Monday, July 30, 2012

Day 9: Using Cloth Napkins


In our house, we call these serviettes.  Luke prefers to reserve the word napkin for, um, well....it's other meaning.  But Wikipedia tells me that the word serviette is mostly just a Canadian/UK thing, so for this post I'll say napkin.  Even though it makes Luke cringe a little.

The Task:  To stop using paper napkins entirely.

The Why: I read recently that forty percent of all household garbage is paper!  Forty percent!?  Since paper napkins in our house almost never make their way to the recycle bin or the compost, we've decided to do away with them all together.

It's not only about the wastefulness involved in disposing of napkins after every meal, but also the waste involved in production, packaging and distribution.  I've been reading The Story of Stuff by Annie Leonard and have been finding my eyes opened to just how much of the earth's resources are used and wasted and damaged in the making of all our stuff.  Only in our crazy throw-away culture would we think it is easier to cut down trees, turn the trees into pulp,  turn the pulp into paper, make the napkins, package them, ship them around the world, and buy them at the dollar store than it is to wash a few extra cloths every day! 

Besides, cloth napkins are nicer.  Every meal is a little bit fancy with a cloth napkin!

The How: We've always used cloth napkins for nice sit down dinners with friends, but we've resorted to the paper ones often for bigger shindigs and too often for everyday use. So the good news is we already own a few mismatched sets of cloth napkins.

We have a party coming up in a couple weeks, for which we would normally buy colourful paper napkins. Instead,  we are going to take the money we would have spent on paper ones to our local thrift store and get a few more cloth napkins so that we have enough for parties.  The only problem with this is that I've discovered in the past that people are hesitant to use cloth napkins (not because they are concerned about the safety/cleanliness of them, but because they don't know if they are allowed to dirty them!) and oftentimes don't even see them when they are on a buffet.  If I had a dime for every time somebody with ketchup on their face was standing in front of a basket of cloth napkins and shouted "hey, Kelly, do you have any napkins?" I would have....several dimes.  Seriously!

The Verdict:  We actually much prefer the cloth napkins, and are really glad to be making the switch for good!
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36 comments:

  1. We have just decided to start using cloth napkins, too! We only have a few right now, so I have to find more ASAP. You find yours at thrift stores? Never thought of that! What do you do with the dirty ones until you wash them? I haven't figured out how I want to handle that aspect yet.

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    1. Hi Nikki! Because we have a large family, I'm already doing laundry every day. So I just toss them right in the washing machine after dinner. In the morning, I add the rest of my laundry and wash! If one gets sopping wet or something (which wouldn't normally happen, but with a two year old around anything is possible!) I will probably just drape it over the edge of the laundry sink until time to wash so that it doesn't make everything else musty smelling.

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    2. We keep a small (holds about a dozen hand towels/napkins) laundry style basket (picked up at the Dollar Store) in the kitchen for dirty towels and napkins. When the basket is full, or I need to add to a load of laundry, I just dump the basket in.

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  2. After the post about paper towels, I think I saw this coming. I was at my local supermarket and decided to look at some in expensive material. I found some fat quarters of fabric bundled up for quilters for less than $4.00. Cut it into 4 squares and have crocheted an edging around 2 squares. (didn't want to sew). They are brightly colored. May pick up another fat quarter and maybe some trim.

    Nikki, I'm trying to get in the habit of tossing my dish towels and napkins in the wash everyday. If I do that and wash them in hot water, I think I would not need to bleach them.

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  4. LOVE cloth napkins!! I found that bandanas make great cloth napkins & the more you wash them, the softer they get! They are also pretty inexpensive & come in all kinds of colors & designs. It took a while for my family to get on board with this concept, but we're working on it. Thanks for doing this, don't know if our family will do everything you write about, but its definitely something to think about on a daily basis. As for what to do with the dirty cloths, we keep a basket in a corner of our kitchen to toss dirty kitchen towels & napkins in.

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    1. Ooh good idea. I just saw some at a dollar store (Dollarama here in Edmonton)...I think it was a pack of 3 or 4. I'm sure you could also pick them up fairly inexpensively at a WalMart or somewhere similar.

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    2. That is a good idea! However, aren't they a little thin? I guess in my mind cloth napkins need to be thcker.

      I also like this b/c if they do get stained over time it would be less noticlable.

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  5. Thanks! I wash SOMEthing every day, but there's no way I'd have to wash napkins every day. Its just me, my husband, and our 19 month old, and none of us are home during the day (except on weekends). I like the idea of a basket in the corner for the dirty napkins, though! (:

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  6. Making napkins is quick and economical - cotton makes for the best material, or pick up a vintage sheet at the thrift store instead to make cloth napkins.

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  7. I must purchase/make colourful ones. The plain white ones never get used - no one wants to get them dirty.

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  8. I bought a vintage tablecloth to serge up into napkins. Cheapo! But really? for my everyday use them all the time I don't want something white or very light. My napkins are mostly 5 years old and they rather look it.

    Walmart or equivelant has seasonal fall stuff that is really nice and always goes clearance. They wash really well. The edges stay flat.

    My little family of 4 (boys are 3 and 5) often only use 2 for Dinner. And any used for breakfast usually go through the whole day. Cuts way down on washing

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  9. I've always loved buying random cloth napkins in the clearance corner of stores like Crate and Barrel or Williams Sonoma. I use them as little table-toppers for a little punch of color. But it's been about 4 years that I figured I might as well just use them as napkins. I have a few matching sets, but otherwise, I keep them in a little drawer thats in my table (I love Ikea stuff) and pull them out for every meal. Even my 2 year old son requests one - and uses it! I have also run into the challenge of getting people used to using them and getting them dirty - that's what they're for anyway! I'm glad to say that I've been on this bandwagon for a while and hope to convert others too. Once used, if wet, I hang to dry, if dry but dirty, I throw in with all my other towels and wash on warm or hot, since they often sit for several days. I'm working on the no paper towel challenge though...

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  10. We already do this. WHat drives me crazy is, some people who come over regularly (i.e. people I don't go all hostessy on), can't seem to grasp that we only use cloth napkins and actually go looking for something papery. Sometimes, they will grab tissues/ toilet paper from the bathroom, or look in the kitchen drawer for the roll of paper towels we keep for emergencies only. I want to to create a fun, yet-to-the-point-sign that clarifies our eco-savvy ways....

    sigh. thats my rant for the day.

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    1. I love your idea of putting the paper towels in a drawer! We do not use paper towels but I bought a case a few years ago for emergencies and guests always always use them for everything! Yes the clean towel next to the sink is for drying your hands!
      Thanks

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  11. Kelly- It's like you are in my head... but far more organized. We switched to cloth before kids for everyday use. Recently, my mom-in-law was visiting, my oldest (he's 10) offered her a napkin, and she made a big thing of "oh no- we don't use cloth napkins for something messy like this" Poor boy just stood there holding the napkin looking puzzled- he eats BBQ sauce on everything, takes cloth to school and has been known to go to the napkin drawer instead of the rag bin.

    Since you are in my head... yesterday I was wondering what to replace plastic wrap when wrapping pie crust dough to chill- wish I'd thought of it before my grandmother passed, think I'll call her sister.

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    1. Apparently we are in each others' heads! The other day when I made pie crust dough, I wrapped it in plastic wrap because I still have half of a roll of it....BUT we aren't going to buy any more once this roll is gone. So I also wondered to myself how I was going to wrap my dough to chill once all my plastic wrap is gone! Let me know what you come up with!

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    2. Try using a dampened tea towel. I have friends that use this instead of plastic wrap. I also know someone who washes out the plastic bags from the grocery store and wraps the dough in it. Just make sure you REALLY wash it!

      Monica

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    3. I, myself, just put all my dough in a bowl together to chill. If it is going to be until the next day, I put a plate over the bowl (bottom side down). My mother-in-law does that lots with leftovers and what-not, too.

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  12. I found some of my favorite napkins at the thrift store, not the dollar store. Some are really too beautifully vintage to use, but others suit our purpose.

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  13. I have got to make a trip to the thrift store! I never would have thought to look there. I bet you can find some really awesome ones. I asked for cloth napkins two Christmases ago and have been making an effort to use them more rather than to just grab a few paper towels.

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  14. I've picked up some really good ideas from this post and the comments, so thank you everyone! :)
    But the thing is, I don't really use napkins at home. When I eat out, sure, or coffee houses, I use paper napkins.
    The only time I need a napkin at home is when I've eaten something with red pasta sauce, and then I grab a ... square of toilet paper. :) Yes.
    OK, so one more reason to learn how to use a sewing machine. I want to make some napkins.
    Ieva

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  15. What a fantastic step to take! We've gotten out of our cloth napkin habit since we moved and had a bunch of paper given to us - but we need to get back to it! Our cloth napkins are packs of terry cloth washclothes I bought at Wal-Mart for something like $3 for 12. They were already cut & hemmed, too :-) They were our "every day" napkins, super absorbent, pretty colors and I didn't feel badly about "graduating" them to cleaning clothes when they got to ugly. We had actual cloth ones for nicer occasions.
    I'm loving this new blog!!!!

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  16. We love our cloth napkins and I just wash them a few times a week in hot water with other kitchen stuff. I don't iron or starch or anything for daily use. We usually use them at least one whole day(3 meals) before washing but that depends on the day and what we're eating. I give cloth napkins to the kids I care for (burp cloths for the very young eaters-good for wiping faces and hands!) and they get used to it and don't miss a beat. But adults--they still ask for paper towels!!! Maybe someday they'll be converted...LOL!!!

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  17. A thought about guests using cloth napkins: Roll the silverware in the napkin the way restaurants do. That way people will pick them up together.

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  18. I'm in Australia and we call them serviettes too. I wonder if it's a British Empire kind of thing? "Napkins" is just weird :)

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  19. Yes, just what I was going to say. Serviette.

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  20. Loving all the posts! Just wondering what happened to day 8?

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    1. Hi Melanie. We've decided that as part of our simpler life we aren't going to post on Sundays. :)

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  21. I have used cloth napkins for some time. I get them at the thrift store if I can find at least 8 matching since I have six kids. I may have to venture into the mismatched idea though and stretch myself. I also get them after Christmas and specifically look for ones that I can use all year, like solid red or plaid green. My kids are older so I don't wash them every day.

    On a side note, as I hung up my first laundry today a day early for the august challenge, I wondered about handkerchiefs....getting rid of the kleenex box....

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  22. I think it's so funny that people don't want to use cloth napkins. I stopped buying paper napkins and have the cloth ones on the table, and my kids refuse to use them because they don't want to get them dirty!

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    napkin making machine

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  24. I grew up only using cloth napkins, and I much prefer them, no tearing, or parts left behind, still stuck to the bbq sauce. Granted, my friends think its a little weird, but they mostly get that I grew up doing things simply! All of you moms doing this with your kids makes me want to thank my parents. I don't know any other 25 year olds who have done this their whole life . On a side note, I have never had to purchase them, but am now in the market, and I never thought of thrift stores! Thanks!

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  25. I grew up using cloth napkins, too, and we each picked out a napkin ring from my step-mom's collection each week to mark which napkin was who's. I think they only got washed once a week, but we were older then probably. We kept them either at our place or in a basket.

    I also have a kitchen linen hamper that I made from pillow case hung from a large embroidery hoop (like this: http://www.marthastewart.com/272252/ever-open-laundry-bag), and hung on the wall with a Command hook. This is where all our kitchen linens go, including napkins, and I just take the pillow case down and throw it all in the wash together.

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  26. In a crazed moment I took my step sons outgrown tshirts and cut them into 8 x 8 squares. Works like a charm. At first the kids looked at me like I had lost my mind but then I told them that it was the only acceptable time to wipe their mouth on their sleeves. They saw the humor in that and now its all we use. No more paper napkins. Next step... phasing out the paper towels all together.

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  27. We have been doing this for years, and over time I've collected enough linens to get our family of four through a week without having to wash them. We have a pretty basket in the kitchen, and the linens go in there right after dinner. Ive collected several different colors and patterns over the years, which makes setting the table more fun than standard paper napkins. We have also stopped buying paper towels. I bought a few dozen cloth diapers several years ago for the kitchen (the old-fashioned flat kind!) that we use for drying dishes and cleaning up spills. The only paper product we buy is toilet paper (I'm not willing to give that up yet!!).

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