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May 21, 2007 09:48 PM

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.