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Anyone Else Dislike Cloth Napkins?

I know I'm in the minority on this, but I do not like cloth napkins, even in a very formal setting. I understand that it is customary and expected, but it bugs me. I feel like I'm wiping my mouth on my shirt. I like the fact that the paper napkin I use gets thrown away, and that the one I'm using has never been used by anyone else. And I'm not a complete germophobe. Does anyone else feel this way?

(I also prefer placemats to tablecloths. Is this related?)

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  1. The reused metal fork and spoon issue must be difficult for you then seeing as how they actually were "in" someone else's mouth and not just wiping the outside, as is the case with the napkin.

    4 Replies
    1. re: tony michaels

      Once again, it's not a germ thing. I just don't like the feel of them on my face.

      1. re: mojoeater

        Hmmm. Is it a texture factor or a conceptual reason? Would you feel the same way about disposable cloth napkins? This has gotten me curious.

        1. re: thinks too much

          Honestly, we don't often buy paper napkins either. It's just the two of us, so we make do with paper towels most of the time. Not terribly classy, I know.

        2. re: mojoeater

          It was when you said that you liked the fact that the paper napkin got discarded after one use and that you (like it) that you are the first and only one to use the paper vs. cloth napkin that got me thinking about the fork / spoon use problem. There seems to be some germophobia content to this.

      2. I think they are both related. I use cloth napkins exclusively at home. I feel like it's more reponsible environmentally, especially with a laundry line, and I find that most guests feel that it's a way to make a meal more special as well. I also feel that using a cloth napkin implies a sence of permanence in the midst of a what is essentially a transient experience.

        The more I think about this, I must admit to being more and more disturbed. It seems to represent an isolationist view point, though I'm thinking about this in the larger sense and not intending on attacking you personally. Americans especially seem to have more issues about shared property than many countries, from public transportation to libraries to just using public space. Do you get weirded out thinking that the plates you eat from were used by others? Do you stay in hotels? I'm certain that the underlying mattresses aren't as thoroughly cleaned as the sheets (or restaurant napkins).

        That being said, when I'm hiking I use my shirt sleeve as a napkin and impromptu potholder all the time. Perhaps I'm just a barbarian.

        8 Replies
        1. re: thinks too much

          I had the exact same response as you when I saw the original post. I only use cloth napkins at home--both for sustainability reasons and because, to me, they look and feel nicer than paper ones.

          When I worked as an au pair in France right after college, my French family (and most of the families they socialized with) used only cloth napkins--everyone had a napkin ring with his/her name on it, and would use the same napkin for a couple of days. (Personalized napkin rings were really common in France when I was there, which suggests this was common practice.) I grew up in a paper napkin household, and at first I thought this was very weird. But after a while, it started making perfect sense to me. Now, of course,my paper-napkin-using family thinks *I'm* weird!

          1. re: thinks too much

            "The more I think about this..." What I think is that you have named yourself well, thinks too much.

            However, I agree with you. I also use only cloth napkins at home. I don't buy paper napkins or paper towels. Cheaper and better for the environment.

            1. re: Glencora

              How is it better for the environment? Cloth napkins have to be washed, thus using water, electricity and detergents.

              1. re: PeterL

                If you read further down the thread, you'll find that most people (like myself) who use cloth napkins use them for a few days at a time and end up throwing, at most, 1 or 2 napkins a week into the wash. That amount doesn't increase the amount of laundry being done (thus not increasing the water, energy, detergent, etc being used). So, for no additional impact on the environment, you get napkins that don't end up in the trash or need to be composted (if they're napkins that are compostable).

                1. re: ccbweb

                  It is not the energy people use at home to clean the napkins that makes the real difference, it really is the methods of production that consume the most energy. Most paper napkins are made from new paper which produces a lot of waste material, forest deforestation, water polution, bleach, landfill space, gas -- not only in making the napkins but getting them to the store, and the list goes on.

                  Cloth napkins do use a lot of energy to produce, but it is only once. Paper napkins create an ongoing strain on the environment.

                  1. re: adventuresinbaking

                    Paper is made from farmed trees, recycled sources and scraps from the timber industry. Deforestation is a common myth.
                    From a 2006 Congressional Earth Day report: "United Nations data show that forest acreage has increased through time, and there is no indication that this trend will cease in the long term...Today, U.S. forest tree growth exceeds tree cutting by 37 percent. In 1920, U.S. forests covered 732 million acres; today they cover 737 million acres, despite a U.S. population increase from 106 million to 272 million in the same time period."

                    Everything else you say about paper being an ongoing waste of resources is the gospel truth. Not to mention that few things smell as bad as a paper plant. And that they cost a lot more in the long run. I have linen napkins that are decades old that are still beautiful.

                    1. re: MakingSense

                      Lol, that smell is money to me. I live in a paper-factory town which employs my husband.

                2. re: PeterL

                  I use them several times, wash with envronmentally friendly detergent, air dry. I also don't iron or bleach. (Too lazy, really.) They're soft, oft-washed cotton with a William Morris patern that hides a few stains. Not for company, obviously. I do one load of laundry a week for a family of three. The napkins take up the space of, what, a tee shirt? So how bad could it be?

                  On the subject of napkin rings, in France I bought three with our three names on them. So the French are re-usuing their napkins, too. I've never seen napkin-rings with names in tourist shops in the U.S. Just fake license plates or key chains.

            2. Hey, when you're chomping away and your tongue finds that fish bone you didn't see, or that piece of gristle turns out to be more than you really wanted to take on, there's nothing like a bolt of somebody else's cloth to give you a fighting chance to get rid of it discreetly. Just my opinion.

              1. I think sometimes there are things that simply bug us whether or not it seems to make sense . Even to ourselves. I like cloth napkins but hate it when they are made from what feels to me like junky fabric. I really hate the feel of synthetic napkins. Feel the same way about bed linens. All cotton, all the time. But I can wear cotton t-shirts with a little lycra in them for stretch or totally synthetic workout shirts with no problem. Doesn't bother me a bit. Probably isn't reasonable but I still do hate those synthetic napkins. And don't get me started on dish towels but that is due to practicality. They don't absorb!
                My point is just that sometimes our aversions might seem to be beyond reason or contradictory but it's no big deal.
                Placemats over tablecloths made me wonder if it's because a cloth holds dirt and crumbs that a mat may not? Or that the mats get shaken or changed more often? The germs of strangers can be off-putting, even if you're not a germophobe and once you get that idea in your head it can be difficult to forget. Are you talking about home as well as public places?
                I agree that a room with a cloth covered table can seem less clean than one without. (I'm not saying it is, ,just that it can feel that way to me. ) Less cluttered up feeling. That said, there's a cloth on our kitchen table for protection all of the time except on those rare occasions when all of the kids are going to be gone for a few days. Then I peel it off and enjoy the bare wood table. I like the more spare, clean feeling.

                1. I always use cloth napkins at home - cotton or linen - if it's just us, I put them in the wash after a couple of uses - guests' napkins go straight into the wash. Doesn't strike me as unsanitary at all. I also find that when I get a paper napkin in a restaurant, I have trouble keeping it on my lap - it always slips to the floor.

                  1. Maybe what you don't like is cloth napkins that have a high polyester content. Those always feel slippery or greasy to me, and I can understand why you wouldn't like them. I use only cotton or linen at home.

                    If you ever want a fresh napkin, feel free to ask your server for one. They will happily oblige.

                    1. re cloth & paper napkins--working at a variety of establishments where the "down time" for staff included the side work of rolling silverware"rolls" using cloth or paper napkins, or folding cloth napkins into bishop's hats etc for banquets. . .pain in the butt!!!

                      but it was amazing and somewhat appalling to see the difference in waste produced between even very small places that used any disposables vs places that washed & reused all implements. The waste produced in one day from a little, low volume soup & sandwich cafe (disposable plates, napkins, placemats, plasticware, packaging for desserts, cups. . .) was huge, while big catering events that had cloth and china, it was negligable-- 250 people, maybe 1 or 2 smallish bags. napkins are probably the most common disposable item besides drinking cups (even worse imo), and may not seem to fill up that trash can, but they DO. i think cloth napkins in a small, informal place always makes a favorable impression on me after schlepping all that trash out to the dumpster!

                      of course, if i sit down to a platter of bbq ribs, i want a **stack** of paper napkins all to myself. . .

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: soupkitten

                        When eating ribs and other "hand" food, a wet towel works wonders... if you have kids, you've learned long ago that diaper wipes are quite versatile, albeit ultimately destined for the landfill as well...

                        1. re: bulavinaka

                          yes, i agree that a hot, wet towel is the best handwipe when having a home bbq!

                          haven't tried it in any bbq joint though-- perhaps we'll see japanese-style towel service at q restaurants as they start to become more upscale! :)

                      2. I always considered paper too expensive to use. Throw away after 1 use ia just too wasteful. We use pure cotton napkins or a blend of cotton and linen or pure linen which go through every wash cycle, 2-3 times a week. After dinner parties all napkins go into the wash immediately. You may not like the fabric the napkins are made of or if or are heavily starched. Dinner party napkins I do starch becuse it helps retard stains from wine or lipstick, day to day they get pulled from the dryer and hand smoothed and folded.

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: Candy

                          V. clever point about the starch - I never starch napkins, having read somewhere that "one shouldn't", because it does affect the "effectiveness" of the napking - but, given the inevitable after party stains, I may well give this a try!

                          1. re: MMRuth

                            I use brightly colored napkins with a slight pattern which, to date at least, have not given way to stains.

                            1. re: laurendlewis

                              Smart too - I seem to have piles and piles of white linen napkins (some of which have acquired a slight pattern over the years!).

                        2. I'm with you mojo.
                          My family used cloth napkins when I was growing up and it didn't bother me then. But after I moved out on my own and started eating out a lot more it really bothered me. I much prefer paper to clothe now, especially any form of linen.

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: hannaone

                            I thought I was all alone! We never used cloth when I was a kid. My mom had some, but she would fold them around paper ones when she dressed the table, just for appearance. Looked nice, but we would never actually USE them! ;)

                            1. re: mojoeater

                              Any chance its the starch that gets used in restaurant linens? We only use cloth at home unless we're eating something super messy like lots of corn on the cob, barbeque or crabs. Even then, sometimes, we'll just put a stack of cloth napkins out and run through them. I can't stand throwing out all of the paper napkins we'd use.

                              And in a restaurant, I don't mind the paper napkins in a divey lunch place, but at dinner, especially at a "nicer restaurant" I'd be put off by paper napkins.

                              1. re: ccbweb

                                I find that when we're eating sloopy foods like barbequed chicken or buttered popcorn that I really want cloth napkins then. I hate it when the paper ones sort of get stuck on sticky fingers and tear, ugh. Something about that really bugs me, almost like nails on a chalkboard. Ok, not that extreme but a feeling along those lines. It bothers my teeth, if you know what I mean. Gosh, guess I am a little quirkier than I realized... Anyway, paper can stand up to a little corner of the mouth dabbing but I prefer cloth for heavy duty use. By the way, I buy a bunch of bandanas when they go on sale at Hobby Lobby for next to nothing and use those for our especially messy backyard meals. Don't want to ruin the nicer ones.

                          2. Well, as you say it is a "feel" issue for you and things relating to food are often issue laden. Perhaps you were chided as a child for using your shirtsleeve as a napkin, or heard of it as such.

                            I personally do not see a paper napkin as any less er "used" as a laundry cleaned napkin. Human hands still touched it to get it to your place setting, and who knows how it was stored?

                            I do like cloth napkins, but only if they are a natural, absorbant material. So it is a "feel" thing for me as well.

                            I think using cloth or paper is more "green".

                            And I don't like thick paper towels and have been known to tear them in parts for several uses. We all have our own weirdness. *grin*

                            1. Gawd am I that old? Perhaps it had to do with rationing post WW2, but I can't remember growing up with paper napkins, paper towels, paper diapers, or paper anything. We had cloths for domestic use - cloths discreetly trimmed into squares to hide their origins. And, yes, cloth napkins.

                              1. I'm with you. I'd much rather use paper than cloth napkins, and I'm not a germaphobe. Environmentally, the cloth vs. paper is largely a wash. Water, fabric (usually cotton, because polyester napkins are really gross to use, which is a wasteful water-dependent crop), detergents, bleach to clean the napkins after each use, and dryers vs. wood pulp, manufacturing, waste stream, etc. And I've never met anyone who actually claims to save their used cloth napkins for reuse rather than tossing them in the wash after every meal.

                                18 Replies
                                1. re: Ellen

                                  I certainly reuse mine - at least for family meals - as it appears do several other posters. But, my reason for using cloth is, I think, an asthetic one, to be honest, not an environmental one. Plus my husband would have a conniption (smile) if the table were set with paper napkins -- but that's another story, linked to similar aversion to paper plates and plastic utensils!

                                  1. re: Ellen

                                    Except that cloth napkins take up a tiny amount of space - in other words, if I go down the laundromat with a medium load, adding a bunch of cloth napkins (I use thin, all cotton bandanas) is unlikely to increase that load to "large", so I am using no more water and no more (relatively enivornmentally-friendly) detergent. I don't use bleach, ever. I do reuse. I wish I could say I dry on a clothesline, but I live in an apartment building, so that doesn't work out. I do use paper sometimes, but I think I do better environmentally when I use cloth. (And I've had the same set of napkins for years).

                                    1. re: Ellen

                                      Don't use bleach! Selfish reason #1 is that it destroys the fabric fibers quickly. Reason #2 is it doesn't get out the grease so napkins will stay spotted, eventually get that sour grease smell and turn yellow. Add some borax, white vinegar or household ammonia to the laundry. You can also use a surfectant, commonly called degreaser. I get it at Costco or the kitchen supply house. Common dishwashing liquid works very well as a laundry detergent for kitchen linens. If it gets the grease off your nastiest pots and pans, it will clean your kitchen towels and napkins. The new ones that are phosphate-free are better for the environment, another good reason to use as little bleach as possible.

                                      1. re: Ellen

                                        Certainly everyone will use what they like....but for environmental impact, I think its safe to say that the vast majority of people using cloth napkins are reducing their effect.

                                        We resuse napkins for several days in a row for regular meals. Our two or four napkins a week just get tossed in with our regular laundry. Just as with the many dishtowels we use instead of paper towels. They don't create new loads of laundry, don't bulk up a load of laundry, don't require detergent that wouldn't have been used nor significant dryer energy.

                                        1. re: ccbweb

                                          Being able to reuse napkins that weren't really soiled was the point of napkin rings. That's why you see monograms on old and antique ones. Each person has his own so that you didn't grab someone else's used napkin. Guess they were a little germophobic or at least considerate.

                                          1. re: MakingSense

                                            Indeed, a fixture at my mother's and my grandmother's houses. Since its just my wife and me, we don't tend to worry about them much. :)

                                            1. re: MakingSense

                                              And in the old days, laundry was done once a week. Women wore aprons at dinner in addition to the napkins, just in case.

                                          2. re: Ellen

                                            We reuse ours several times before laundering. That was the point of napkin rings originally. A frequent christening gift was a monogrammed silver napkin ring. The purpose of the ring was to identify whose napkn was whose. And no, napkin rings did not come in matching sets. They had a purpose and were not meant to be decorative.

                                            1. re: Candy

                                              we re-use ours as well (although when we eat at the porch table we often share 1 napkin and then launder-- gross, huh? but as long as we're also sharing a drinking glass. . ). the weekly napkins barely make a bump in the hamper along with the sheets, towels, tableclothing, and other household linens we launder weekly **anyway***, with 2 oz environmentally friendly detergent, so i don't see how reusing the same napkins for years is a bad move environmentally--see my above post on restaurant disposables. i think the prevalence of paper napkins in america is one of those sanitation hangups that people elsewhere just don't get-- i can't imagine eating at a regular paris bistro and having my place set with paper-- i think i'd leave.

                                              1. re: Candy

                                                As an aside, I believe that I read somewhere that in certain circles of English society, napkin rings were considered declasse, because they suggested that one did not use fresh linen at each meal!

                                                1. re: MMRuth

                                                  True. The wealthy of course had staff to launder their large linen supplies so it wasn't an issue. I have a number of heirloom napkins that are almost 30" square - wouldn't even come close to fitting in a napkin ring. For those a little lower on the ladder, they would reuse linens especially for informal meals, hence the napkin rings. For any proper meals, especially with guests, fresh linens would be used. Remember that there were no washing machines or electric irons. Everything was done by hand, irons were heated by mechanical means.
                                                  The use of napkin rings as table decorations as some people use them today was unheard of. They were utilitarian, strictly en famille, so of course it would have been dreadful to have put them on a table for guests.

                                                  1. re: MakingSense

                                                    Here's a question: Do you use the same plates and silverware without washing? Once again, I am not a germophobe (see my posts on dropped food), but I would think that bacteria would collect on a used napkin. Using the same one again and again would definitely give the nasties a chance at you.

                                                    1. re: mojoeater

                                                      Fortunately I've experienced no ill effects from the nasties - I guess if a napkin appeared to be particularly soiled, I'd throw it in the hamper - but most of the time the napkins stay strictly on our laps.

                                                      1. re: mojoeater

                                                        What nasties? Napkins are on laps. Food usually doesn't fall on them. The food is on the plates and flatware so of course those have to be washed.
                                                        If we eat something that requires using fingers like BBQ or fried chicken, the napkins go into the laundry. Usually the family doesn't have to wipe themselves down with their napkins because they're pretty good at getting their food into their mouths with their utensils. It's not all over their faces or even my husband's beard when he had one.
                                                        When the kids were small and got messy, I was more likely to break out a washcloth until they got more coordinated. Now they have lovely manners.

                                                    2. re: MMRuth

                                                      My wife's family are mostly French, and each family member has a cloth napkin case with his or her name on it; Maman made mine during my first visit, before her daughter and I got married. These also double as place markers at the family dinners. I don't have any idea how often the napkins get washed, nor do I particularly care - my own napkin at home gets washed whenever one of us does a load of whites, which is about once a week.

                                                      I grew up using paper napkins and hated them, though when I serve something like barbecues ribs I make sure the paper towels are handy.

                                                      1. re: Will Owen

                                                        Hardly use any paper. Much prefer bar mops and linen kitchen towels. But I have switched to C-folds that I now get at Costco or the restaurant supply house. Hate tearing paper towels off the roll.
                                                        C-folds in a stack are sooooo much easier and stronger than paper towels. One friends however always teases that I steal them from gas station bathrooms.

                                                        1. re: Will Owen

                                                          Will, for messy stuff like BBQ, corn on the cob, fried chicken we use finger tip (guest type) towels. A little smaller than a hand towel, cheap, come in all sorts of colors, simple to wash and no ironing ever!

                                                    3. re: Ellen

                                                      We reuse our cloth napkins at home.

                                                    4. On the contrary, I dislike the way paper napkins feel. They aren't big enough, don't absorb anything, and slip off your lap. We always used cloth for "nice meals" or "holidy meals" the same way we got butter instead of margarine. I wasn't a stupid kid; one was clearly better.

                                                      We only use 100% cotton or linen napkins and wash them in low impact detergent. They get line dried, which is to say hung over our bathroom in our urban two-bedroom department. Dinner party napkins get washed immediately but we reuse them within the family several times. I think they are clearly a better choice for the enviroment.

                                                      My husband and I have a running joke that it is very clear who was raised with what type of napkin. Some guests will barely unfold them and some guest's produce a grease/lipstick slick on one half with the other half died red from wine. I can't recommend chocolate brown linen enough =)

                                                      And we always use butter at the table too =) Every meal is a good meal in our household.

                                                      1. Can't stand 'em when eating out. Seems like most of the time, they smell of rancid grease.

                                                        1. I like fresh, clean paper napkins, too. Especially the prefolded Vanity Fair dinner-size napkins. If I'm running late preparing dinner, they're so easy to pop on each place setting.

                                                          The idea of dealing with food stains on laundered napkins always seemed daunting to me. And wouldn't you have to press the napkins, too?

                                                          I save used paper napkins with some life left in them for cleanup jobs around the house or for dog walks.

                                                          9 Replies
                                                          1. re: Angela Roberta

                                                            I'm spoiled, I have someone who irons for me, but if you go with paper, those Vanity Fair ones are certainly the way to go.

                                                            And great idea about using the leftover napkins. I do the same with paper towels.

                                                            1. re: Angela Roberta

                                                              Saving lightly used paper napkins is grosser to me than reusing lightly used cloth napkins. It's like people who wash out & reuse Ziplocs...

                                                              1. re: laurendlewis

                                                                I wash out and reuse ziplocs. Why not? It's still a perfectly usable bag. It seems a waste to just throw something like that in the trash. I also reuse paper towles is all they have been preused for is soaking up water. Out of curiosity, why does that bother you?

                                                                1. re: hilltowner

                                                                  It depends what is in there - if it's wet/damp/sticky/messy, that's the point of the ziploc - throw it away. If it's a piece of bread or a couple carrots or say you reuse the bag to put in your daily snack of Triscuits, no problem.

                                                                  1. re: laurendlewis

                                                                    The point of a ziploc bag is to be a flexible storage bag. Wet, damp, sticky, messes can be washed out like any bowl or cutting board. They are disposable but I never throw them away after a single use if I can avoid it unless they are obviously contaminated with something relatively difficult to clean, like raw meat.

                                                                    1. re: JudiAU

                                                                      Yes, I do that too, and am SO glad they came out with the heavy duty kind, for freezer ziploc bags! They are just the right size to insert a container of opened vegies from Trader Joe's, for example, and keep it fresh. I use and reuse, then use again!

                                                                      1. re: Seldomsated

                                                                        Why don't you use a tupperware-type container? Or plastic wrap?

                                                                  2. re: hilltowner

                                                                    I don't like the idea because they never dry out. And things sitting around the kitchen staying most doesn't seem at all sanitary to me.

                                                                    As far as napkins - with today's detergents and washing machines it's not such a big deal to keep them clean. Grandma still had her wringer washer when I was in high school (this was in the mid 1970s). Any additional washing was a big deal. Each item was put thru the wringer, often twice - and yes, that was originaly hand cranked as well, although she had it motorized at some point, (but wouldnt use the motor on something with delicate buttons) Then it went out on the clothesline to dry, then ironed. And that night someone would undoubtedly get spaghetti sauce or gravy or red wine on it.... I like paper, she adored it.

                                                                2. re: Angela Roberta

                                                                  No, you don't have to press them if 1) you don't worry about it and 2) you fold them freshly out of the dryer or off the line. And, for ease, we have a stack of folded cloth napkins, just as easy to pop at a place as the vanity fair napkins.

                                                                  Not decrying using paper, just saying that the way we use cloth around our house, its no more difficult.

                                                                3. As was already said by some others, if one is used to cloth napkins with a high polyester content, it isn't surprising that a cloth napkin would be unappealing to that person. Polyester napkins (like polyester clothing) tend to harbor odors and they also have an unappealing texture and feel.

                                                                  All-cotton napkins do not tend to have those limitations, so I would suggest that the OP try that type before condemning all cloth napkins to the scrap heap.

                                                                  1. don't dislike cloth napkins, don't dislike paper. it's simply what works for the meal you are about to enjoy. umpteen bazillion cloth napkins would not be my first choice when i cook ribs. prime rib on sunday , however, seems to taste better with cloth.

                                                                    mojeater's argument is weak. i don't buy the either/or stuff.

                                                                    1. An alternative seen in Asia: tables may have a little cutsy hat like thing with a hole in the top. The servers take the cardboard tube out of the middle of a (clean) roll of toilet paper, pull the paper from roll from the inside and through the hole of the cutsy thing. No paper or cloth napkins.

                                                                      2 Replies
                                                                      1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                                        crab in singapore requires a firehose if you haven't done it before.

                                                                        1. re: steve h.

                                                                          There was a crab shack in Atlanta that had a big laundry sink with yellow soap and several rolls of paper towels in an alcove next to the cash register. After one of their massive seafood-by-the-bucket feeds you really needed to scrub to the elbows!

                                                                      2. I bought a stack of terry cloth towels from Target (10 for $3 on sale). They're maybe 7x7" squares, and we use them as napkins for daily dining. I have another set of Target terry cloth towels (different colors) that are used as dishcloths. 10 is enough that we don't have to worry about running out before the next load of laundry, and they're so small they don't add much to the laundry.

                                                                        I would love to have nice cloth napkins for dinner parties, but until I have my own washer/dryer I'm just too lazy to do a load after every dinner party. I know, ridiculous. I did, however, make sets of napkins for friends and family members when I bought my first sewing machine. The big rectangles are great practice for a beginner, 100% cotton fabric in solid colors is usually cheap, small imperfections or crooked edges don't matter, and people were delighted to get cloth napkins that matched their kitchen decor. I think the most expensive set I made was $15 for a set of four fuchsia ones, and that was only because I was in too much a hurry to wait for a sale.

                                                                        1. Paper napkins, please. I ask the server for them when eating out. The cloth doesnt seem to work well for me. My hands seem cleaner using paper.

                                                                          4 Replies
                                                                          1. re: tom porc

                                                                            Most restaurant napkins are polyester. They don't absorb well, so last longer for the supply company. Most restaurants will have paper napkins on hand for take-out orders. Great tip on asking for them.

                                                                            1. re: toodie jane

                                                                              thanks, toodie. That explains why I prefer Bounty napkins.

                                                                            2. re: tom porc

                                                                              How about just washing your hands after eating something very sticky/messy/etc.

                                                                              1. re: JudiAU

                                                                                I wipe my hands and mouth frequently during the meal and find paper better for me. And I eat ribs often and need paper napkins for them.

                                                                            3. When I eat out at a restaurant, I expect clean linens on the table as well as cloth napkins, unless I am at a fast-food restaurant. I'm okay with a glass cover over the tablecloth if it gets wiped down between seatings. My only real complaint is that many of the cloth napkins shed tons of lint, all over my (usually) black skirt or pants. Sometimes the tablecloths do too. I don't know what kind causes the lint problem, but it doesn't seem to happen with dark colored cloth napkins and it doesn't happen with all of the white or light-colored napkins. Does anyone else find this to be the case?

                                                                              At home, we use cloth napkins and a tablecloth for special meals or guests. The napkins usually require a good soak or pretreatment to get the grease and lipstick marks off them before laundering. It doesn't seem to matter much if they are 100% cotton or a blend. No poly -- those are impossible to clean and don't seem to be as absorbent. I only buy the top quality paper napkins -- the kind that they sell in two sizes such as regular and "dinner" size -- and have actually heard compliments from guests about the quality of these paper napkins. I guess most of them use the cheap napkins in the jumbo pack of 300. I look at it this way -- I have worked hard to prepare a great meal, so why not present it well?

                                                                              As for reuse of cloth napkins: Sorry, I find it off-putting. It's not the same as re-using your own bath towel once or twice after showing. These things get food stuff and stains on them in a single use, as do the tablecloths most of the time. I once frequented a restaurant that appeared not to change the tablecloths between seatings. No glass cover or placemats -- just the crumb scoop -- and I found that repulsive. Frankly, I stopped going there because of it. The tablecloths were dark brown, so perhaps they thought they could hide the dirt and get away without changing them. It made me wonder what went on in the kitchen. I just observed what they did as tables turned over. To me, changing the linens between seatings is as important as wiping down a hard surface on a table between meals. Yes, some of you may consider me a germophobe, but thank goodness my family is rarely sick, so it doesn't appear to have hurt us. I just find this type of practice sloppy. I would reuse a tablecloth at my home after shaking the crumbs out if it is not soiled for the next meal -- that is not a problem for me. But, if it is soiled noticibly after dinner (we serve most food family-style from platters, so this happens), I may even change the tablecloth between dinner and dessert, or before the next morning's breakfast if the guests are staying over.

                                                                              I was brought up this way, and it's hard to go back. I think this is why vinyl tablecloths used to by so popular with my mother's generation. Easy to wipe down. As for the napkins, well, I say use good quality ones when you can, either paper or cloth. I can't see working hard to prepare great food and scrimping on the presentation.

                                                                              4 Replies
                                                                              1. re: RGC1982

                                                                                The heavy cotton napkins and tablecloths used by most restaurants shed when they're new. You notice it with the white ones especially. Some high-end restaurants will give dark ones to patrons wearing dark colors. After multiple washings, they stop shedding but the commercial laundering process is hard on table linens and they wear out quickly. You are more likely to get new or fairly new linens which are more prone to shedding.

                                                                                Your mother or grandmother may well have used oilcloth rather than vinyl. It was commonly used before plastics became available and has recently has become popular again.

                                                                                1. re: MakingSense

                                                                                  My husband & mother-in-law think black napkins are the best thing since sliced bread and insist upon them anywhere possible (even if they are not wearing dark colored clothing - figure that one out!!!)

                                                                                  1. re: laurendlewis

                                                                                    I've actually been to restaurants where they provide a dark/black napkin if you're dressed in dark clothes!

                                                                                    1. re: laurendlewis

                                                                                      The problem with black or any dark color is that natural fibers such as cotton and linen don't hold dark dyes. After you wash them a few times, the dyes fade substantially regardless of what you do. It helps to use vinegar in cold water to set the dyes but they are going to fade. Period. And they will fade unequally even if you buy new napkins from the same dye lot. Nature of the beast.
                                                                                      If you absolutely must have colored table linens, the trade-off is synthetics or putting up with fading. Always wash all your linens together, even the ones that don't need it, in the hope that they will at least fade at an even rate.

                                                                                2. When one seats at a nice restaurant for the first time, and spreads the napkin in one's lap, and it has the soft, supple feel of 600 thread count Egyptian cotton, and may be, one has an instantly elevated expection that one is about to dine very well. It' a nice feeling.

                                                                                  1. prefer:
                                                                                    paper at home
                                                                                    cloth while dining out

                                                                                    exceptions: Christmas & Thanksgiving dinners

                                                                                    1. We use the Vanity Fair large dinner napkins at home, except on holidays when we use some type of cloth. I don't mind cloth napkins in a restaurant. In fact, sometimes it's preferable to paper.

                                                                                      The thought of re-using a napkin, even my own, is truly disgusting to me. That I just don't get. And I don't re-use ziplocs either. Rational or irrational, something about it grosses me out.

                                                                                      1 Reply
                                                                                      1. re: valerie

                                                                                        I reuse ziploc sandwich bags many times, but usually just for crackers or cookies or carrot sticks in a bag lunch. Either that, or I buy waxed paper baggies that will decompose (but cost more.) I just don't find reusing napkins gross at all, but I can understand why you do. People are different. I don't mind touching earthworms, and my son thinks that's disgusting, too.

                                                                                      2. Have to say this is not an issue that I’ve ever even considered. You say you don’t like using napkins that have been used by others. Most paper napkins are made of recycled paper…wonder what they’ve been used for previously.

                                                                                        1. I use linen napkins at home for more formal dinners, and piles of paper napkins for messier foods like ribs, burgers and fried foods.

                                                                                          I buy antique Linen napkins, the large 30-35" napkins at Eastate Sales, Flea Markets, and Antique Shops in France. I buy the little Cocktail napkins as well, whenever I can find them..

                                                                                          I have really gorgeous ones, white on white, with extensive embroidered Monograms and Coats of Arms I found at Estate Sales. Monogrammed Linens were usually part of a Wedding Trousseau, with either the bride's maiden name monogram, or the Family Crest. They were made in sets of 24, 48, and more. I haved them washed in a bathtub and starched and ironed by hand. They were handed down from generation to generation, and if well cared for, last many lifetimes.

                                                                                          The everyday Linen Napkins get thrown in the washing machine.

                                                                                          I have been collecting antique linens for many years. I don't mind the added expense of time, effort, and money in caring for them.

                                                                                          You can find beautiful Antique Linens on eBay.

                                                                                          1 Reply
                                                                                          1. re: Fleur

                                                                                            i always look for old linen and cotton napkins at garage sales and thrift stores too. they are also usually on close-out sale in department stores after the xmas holidays. it's kind of fun to mix & match-- i'd imagine mixing monogrammed linens and silver on a semi-formal table might be pretty neat looking.