Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Making the Switch to Cloth Napkins

This is a post I did as a guest blogger over at "Cents"able Momma a few months ago. If you haven't checked out Corries blog, you should she has lots of great information.

My family switched to cloth napkins about a month ago. I have been thinking about making the switch for about a year and finally decided to take the step. It was actually a little intimidating since my family had become so dependent on paper napkins and towels.

We used paper towels and napkins for everything. I mean EVERYTHING. Having 4 children in the house you can imagine how many we could go through in a day. We used them for noses, spills, eating, smashing bugs, wiping up mud, you name it. I could easily go through a package of 500 every couple weeks. While I know that paper napkins are fairly cheap (I could usually get a package for about $2-$3) that is still around $50 a year. Then if you add the cost of paper towels it begins to add up. What was really bothering me the most was the waste factor. So, I decided to make the switch.

There are many ways to get cloth napkins without buying brand new fancy ones. You can buy them second hand from thrift stores or yard sales. You can make your own from any fabric, old t-shirts, bed sheets or towels. If you watch the stores you can sometimes find napkins on clearance, especially around the holidays. Last month I picked up a whole bunch of Valentines napkins on clearance for .31 cents each. For everyday use I figured it wouldn't matter what they looked like. Besides it's kinda fun having a little variety.

I made my first set of napkins from some cotton fabric I found on clearance at Wal-Mart for $1.97. From this fabric I made 9 napkins, that averages to about .27 cents each. I sewed them all by hand in my spare time. I measured them each at 12 x 12 inches. I made them a little smaller than most of the conventional napkins to maximize my fabric. I cut them out and folded over each side and sewed them. This made them about 101/2 x 10 1/2 inches. While this is a little smaller than I initially wanted, they ended up being the perfect size for my toddlers to use.

Some people will argue the fact that using energy, water and soap to wash the cloth cancels out the good your doing by not using paper. I disagree. I don't feel like the cloth napkins have increased my energy or water usage a bit. They are really not that big and I just throw them in with my other laundry. Plus, we are typically only using about 6 napkins per day. Unless they get extremely soiled we just keep reusing them until they are dirty. I wash all my cloths in cold water, thus reducing energy. And if you hang them to dry you are using even less energy.

I invested less than $7 for my cloth napkins. I figured I spend about $100 per year on paper towels and paper napkins. While I have not totally eliminated paper towels I have definitely cut back our usage. So for that small initial investment up front they have more than paid for themselves as I estimate that I will be saving about $70 per year. It feels good to be wasting less, and saving more. I expect my napkins to last me many years. I recommend that everyone look into switching to cloth. Not only will you save money, you will also be helping the environment.


  1. That's a good idea! My husband goes thru a TON of paper towels, which seems so wasteful to me. I've begun cutting up the most worn of the kids' old clothes for rags, and I use them for most except the ickiest spills. I'll have to check into fabric napkins as well!

  2. A few months ago I made the switch to cloth towels instead of paper towels. We, too, used them for everything!
    I bought some 'bar towels' at bed bath and beyond (extremely cheap of course) and we use those as our everyday meal towels now. The kids (ages 5 1/2 and almost 2) know to put them in the laundry basket in the laundry room when they clear up their plates.
    The 5 1/2 year old likes towels even better than paper now - she agrees that we are saving the environment more this way!
    Kudos to your sewing skills!

  3. I've been using cloth napkins for about 12 years now. The "life span" on my napkins is averaging about 10 years. I make huge napkins, 18"x22", so I get 4 to the yard. I use the scallop stitch on my sewing machine all around the edge, then trim fabric close to the stitching.

  4. Great post, I made some napkins last summer and it was super easy and cheap. They really are a money saver.

  5. I had long switched to cloth napkins and I think it was a nice choice! It was a nice move.

  6. We use the little 8x8 flannel ones with serged edges. Perfect for lunch boxes. I get them through our local food coop. (I don't sew.) I've had the argument about energy usage, but we just throw ours in with a load of jeans every few days. Whether it costs more, less, or is a break even deal, I LIKE using cloth napkins. My daughter says it's "much fancier" than using the paper ones. She's right.