How to Make the Switch to Cloth Napkins

If you've been thinking about using cloth napkins to save money (or waste), check out these tips on how to make the switch to cloth napkins on a budget.
Thanks to Sara from
Learning the Frugal Life for writing this guest post on her family’s journey to using cloth napkins!

My family switched to cloth napkins about a month ago. I have been thinking about making the switch for about a year and finally decided to take the step. It was actually a little intimidating since my family had become so dependent on paper napkins and towels.

We used paper towels and napkins for everything. I mean EVERYTHING. Having 4 children in the house you can imagine how many we could go through in a day. We used them for noses, spills, eating, smashing bugs, wiping up mud, you name it. I could easily go through a package of 500 every couple weeks. While I know that paper napkins are fairly cheap (I could usually get a package for about $2-$3) that is still around $50 a year. Then if you add the cost of paper towels it begins to add up. What was really bothering me the most was the waste factor. So, I decided to make the switch.

There are many ways to get cloth napkins without buying brand new fancy ones. You can buy them second hand from thrift stores or yard sales. You can make your own from any fabric, old t-shirts, bed sheets or towels. If you watch the stores you can sometimes find napkins on clearance, especially around the holidays. Last month I picked up a whole bunch of Valentines napkins on clearance for .31 cents each. For everyday use I figured it wouldn’t matter what they looked like. Besides it’s kinda fun having a little variety.

I made my first set of napkins from some cotton fabric I found on clearance at Wal-Mart for $1.97. From this fabric I made 9 napkins, that averages to about .27 cents each. I sewed them all by hand in my spare time. I measured them each at 12 x 12 inches. I made them a little smaller than most of the conventional napkins to maximize my fabric. I cut them out and folded over each side and sewed them. This made them about 10 1/2 x 10 1/2 inches. While this is a little smaller than I initially wanted, they ended up being the perfect size for my toddlers to use.

Some people will argue the fact that using energy, water and soap to wash the cloth cancels out the good your doing by not using paper. I disagree. I don’t feel like the cloth napkins have increased my energy or water usage at all. The napkins are not that big and I just throw them in with my other laundry. Plus, we are typically only using about 6 napkins per day. Unless they get extremely soiled we just keep reusing them until they are dirty. I wash all my cloths in cold water, thus reducing energy. And if you hang them to dry you are using even less energy.

I invested less than $7 for my cloth napkins. I figured I spend about $100 per year on paper towels and paper napkins. While I have not totally eliminated paper towels I have definitely cut back our usage. So for that small initial investment up front they have more than paid for themselves, as I estimate that I will be saving about $70 per year. It feels good to be wasting less, and saving more. I expect my napkins to last me many years. I recommend that everyone look into switching to cloth. Not only will you save money, you will also be helping the environment.

Have you switched to cloth napkins or thought about doing it?

Sara @ Learning the Frugal Life is a wife and mother to 4 boys. She used to work as a Medical Assistant, but after the birth of her third child decided to take the job of homemaker. She enjoys teaching herself and others how to live more frugally in their day to day lives. Sara also enjoys gardening, baking, organizing, scrapbooking and coming up with new arts and crafts for her kids to try. You can visit Sara at Learning the Frugal Life for some great tips on saving money or at her personal/crafty blog at One Mom, Five Boys.


  1. Buffie says:

    I have been thinking about making the switch to cloth napkins. We have started using paper towels less. We have kitchen cloths for wiping down the counters, microfiber cloths for cleaning and baby wash cloths for wiping up my daughter after she eats. Cloth napkins just seem like the next step for us. So far I just haven’t found any I like at a price I like. And since I don’t sew making them myself isn’t really an option. Eventually we will make the switch though. I figure the less paper towels we use the better.

  2. KarenW says:

    I love the idea of using cloth napkins. I have one set that I rarely use because they need to be ironed. What type of fabric do you recommend to avoid this extra task?

  3. ~Sara says:

    Hi Karen.
    The cloth napkins that I purchased are 86% Polyester and 14% cotton. They wash and dry just perfect, no need to iron.

  4. Nicki at Domestic Cents says:

    I’ve used cloth napkins for about a year now and it’s been great. We used to use a lot of napkins before but now I don’t even buy them.

    The other great thing about this is that my daughter knows how to use a cloth napkin in a restaurant because we use them at home.

  5. Libby B says:

    I thought I’d share a little tip from my childhood. We, too, used cloth napkins and resued them until they were dirty. To tell which napkin belonged to which person, my mom bought napkin rings in 6 different colors. Then we always knew it was our napkin (and our potential grime on it!).

  6. Arin says:

    just discovered your site through UBP from 5 minutes for mom- I will be following as I love your ideas.

  7. HappyHermit says:

    I have seriously been thinking on it. Thank you for sharing. I have so much material around it would not be hard to make.

  8. Anonymous says:

    I havent gotten around to getting cloth yet but we have always torn our paper towel’s in 1/2 at dinner to be used as napkins.

  9. Sheri Swank says:

    We decided to cut back on paper towels etc. also by using cloth towels for dishes (except for when you need to really scrub something) and everyday kitchen wiping, bathrooms etc. Saves a lot and we do not go thru paper towels fast. A roll of paper towels can last us a moth or so. We are a family of 4.

  10. My husband and I use cloth napkins all the time. We buy them at Walmart for about $4. They are found in the kitchen towel section. I love it and it does save us a bunch of money! I’m glad to know we’re not the only ones!

  11. We just use wash cloth. But if you want something pretty your way is good.

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