Alternatives to Paper Napkins

Category Reusing
There are green alternatives to paper napkins that reduce waste and can save you money over time. This is a page about alternatives to paper napkins.


Share on ThriftyFunThis page contains the following solutions. Have something to add? Please share your solution!

Our family of four includes two children who can get very messy during mealtime. Instead of having them use cheap one-ply napkins that fall apart the minute you try to wipe your hands with them, I decided to use cloth napkins.

The napkins can usually be purchased for $0.50 to a $1.00 each depending on where you buy them. I once purchased a clearance priced set of 4 from Target for a $1.00. I made sure to purchase enough for when we have family over.

You can also make your own from old cotton t-shirts but keep in mind the type of fabric you use will determine the amount of absorbency. I would strongly recommend you refrain from decorating the homemade napkins with glitter or puff paint as that might defeat their purpose.


By A Trevino from San Antonio, TX

Comment Was this helpful? 9
Read More Comments

Instead of using paper napkins or short lived cloth napkins, I bought a stack of 8" x 8" micro-fiber cloths in the mid 90's. They can absorb 8 oz (1 glass) of water, each.

Yes, amazing stuff! They also work fine for getting spaghetti sauce out of carpets. The only problem with that is that you wind up with a spot that is a lot cleaner than the rest of the carpet.

I use them not only for napkins but also for face-cloth, pre-towel drop absorber, (yes, one of them catches all the drops and wetness on me after a shower, and the big towel is just for invigorating the skin), dish rag, for cleaning chrome and porcellain, and so on.


As long as you keep them out of the dryer and dry them on a line, they seem to last forever. Micro-fiber is not the cheapest per square inch, but sure seems to be the most cost-effective.

Have FUN!



By Helmut from Black Diamond, AB

Comment Was this helpful? 7

Purchase terry cloth finger tip towels in different colors to use as every day napkins. I did this when our kids still lived at home and am still using them. At first I sewed different appliques on each so that each time they were used we knew which one belonged to whom. They got reused until soiled and then washed. They were kept in a decorative basket on the table or nearby.


When we had family as house guests, we decorated and labeled clothespins and clipped them onto each one's napkin. I've saved quite a bit over the years on napkins. Sometimes I was fortunate enough to find them on clearance and often found colors to match dishes or placemats.
They can be packed along with picnic supplies too.

Source: Years ago I learned of this idea from a friend of my mother.

By Shelly from Spring Hill, KS

Comment Was this helpful? 4


Ask a QuestionHere are the questions asked by community members. Read on to see the answers provided by the ThriftyFun community or ask a new question.

I usually buy paper towels to use as napkins, but could I do without buying them and use something I have in the home instead?

By Alice O'Neill from Ireland


August 7, 20100 found this helpful

Small towels, face flannels, dish towels, colored handkerchiefs/bandannas, can all be used. If you sew at all, you can cut up and hem the edges of a sheet.


If you have leftover cloth diapers, you could use those; though if they're stained, you may want to dye them!

Reply Was this helpful? Yes
August 7, 20100 found this helpful

You can buy inexpensive cloth napkins in a thrift shop/Good Will. We use them instead of paper and launder when needed.

Reply Was this helpful? Yes
August 7, 20100 found this helpful

We have taken to using the small kitchen towels, or the 'guest' towels in the bathroom that no one uses! Then just throw them in the wash, and use again.

Reply Was this helpful? Yes
August 10, 20100 found this helpful

I've started using wash cloths for napkins. They aren't fancy but work great and are easy to wash.


I got 18 for $4 at WalMart and they come in a lot of different colors.

Reply Was this helpful? Yes
August 11, 20100 found this helpful

I 'recycled' some of my husband's dress work shirts by taking off the sleeves, collars, pockets, buttons, etc., cutting up the bigger flat pieces into smaller rectangles, and binding the edges. They now serve a number of purposes - as everyday-napkins for us to use, sink dishcloths, and counter cloths when we butter toast, pour coffee in the morning, make sandwiches (virtually anything that makes a bit of a mess on the counter); and I also dampen one and lay it out flat under my cutting board so it doesn't slide around while I use it.

They just go in with the towel load, dry quickly, and no big deal when I throw one away. Just make sure to let them dry out before putting them in the laundry basket.

I am about to make more from a bedsheet.

Reply Was this helpful? Yes
August 11, 20100 found this helpful

Excellent suggestions ladies! I have used teatowels and dish cloths, but now I am using actual cotton napkins that I bought at a discount store. They look very nice, and are outlasting the dish cloths I have used in the past. We have napkin rings with our names on them, so that we use the same napkin for several meals if it isn't soiled. This cuts down on laundry.

Reply Was this helpful? Yes
August 18, 20100 found this helpful

When we are traveling and we stop at fast food places to eat we usually get too many napkins so I save them. Also around town if I go through the drive up window at a fast food place they usually give me too many napkins. I save them all and my children save their extras also so we use them at home. It may take a while to get a bunch but you will get them.

Reply Was this helpful? Yes
August 19, 20100 found this helpful

Thanks to everyone for your suggestions, I have a lot of ideas now!

With best wishes,

Reply Was this helpful? Yes
Answer this Question...

I'm trying not to buy paper napkins and want to replace them with cloth
ones. Even at Wal-Mart, they were more than I wanted to pay. I'm not a
sewer, so I need a creative alternative. Thanks in advance.


April 16, 20100 found this helpful

You can always use inexpensive washcloths. Buy fabric and cut into the size squares you want, either use pinking shears to cut or else fringe the edges. You could also turn over a narrow hem and hem them either by hand or sewing machine. Colorful bandanas would be cute if you like that look.

Reply Was this helpful? Yes
April 21, 20100 found this helpful

Check out thrift stores, Goodwill and/or Salvation Army. Another option is to use a tablecloth, cut in squares and use Stitch Whitchery or iron-on seam binding to double roll the edges sealing with the iron-on tape.

Reply Was this helpful? Yes
April 21, 20100 found this helpful

Buy the fabric you like, along with Stitch Witchery (or its equivalent). Fold the edges 1/4" and finger-press it down. Fold over another 1/4", slip a piece of SW between the new fold and the rest of the napkin, iron it down to fuse it.

For reversible napkins, sandwich fusible webbing between two fabric squares and iron. Use pinking shears or other decorative edging scissors to trim the edges; add Fray-Chek to prevent fraying, if you choose. (Fraying can be an interesting decorative edging, too.)

Reply Was this helpful? Yes
April 22, 20100 found this helpful

For a colorful idea, you could purchase those bandana type hankerchiefs at Walmart. They are $1.00 a piece and they have so many beautiful colors. I am thinking about it myself.

Reply Was this helpful? Yes
October 30, 20100 found this helpful

I always go to the remnant section at Walmart in the fabric section at the back. There is a box full of little left over rolls of fabric most of them under one dollar or two dollars. I then cut little zig zag edges on the ends and use them as napkins and rags, etc.

I have made at least four napkins out of one 99 cent remnant roll of fabric I like.


Reply Was this helpful? Yes
May 13, 20110 found this helpful

I've used medium-quality washcloths for napkins for over thirty years. I don't use the cheap bundled ones at the dinner table, they're not cut true, so they're not square, and wear out quickly besides. (They may be fine for sack lunches or picnics, though.) But I do use the least expensive of the individual napkins. Over the years, I've built up quite a collection of different colors, as I added a set of six every time I bought a new set of placemats or tablecloth, and they just don't seem to wear out except for the sets I made and monogrammed! Now with just two of us using them, they're lasting even longer. ;D (They also make great packing material when moving, to wrap around fragile items or pack between loose objects.)

Reply Was this helpful? Yes
May 13, 20110 found this helpful

This is from another post I replied to. I have a suggestion. I have been using other things for napkins for many, many years. I hate paper towels & napkins, poor trees, just to have something to wipe your hands on.

For really grimy stuff, like eating pizza or fried chicken, I have a number of those shop wipes. They have been washed many x's & are soft. I also use those microfiber cloths, get the cheapest ones you can find & you can find them in many different colors, black included. When you 1st start using these cloths, they feel funny, cause they are not like cotton or anything. But they are very absorbent & clean your hands well.

I have 2 laundry bags hanging in the washroom area & I put the lighter colored ones in one bag & darker ones in another. These micro fiber clothes have to be washed by themselves cause they attract lint like mad but by washing them by themselves, you can use very strong cleaners & they release the dirt & grease nicely.

I also use them for dusting, cleaning, dishes, counter tops, in the bath, mirrors, for everything. They last for years & you don't use fabric softener on them either. You just have to make sure they are rinsed really well. I always put them through an extra rinse, but I do this with all my clothes, anyway. You would be surprised how much dirt & oils are left in clothes after washing, cause they weren't rinsed enough, many years ago, I had to wash some already clean sheets. I put them in the wash, with no detergent & I was amazed at how much soap & crud is left in my supposedly "clean laundry".

What came out could have cleaned those sheet all over again & that crud was being put on me & my family' skin & with sweat & what not, it goes back into your body so these days, my laundry gets rinsed till there is no soap left in the rinse water.

I also put about 3 cups of white vinegar in one of the rinses, cause it releases the detergent from the material.


Reply Was this helpful? Yes
Read More Answers

July 30, 2014

This is a page about using cloth instead of paper products. You can leave less of a footprint on the environment and save money, by using cloth towels and napkins.

Cloth Napkin

Read More... Pin it! Was this helpful? 1


ThriftyFun is one of the longest running frugal living communities on the Internet. These are archives of older discussions.

May 21, 2010

Save money and our planet. Use fingertip towels, bandanas, or cloth napkins instead of paper napkins. Use them a day or two or even just the meals for one day then toss them into the laundry basket. Keep plenty on hand. Keep a few sets of new ones for use when you have guests.

By Hope from Charleston, SC


Use Cloth Napkins Instead Of Paper

Hum, doesn't having to wash these cloth napkins cost money and uses water. I like to recycle and be frugal but this is one area that I guess I just can't make myself go along with. I buy big packages of paper napkins, yes it makes trash but at least the paper is biodegradable. I have so much laundry to do as it is and just can't see how adding more work and spending the money on the water and soap is any better than using cheap paper napkins. Maybe someone can explain that to me :-) (04/20/2007)

By Debbie Dzurilla

Use Cloth Napkins Instead Of Paper

I never make a special load of laundry just for napkins! If you use wash cloths, for instance, you can buy them in the jumbo packages so you'll have enough for several meals. Then, whenever you wash your clothes, just toss them in with the rest. By the way, when the cloths are no longer nice enough to use for napkins they become cloths/rags for cleaning. I also wash my cleaning cloths. I really get my money's worth from them! (04/21/2007)

By Hope

Use Cloth Napkins Instead Of Paper

The amount of extra water and soap you would use to wash cloth napkins will be hardly noticeable if at all. I just toss mine in with clothes or whatever else I might be washing. You waste more resources with paper napkins than you can imagine. Those little paper napkins have to go through a lot of processing and packaging before you buy them and that wastes more water and energy than you could washing cloth napkins, and that doesn't even get into the chemicals involved to process paper napkins.

I even buy my cloth napkins at the thrift store which saves more money and is recycling at the same time. (04/27/2007)

By Jessica from Jersey

Use Cloth Napkins Instead Of Paper

Seems like a no-brainer to me! I'm going to wash towels, sheets, dishtowels etc. anyway, so I throw the cloth napkins in with them. It doesn't use more water or detergent unless you do a separate load just for napkins. As for the extra time, it's negligible. I wonder if anyone has done a detailed cost/benefit analysis of this? (07/27/2007)

By TerriLee

Use Cloth Napkins Instead Of Paper

That's a great idea, I've been doing that for several'd think it would have occurred to me sooner. Hee hee. Also you can use old shirts and sheets to cut up and make your own cloth napkins.

By the way, be careful with red napkins. Mom got some from a garage sale and when they got washed, we had pink clothing... (09/20/2008)

By Saber Alexander

Use Cloth Napkins Instead Of Paper

To Debbie52: Each person can have his or her own designated cloth napkin. Kids can pick the one they like or make a special napkin ring. The napkin gets used at each meal until you can't stand it anymore or until the end of each week. So, for a family of 5: 5 napkins. Then you wash them with any load of laundry you will already be doing anyway. 5 napkins are very little - you won't be needing extra water or soap.

The problem with the paper napkins (and, believe me, I totally understand their convenience) is all the water and energy used to produce them plus they sit around in the plastic trash bag in the landfill unable to biodegrade.

Well, those are my thoughts. I hope they gave you some of the explanation you were looking for. (10/17/2008)

By Lynda Dyar

Use Cloth Napkins Instead Of Paper

I have been using cloth napkins but don't have enough to always use them. So my new project is making my own. I am loving using outgrown clothes. I am delighted that my son grew out of a few of his dress shirts! :) It's such a challenge to try to figure how you can get the most napkins out of the clothes. I have quite a few now and will continue to make more cause I love it. If you have little ones they might go through one a meal. So you need to have more if you have little ones. They love picking their napkin out. I also made some little lunch box sized one for my son and he uses them every day at school. Those can usually be used about twice.

There is always room for 7 or 8 cloth napkins in my wash. I'm always usually scrounging for something to fill up my load anyway. I'm not using any extra water or energy than I would have already. Also it's teaching your kids to upcycle. (11/18/2008)

By Mary K

Use Cloth Napkins Instead Of Paper

What I do for cleaning is similar. I do the dishes, rinse the rag, clean the counters and then toss in the wash(happens to be right there so we toss stuff in as we go and when it's full we start it. (01/12/2009)


Use Cloth Napkins Instead Of Paper

Hubby and I use the white terrycloth "shop towels" for all sorts of things around the house, including as napkins for casual dining and kitchen hand towels. They're a little too rough in texture to use for bathing, but they work well for almost everything else. Not as cheap as using scrap fabric, but cheaper than washcloths or other types of towels. (02/12/2009)

By ChloeA

Use Cloth Napkins Instead Of Paper

I have used them for years cloth napkins they are great . I buy them at yard sales, flea markets etc I pay 5 to 10 cents for each of them I try to buy cotton and colored ones. I have so many I can go a month or longer between washes. Like the idea about wash cloths. Just to add instead of paper plates,cups and plastic silverware . I have extra plates, glasses and silverware to use in stead of throw away items . (02/12/2009)

By 1stborn

Use Cloth Napkins Instead Of Paper

I've been going through and getting rid of things no longer needed in the house (outgrown clothes, toys, etc) and came upon a pile of baby blankets. I had a huge stack, so I saved several (and I mean several) for larger cleanups, and cut up several more into squares to be used as napkins, smaller cleanups, whatever. I have a 'rag bag' hanging on the pantry door so the kids can grab one as needed. Been a while since I've purchased napkins for the home!

Penni, Hillsborough, NC (07/20/2009)

By Penni

Use Cloth Napkins Instead Of Paper

If a person has to pay to do their laundry, like in an apartment complex or a laundromat, it doesn't hardly pay to use cloth napkins. The apartment complex I live in it costs $4.00 a load to wash and dry. I don't even dry everything all the way. (07/20/2009)

By Joan

Comment Was this helpful? Yes

Better Living Green Living ReusingJune 23, 2012
Coronavirus Tips
Summer Ideas!
Pest Control
Back to School Ideas!
Ask a Question
Share a Post
Better LivingBudget & FinanceBusiness and LegalComputersConsumer AdviceCoronavirusCraftsEducationEntertainmentFood and RecipesHealth & BeautyHolidays and PartiesHome and GardenMake Your OwnOrganizingParentingPetsPhotosTravel and RecreationWeddings
Published by ThriftyFun.
Desktop Page | View Mobile
Disclaimer | Privacy Policy | Contact Us
Generated 2020-08-10 11:36:03 in 1 secs. ⛅️️
© 1997-2020 by Cumuli, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Add to PageAsk a Question