Practical Reusable Napkins

Reusable napkins for a zero waste home.

Reusable napkins are one of the easiest zero waste swaps to make in the home! With that said, making the switch can feel intimidating. The thought of extra laundry, stain removal, and storage is enough to make a lot of people hesitate. Below, I am sharing some of the most practical (but still attractive) options for reusable cloth napkins. Plus I’m sharing my simple kitchen laundry system and easy stain removal tips.

No Fuss Cloth Napkins

When it comes to choosing everyday cloth napkins, there are two characteristics I like to keep in consideration:

  1. Fabric – choose something easy to clean like cotton
  2. Color – choose something dark or patterned that will hide stains

Sure, there is a time and a place for pretty white or cream linen hemstitched napkins. Casual, everyday use is not one of them! 

If you’re switching from paper to reusable cloth napkins I recommend starting with a set in an easy to clean fabric (cotton is my preference). I also recommend finding a set in a darker color and/or pattern that will more easily hide stains. I have included a few great options below.

The Best Everyday Reusable Napkins

Dark Colored Napkins

These reusable napkins in darker colors and patterns will be the easiest to keep clean. If the thought of soaking and pre-treating your cloth napkins regularly turns you off, start with a set in a darker tone. These are great for daily use as well as for use at dinner parties where you’re serving foods that stain easily like red sauces, mustard, or turmeric. 

Colorful Napkins

Multi-colored cloth napkins are another good low-maintenance option. The colors will help disguise stains more than a regular stripe pattern (although, classic stripes are my absolute favorite). I like the idea of using these for casual outdoor BBQ’s or summer gatherings where condiments like ketchup or mustard will be served. I usually save our nicer striped napkins for less messy menus! 

Striped Napkins

A classic stripe is one of my favorite patterns for linens. Stains won’t be as obvious as they would be on a light, solid colored napkin. With that said, you will still want to practice stain removal techniques like the occasional pre-wash soak or stain pre-treatment. I detailed my method for handling stains down below.

Dish Towels Used as Napkins

Invest in a large set of pretty dish towels and they can double as casual napkins. If you’re just starting to experiment with reducing your dependence on paper products in the kitchen, this might be a great first investment. Drape one over your shoulder while cooking, then set the table with a few more for dinner. If they get stained, you can choose to soak them with a product like OxiClean before laundering

How to Make the Switch to Reusable Napkins

Laundry System

One thing that has made the switch to reusable napkins manageable in my household has been our kitchen laundry system. I’ve shared this before in my post on our paper-free kitchen, but I’ll share the highlights here as well.

Clean Napkins

We have a large kitchen drawer dedicated to bar mop towels (what we use instead of paper towels), microfiber cloths (what we use to polish and shine surfaces after an initial wipe-down with bar mops), and reusable napkins. If you don’t have spare drawer space, use baskets in a cabinet, on a shelf, or even on a counter to store clean napkins.

Soiled Napkins

For soiled towels and napkins (both cotton, so they can be laundered together), we have a separate basket on our pantry bottom shelf (you can see them in a photo here). Once the basket is full, I toss all of the contents into our washing machine and do a disinfect cycle. I often run the cycle with a laundry booster like OxiClean to help reduce stains.

I almost never iron our reusable napkins unless I’m feeling ambitious before hosting a dinner party. I find that the thought of ironing my napkins once or twice a week makes me tired enough to abandon the whole ordeal so I simply opt out. With that said, you do what feels right to you! If you’re on team iron, I recommend doing so with a DIY spray starch to help your napkins maintain their crispness.

Reduce Laundry with Unique Napkin Rings

One hack for reducing the amount of times per week you have to launder your reusable napkins within your immediate household is by assigning each family member their own unique napkin ring. These can be individually monogrammed rings, multi-colored rings, or each can have a slightly unique shape or embellishment. 

In between meals, store each family member’s napkin in their designated napkin ring. So unless you’re eating extremely messy foods, cloth napkins should be able to last each family member at least a full day’s worth of meals. 

Cloth Napkin Stain Removal

If your new napkins end up badly stained after a meal, more often than not your napkins will be good as new after a soak with a product like OxiClean or Borax. Fill a sink or bucket with warm water and dilute the cleaning powder in the water. Then add your stained linens. 

Leave your stained napkins to soak for 30 minutes to an hour or so (if you’re treating them immediately – older stains might need to be soaked longer). I let mine soak in a bucket while I tackle dishes and surface cleaning after the meal. Once they finish soaking, toss pre-treated napkins into your washing machine and launder per usual. 

For more information on treating specific stains (oil, lipstick, etc.) check out my ultimate stain removal guide. Lastly, if you’re still feeling overwhelmed by adding yet another load of laundry to your weekly task list, check out my laundry schedule and time saving tips!

The best reusable napkins for a zero waste home

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  1. Our problem with eliminating paper towels is wiping plates, bowls, pots and pans to remove any greasy residue as we have been so cautioned against letting it get into the sewer system and creating horrible sewage overflow incidents. If we use cloth instead, won’t we still be washing that grease down the drain in essence? Or should we believe in the power of detergent to dissolve grease and quit letting these horror stories influence our practices? Inquiring minds want to know!

    1. I recommend pouring excess grease into a separate container to let it harden then scrape it into the garbage (or re-use in future cooking projects depending on what type of cooking “grease” you use!). Whatever little bit of residue remains on your pot can be washed normally!

  2. This all sounds good, but it is difficult in a small apartment without a pantry or washing machine.

    1. You are absolutely right, way more difficult without those amenities. I recommend following small space bloggers like Read My Tea Leaves and Tiny Canal Cottage – they have amazing tips for eco-friendly cleaning in a small space! Perhaps they’ll have some more helpful tips for that specific scenario <3

  3. We’ve been using cloth napkins for years and I agree that a laundry system is essential to making it sustainable. Great post!

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