Using paper napkins has become a convenience because the only cleanup involved is to toss them into the garbage can. They come in so many sizes, colors, and designs that we almost can’t decide which ones will look best on the table. Our consumption of disposable paper products in America is embarrassingly wasteful. One of the easier ways to start going green and save money is by using cloth napkins every day.
Once upon a time, cloth napkins were the only option. Every Plantable pens household, no matter what their socioeconomic status, sat down to meals with them. Today, they are reserved for fancy dinner parties and expensive restaurants. The trend is reversing, although slowly, and creative moms are finding ways to spruce up the dinner table without spending a lot of cash.
For everyday family use, consider buying ordinary washcloths. Since they come in many colors, you can assign a specific color to each family member. This is inexpensive, because for a few bucks per family member, you can have a week’s worth (or more) of napkins that do not have to be washed daily and will last for decades. You can also color coordinate for themed or holiday parties, and not have to worry about stains on the colored cloths.
If you are handy with a sewing machine, buying fabric to sew your own napkins is another option. You can custom design your napkins with new fabric or find items at thrift stores that can repurposed. I like to buy sheets – singles or sets – and cut them up. A twin size flat sheet will make enough napkins for a large family gathering. Any fabric will do, but I prefer materials that are absorbent. They can be finished with a serged or folded edge. And if you don’t have a sewing machine, barter with a friend for her services.
The simplest way to go cloth is to scour thrift stores for napkins. You can buy them for next to nothing. Chances are you will not find large complete sets, but that’s okay! Find complimentary colors and patterns so you can mix and match. I have even seen sets paired up and sewn back to back. This makes a thicker, reversible napkin.
Cloth napkins can be reused for years and require minimal care. Generally, washing is sufficient unless you are using linen or other fabrics that require ironing. Minimize water usage in cleanup by having enough on hand for a week’s use. When napkins are soiled, simply treat any stains with a fabric pre-wash and toss into a bucket or basket until laundry day. I recommend washing dinner napkins separate from bath towels. I prefer to launder them with dishrags and kitchen towels.
We still use paper products in our home, but on a limited basis. Using cloth napkins makes our guests feel special and makes our dining experience more enjoyable. The cloth vs. paper debate will continue for years to come. I believe that using cloth napkins every day is one of the best ways for my family to be good stewards of our resources.