A few posts dedicated to answering email questions from readers…
A friend inquired about switching to cloth napkins. She was not convinced the effort, expense and care were better for the environment. There are certainly arguments for both sides of the debate.
Personally, I like using cloth napkins. It was an easy switch in our home once my husband stopped complaining. From a frugal perspective, we have saved money this year when we stopped purchasing disposables. If you are handy with a sewing machine, it is a terrific way to repurpose old sheets, tablecloths and fabrics. Garage sales or second hand clothing shops are a good place to find inexpensive vintage or retro sets.
Unfortunately, composting paper napkins might make us feel good but it does not make them environmentally friendly. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council “If every household in the United States replaced just one package of virgin fiber napkins (250 count) with 100% recycled ones, we could save 1 million trees.” If you cannot give up the disposables at least try to buy unbleached 100% post consumer recycled napkins.
There is nothing eco-friendly about starting a hot water wash just to wash cloth napkins. To avoid this we reuse our napkins. When we are not entertaining, we have different napkin ring holders that help us keep track of every family member. This might gross you out, but I do not wash napkins every day. (Gasp!) Even with kids, it is rare napkins need daily washing. When laundering is required, I throw them into the wash with a full cold-water load of…whatever. No special loads, no special laundering. As for stains, I pre-treat bad stains with my favourite non-toxic stain remover (I like Nature’s Clean – a Canadian Company that does a super job.) Next, I forget about it in the hamper until the next full load. Take it a green step further and hang them to dry on the line.
My only minor complaint using cloth napkins is wrinkles. I resist the urge not to haul out my iron to press them into folded perfection. What can I say? I grew up with a Mom that ironed underwear.
I find the key to managing crinkled cotton is the brilliant napkin ring! It does not have to be expensive. We have a set of toilet paper rings from a rainy day craft project. For fancier occasions, we have mismatched old spoons bent into circles that look funky. Wrinkled cotton is somewhat forgivable stuffed into a napkin ring or…peaking out of a glass like a crinkled flower. (kinda sorta?)
If you want to purchase cloth napkins try to look for green home stores that sell fair-trade, organic cotton made with natural dyes.
So, to answer my friend Alli’s question, I think for minimal effort cloth napkins can save money, save trees, save landfill and brighten up a table with colour and fabric. Definitely, worth trying. What do you think?