How We Ditched Paper Napkins and Went to Only Cloth with No Sewing

I have learned so many things from my dear friend Tana. She got me back on the cloth diaper train, encouraged me to try elimination communication (if you’ve heard of this, then you are a true natural parent!), introduced me to homemade green cleaning products by showing me her “Clean House Clean Life” book, and when she came over to my house the other week, gave me a great idea for ditching paper napkins all together and switching to cloth without having to buy or sew anything!

The secret? Use an old bedsheet. Yep, that’s it. Cut it up in squares with pinking shears and you’re done. I was a little skeptical because I didn’t think bed sheets would be as absorbant as paper napkins. But they work just fine!

I’ve been buying the most expensive paper napkins for a few years now, because the cheap ones just crumble with the slightest moisture. But ever since jumping on the green train last year, it pains me to buy any paper products that I know I could eliminate with cloth. So making my own is really saves money, space in my grocery cart, and the annoying effort to buy paper. Not to mention all the good it does for the environment – saving trees and packaging that comes with paper napkins. Plus, using a bed sheet makes so many dang napkins we had enough to last a week with my in-laws visiting! We use them like paper napkins – use once and then throw them in a container in the kitchen that I empty every few days in the wash. Easy as pie and cheap as dirt, folks!

Here’s how I did it.

Pinking Shears
Wide sewing ruler (or just a ruler is fine)
Pinking shears
A worn out bed sheet

If it’s a fitted sheet, then cut off the corners first – it makes it much easier to cut up the rest.
After that, decide how big you want them to be and mark it off with your fabric marker and ruler. I wanted mine to be bigger than my no-sew cloth toilet paper and baby wipes (only 6 inches square), so I made these 8 inches square. Truthfully, I wouldn’t mind if they were even bigger, but this size does work just fine.

I cut the sheets in long 8-inch strips at first, then, cut across two strips at a time in 8 inch segments. It took about 15 minutes to cut up the whole sheet – not bad, eh? It would take more time and money to go to the store to buy a pack that would last a few weeks, and these will last for years!

This post is being shared at:
Tiny Tip Tuesday at Nature’s Nurture

About Sara McFall

Sara is the owner and founder of My Merry Messy Life, which started in 2011 as a way to chronicle her journey to a natural, chemical-free lifestyle and to share her passions of mothering, real food, homeschooling and crochet. She is a mama to three precious and energetic little boys and wife to a university professor who loves to sing, dance ballet and ballroom, and live simply and naturally.


  1. We use cloth napkins, but I save all those paper napkins they stuff in your bag when you order take out, so I always have a few random ones on hand. :o)

  2. How have these held up to machine washing? Have they started to fray at all? I’ve been needing to do this for a while, but want to find a fabric that won’t fray, because like you, I just can’t be bothered with sewing the edges LOL 😉 Until now, I thought the only no-sew fabric was fleece, like you’ve so awesomely shown in your cloth TP and wipes posts. Right now, we’re using cut up t-shirts as a quick rags for the kitchen, and they’re working great, but the bed sheets look much nicer as official napkins at the table! 🙂

    • Well, they have started to fray a bit. But only some of them, so I’m not sure what’s going on. I think they fray to a point, then stop and the edges curl over. That’s what my friend said her bed sheets did. So, I’m giving it a few more washes to find out. That’s a great idea to use cut up t-shirts as rags for the kitchen. We’ve been using old stained towels for that, and it works very well!

  3. We transitioned to cloth too, but we tie-dyed a few packs of mens’ handkerchiefs. They look pretty cool and our daughter loves to hand them out when it’s meal time. You can see them here:

  4. Sorry, but I used cloth diapers because Pampers had not been invented yet and I would not want to do that again! The smell! But if this works for your family, then I applaud you. I just don’t see any cost savings when you have to wash them instead of throwing away. Just my opinion. Just wanted to stop by and say hello. I may not comment but enjoy your posts. Stay cool!

    • It is smelly, Charlotte, no doubt about that. I’ve read a bunch of calculations (and I did my own on another post) and cloth diapers are significantly cheaper than disposables, with washing including. Plus the good it does for the environment just can’t be compared. But, I totally understand, it can be gross!

      • bumGenius cloth diapers come with a flushable liner so you can easily remove and flush the solids, leaving a wet diaper to be washed. This really helps with the smell. It doesn’t eliminate 100% of disposable waste, of course, but saves money, saves your nose, and still cuts out on a huge amount of waste from disposable diapers. Plus they’re very easy to adjust, so your baby won’t outgrow them (unless he/she refuses to be potty trained)! I know they are available at Buy Buy Baby and somewhere online, as well. I forget where…

  5. Great idea! I am working to make my home more green, little by little, so was happy to stumble upon your blog. I found you through “Too Much Time on My Hands” and am now your newest follower!

    • Oh, thanks so much, Robin! That’s great you’re making your house more green. I’ve found that’s the easiest way to do it- little by little, step by step. It’s too overwhelming to do it all at first because each step is really a lifestyle change. We must be patient with ourselves and be happy with each step!

  6. What a super idea. I always shied away from cloth paper towels because I didn’t want to sew the edges. Now I just have to sway the family.

  7. I cut up bedsheets – I especially like flannel ones, and zig zagged the edges on the sewing machine. It really didn’t take that much time when you consider how very, very long they last!

  8. Anonymous says:

    Hello, I think it would matter a lot what kind of sheets they are. I’ve even come accross bath towells that won’t absorb the water very fast. I dislike so much when I have a kitchen towell or apron that I need to dry my hands on and it just moves the wetness around and sometimes even dripps off the towell like water drips off a ducks back!! I wish I knew what kind of material was the best absorbent. Would it be 100% cotton? Flannel sounds like it might be good also.

  9. I would never us a cloth to wipe my butt. you must not use tampons or pads. a rag for that. gross! I do like the paper towels.

  10. I love the paper towel idea. I crochet towels out of Lily or Peaches and Creme cotton and hang them above the sink from the cupboard handle. I use any pretty stitch to make a rectangle, decrease at the top and add a button hole and crocheted button. The more you wash them, the more absorbent they become. Also, instead of sponges I use 50% wool and 50% nylon yarn to make scrubbies. When they’re felted, the nylon sticks out and adds to the “scrubbalbility” and they work as well as the sponges covered with net. If you want a pattern, let me know.

  11. I may just try this. My three boys have refused for years to use the top sheet on their beds, so I have top sheets that are practically new that are just taking up space in the linen closet.

  12. Melissa says:

    I’m going to try this to make utility kitchen towels out of a linen-cotton sheet with a large hole in the middle. These can replace paper towels for wiping down the countertop and sink area. I don’t sew, so I didn’t know what to do to prevent fraying, then I googled it and saw your site – pinking shears, of course! I’ll still use paper towels, for cleaning up spills on the floor or the cat’s hair balls, the yucky stuff, but this should cut down on it.

    • That’s a great idea to still keep the cost and paper down, but it doesn’t get too nasty, Melissa!

    • Melissa, For cat puke….cards! Cut up boxes from facial tissues, breakfast cereal and the like. They should have some good stiffness but still mildly flexable and not be corrugated. Pick/scoop up the waste using two cards like two dustpans.have a garbage bin right there with you. One card in each hand with the waste between them, cards flush to floor or surface. Bring the two cards together grabbing the waste. Carefully pick up all and drop into the garbage bin.This picks up better than anything especialliy on a carpet surface. Then follow up with your cloth or papertowels to wash and dry the spot. I’d bet two small dustpans would work and they could be washed instead of using paper goods. Now I’m trying to find an easy (no fray) absorbant fabric that I can cut up into rag rollers. Any ideas for the right fabric to be in your hair over night?

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