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A major expense in any household shouldn't be the napkins that sit on the dining room table, but it is an expense. As we move towards reuse more and more, the question of the paper napkin takes on more importance. They are certainly filling landfills, and each one costs a fraction of a penny.
Yet, fabric napkins are a larger initial expense with endless wash cycles awaiting their lifetime. Which is for the better good, both environmentally and economically?
Remember when selecting your fabric napkins that they will have to withstand many, many washes. A thinly woven fabric or straight end stitching may not hold up to the wear and tear that these pieces will need to endure. A good set of fabric napkins that are not on sale will cost $10 for a pair. If your family has four members, you can expect to dirty a dozen napkins a day.
The paper napkins have an obviously lower initial investment. A pack of 250 generic paper napkins can be found on sale for $1.50. This less than $2 investment will last about 21 days if used at the same rate of the fabric napkins above.
It should be noted, however, that the fabric napkins are larger and will absorb more than the paper napkins, making the average use of paper much higher.
For fabric napkins, the maintenance is the turnoff for most. Twelve napkins a day turns into 84 napkins per week which is easily two loads of laundry. The average cost for a load of laundry using electrically heated water and an electric clothes dryer is $1.20 per load.
Of course, hanging the napkins out to dry on a line is even more economical, bringing the cost per load down to $0.70. The water, soaps, and electric used are a smaller drain on the environment than the landfill waste of paper napkins, while the economic waste is much higher.
The monthly maintenance of fabric napkins will be about $10. The monthly purchase price of paper napkins is less than $5.
WINNER: environmentally, fabric; economically, paper
In fact, a few eco-friends insist that cotton dyeing and refining does more environmental damage than the manufacture of low quality paper like the type used in paper napkins. However, organic cotton or linen napkins are created in a much safer and cleaner process, so they would be better for the planet than the paper in that sense.
What seemed like an easy decision may not have come out with the expected winner. Fabric napkins are elegant and scream of environmental correctness, but when it comes down to it they're not the least expensive choice.
I bought 2 dozen fabric napkins at a thrift store for $2.00. My husband and I use 1 each a day for dinner (paper for breakfast and lunch). They are tossed in a load of laundry I'm already doing.
I pick up fabric remnants to make fabric napkins, you can usually get at least two out of a remnant, depending on how large you want them. I serge around them, but if you don't have a serger you can hem with a regular sewing machine. If you don't sew you can fringe the edges. Unless they get really dirty, they can be used for more than one meal. I just throw them in with the tea towels and dish cloths and actually it really helps make a full load of kitchen items. I would hate to go back to paper now, love the fabric ones.
We have napkin rings with our initials on them (or you could just use a different style of ring for each person) and reuse our napkins for several meals. I now have lovely napkins that I bought at Winners, but I have use nice tea towels or dish cloths for napkins in the past especially when the kids were little and spills were messy and sticky. One certainly does not need 84 napkins for a family of 4 for a week! Ridiculous.
I don't know if I have ever had more than 20. And the cost is next to nothing figured over time. Napkins last for years (I'd say easily 5!) and when you decide they are too worn for that, you move them onto cleaning duty in the kitchen or shop. I have either washed my napkins with the tea towels or with the white load and it costs me virtually nothing per week, as I would be doing those loads anyway.
Fabric napkins are the clear environmental choice, economic choice, and are far nicer to use. We only use paper when we are camping.
I'm sorry, but I am going to be politically incorrect here & say that I absolutely DON'T believe that paper napkins are filling our landfills! Have you ever noticed how they seem to dissolve in your hands as you use them? I bet the degrade just as quickly in the landfill.
But I do believe that it's a waste of trees to use paper napkins, unless they are made from recycled paper. I don't like the cost either, so I don't usually buy napkins OR paper towels! Well, sometimes I do buy generic napkins, but we don't use many because my teenagers like to lick their fingers or wipe their hands on their clothes when I'm not looking,LOL!
My solution is to use the paper napkins these ridiculous fast food places & restaurants like to give by the handfuls! It never fails, we get at least a doze every time. I keep a rubbermaid container on my counter to put the napkins in & we use them from there - it's almost always full! I figure they would go in the garbage if I didn't use them anyway. When we are low on paper napkins, we use napkins made from old tshirts or towels.
I figure this way I'm saving money, trees, water & the landfill!