Rags Are Rad

Posted on August 27, 2009 by Stefanie


What I’ve always liked about Allie’s Answers (now The Greenists, of course) is its focus on the little things that, cumulatively, can make a big difference. Some of my favorite tips are the simplest ones, the ones so obvious that it almost seems they wouldn’t even bear mentioning. This is one of those tips. I warn you in advance that it is not rocket science. (I am not a rocket scientist.) No, it is just a very small thing I do that probably lots of you already do, too. And yet, nearly every time I mention it to someone, I hear, “That’s a good idea!” in return. So. Rocket science it is not. But a valid tip it may be. 

What’s the tip? Using rags as napkins.

Someday, I will channel my crafty forces into a seemingly simple afternoon project and make myself some lovely and functional cloth napkins out of the many fabric scraps I have on hand. So far I’ve yet to see that day, however. So in the mean time, I’ve found a cheap and easy solution to avoid using paper towels or napkins at every meal. A couple years ago, I cut up an old bath towel into napkin-sized rags. I already had a basket of cleaning rags stashed under my kitchen sink, so the new stack just went in there as well (no need to find additional storage space in my cramped little kitchen). The fact that the bath towel scraps are all the same color sets them apart from my cleaning rags, meaning I can dab my mouth with one without wondering if it’s the same rag I used to scrub my bathroom floor the previous week. (This is not actually a huge concern, as I rarely scrub my bathroom floor, but that is beside the point.)

My rag napkins may not look like much, meaning I hesitate to use them when entertaining, but seeing as I live alone and eat many dinners on my living room floor in front of the previous night’s rerun of The Daily Show, these not-so-fancy makeshift napkins work just fine for me. I am confident that rag napkins are just as excellent a solution for enviro-savvy families as they are for green-minded spinsters, however. Give it a try, I say!


  1. I use rags for everything, but not for napkins. They save me a bundle on paper towels. My rags are in pretty rough shape I must admit after years of heavy use. The one thing we still use paper towels for is cleaning up cat/dog sick – yuck.

    I have cloth napkins that I use most of the time for our meals, but there are those meals you just want to have a paper one on hand, for those purposes I save the extras we’re given at restaurants and we haven’t bought any for years (since we only use them once or twice a month).

    August 27th, 2009 at 6:13 am
    Comment by Chiot's Run
  2. This is a great idea! I have a new baby and I have often found myself using whatever burp cloth is handy for a napkin. Theres always one or two or five lying around the couch, where I also watch the previous night’s episode of the Daily Show while eating my dinner :) . I tend to forget to grab napkins from the kitchen before settling in, so I find myself using burb cloths because they’re there- but now I will make a habit of it.

    Such a simple idea…but one I don’t think tons of people think of- I know I didn’t! Thanks for the tip!!!

    August 27th, 2009 at 9:27 am
    Comment by Hope
  3. I suppose that’s somewhat better than using my pants.

    August 27th, 2009 at 10:36 am
    Comment by Noelle
  4. I have many uses for rags, but napkins is not one of them. For napkins I use dish clothes or wash clothes.

    August 28th, 2009 at 8:50 am
    Comment by Vanessa
  5. I cut up old cotton t-shirts or turtle necks for napkins and for counter top spills. The “worn out” cotton is thin enough to dry fast but thick enough to use as reusable paper towel replacements.

    And what’s best about using worn out cotton t-shirts for napkins and paper towel replacement is that when they get really gross and can’t wash them anymore to get all those spaghetti and red wine stains out, just throw them into your compost bin!

    August 29th, 2009 at 11:32 pm
    Comment by ecokaren
  6. Yeah, I was going to say I just use my sleeves, but rags are a way better idea!

    August 30th, 2009 at 7:07 pm
    Comment by NPW
  7. Does anyone know which fabric works best to replace paper tissues? I’m tempted to use an old t-shirt, since that’s normally what’s handy (on my body), but I’m trying to get my little nephew out of the habit of using a tissue for every little sniffle. Any ideas?

    September 1st, 2009 at 5:00 pm
    Comment by Kim from Milwaukee
  8. I have been making napkins out of old sheets. I cut the length of a sheet and do a quick hem on one side. Measure approximately 15 inches (or whatever size you want your napkin and cut the length of sheet. Quick hem on second side. This gives me a length of sheet with a hem on each side. Measure 15 inch lengths and cut. Sew each end with quick hem. This gives me tons of napkins that have lasted for years. No paper napkins to bother with. I have bleached these if have bad stains or some I even tied-dyed some for a fancier look.

    October 29th, 2009 at 3:12 pm
    Comment by Pat
  9. [...] rags as napkins, or make your own cloth napkins from fabric scraps or old oxford shirts, rather than using paper [...]

    March 18th, 2010 at 9:29 am
    Pingback by Happy New Year! (Er, Sort of…)

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Tip of the Day

If It Doesn’t Smell, Don’t Wash It


According to Real Simple, if every American made an effort to launder less — cutting out just one load of laundry a week per household — we’d save enough water to fill seven million swimming pools each year.

So if it looks clean, and it smells clean, call it clean and wear it again. Consider hanging worn clothes out on your clothesline to freshen them up between wearings.

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