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When decorating my kitchen table with place mats, I found out the hard way that if you use cloth mats they get dirt quickly and are almost impossible to clean, especially when you have little ones eating pasta and sauce. You might as well throw them out. I went over to my mother's house one day and saw that she had a clear plastic table cloth. I asked her where she had gotten it. She said the craft section at Walmart.
If you go into the material section, they sell it in large rolls. You can purchase it by the yard cheaply, whatever thickness you want. I bought enough for my kitchen table, cut it into the oval with extra 6 inches for an overhang. Now I place all my mats under the plastic. The table is protected and the mats always stay clean. I just wipe down the plastic and for the different holidays, either I put a cloth tablecloth or mats under the plastic and they never get ruined.
Tip: if you have difficulty getting the plastic to hang down around the edges, use a hair dryer and it will mold to whatever is under it when warmed a little. This stuff is also great as book covers.
I use one all the time, but remember, if your table is wood, the plastic should not lay on it.
I have a wood top table so don't think that would work too well for me. I think having to wipe down that plastic would be just as much trouble as shaking out cloth placemats or throwing in the wash when they get too dirty. I did away with plastic placemats for the same reason....seemed more trouble to me to have to wipe off the placemats. I use cloth placemats and throw in the wash when needed. I've been using this same set of placemats for 2 or 3 yrs and they aren't ruined yet!
Am thinking you might be able to fashion an envelope out of the clear plastic (size of a small pillowcase) and slide the placemats into it (especially if you find the plastic hanging down and making your knees feel warm in the summer).
my table is wood and this works well just make sure that the table is completly dry before putting down the plastic