habit shift: cloth napkins.

January 28, 2016

erin_boyle_reading_my_tea_leaves_IMG_4069I grew up in a house where we used cloth napkins for most meals, so I’ll admit off the bat that embracing cloth napkins wasn’t really a shift for me. Still, I know it’s an eco-friendlier habit that not everyone readily embraces. 

I think some of the reluctance to the permanent cloth napkin switch comes from perception. Cloth napkins feel fancy, like something that should only come out when there’s company or a special occasion. And they seem like a lot of work: all that washing and folding and for the neatniks among us—gasp— ironing. 

On one hand, the perceptions are true: cloth napkins can feel fancy and they do require cleaning. But neither of those things makes them complicated to use. 

Here are a few tips for shifting your napkin habit if you haven’t already:

  1. Go cold turkey. Some shifts take time to adapt to, but the cloth napkin trip is best done all at once, no looking back. Put back the package of napkins back on the shelf, leave the store, dig out the stack of cloth napkins you might be hoarding for a special occasion and put them to work on pizza night instead.

  2. Choose what you like. If you do not have a stack of grandmotherly napkins to dig into, you should buy a set that you like. (Obviously.) But: many people will tell you that you need to buy dark colored napkins to avoid staining. I will not give this same warning. Dark napkins end up getting just as worn as white ones, just differently. We’re talking about cloth that gets soiled and cleaned regularly: this is not cast iron, it will not last forever. So, choose a set to love, and try not to get too precious about it. (More on my napkin color theory in this post.)

  3. Consider linen. If you’re looking for longevity, I’ve found that the linen napkins we’ve had have held up the best over time. The only caveat about linen: they’ll be rumply unless you iron them. If you don’t dig the rumpled look, linen napkins are probably not the best choice for you—go for thick cotton instead.

  4. Reuse. For most adults, a cloth napkin can be used many times in a row without being laundered. The swipe of a few crumbs isn’t enough to warrant a wash. To keep things organized, growing up my family used napkin rings with our names printed on them to keep track of whose napkin was whose. We haven’t needed to institute a similar practice in our small family yet, but napkin rings, different colored napkins for each family member, or even little cloth pouches to keep only lightly soiled napkins are all possibilities.

  5. Just throw them in the hamper. Coming from someone who does not have a washing machine or dryer in my own home—let alone in the building where I live—I hope you’ll believe me when I say that you can toss a soiled napkin into your laundry hamper without thinking much more about it. We keep a pretty robust napkin collection (somewhere around 16 at last count). We don’t go through them all every week, but life with a toddler is a little messy, so the backup has proved helpful. I don’t do a separate napkin load and I very rarely pretreat napkin stains, unless Faye’s been particularly enthusiastic about spaghetti. (Note: In case you’re hesitant, in my humble opinion, cloth napkins were made for kids. It is so much less annoying to use the same cloth napkin throughout a meal than to crumple twenty flimsy paper napkins in the same space of time. (Even when you have a child who’s unswayed in her belief that oatmeal is a finger food.))

For the curious:

Our linen napkins (a wedding gift).
Our favorite tumblers.
Faye’s wooden bowl.
Faye’s tiny flatware was a gift from her grammy (unsure of the source).
Our plates and cutlery were from Brook Farm General Store (also wedding gifts, no longer for sale).
Everything else is vintage!

PS. More about my daily habits over on Remodelista.

Habit Shift is a new series. I’m hoping the series will offer quick tips, concrete takeaways, and a whole lotta can-do spirit for focusing on ways to shift personal habits in an effort to be little bit more environmentally friendly, a little more healthy, and a little more happy.  Good for us, good for our planet.

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  • Reply jenn January 28, 2016 at 9:54 am

    we outlawed paper towels in our house a few years ago after it seemed like I was tossing one away for EEEEVRYthing. it’s pretty liberating when someone says “where are your paper towels?” and I can respond with “we don’t use them, the napkins and rags, however, are in _____ drawer.”

  • Reply Ros January 28, 2016 at 10:09 am

    Also, if you have a sewing machine and an iron, they’re easy to make. The last time I made some, it took an hour and a half to make 8, for 8$ worth of (on sale, super-cute-patterned) fabric.

    We just fold them and leave them in a basket on the tray in the middle of the table (along with candlesticks, salt cellar, pepper mill, and butter keeper. Looks cute, very practical, always on hand.

    • Reply Genevieve January 28, 2016 at 6:41 pm

      I make most of mine too–it’s so easy and cheap and I like having a bunch of different ones because they’re one of those things that I find I like variety in (it seems silly to say you’re sometimes in the “mood” for a certain napkin pattern over another but it’s really true for me). Most of mine are printed cottons but I like the idea of making a linen set–it looks a little more elegant to my eyes than the prints I have. The cotton ones wash well (I’m messy and wash mine with each use) but I also don’t feel bad about demoting them to rags when they get dingy and I want to make a fresh set.

  • Reply balconydresser January 28, 2016 at 10:12 am

    My partner and I introduced cloth napkins, too, even before we actually moved in together. We were motivated mostly by ecological, but also economic reasons and because we were tired of toting paper towels home from the supermarket so regularly. The bonus is that once you have cloth napkins, you can introduce napkin rings as well and there are some many nice ones to choose from (or even homemade ones for the holidays if you prefer). And, seriously, ironing a napkin is the simplest thing in the world ;).

  • Reply SEM January 28, 2016 at 10:17 am

    Love this! We went paper free in the kitchen about nine years ago. We had a cheap white cotton set for eight years before we retired them. This round, we opted for a set of grey linen, custom ordered on etsy. We’re just two adults so our set of 12 lasts and lasts.

  • Reply orchids January 28, 2016 at 10:25 am

    We are slowly building our linen collection from here: http://www.fergusonsirishlinen.com/shop/viewdetails.asp?catName=Table-Linen&subCatName=&Range=Plain-Linen-Lagan-Range&Design=Plain&Colour=Natural&catID=1&SubCatID=0&typeID=3&rangeID=7&DesignID=6&colourID=2
    I love proper napkins and I feel it is part of encouraging good table habits in children. Having a ritual of setting the table properly was something that was part of eating for me as a child.

  • Reply grace January 28, 2016 at 10:27 am

    I also grew up in a home that used cloth napkins and the habit has followed me to adulthood. I just picked up some simple, beautiful linen napkins on sale at muji.
    ps-I love this series!

  • Reply Jen January 28, 2016 at 10:28 am

    We’ve already made the switch to cloth napkins – for both ecological and economic reasons – and it was a pretty easy switch! As a full-time working mom of 2 kids, I am looking forward to this series to see what other easy fixes I can incorporate into our lives! Thanks!

  • Reply Sid January 28, 2016 at 10:28 am

    Big thumbs-up on the cloth napkins with kids. Also, for after meal wipe-downs I keep a bunch of those cheap tiny cloth diaper wipes handy. A bit of warm water and they clean messy hands/faces way better than paper towels. And they last forever.

    If you do manage to track down a link to a good set of child-sized metal cutlery with a knife that actually cuts food it would be much-appreciated. I’ve been looking for a decent set for years without luck.

  • Reply Catherine January 28, 2016 at 10:33 am

    Or take a leaf out of my boyfriend’s book and just use a dishtowel to wipe your mouth. Of course 😉

  • Reply Janette January 28, 2016 at 10:35 am

    We have three young boys and use cloth napkins at home. I found that keeping track of used cloth napkins was making me crazy (so much clutter on the table!), but washing everyone’s napkin every day was a ridiculous waste. So instead I sewed little 4X4 inch squares of flour sack cloth that everyone now uses. It is a little cloth for little fingers, and they only create a tiny bit of laundry at the end of the day.

  • Reply Loring P. January 28, 2016 at 10:40 am

    I love cloth napkins! I’ve had the hardest time finding napkin rings that I like, though (most seem to be absurdly fancy). Any tips?

    • Reply Erin Boyle January 28, 2016 at 11:50 am

      So true! So many are so fussy looking. These ones might be on the opposite end of the spectrum and too rustic, but I think they look sweet!

    • Reply Kim January 28, 2016 at 3:54 pm

      Remodelista has a great post on elevating napkins with nice alternatives to rings. I often loosely knot mine for dinner parties after seeing this post. http://www.remodelista.com/posts/5-quick-fixes-creative-napkin-solutions-for-the-thanksgiving-table

      • Reply Erin Boyle January 28, 2016 at 4:13 pm

        Yes! One of my own photos is in that roundup 😉 I love making napkins pretty when I’m setting the table for guests, but our day-to-day routine is little less formal. To tuck away for later: different colored leather ties for keeping track of napkins!

  • Reply Aimee January 28, 2016 at 10:47 am

    I am completely obsessing over this new Habit series!


  • Reply Lexie January 28, 2016 at 11:14 am

    I do use cloth napkins a lot, but I cannot bring myself to go completely paper towel free because when I cook with meat I hate using cloth napkins to “dry” the meat!!! The thought of all those germs in the laundry basket! Yikes!

    • Reply Jessica January 28, 2016 at 11:40 am

      HA Lexie, I’m the same way! When I was younger, my mom had a really bad case of food poisoning related to meat. When I cook with it, I’m *so* paranoid about the germs. I have paper towels for the same reason!

    • Reply Samantha January 28, 2016 at 1:06 pm

      This is why I keep paper towels too! I spend a lot more time drying tofu than meat but the idea of any little food particles germinating in my laundry icks me out. (Though crumbs are absolutely no different – they are literally little food particles…wet food particles vs. crumbs are just so much grosser to me.)

    • Reply Sarah January 28, 2016 at 2:26 pm

      I save paper napkins from takeout orders to use just for this purpose. They inevitably show up, even when I ask for them not to be included, and it is a good way to put them to use.

    • Reply Amanda K. February 5, 2016 at 9:47 pm

      I agree! I have a paper-free kitchen (no paper napkins, towels, ziplocs, etc.) but the one time I want paper towels is when I’m dealing with 1) raw meat 2) when i need something to absorb bacon grease 🙂

      I can use cloth for both but there’s the ick factor for the raw meat, and the fat-soaked rag after bacon.

  • Reply Jessica January 28, 2016 at 11:22 am

    We’ve been using cloth napkins for years. One day, I just decided that paper napkins are ridiculous. I don’t know where the idea came from, really. We have white ones as well as napkins that my mom made for all of our wedding guests. I love the idea of the napkin rings, though! With two 9-month-olds, cloth napkins have been so handy already, and the napkin rings will certainly be helpful in the years to come!

    • Reply Kate January 28, 2016 at 8:11 pm

      Your mom made napkins for your wedding guests?! That is seriously impressive.

  • Reply Madeleine January 28, 2016 at 11:52 am

    My mother-in-law made me a total cloth napkin convert. While I appreciate that they are less wasteful, I really am just a fan of the old-fashioned, fancier feel that it gives our normal weekly dinners. Also, everyone in my family knows I’m a big cloth napkin fan, which means I tend to get a new set or two come birthdays and holidays. It’s a useful gift that is always appreciated in our home!

  • Reply Allison January 28, 2016 at 11:54 am

    If you’re not bothered by used things, you can find cloth napkins at thrift stores and flea markets as well (like, a ton of them). I’ve gotten a lot this way and just clean them well and they’re a great option. I also use bandannas sometimes too!

    • Reply Heather January 28, 2016 at 7:38 pm

      This is how I got my linen napkins. They are usually $1 or less each, and most look like they’ve never been used. I think many people have linen napkins for fancy or have been gifted them but never use them. So when it’s time to purge those beautiful, luxury napkins get discarded.

  • Reply Rebecca N January 28, 2016 at 11:56 am

    I bought several sets of cloth napkins on clearance at TJ Maxx in 2011 and they are still going strong, and paid for themselves in the first few months. I still use paper towels for the same reason as Lexie above, but have cloths and rags I use for general cleaning. I like the napkin ring idea! Right now our napkins just sit on the counter with our glass when we are not eating. A napkin ring is a much more attractive idea.

  • Reply Jill Palumbo January 28, 2016 at 12:42 pm

    I too have been using cloth napkins for years. My favorite everyday ones are the kitchen towels from Ikea – they are large and easy to wash. I can’t bring myself to use them more than once so I do wash them after every use. My grandmother left me a huge stage of gorgeous linen ones I use for company. I rarely use paper towels and not sure I actually have any right now.

  • Reply Cindy D. January 28, 2016 at 12:42 pm

    I instituted a no paper towel, no napkin policy in my house about 8 years ago. I found that using basic washcloths (colored so they don’t show stains as much) was a great idea for the kids and even for us in a pinch. I also bought a number of basic cloth napkins of a not too fancy variety. I keep them all in a basket under the sink and behind that basket I keep a “dirties” basket that holds all the dirties until wash day. It’s worked great for our family. We did quickly realize that we did need to keep paper towels on hand for when we make bacon though. That was the only thing we couldn’t find a solution for. I even bought a no paper towel/ towel rack. It had snaps to snap the towels together, though we eventually stopped using that cause it was kind of a pita to snap them all back together after washes and not really that easy to unsnap when you quickly need one. In the last year we’ve been more lax and use paper towels for things like chicken wing/pizza nights too, but otherwise for a family of four we go through very little disposable paper products and we don’t find it that much work. It’s actually much easier to pick up a mess with a very absorbent cloth than a huge wad of paper towels. One thing I don’t ever think my family would be able to do without is toilet paper. I’m just not that committed. It was one thing when it was my babies or toddlers when diapering, but grown adults and older children, no sorry won’t go there.

  • Reply Miss Bibliophile January 28, 2016 at 12:55 pm

    I’m excited to see more habit shifts in this series! I’ve been reading and enjoying your book, which has inspired me to try to decrease my paper towel usage in favor of dish cloths over the past couple of weeks. I’m actually finding it more enjoyable to use a dish cloth most of the time–it almost feels like a little luxury.

  • Reply Sarah E January 28, 2016 at 1:16 pm

    We used cloth napkins when I grew up, too. Like yours, they weren’t precious at all, and stayed on our table for the week until the weekly load of towels and other linens, and got washed, folded, and put away just like the hand towels, wash cloths, etc. Now, in our apartment, we don’t have any napkins on hand, cloth or disposable, and only occasionally reach for a paper towel at dinner. The apartment is small enough that a step to the kitchen sink to wash up, or to wipe hands on the towel at the fridge door is no big deal.

  • Reply Heather | Cedar & Bloom January 28, 2016 at 1:30 pm

    This is a good reminder to get back on track! I didn’t buy paper napkins or paper towels for several years, as a newlywed, but I think it was around the time my first daughter was born, my set of napkins wasn’t looking too lovely any more and I thought paper towels would be handy for mothering. But, you are so right, it really isn’t any more difficult to use cloth. Thank you for the reminder! I’m thinking about getting a set of blush colored linen napkins and a set of gray, for when those are in the wash! I think the cost of linen is justified when the repeat cost of paper is considered.

  • Reply Sarah January 28, 2016 at 1:36 pm

    Another napkin-identification strategy that we used growing up was to put your napkin on your chair- if your family is anything like ours, we all had our spot to sit with little variation 🙂

    • Reply Anna January 28, 2016 at 2:49 pm

      Thanks for this tip! That would be perfect for us too, and much easier and cheaper than trying to find a set of four different napkin rings that we actually like 🙂

  • Reply Judit January 28, 2016 at 1:57 pm

    Hi Erin,

    A technical problem:
    Did you change something in your website’s code? I’m asking because since yesterday all the images appear on the top of the posts in very small size, not embedded in the text as usually. This problem occurs when using my ipad mini but not my laptop. I checked older posts from last week and when I load them the above problem happens. This wasn’t the case last week. Thank you!

    P.S.: I love your book!

    • Reply Erin Boyle January 28, 2016 at 2:04 pm

      Oh dear! No change that I know of and yours is the first note about it I’ve gotten! Will look into it and so sorry to hear about this trouble!

      • Reply ieva January 29, 2016 at 3:35 am

        i have exact same problem…

        • Reply Erin Boyle January 29, 2016 at 10:43 am

          Thanks for letting me know!

  • Reply Robyn January 28, 2016 at 2:09 pm

    I have always been a fan of cloth napkins but when my children were little it wasn’t always practical so, I bought bar tender clothes or cheap hand towels. Even though my children are grown I still use them on a daily basis ( for breakfast and lunch). For dinner I pull out the real deal.

    • Reply Erin Boyle January 28, 2016 at 2:15 pm

      Interesting: Was it the relative cost difference that made the bartender cloths and hand towels seem more practical? Or was it the fabric itself?

  • Reply Neurotic Workaholic January 28, 2016 at 2:36 pm

    I have thought about using linen napkins; usually I just use paper napkins or paper towels, though of course cloth napkins would look much nicer and would be better for the environment too.

  • Reply Alex January 28, 2016 at 2:57 pm

    Hi there – I imagine you clear the table completely after meals. Strange question: any ideas on where to store the napkins between meals? We (family of 4) have a table in our small kitchen and leave the napkins out, but it looks somewhat messy and sometimes they fall on the floor…

    • Reply Rachel January 28, 2016 at 4:07 pm

      I store mine in one of those ceramic berry baskets that are becoming more popular these days! You can find them at Target, bed, Bath & Beyond, Pier One, Home Goods, Marshall’s, etc. There are a bunch of them on Amazon too!

  • Reply Diane January 28, 2016 at 3:09 pm

    I grew up with cloth napkins and we always reused them too! I do the same with my family now. I also have stacks of dish towels, vintage, ikea, etc. The stained ones turn into cleaning rags or muddy dog foot cleaners!

  • Reply Miira January 28, 2016 at 3:11 pm

    I don’t really see why I would use napkins in the first place. We have never used them in my family and I don’t remember ever using them at my friends places either. Maybe it’s a cultural thing? I’m not from the States so I don’t know how common they are there. We do use paper towels on taco nights, but other than that we do as Sarah E, just wash our hands at the kitchen sink or wipe them with a towel.

    I do however like the idea of cloth napkins on special occasions. That would be a habit shift for me, haha 😀

    • Reply Rachel January 28, 2016 at 4:12 pm

      Ditto! We don’t use napkins either. I grew up outside the States too, and no one ever used them where I grew up. If you needed to clean up post-meal, you went to the bathroom and washed your hands/face!

      • Reply Heather January 28, 2016 at 7:45 pm

        I don’t put out napkins every night either. But when I serve a finger food, I do want my children to wipe their fingers periodically during the meal as they squirm around to keep from getting clothes (theirs and mine) greasy.

      • Reply Bailey January 28, 2016 at 9:59 pm

        Interesting! Must be a cultural thing. I’m so used to using a napkin that I even pack a cloth napkin in my lunch for work every day. I use it mostly for wiping my mouth and protecting my lap from crumbs and spills.

    • Reply Stella January 30, 2016 at 2:56 pm

      To put on your lap in case you spill something?! That’s where it’s meant to be while you eat 🙂

  • Reply Kim January 28, 2016 at 3:51 pm

    Great habit!
    I love linen but also like crisp looking napkins. I have a set of these napkins from Libeco and love them. Linen and polyester fabric so they fold very well and wrinkles fall out.

  • Reply Jessica January 28, 2016 at 3:54 pm

    We got two sets of gorgeous linen and Coyuchi lace napkins for our wedding and I generally use those for nicer dinners and parties. But for my bachelorette party in Woodstock, we did shibori tie-dye and each girl did a cotton napkin for me. My husband and I use that set of napkins for every day use, and I love how they’ve been worn in as they’re used. Sure, some have turmeric or berry stains despite tons of wash, but for the average weeknight they work so well and evoke lovely memories.

  • Reply Rachel January 28, 2016 at 4:14 pm

    I have never regretted switching to cloth napkins! I DIYd mine using Ikea dish towels (pic/more info here: http://therewm.com/2014/04/16/ikea-hack-dish-towel-cloth-napkins/) and they’ve held up pretty well. I’ve tossed some along the way but I don’t really care because they were so cheap to begin with. And the texture feels much less fancy than what I tend to think of when I think of cloth napkins; they are very soft so they are great for casual dining (which is most of my dining). On the other hand, they make casual dining feel a little fancier, which is nice. Eating a grilled cheese sandwich on a cloth napkin makes me feel like a chic French woman, whereas eating a grilled cheese sandwich on a paper towel makes me feel kind of sad. I definitely follow Erin’s advice and re-use mine for a while before I wash them since I only do laundry once a week in NYC. It really takes a while for them to feel dirty so it all works out.

    One recommendation: if you live in a house with a laundry room upstairs, it’s worth putting a bucket or basket under your kitchen sink where you can throw dirty ones! Otherwise dirty ones will float around your kitchen without a place to go.

  • Reply Cynthia January 28, 2016 at 4:41 pm

    Great post and if it gets a few people to shift their habits, even better. I’ve been paper-free in the kitchen for decades. Raised two sons who now have families with young children and they are paper-free as well. I have everyday napkins and a huge collection of white linen for dinner parties and last year I bought 25 of the .79 Ikea tea towels with the red stripe for BBQs. When dish towels start to look too worn for the kitchen they migrate to the basket for spills and cleaning. I have a good supply of white tea towels which I use to dry meat or produce. I throw these immediately into the laundry basket and no one has ever become ill. As for bacon, newspaper or a brown paper bag work just fine. Or you can set aside clean brown paper from the butcher for the same purpose. Or you can cook bacon on a wire rack over a baking pan in the oven. It’s a great thing to teach children and I love nothing more than seeing my grandchildren still in highchairs wipe themselves with their cloth napkins!

    • Reply Erin Boyle January 28, 2016 at 5:52 pm

      Ha! Agreed on all fronts, and especially with that last part. Seeing Faye put her napkin in her lap gets me every time!

  • Reply Nicole January 28, 2016 at 4:57 pm

    Great post and comments! Am trying to break the paper towel habit in our household. Seems hard with a 16 month old. Guess we will just have to embrace the stains.

    • Reply Erin Boyle January 28, 2016 at 5:52 pm

      I promise they’re not so bad!

  • Reply laura January 28, 2016 at 5:10 pm

    We are a cloth only family too. I find mine at thrift shops mostly and they double as dish towels for us too!

  • Reply Kelly Libby January 28, 2016 at 5:37 pm

    I use cloth napkins, too. And, i often find cloth napkins (for about $1 each) at the Goodwill in and around Boston that are in great condition, sometimes BRAND NEW. I just browse through the Linens section, pick out my favorites and give them a good wash during the next laundry day alongside sheets, towels etc. Such a simple and cheap way to be more “green”. Plus, I always wonder who had vintage and thrift items before me. Fancy dinner parties? comfy family dinners? wedding gifts that never opened?

  • Reply Bailey January 28, 2016 at 9:52 pm

    We’re a cloth napkin household, but we can’t break the habit of using paper towels. We pretty much use paper towel exclusively to wrap wet lettuce, herbs, and greens. We cook a lot and eat a ton of salad, but only get groceries once a week, so wrapping the green stuff helps it stay fresh so much longer. Do you have any suggestions for paper towel alternatives for this purpose? Dish towels are too thick and hold too much moisture.

    • Reply Erin Boyle January 29, 2016 at 6:56 am

      I use linen dish towels for this!

  • Reply mado January 28, 2016 at 9:55 pm

    I love this new series! And I love cloth napkins! I also grew up with them, and they just feel like home. I only have about 8 though and in a casual kitschy print so paradoxically we use paper more often for guests (since anyway we generally have guests for drinks or coffee rather than dinner). I think it’s time to invest in a nice set of cloth cocktail napkins!

  • Reply Liz January 28, 2016 at 11:11 pm

    I have a question about what size (how many oz.) the tumblers you use are? I’m really interested in ordering some but I see that they come in many different sizes…any tips on what size you recommend and why? Thanks!

    • Reply Erin Boyle January 29, 2016 at 6:55 am

      We have a few of each! The very tiniest, Faye uses, but I like them for small glasses or juice or wine too!

  • Reply Susan Magnolia January 28, 2016 at 11:44 pm

    I love the cocktail napkin size so I bought some gingham linen cloth napkins then cut them down and sewed up the edges. Now we have a couple dozen and only my daughter and I use them for our meals. Growing up we only had paper napkins/towels and never bought them when I lived on my own. I now have a big collection of tea towels too.

  • Reply Courtney Small January 29, 2016 at 3:32 am

    I have used cloth napkins for as long as I can remember. One trick to avoiding the wrinkles of linen napkins is to not put them in the dryer. I wash them in the machine and then lay them flat, smooth them with my hand and leave them to dry. They dry up without a wrinkle!

  • Reply Martha January 29, 2016 at 6:23 am

    Marissa at Food in Jars had a really brilliant tip about deep-cleaning her cloth napkins once a year. She puts them in a pot of water with a squirt of dish soap and boils them for 15-20 minutes. I thought that was brilliant, as we buy linen napkins at thrift stores and antique shops and use them for everything and they inevitably get smelly and stained! Boiling them refreshes them back to ‘nearly-new’.

  • Reply Lori Narlock January 29, 2016 at 9:09 am

    Once a year or so I go to estate sales and buy up every white linen napkin I can find. I have purchased stacks of them for a few dollars. We use everyday and save the two sets of ironed, “company” napkins untouched. When they get a hole, we use them for cleaning. When they become too hole-y for cleaning we through them away or use them for stuffing in purses or mailing packages.

  • Reply jiturka January 29, 2016 at 9:59 am

    2Anyone: So, how (what for?) do you use cloth napkins on daily basis? Is it just for added niceness at the table? I am used that cloth napkins go onto the lap when eating and then they’re left at next to the plates – at restaurants. But we’ve never had any at home. We also don’t use paper napkins or paper towels (there’s an emergecy roll in a cabinet though).

    • Reply Erin Boyle January 29, 2016 at 10:38 am

      This is so fascinating! Definitely appears to be a cultural phenomenon. In the States it’s really customary to use napkins for every meal: on your lap to catch crumbs and then to wipe hands, mouth, etc. throughout. (Etiquette and custom says that napkins are on the table only at the beginning and end of the meal, and never during.) I kind of can’t imagine *not* using a napkin!

      • Reply jiturka February 2, 2016 at 5:30 am

        Probably cultural 🙂 At home we usually wash our hands at the kitchen sink or in the bathroom if necessary, but in restaurants it is a different story, though I rarely need to wipe anything – which is different with my bearded colleagues 😉 Also I noticed US and Eropeans use cutlery differently, so it could be the case.

  • Reply Archana January 29, 2016 at 11:19 am


    Where do you get your candles from ?

    • Reply Erin Boyle January 29, 2016 at 12:03 pm

      These are from a local shop—they’re 100% beeswax from the company Cheeky Bee.

  • Reply Eva January 29, 2016 at 2:19 pm

    I grew up using cloth napkins, so it took no thought to buy some when I moved into my first apartment. I didn’t realize it was unusual until I saw a friend buying paper napkins at the grocery store. Perhaps I should have realized sooner as I also grew up composting and freezing waste from meat until it was time to take out the trash! To avoid taking out the trash too much and things growing in the trash, I now freeze all food waste (city living makes composting extremely difficult).

  • Reply Caroline January 30, 2016 at 3:54 am

    I grew up using cloth napkins everyday, every meal. We each had our own napkin ring. I inherited my grandfather’s (horn and silver). After moving in with my now husband the napkin ring lived unused in the drawer. We were given cloth napkins as a wedding gift and my mother gave my husband a silver napkin ring engraved with his initials. We now use our napkins everyday. When we start a family each child will be given their own personal napkin ring as a gift.

  • Reply Amalia January 30, 2016 at 8:20 am

    I found these smaller Everyday Napkins last year and love them for daily use. They’re in beautiful neutrals with a few patterns and pops of color, cut from found fabrics (cotton and linen) and handmade in Massachusetts, originally just by Kathryn and her mom. They make full-size dinner napkins, hand towels and handkerchiefs now too. Looking to give these as housewarming gifts this year!

  • Reply Katharine January 30, 2016 at 9:36 am

    I didn’t realize until I was adult that using paper napkins at meals was common — my family always used cloth! They went in the laundry once a week, and we each had our own napkin ring so we knew which napkin was ours. My parents always said that the system was an excellent way to teach kids about consequences — if you got dumped spaghetti sauce on your napkin, you either had to wash it yourself or use the dirty one until the next laundry day!

  • Reply Stella January 30, 2016 at 2:59 pm

    I bought a set of vintage linen ones at a thriftstore for probably just a few dollars.. We reuse them, but my sons I usually rinse and leave to dry after a messy meal.

    So excited for this new serie!

  • Reply Emilie January 30, 2016 at 3:04 pm

    I didn’t grow up using cloth napkins, except when guests ate with us; my husband grew up using cloth. [Although we ate by candlelight, even in the kitchen, every single night, except maybe the hottest days of summer.] We raised our kids with
    white linen napkins, although like someone else said, until they were probably 4 or 5, I used a flour sack towel for them. Truth be told, when we have red sauce, greasy food, messy food, I still pull them out for my husband and me. I met a wonderful older woman many years ago, and when she was about to go to a Life Care Facility, she asked me if I’d like her old linen napkins. She basically said, she and her husband had always used them; she thought ‘society has become so uncivilized/so wasteful using
    the paper napkins. Do you like that feel against your lips? Kind of scratchy. ‘ Great comment! Life hasn’t been perfect using white, but we’ve managed, and I’ve replaced as needed. If they get very soiled – I rub The Laundress soap on them straight away following dinner.

  • Reply Annie February 2, 2016 at 12:33 pm

    Our old set is wearing out after 15 years or so of use.I’m debating what to replace them with. White shows stains but can be sun bleached. Maybe a grey stripe linen or linen blend? I’m considering this lovely grey (it can fade slowly and beautifully over the years.)

  • Reply LyndaPerry February 11, 2016 at 3:52 am

    Such a huge difference between cloth napkins and paper napkins. All my life I’ve used paper napkins because it is easier to maintain them – you just throw them away when you’re finished eating. But now I’m hesitant, because I agree cloth napkins are more classy. Maybe I’ll give it a try and see how it goes 🙂

  • Reply kimberly February 13, 2016 at 6:11 pm

    I love using cloth napkins. We have three kids and we use them almost exclusively. Pizza night being the exception. My antique hand-embroidered ones have simply worn out from constant use, but they lasted years. I found another set last month in the same lovely pattern that I’ve set aside for special meals. I’ve got those in a special drawer to keep them nicer. I picked up a packet of 12 ivory ones for $5 last week for all the other meals. I wash them as needed, but can’t even remember the last time they saw an iron.
    They are so much better with kids than going through a stack of paper napkins each meal. When they were toddlers we just set their places with a wet washcloth in a bowl. No waste and they (the kids) stayed a lot cleaner.)
    In place of constant paper towel use I got a big set of white terry cloth shop towels from Costco. The whole pack was the cheaper than their big pack of paper towels and we’ve gotten so much use out of them. In my last kitchen they were just left in a basket by the sink to use for whatever. Tucking the paper ones away under the cabinet means we have them when they are truly needed, but not grabbed for convenience. Works for us.

  • Reply melissa February 26, 2016 at 11:45 am

    I have had great luck finding perfect condition high quality vintage napkins on etsy!

  • Reply Meg G. May 18, 2016 at 2:52 pm

    Hi Erin! We’re expecting and just ordered the baby bowl and spoon set that Faye has. The spoons are darling! The wooden bowl feels a touch unhewn, but I’d rather that than have it coated in toxins that make it unnecessarily smooth. Have you tried your board butter concoction on the bowl, and if so, has it responded well?

    • Reply Erin Boyle May 18, 2016 at 3:08 pm

      We haven’t done anything special with Faye’s bowl, but I’m sure board butter or a light coating of vegetable oil wouldn’t hurt! If I recall, the company might even recommend a similar treatment.

  • Reply Stephanie Mitchel April 4, 2017 at 9:55 am

    Lovely post! I mainly prefer cloth napkins. My daughter still spills enerithing and makes huge stains , and the best and nearest thing to wipe with are the cloth napkins on the table. I switched from paper to cloth napkins when she was two, and I think it was a best decision I’ve made. I have few sets – one for very special occasions, and three for every day, inclyding a set sewn out of old different coloured textiles. I don’t bother about the stains at all and wash the cloths sometimes more than regularly.

  • Reply Sharon Dansereau October 31, 2020 at 2:34 pm

    I recently recovered my dining room chairs and had fabric left over I made 15 napkins to match. I have just read through these posts, I love the idea of this being everyday use. I will be making them as gifts now especially for my son who grows his own veggies, does canning, has chicken for eggs and goats for goat soap his wife makes. I think they will love the idea as I present the napkins as every day use and make a table runner to match. I will also make more for myself so I have different fabrics. This is going to be fun!

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