Switching from paper napkins to cloth can save money and natural resources.
For instance, earth 911, a nonprofit group based in Arizona, calculates that paper towels and napkins cost more than $260 a year for a family of four.
But given the time and resources needed to launder cloth napkins, other experts are divided about the true savings.
Several factors determine the economic, time and environmental savings of cloth napkins, according to Dave Tilford, senior writer at the Center for a New American Dream, a nonprofit consumer watchdog organization in Maryland.
• Use cloth napkins made from organic cotton, linen or hemp.
• Launder the cloth in cold water, which saves money and energy.
• Line dry for greater savings.
Judith Zwolak, Family Finances editor at Suite 101.com, an online news service, estimates that her family has saved $8 to $10 by switching from paper to cloth napkins in the last month. Plus, family dining has become more elegant and Zwolak doesn't feel guilty about filling landfills with paper napkins.
From gifts and yard sales, Zwolak had collected a large stack of cloth napkins that were rarely used. Personalized napkin rings, a wicker basket and seating assignments have helped Zwolak get more mileage out of her cloth napkin collection.
This is her strategy:
• Each family member has personalized a napkin ring with stickers.
• The cloth napkins are laundered every few days, more often if needed. But between uses, the napkins are stored in a wicker basket.
Cloth napkins -- new and vintage -- are available from a variety of sources, including retail chains, auctions and estate sales.
At one yard sale, for example, my husband and I picked up a large stack of Ralph Lauren cloth dinner napkins -- all new -- in various colors and patterns for 50 cents each. As a bonus, the seller threw in elegant napkins rings in different sizes and shapes for 25 cents each.
This is from my latest column in the home & design section of the Miami Herald.
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