Nov 07 2007

Cloth napkins or paper? Or your sleeve?

OK, how bout this:

How many of you use cloth napkins instead of paper napkins? Do you use rags instead of paper towels?

Add elegance and save money by switching to cloth napkins

McClatchy Newspapers

Switching from paper napkins to cloth can save money and natural resources.

For instance, earth 911, a nonprofit group based in Arizona, calculates that paper towels and napkins cost more than $260 a year for a family of four.

But given the time and resources needed to launder cloth napkins, other experts are divided about the true savings. [read the rest of the story here]

What do you think? Right now, we use paper towels. I’m interested in using cloth at some point. Right now, we just do laundry once per week (we have to use coin-operated machines in our apartment building). So, I’d need a week’s supply of napkins.

Side note: It’s snowing. I see many flurries, and they are just swirling around. Also, you should know that I do not like snow. I don’t like driving in it and it makes me cold.

Update 7:52 p.m.: Wow! Lots of you have something to say on this topic. I love it! I should have clarified in my post that we don’t use paper napkins; we use paper towels when needed. I’ve been known to be messy at times.

22 Responses to “Cloth napkins or paper? Or your sleeve?”

  1. I love snow, but that’s because we don’t ever get any! I have been making cloth napkins. They are under the sewing category on my blog. They are easy to make. …. wish it were snowing here….

  2. Also the napkins don’t take up enough space in the laundry to really add anything to the cost of laundry for them.

  3. We use cloth napkins, but aren’t so systematic as the nice article you linked to – we just fold them and keep them on the back of a dining room chair. We use them until they get dirty (rarely one a day). I’ve never found them to be a laundry burden – and we used the laundromat down the street until we were homeowners. I generally line dry or rack dry my laundry (in the winter, a laundry rack adds needed humidity to the house) and I’ve never needed to buy napkins at full price in a “real” store – they’ve always been at garage sales or I hem squares of pretty fabric.
    Oh, I also use rags A LOT, although we keep paper towels around too, just not in such a prominent place that we reach for them first. I generally wash my rags unless my husband used some kind of chemical or paint that renders them useless.
    Let us know if you decide to go that way!

  4. We use cloth napkins at home. Most were picked up at a thrift store for a quarter or so. I have about enough for a week, which is about how often we do laundry. They don’t increase or decrease my laundy loads and we hang the laundry to dry so that isn’t an issue. I do buy paper napkins for my daughter’s lunch (she’s 12, the real ones would end up in the trash at school because it’s just not something she thinks about – LOL!). Ikea has a really heavy duty paper napkin at a reasonable price and that’s what I send with her now. It’s maybe 100 napkins for $1.99?

    We also use rags, usually from old clothes, but my favorites are from a flannel sheet that just wore out after about 5 years of use. Lots of rags in different size. They also get tossed in the wash as needed.

  5. We rarely use paper towels- I keep some in the house for windows and that’s about it. We use rags.
    As far as napkins go- we’ve never found a need for them. I NEVER buy them cuz i know one pack would last 5 years with us- and that’s only if we get company, or else they’d last longer.
    We are going to get some cloth napkins just to have, for some rare times when napkins are needed – like when guests come over.
    really though, what do you use napkins for? Are you really that messy when you eat?

  6. We do a combo… sort of. :) We have cloth napkins that we use most of the time. We also have those paper towels that tear smaller for “napkin” use as well as general clean up. An idea for you (if it isn’t too troubling for you)… my husband and I generally share a napkin (not real propper I know) and then we reuse it until it looks dirty. Then I just throw it in with regular laundry when I am doing it. Sometimes we each have our own napkins, but still reuse them until they are really dirty. You may find that you only need one set of 4… or maybe 2 sets… then you can add the ones used to your laundry at the end of the week without adding too much! :)

    Re: the snow… I’m jealous… we (apparently) are supposed to get some flurries at the end of the week, but we rarely get much here (Harrisburg is right in the middle of a bunch of mountains that keep the snow out. :( At least enjoy a flake for me. :)

  7. Hey~Kacie

    Thanks for joining the book club. Also I have been leaning towards using cloth napkins and am currently in the market for some. I haven’t found any frugal finds as of yet. What has drawn me to the idea is thatthey are heavier and add a more personal touch.
    I will definately be a cloth napkin girl in “2008”

  8. We use cloth napkins which are really bulk washcloths. I picked the idea up from a small town restaurant I went to that had fingertip towels as napkins. They are much nicer than regular napkins as they absorb, which is especially nice if you have little ones and spills. I went to WM and picked up a bulk pack of washcloths (can’t remember how many but at least twelve) for pretty cheap. We fold them in half, then in thirds and keep them in a basket. My household of six produces a lot of laundry so we just rotate them through.

    I also use cloth vs. paper for most things except cleaning windows/glass. We buy a large pack of paper towels from Sam’s and it will last six months or more.

  9. We don’t really use napkins in the everyday, just haven’t really had a real need for them (unless we’re eating homemade pizza or something messy). We use rags for cleaning, except our puppy still isn’t 100% housebroken and I DEFINITELY use paper towels to clean that up.

    And wow, snow, I haven’t seen that in a while! It’s almost 70 outside here today. Hopefully we get to “go to the snow” this year!

  10. We didn’t use napkins much until our toddler starting joining us…and now she’s obsessed with using paper napkins. This has inspired me to seek out cloth ones-I like the idea of the bulk washcloths!

    Also, a tip for windows–newspaper works great and doesn’t leave streaks!

  11. We use cloth napkins, and it adds almost nothing to my laundry pile. I bought a large package of bar towels a while back, and we use them in place of paper towels for almost everything. Once a week, I throw all the napkins, kitchen towels, aprons, etc. into the washing machine. Replacing our paper products has saved us a lot of money over the past several months. We used to use almost an entire roll of paper towels a day, not to mention the paper napkins.

  12. I agree that cloth is probably better. However, for us right now, I am doing everything in my power to cut down on laundry. Plus I’m considering going back to paper plates (only temporarily) to cut down on dishwashing. Why? We are in an extreme water crisis here in GA and I am being very conscious about the amount of water we are using. I know that the paper stuff, in the long run, is not good for the environment, but I have to focus on the issue at hand. But once this has passed (hopefully sooner than later) I will most likely use cloth napkins as well.

    I’m shocked there are people who don’t use napkins at all. I guess I must just be a slob – but I need my napkin! LOL! And my kids most definitely do!

    And I am EXTREMELY jealous of the snow – we haven’t had “real good” snow in 14 years!!!

  13. I can’t remember the last time I bought paper towels or napkins! I find “everyday” napkins at resale shops for insanely cheap and for nicer occasions I’ll buy ones on clearance and keep them hidden from sticky (pun intended) fingers. As for rags, I love the 3M microfiber clothes and have about 6 that I rotate through the wash .. they work great on everything. Old washcloths make their way to the rag bin too and since we don’t use chemicals at all to clean it’s not a big deal to throw them on top of a load of clothes!

    Thumbs up for the comment on using newspaper to clean windows .. it’s fantastic! We use vinegar and newspaper and it never streaks and removes all the sticky kid prints! Just spray your hands with vinegar to remove the newsprint from your hands!


  14. We have used cloth napkins for years. I don’t wash them after every use. I leave them at each place and usually at the end of the day I throw them all down the laundry chute. Not sure how you would handle needing a weeks worth. But even if you had a few it would cut down on the amount of paper napkins, which would help. you could also wash them out in the sink mid week and hang to dry on the shower curtain if you really wanted to.

  15. My mom always had cloth napkins. We never even had paper towels growing up, that I remembered. She’d even put the cloth napkins in my lunch bags (although the lunch bags weren’t the paper throw-away kind, so I wasn’t likely to throw them away). It’s fun to pick out which ones you’ll use, if you enjoy making the table look nice, even just for special occasions. But now, with my own place, we have paper towels (gigantic package from Costco) and some recycled paper napkins we use only occasionally. Someday I’ll get cloth ones — I like that they’re better for the environment and more attractive if you’re setting a table for a special day.

  16. P.S. I also agree that the energy spent washing them is negligable. They take up very little space in the wash and you probably wouldn’t increase your load quantity at all. As aside, I use cloth baby wipes and I think they work pretty well.

  17. We do a combo here. I use rags for the kitchen. Up intil a few months ago we were using paper towels exclusively. But my husband goes through them like water, so I went to my thrift store where I bought a bunch of kitchen towels for really cheap and that’s what we use now. I do have enough and we probably use one a day, maybe two. We also do laundry once a week and I have no problem washing them with the rest of whites or towels if not too greasy.
    We do not use napkins per se we use paper towels. We switched to the “select your size” type and although they might be a more expensive, the flexibility they afford us actually makes it cheaper for us. I usually share half of a sheet with my toddler and my husband uses another half sheet. My husband figured out the numbers and paper towels came out to be cheaper than napkins. I do keep napkins for guests though.

  18. We use cloth. I even made some fun ones with Superman, butterflies, etc to put in the kid’s lunches.

  19. Not sure I have anything new to add, but when we began our journey to be better stewards several months ago, one of the things we changed was switching to cloth napkins. I already had a ton of them, but we only used them on “special” occasions. As a result of using cloth napkins at meals and cloth rags to clean up the kitchen, we have reduced our trash and are still on our second roll of paper towels since August. I do use paper towels occasionally for really gross things (like squishing bugs or greasy marks). I agree with the others that the amount it adds to my laundry is minimal.

  20. I guess we don’t really use napkins at all when dining at home, unless it’s especially messy. In which case we just use paper towels. I bet I could find some good stuff in the fabric basket if we decided to use them. :)

  21. We only use cloth and I have been surprised how easy the transition was. I pick them up for a quarter at our local thrift store and they have paid for themselves over and over again. I try to find cute retro ones and save matching sets for the company.

    It is worth it, but I have messy kids so maybe that is why :)

  22. I’ve been making them out of left over fabric from projects, outgrown cotton shirts, etc. I just cut them to size and zig-zag around the edges. I have some “nice” ones [store bought] for fancier times. I also splurged $15 at the dollar store and got a huge stack of kitchen towels. I have cut so far back on paper towels I barely have to buy them now!

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Hey! I'm Kacie, wife to Shane and mother to Jonathan (7), Vivienne (5) and Amelia (2) . I write about my family's finance: how we save money, improve our spending, and plan for the future.

I hope I can inspire and encourage you to improve your situation. See disclosure.

I'm adopting a much slower-paced posting schedule, and treating this as a hobby blog now.

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