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.