink. Once a good routine is established we can get it all done in quick time.

  8. About 30 years ago, I bought a large produce box full of linen napkins at Salvation Army (or the S.A.Boutique as my co-workers and I liked to call it), from a restaurant that was re-decorating. There were probably 100 - 150 white and salmon colored ones. I think I paid $10 for the box That same weekend, my grandmother was having a garage sale, most of them (most of the white ones were stained, but the salmon ones had fared better) were sold for 25 cents each. I gave some to my Mom, aunt and grandmother and kept a couple of dozen for myself. Since my mother passed on, I now have her dozen as well and these three dozen are still going strong on a daily basis after all of these years. I do have a handful of vintage Christmas and Thanksgiving/fall colored cloth napkins that get regular use each year, as well.

  9. Lynn from NC Outer BanksAugust 7, 2023 at 7:44 AM

    I have been quite busy of late so no comments, tho I read posts as able to keep up with Lili and you others! But I wanted to chime in on this.

    We use cloth napkins everyday too, but usually paper for guests. I started using cloth napkins for my children's school lunches and found cute cartoon-like napkins. Well, my oldest is about to turn 40 and they are still in use! If they are minimally used, we reuse them before washing. I don't have many sets and keep thinking I'll make us some more, so I CAN use cloth with guests. I do have 8 red ones for Christmas but mainly have only about a dozen or so in maybe 3 patterns, though I do use the red ones for other holidays (Memorial day, 4th of July, Valentine's) and general everyday use also. We have minimal use of paper towels as well. One cheap roll will last us months on end. I think not using paper products has definitely helped keep the budget in check. Plus, I like using cloth for the environmental reasons as well as aesthetics.

    Have a good frugal week everyone!

  10. I love cloth napkins, both for the feel and the atmosphere they provide; and like some of the rest of the group, I've acquired a good collection through estate sales, hand-me-downs, garage sales, cheap fabric remnants, etc. I have two caveats about them, though. First, I like to wear lipstick, especially for company, and I do cringe when I see that on my lovely napkins. Second, during the pandemic shortages, like everyone else, we had trouble finding paper towels and some other paper goods; but we found SUPER-DUPER cheap family packages of paper napkins, and bought 2. Off-brand, and not super-fancy or -absorbent. But I keep a few of those in a cute holder (that also has our salt and pepper shakers) on the table all the time, for folks to use at will. Guests and some family members do like them, especially for really greasy finger foods; but I JUST opened the second one a week or so ago. So, I feel like they were a great investment, fiscally, and we probably haven't been particularly wasteful, either. Sara

    1. PS... I meant to also say that they were HUGE packages, as well as cheap. Sara

  11. Thank you all for your comments. It's interesting tor read what everyone else uses or prefers. And no judgement from me if you use paper napkins daily. I think we each have to make choices that fit our own lives and preferences. Like I said, I grew up only using paper napkins. I'd never heard of anyone using cloth napkins on a daily basis until I was an adult. The fabric napkins that my mom had given to me and the super bargain ones I'd bought when single turned out to be a blessing in the money-saving department those first few years of marriage when our income was extremely low. Anyplace we could reduce spending was welcomed in those years. And now we just like them, but also will use paper napkins for guests or when traveling.

    Again, thank you for sharing.


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