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Feb 2, 2009 04:45 PM

Do you use cloth napkins?

I'm on the Green Team at work and have made 147 cloth napkins (from fabric I got from a freecycler!) for the cafe at work and 90+ so far (from fabric from 2 other freecyclers!) for the group homes our agency runs. My husband and I use cloth napkins, even taking them with our lunches to work. How many of you use cloth napkins on a daily basis? Why/why not? Would you use them if someone gave you ones you considered attractive?

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  1. I use cloth napkins, always have. Why? Grew up using them; find them aesthetically superior to anything else (not just in looks, also in feel); no reason to use something disposable when there is an alternative (and a superior one, see previous).

    27 Replies
    1. re: Caitlin McGrath

      I use them for partys. On a daily basis, Are you kidding? I work 50+ hours, have my own consulting and catering business, single mom, take care of my mom, have a son. do laundry when I can the last thing I need is cloth napkins. They are nice however I use them when I have a nice dinner. Party, special dinner, Valentines and many other occasions. But on a daily basis when having left over spaghetti or BBQ ribs. WHY?

      I think the alternative is great but cloth NO!! I want something I want to get rid of ... not something else to clean. I want to spend time with family and my son ... not have to worry about more laundry.

      1. re: kchurchill5

        Your response just seems weird to me. Do you also use paper towels instead of hand towels in the kitchen and bathroom? Napkins are much much less laundry than those.

        1. re: tmso

          I use hand towels in the kitchen and bathroom. I also use kleenex for some things and paper towels for others. I don't big up is the cat or dog puked with a towel I use a paper towel. I don't do laundry every day or every other day, I have enough clothes and towels. Probably 2x a week. My schedule doesnt not permit. I do have many nice cloth napkins and use them when appropriate ... not for tacos, fried chicken, ribs, burgers. Sorry, they get dirty and sometimed stained and then not usable for company. I use paper. I use green friendly sold at my market and have other good towels for most messes. But every day is yes paper towels and napkins.

          I like to spend the evening rock climbing with my son or going out with neighbors. With work sometimes I don't get home until late, so ... laundry may be on Sat. Less is better. Yes ... it only takes up some room but the less I can do means less time in the house and more time out of the house. It is not like when I lived up north, I was home much more. FL, we are outside all the time and I have become very active in a few volunteer groups so laundry gets done when I can. I sometimes have 6-9 people for dinner over during the week for a whim and cloth would add up especially when I do baby back ribs. So no for me there is no questions what so ever ... I would never consider it. Sorry, but dinner parties or special occasions, no question

          1. re: kchurchill5

            I wouldn't have spent so much time on a response. I would just have said foah. I use paper towels for dog puke and oil spills!

            1. re: kchurchill5

              I grew up with two sets of sheets, two bath towels, two hand towels and two cloth napkins; and it was my responsability to keep all of these things clean. And that's pretty much how things work in my house now, including when I have visiting nieces and nephews. If you're going to be eating with your hands, sure, I can see using paper; but otherwise, for ordinary use not using normal napkins seems like not using normal hand towels. Maybe it's the association that for me paper towels in the home are for spills, messes, things the cat throws up; not eating.

              1. re: kchurchill5

                I like your reply. I wish my mother had put her children first rather than the outward appearance of her home.
                You have enough on your hands. Single people without all your responsibilities can launder cloth napkins.

              2. re: tmso

                I use paper towels in our bathroom for people to wash their hands. My doc said it is more sanitary. As far as green goes - there is also an issue of extra water, detergents (phosphates) and electricity used with cloth. It is a world of trade-offs.

                I use paper when it makes sense (like lunch and breaky or if it is very staining/casual. Dinner, I generally use cloth. I like it. I also enjoy making my own napkins. I recently made some saffron colored ones and embroidered each of them with an Indian motif. Very satisfying- and great for curry meals laden with turmeric or spices.

              3. re: kchurchill5

                Interesting response.
                As a woman I've multi-tasked like a maniac all my life. I won't bore anyone with what I do/have done in my lifetime but I love cloth. I love the texture and I love the civility of it. My choice for cloth comes from a long lineage of strong women whose care of their homes was their pride....along with careers and raising productive and responsible adults. Using cloth napkins, laundering them, and spending time with family does not exclude one from the other.

                1. re: latindancer

                  You are a good inspiration. We have heirloom linens (from the frickin Mayflower if I listened to my MIL). but never use them. Gonna start.

                  1. re: Passadumkeg

                    Just don't use bleach to wash them - that "happened" to me, and put holes in a lot of old linens.

                    1. re: MMRuth

                      I keep the Shout bottle at the ready. Sometimes I use table linens that match the food. if it spills I do not really give a rip.

                    2. re: Passadumkeg

                      Thanks, Passadumkeg. I'm glad you're inspired.
                      Your use of linens will be very rewarding, I'm sure. I love them and it gives my family and guests great pleasure to use them. It takes a bit of maintenance to keep them clean and pressed and stored properly but the payoff is worth it.
                      Good luck.

                    3. re: latindancer

                      I love texture too..the higher the quality of thread count..the better.
                      If I'm using a cloth napkin, all of a sudden my meal seems extra special...but being somewhat ocd, I worry about my lip gloss all over those things..

                      Do they make a 1,000 thread count napkins that gets the oil/grime out without using bleach?

                      1. re: Beach Chick

                        Bleach takes out color - not oil or grease-based stains.
                        Try using dish washing liquid in the laundry or spot cleaning with DW liquid if the stains are really nasty. It cleans disgusting pots and pans, so why not napkins and kitchen towels?
                        You can also try ammonia in the laundry to get out that sour smell of old grease. Calgon or borax (40-Mule Team) are great laundry boosters - not only for kitchen linens but for your kids' grimy clothes.

                        Bleach is pretty useless in addition to being terrible for the environment and destructive to the fibers in cloth. It will absolutely ruin fabrics.

                        1. re: MakingSense

                          If you use dishwashing liquid in the washer, make sure it's dishwashing machine detergent, not hand dishwashing liquid, or you risk a Lucy moment with a laundry room overflowing with suds!

                        2. re: Beach Chick

                          Lip gloss won't hurt the textile. I have a variety of laundry soil-stain removers I use, depending on the soil, and I use a washing detergent I purchase from Germany that has an incredible anti graying agent in it. Depending on the severity of the stain I'll use a small amount of bleach along with it. Overuse of bleach breaks down the weave so it's good to be careful.
                          I'm with you on the cloth makes the meal very special, as it should be.
                          I take very good care of my linens and other textiles I collect.

                        3. re: latindancer

                          Um, civility? Don't you mean 'pretense of civility'?

                          1. re: carbocat

                            definition: ": civilized conduct; especially : courtesy, politeness b : a polite act or expression

                            I understand what latindancer meant but perhaps to you it's a pretense. To each his own.

                            1. re: carbocat

                              No, I mean 'civility'.
                              If you believe sitting down to a meal with lovely linen napkins and nice conversation along with good food and wine is subject to what you're referring to as 'pretense of civility' then that's a different way of looking at it, I suppose.
                              I look at it as a way of relaxing and enjoying one of the many pleasures...a soft cloth and respect for the people I'm cooking for.
                              Civility...graciousness with no pretense.

                              1. re: latindancer

                                As a footnote...
                                I do the same thing with a taco and a cheap bottle of beer.

                        4. re: Caitlin McGrath

                          I also always use cloth napkins. I do have some paper cocktail napkins, that I occasionally use instead of cloth ones. While I'm fortunate enough now to have someone who irons them for me, even if I didn't, I'd still use them and iron them myself. I prefer how they look and feel, and my husband has an aversion to paper napkins (same aversion to plastic utensils and paper plates). For everyday, I have a selection of colored ones, and we'll use the same ones for several days, unless they desparately need washing. For parties, I usually use white ones that can be bleached if needed.

                          1. re: MMRuth

                            Yes, we definitely use the same ones for a few days when it's just the household.

                            1. re: MMRuth

                              We used cloth napkins, dinner size, every day. My parents did, my children do. We have napkin rings for each family member, sterling for Sundays and formal meals, and antique cloisonné for every day. They get laundered every few days. The everyday napkins do not need ironing but of course the linen ones do. If we have food that may be messy I have large homespun dish towels specifically for those meals. We simply like to use them rather than paper.....

                              1. re: Gio

                                This is the same thing my mom did. We used cloth napkins every day for dinner and used them for probably a week unless they were particularly dirty. Each person had their own napkin ring so no mix-ups. A few napkins once a week is NOT a lot of extra laundry in my opinion.

                                And my mom was a working mom back in the day when mom's didn't work! Even though my family is very casual (we were a jeans and sweatshirt crew when at home), my mom always used cloth napkins at dinner and always had candlelight. All while the news played on the B&W TV behind me - during dinner. A funny meld of casual and elegance! But, I loved that she made the effort to dress up dinner in that small way.

                                1. re: Scirocco

                                  Yes... I felt that we had to show the children what to expect at dinner... how to use the various place settings etc., and cloth napkins were part of that. There was never any anxieties and dinner.. in fact all the meals were pleasant and satisfying. We were generally casual and always came together at the dinner table to discuss the events of the day and enjoy the evening meal. I really don't know how that worked given their various after school activities, but we managed to set the example they continue to this day. Thank Goodness!

                          2. I use them, and they are not particularly attractive. About a year ago, I bought a load of white napkins, dish towels, and hand towels from Sam's Club. We use them as intended, plus as all-purpose rags. Every 10 days or so, I toss them all in the wash with hot water, detergent, and bleach. I've cut our use of paper napkins and paper towels to just about zero. It takes up a bit of my time, but I'm happy to cut down on the paper usage.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: pikawicca

                              I really need to work on weaning myself off paper towels - I use far too many of them ....

                            2. We don't own cloth napkins. And I don't buy paper ones either. Most of the time we can get through meals without napkins at all. Almost all our meals at home are eaten with knife and fork, so we don't need to wipe our hands, etc.

                              21 Replies
                              1. re: mojoeater

                                You never drop food on your lap? Never get sauce on your upper lip and/or chin? Wow, you're pretty tidy.

                                We use cloth. The only time I buy paper napkins is if we're having people over for an outdoor party. I also don't buy paper towels.

                                1. re: Glencora

                                  But isn't it just as bad to be using water and electricity/ gas to wash and dry them (Unless youre beating them on stones and line drying them....) versus tossing out a Vanity Fair napkin? Looks like they'd bio-degrade in a week or two. Especially here in the Bay Area where water rationing is a sure thing this dry season? I use cloth for company, but good (or bad...) ol' paper for everyday. As far as paper towels, I always buy the "select-a-size" which gives the option of tearing a 1/2 sheet and I try to limit my use of them, but dishtowels or cloths for drying your hands are so-o-o skanky and gross after just one or two uses. Do you dry off your chicken, fish etc. w/ a cloth towel? Ewww...gross! Then it contaminates your entire laundry hamper or washload. Adam
                                  Edit: just saw this post and www gross is NOT a website (tho it shd. be ;) )

                                  1. re: adamshoe

                                    You have a point about the paper towels. I just walked into the bathroom to get some toilet paper to use to grease a pan and I thought...hmmmm. As for tossing paper napkins versus washing cloth, I honestly don't know which is the "greener" choice.

                                    1. re: adamshoe

                                      There are many environmental checks on both categories. While it's true that laundering consumes resources, some scarce (as does textile production), the production of those Vanity Fair napkins releases dioxin into runoff, consumes trees and a large amount of water in their manufacture. I'm not condemning your choice, just noting that it's not a simple equation to solve.

                                      1. re: Caitlin McGrath

                                        I suppose unbleached would be better. I use unbleached coffee filters. I used to use a gold reusable basket but scraping the grounds into the compost and washing the thing started to get old.

                                        1. re: Caitlin McGrath

                                          - trees for Vanity Fair are farmed in stands that are replanted as they are harvested.
                                          - water is continuously recycled in the paper making process
                                          - there is no dioxin produced in the making of Vanity Fair

                                          1. re: luckybag91

                                            They are bleached white thus they use chlorine bleach thus they create dioxin.

                                        2. re: adamshoe

                                          A dried off chicken (nice, organic chicken) has to be at least as disgusting as what most people have growing on their sponges, and at least a contaminated washcloth or handtowel goes RIGHT into the wash. I don't keep any paper towels in the house, and I don't even use bleach in my laundry.

                                          Yep, I'm cloth napkin girl.

                                          1. re: Vetter

                                            IMO, raw chicken juice requires bleach and hot water, organic chicken or not.

                                            1. re: Vetter

                                              Off topic, but around here the kitchen sponge goes into the microwave after every meal. Bye bye, bacteria.

                                              1. re: alanbarnes

                                                I've read this before but can't remember, how long do you microwave it? Thanks.

                                                1. re: c oliver

                                                  A couple of minutes does the trick.

                                                  1. re: alanbarnes

                                                    Why has it never dawned on me to mike the sponge? My husband puts them in the dishwasher and that skeeves me.

                                                    So simple and obvious. Thank you Alan.

                                                  2. re: c oliver

                                                    and make sure it's wet .....2 minutes mine are in a ceramic bowl,every evening to th dishwasher,daily,sometime in the AM microwave 2 minutes
                                                    TOO EASY

                                                2. re: Vetter

                                                  I"m with you on that.
                                                  This is a very strange wakeup call for me.
                                                  I don't use sponges for my hour of viewing a Dateline segment, years ago, on the subject of what grows in those things was enough for me.
                                                  I do have a large bag of them for my bathtub (the nonscratch kind) that I purchase at Target and a couple of uses and they're in the trash.
                                                  I'm a huge proponent of those bar towels, that I wet, for cleaning that can be purchased by the bag....they're simply laundered after cleanups and they're good for the next use whatever it is....whether it's something that's dropped or spilled on the floor or a quit cleanup somewhere in my home.
                                                  To me, paper towels are useless.

                                                3. re: adamshoe

                                                  Yes- I have quite a lot of cloth. And as to "contamination" that is what the detergent is for. Sterilization of the laundry is not necessary.

                                              2. re: mojoeater

                                                I strongly advise that you ask dining companions outside of your family whether or not you need napkins. I suspect that you will find they disagree with your assumption.

                                                1. re: pikawicca

                                                  pikawicca your reply is sweetly, hysterically funny.

                                                  I can not imagine life without a napkin, but that's how I roll (or wipe) or... anyway. Cloth? Not usually, thought I do have many sets that I break out on holidays. My Mom started using cloth daily when she remarried, she accumulated quite a collection. She'd wash them when they got dirty, or every third day whichever came first.

                                                  It's been a 2009 goal to slowly rid my home of paper towel dependency. Husband will grab 3 at a time and dry off the back of a teaspoon. Drives me nuts. We have animals, and find that the paper towels are very important for any "oops" you may step on in the dark of morning...

                                                  1. re: mojoeater

                                                    This response surprised me too. I don't use napkins primarily for wiping my hands but rather "patting" my lips. In other words, I "dribble" and maybe need to do a little tidying up around the mouth area :) If I'm doing a ribs meal, I've been known to put a roll of paper towels on the table if they're really messy. And, yes, white napkins and bleach are my friends.

                                                    1. re: c oliver

                                                      It's just the two of us at home, and we don't need napkins most of the time. After work 5-6 days a week we have quick, short meals. The other 1-2 days are more relaxed.

                                                      If we're eating ribs or other finger foods, you can bet the paper towels will come out. And yes, I can go an entire meal without having to wipe my mouth or drop food in my lap.

                                                  2. WOW, do I feel out ranked. I guess buying paper towels and nakins is not the going thing. Sorry guys I just don't have the time or energy I had BBQ ribs the other night. I would hate to see what my nice little white napkin would look like and No napkins or towels during during HOW is that possible.. I guess just me. Paper towels are to clean, napkins are for eating, I'm just totally surprised.

                                                    1. I use cloth napkins every day. They don't take up much room in the laundry (I throw them in with anything except whites) , and they are really quick to fold.

                                                      1 Reply
                                                      1. re: jeanmarieok

                                                        Same here. We use our burgundy cotton napkins every day. They don't take any extra time as they just go in the regular laundry and for daily use, I certainly would never iron them. That would be a big waste of time.