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Tips for Using Cloth Napkins – Day 18 of the Zero Waste Challenge

31 Day Zero Waste Challenge

Last Updated on September 7, 2022

Cloth napkins are ideal for cleaning your hands and face while eating a meal. Reusable napkins are way better for the environment than paper napkins too!

Making the commitment to using eco friendly napkins will save on waste, and honestly, they work better than disposable napkins. Committing to a zero waste lifestyle takes some preparation, but by making little changes like using cloth cotton napkins, you are on your way.

cloth napkins

eco friendly napkins

It’s important to train our brains to think about our environment and waste for everything we use! Including napkins!

Disposable paper napkins are everywhere nowadays, from restaurants to homes. But I’m working to change that ONE TABLE AT A TIME!!

Today, I challenge you to swap paper napkins out for reusable napkins. I think you’ll love how well cloth napkins work and all the different styles you can get. Plus, cleaning them is EASY, too, so no excuses!

cloth napkins challenge

It’s day eighteen of the zero waste challenge! The beginning of the challenge is focused on simple swaps like bringing your own water bottle and bags to the grocery store.

Now, we’re in the second phase of the challenge. These changes are lifestyle changes like learning to make your own snacks, decluttering your life the zero waste way, and conserving natural resources.

However, in hindsight… this cloth cotton napkins swap probably belongs up in the beginning. Ah, well, watcha gonna do.

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the problem:

Paper napkins aren’t recyclable after use because they are considered soiled after food gets on them. They can be composted, which is good but ultimately not the best solution.

Most people don’t compost, but – I know that you’re working on getting that sorted! Remember day 10 we talked all about how to get a compost situation that works for you.

Paper napkins use a ton of resources and energy to make which harkens back to day 11 use fewer resources and on day one buy less. Do you see how this challenge is becoming pretty intertwined?

Bottom line is, it’s much better for the planet to ditch disposable items, and choose reusable whenever possible. That’s why I am recommending choosing eco friendly cloth napkins instead of paper napkins.

You probably think cloth napkins are a lot more work than paper. But I promise you they are not.

basket with reusable napkins

the reusable napkins solution:

Justin and I both use cloth napkins and if they aren’t dirty, we just carry them over to the next meal.

If they are dirty, then we throw them in the base of a washing machine. That way, whenever we’re doing another load, they’re already in there ready to be washed.

However, if you don’t have a washing machine, you can still own and wash cloth napkins. When Justin and I moved into our tiny house, we didn’t have a washing machine.

Instead, when our cloth cotton napkins got soiled, we let them dry if they were wet and then put them in the hamper.

You can alternatively up-cycle one of your trashcans that you don’t need anymore to hold soiled reusable napkins.

This prevents clothing and soiled eco friendly napkins from getting mixed up in the same basket.

To wash our cloth napkins, we just throw them in the laundry. However, if a cloth napkin gets particularly dirty (spaghetti sauce), I might hand wash it and just let it dry by draping it over the oven handle.

best cloth napkins:

My favorite part of the best cloth napkins is that they’re easy to make yourself! I am so proud that I hand stitched my very first set of cloth napkins.

When I first went zero waste, I was on a TIGHT budget. I grabbed some spare fabric from the thrift store and sewed it creating a set of cloth cotton napkins. They’re still my favorite to this day.

If you’re not worried about having fancy napkins, consider cutting up an old soft shirt and using that.

If you’d like to make your own reusable napkins that really stand out, there are a bunch of tutorials online.

However, most tutorials are specifically geared towards people who have sewing machines.

I hand stitched mine though, so it’s definitely not impossible! I used a blind hem stitch around the edges and did it while I was watching TV or listening to a podcast.

If sewing is not your thing, check out this no sew linen napkin tutorial. They’re super cute and low hassle to make.

hanging cleaning supplies

frequently asked questions

where to buy the best cloth napkins:

Don’t forget to ask your parents or grandparents. They probably have some cloth cotton napkins lying around that they don’t use anymore, or check out these three zero waste shops for all your plastic free needs.

Check at local stores to see if they sell any cute linen or cloth cotton napkins. Try to get ones that are neutral enough to use for all seasons, year-round.

Whenever possible, choose organic or recycled cotton over conventionally grown cloth cotton napkins.

how many should you have?

I recommend keeping a nice little stash of fabric napkins around your house and in your purse for on the go purposes. You never know when you might need them!

To live comfortably, I’d recommend having at least five reusable napkins available per person.

That might seem like a lot, but if you’re also using them for cleaning, this will prevent you from ever running out!

If you’re the sort of person, who likes to use a fresh, clean napkin every day to avoid germs, getting seven cloth napkins per person, if you do laundry once a week, might be a better number for you.

Your fabric napkins should last a very long time if you treat them right. This should save you money in the long run!

eco friendly napkins

what to do once they’re irreparable:

When the cloth eco friendly napkins have run their course, if it’s made from natural materials like cotton or linen, you can compost them. Just cut it up into tiny pieces first; that way, it composts quicker.

So that is my challenge to you: Use cloth napkins for every meal this week.

take the challenge!

Over the next 13 days, your challenge is to use linen napkins. Paper napkins are incredibly wasteful and cannot be recycled after use.

Swap them for reusable napkins: You can make them yourself or buy them at a store.

Opt for organic cotton and linen material whenever possible, as these are compostable at end of life.

Will you be taking the challenge?

want more?

Just starting out? Have 1,000 burning questions!? Get access to my private Facebook group, where I’ll be hosting weekly lives throughout the challenge and I answer all of your most pressing questions.

PLUS! I’ll be sending out a brand new e-book at the end of the challenge called the Game On Handbook which is all about individual ways to fight climate change.

You don’t want to miss it.

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  1. So I decluttered, and dropped off my goods at the local thrift shop. Part of the decluttering was giving away the paper towel holder as we are moving away from paper towels. While walking through the thrift store there were cloth napkins galore that were still in the wrapper. Grabbed those and putting them in the wash now!!! This challenge has been really great and I love it!!!

  2. Love the trashcan as a hamper idea! I will definitely have to implement that one! I have cloth napkins in different colors so everyone knows which one is theirs every day and no kids fight over who gets which napkin (mom problems lol). I even pulled out an old napkin holder my grandfather made to hold them on the table; it’s nice to see it every day. I think I will use more fabric scraps for napkins and tissues on the go! Thanks for the ideas!

  3. We have a bunch of paper napkins (from those takeout utensil packets) so we’re trying to use those up first and then switch to cloth.