Since the cold and flu season is now upon us and we happen to be passing around a little bug to each other here at my house, I decided to cut up some old flannel material for some new handkerchiefs. As I was doing this, I was thinking about what to post on here since it's been a few days. Having just posted about cloth diapers (thanks, Nisha!) and making cloth handkerchiefs, I realized that I haven't written about one of my other uses of cost-cutting cloth: cloth napkins.
Back in early spring, I read a post on SouleMama about the importance of family dinner and was struck by how she set the table, as if it were a special occasion. Placemats, cloth napkins, napkin rings. Granted, family dinner is a special occasion, but I hadn't given much thought to setting the table like that. I mean, it's just me, my husband, and a four-year-old. Determined to make family dinner a special time, I set off to make my own homemade placemats like SouleMama and bought a bunch of cloth napkins. Though we haven't been perfect about dinners, we have used the placemats and napkins every day since.
Cloth napkins are a great way to save money. Before, we'd use paper napkins or even just a square from the roll of paper towels. The paper towels stopped being an option when I quit buying them almost a year ago. So, still needing some kind of napkin, I used to buy the colorful paper napkins from Ikea, 50 of them for $2, putting them at 4 cents each. These would, of course, run out and I'd have to buy some more. Then I read about the cloth napkins.
I went to Ikea and bought a few packs of their white cloth napkins (they were called Iris, but I couldn't find them anywhere on the site) - each pack cost $3.50 and contained four napkins. This put the cost per napkin at almost 90 cents each. If I remember right, I bought three packs of them so I'd have plenty in rotation. In the end, each napkin was the cost equivalent of about 23 paper napkins. The great thing is that, unlike the paper ones (of course), the cloth ones can be used over and over again. We've been using the same set of napkins that I bought in early April and they're still holding up great.
One other benefit over paper napkins: each of us used one paper napkin per meal. Now with the cloth napkins, we can stretch their use over a couple meals, if not all three. My son will use a fresh napkin at breakfast, use it a couple times to get the maple syrup and milk off his chin. It's not that dirty at all. At lunch, he'll use it to get the peanut butter off his cheek a couple times. Still, not that used. After dinner, it's been well-used and ready for the laundry. I keep his napkin at his placemat all day and that seems to work. Granted, he has had messy breakfasts and lunches, so we don't always stretch out the use of a single napkin, but most of the time we do. My cloth napkin inspiration, SouleMama, uses napkin rings assigned to each member of the family to keep track of napkins from meal to meal. Cuts back on laundry, for sure.
There are lots of fun, colorful, and cute cloth napkins you can buy, but I love the white ones because they can be washed in hot water. In the summer, I hung all my cloth napkins on my clothesline and any stains they had disappeared. These napkins have been through messy spaghetti dinners (my son almost always needs a bath after spaghetti), as well as sloppy joes, tacos, hot dogs covered in ketchup and mustard, peanut butter and jam sandwiches, among many, many other meals. The stains always come out with a little sunlight, vinegar, some dish soap mixed with water, or some hydrogen peroxide (I love my go-to stain removal chart. Works like a charm.). Plus, they keep getting softer with each washing and let me tell you, once you're used to using cloth napkins, paper napkins feel really rough.
You could take the cost-cutting methods even further and make your own cloth napkins. I have yet to do that. I found this link on Skip to My Lou about how to make cloth napkins. It looks really, really easy.
A paper-free home (with the exception of toilet paper, of course. I just can't do cloth there - though others have) is not as impossible as some may think. With a little transition and a little investment, cloth can save you lots of money in the long-run.