Wednesday, September 29, 2010

How to use cloth napkins, and have them not be a hassle from hell

Using cloth napkins was actually my husband's idea.

At first, I was annoyed. ("Honey, I've got this great idea, but I want YOU to implement it.") He doesn't know how to sew, and I do about 90% of the laundry.

But then I got to thinking. It was a good way for us to cut back on what we send to the landfill, but in my experience, cloth napkins are a hassle.

You have to wash them.
You have to fold them.
You have to iron them.
You have to remember where they are.
You have to pick cat hair off them.
You have to put them away.

I got to thinking about how to make them NOT a hassle (and that's a very big deal in my household).

  1. Folding (as in don't): What if we made them a) square, and b) small enough that they could be stacked flat without folding? I could go with a 6" square (the size of paper napkins when they are still folded). Chris is the only one who actually unfolds his paper napkin, so I asked him what the smallest workable size would be. He agreed that 9" square would do. Check.
  2. Ironing them (nope): I hate ironing. I don't mind it as part of my sewing, but regular ironing? I don't iron. Chris takes his shirts to the cleaners to be pressed (and mostly doesn't wear shirts that require pressing). That got me thinking. Why DO they need to be ironed? Napkins are a utilitarian item used for wiping food off your mouth and fingers (and chest, and lap, and the floor...). So what if they are wrinkly? Check.
  3. Cat hair and organization skills (lack of): My cats LOVE my laundry baskets. What cats don't? I don't care so much if there's a few cat hairs on my jeans, but on napkins? Where I'm going to be wiping my mouth? Turkish Angora fur in my mouth? Not happening. So, how to keep them off the napkins? Easy. Don't put them in laundry baskets where the cats will be. I bought a basket to hold the clean napkins, and a small, cheap black mesh trash basket to hold the soiled napkins. The napkin holder sits on the table, and the "hamper" sits in the corner behind the buffet. Both are too small for our cats to curl up in. Check.
  4. Laundering (No getting around this one): When the napkins in the holder are getting low, I collect the ones in the wastebasket (er, hamper) and take them to the laundry room, and add them to the next mixed-color load. When they are dry, I take them out and make a stack, smoothing them out slightly as I go. I then do NOT leave them in the basket where my kitties will get to them, and put them in the napkin holder, under the remaining clean ones.
  5. Having enough napkins (we need lots): In order for this to work for us, I knew we needed to have a LOT of cloth napkins. Enough for all 4 of us, for at least 2 meals per day, for at least a week. That's 42 napkins. Preferably we'd have more. I knew that if we had just a handful, that we'd use them up, and they'd not migrate back to the napkin holder for quite awhile. For anyone more organized, or even slightly better at housekeeping, having this many might not be needed. Check.

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