Alternatives to Paper Napkins

May 21, 2010

Alternatives to Paper NapkinsOur 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

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May 16, 2011

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.


June 22, 2012

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.



Here are the questions asked by community members. Read on to see the answers provided by the ThriftyFun community.

August 7, 2010

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!

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.

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.


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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.

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.


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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.


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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.

August 19, 20100 found this helpful

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

With best wishes,

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April 16, 2010

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.


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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.

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.

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.)

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.


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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.



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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.)

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.


August 18, 20110 found this helpful

I do the same as lieast. (her post is above.) I buy one color for my husband and another color washcloth for me, then we can use it 2 or 3 times before tossing it into the wash. I stack them in a little basket in the corner of my counter in the kitchen so we can each grab our own if I forget to put them out on the table with meals.

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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


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.

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