Save Paper: Use Family Cloth Napkins

Family Cloth Napkins

I grew up using paper napkins. Cloth napkins were reserved for holidays and special occasions, if even then. When I married I was introduced to the concept of cloth napkins used daily by my lovely mother-in-law. Not only did she use them for “Sunday dinner” but also for every day (she was way ahead of  the game – this was 20+ years ago, when “green” was still just a color).

They had picked up the habit from their time living abroad, where apparently using cloth napkins everyday is not an anomaly.

I thought it was kind of quaint and cute.

Until I quit work to stay home with our kids and was looking for any way to save money.

I combed through the stash of napkin rings (mostly unused) from our wedding and hemmed up some squares of cotton (patterned to hide stains!) from material I had on hand. But I didn’t want to wash napkins everyday, so I copied the other idea I learned from my mother-in-law:

Each family member has their own unique napkin ring.


This has been key for us to be consistent with using cloth napkins. The napkins on their individual rings live in a basket by our table, so they’re always available for meals. It’s really easy. We use the set of napkins for 3 or 4 days, depending on the messiness of  the meals (BBQ vs. soup), each time putting our napkin back in our ring and setting them in the basket.

When they’re ready to be washed, they go into a basket in the laundry to be added in with the next load, since they take up hardly any room. I don’t pretreat them or worry about stains because they are just for our family, but I do try to use patterns to help hide the eventual staining that occurs. It really requires very little extra thought and not even extra energy since they are washed with a regular load of laundry.

Our family has now used this system for years and we love it. Not only does it save money because we aren’t using a new paper napkin for each meal, cloth is also nicer to use. It actually works better. I suppose you’d have to buy the “fancy paper napkins” to equal the quality.

If you don’t have a stash of unused rings like I did, the thrift store is a great place to find individual rings for .25 to .50 cents. Also, stores will often clearance napkin rings that have just one or two left in a set. If you want to get creative, they aren’t hard to make. I’ve seen a piece of elastic sewn together with all different buttons sewn around it, or a big piece of costume jewelry attached.

For awhile I even sold napkin sets with four mismatched rings so families could get started right away using this system and they were always one of the items I sold out of whenever I sold them, so I think they would be a great, frugal gift.


This is linked to Frugal Fridays at Life as Mom.


  1. says

    I like using cloth napkins, but please don’t call them “family” napkins. Reminds me too much of “family cloth,” which I cannot bring myself to consider and I would hope if a family is doing both family cloth and family napkins that they wouldn’t mix the two up.

  2. Anonymous says

    The napkin rings unique to each person is brilliant! I’ve been trying to grab five different napkins to identify each person, and that’s a little chaotic. My family is not completely enthused about this, but I would like to create less trash and save the $$$. I think they would like having their own napkin ring.
    Thanks! Kerry D.

  3. Anonymous says

    Like you, I was raised with paper napkins until I moved to England and married my husband. Everyone in his family has their own special napkin ring that is unique to them in some way.

    I’d never liked paper napkins – not only is it wasteful, but it’s not very ‘nice’. I was only too glad to make the switch once I learned how workable this was. We even have spares for guests.

  4. says

    Gee, Wendy, I don’t know what a “family cloth” is and now I’m afraid to ask. :-) I guess we’ll just say napkins for the family!

    Kerry- I don’t think it will take too long for your family to get on board, it’s the initial hump- getting over the “that seems odd” factor- that’s hard. Hope the napkin rings do it!

    Anon- I do think it was England where my in-laws lived that gave them the idea, too.

  5. Jenelle says

    How funny that you posted this today. I have been wanting to switch to cloth for quite a while now and found a bunch on the clearance rack at Target last week so we used them for the first time last night. I was thinking I would just collect a bunch and wash them all after each use, but as I was dumping them all into the laundry basket I was noticing that they hardly even looked used. Maybe I’ll have to try the napkin ring method. Thank for the idea!

  6. says

    Love the different ring idea! We use cloth napkins, but I feel I’m washing them a lot and then we often run out by the end of the week – when laundry needs to be done. I think this would really conserve!

  7. says

    I think I’m going to give this a try. I probably have a decent stash to start with already – napkins as well as rings. Also my grocery budget is very tight this month so napkins can be one item I can remove from ths list to purchase. Will let you know how we do with it (I have a 3 1/2 and a 6 1/2 year old….very messy!!!)

  8. says

    I do hope that more people will come to realize that in their own simple ways, dump sites will not have to worry about waste management too much because we can recycle practically almost anything these days. With practicality and creativity, future generations will still be able to enjoy and appreciate the wonders of nature.

  9. Una says

    We children all received napkin rings with our names on them when we were toddlers, and, just like you, we had a basket to put them in between meals. I gave one to my husband when we married – 40 years ago. I still have mine, as well as several others from the (no longer with us) family. The one I use most often was my great grandmother’s. I think the most egregious waste of paper in modern American households is the use of paper napkins; most of the other things (paper towels etc.) can have excuses made for them. Paper napkins really have no excuse. As you have pointed out, even washing them is no bother, as they take little extra room in a load that would be washed anyway. Thank you for getting the word out.

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