top of page

Frugal Hack: Switching to Cloth Napkins

Hi frugal folks!

This week, I’d like to tell you about a recent frugal swap we made in the Spath household that I’m super excited about:  We have ditched paper towels and have switched to all cloth for cleanups!  I know… I sound like a total hippie right now but hear me out.  

I’m constantly looking to make frugal substitutions that can add up to big wins over the long term.  The impetus came partly from recently reading James Clear’s Atomic Habits.  In it, he talks about continuous improvement and power of tiny gains.

“If you get one percent better each day for one year, you’ll end up thirty-seven times better by the time you’re done.”Shared from

My Quest to Ditch Paper Towels

Getting rid of paper products in the household is a frugal/minimalist mainstay and has been on my wish list for a while, but I haven’t been able to convince my husband to let go of his paper products… until now.  

Enter pandemic and the great paper towel race.  Suddenly, in March 2020, New York State shut down and it became very difficult to find paper products anywhere. 

As an aside, when I first moved to the states from India, I found the amount of paper towels, Kleenex, and toilet paper Americans went through rather baffling and luxuriously wasteful. In India, cloth rags and water washes for the bathroom are standard.  

Anyway, getting back to our life here in the states, I had readily ditched my frugal Indian ways and Josh and I were very much the regular American family. We went through 12 paper towel rolls every two to 3 weeks (as you know, we have two toddlers and two dogs- lots of messes to clean up!). Not being able to find paper towels anywhere for a little while was the impetus I needed to convince my husband to switch to cloth.

Here I am with my super convincing face

How To Store Cloth Napkins

We finally did and I’m loving it!  I personally don’t miss paper towels at all.  The key, as is usually the case, was setting up a good system. 

Cue another James Clear quote,

“We do not rise to the level of our goals, we fall to the level of our systems.”

In order to replace paper towels, I reached out to The Frugal Physicians and they had some great ideas.  Thanks to their guidance,  I bought 12 polyester cloth napkins for use with meals, a set of microfiber towels for dusting and cleaning, and a set of 50 surgical huck towels for clean up of messes.  By the way, the surgical towels are SO GREAT for cleanup!   They are way more absorbent than even the most absorbent paper towels.  Using cloth napkins makes every day meals feel so luxurious, which I love.

To make it a workable system that didn’t end up in a bunch of dirty rags sitting around everywhere, I designated one kitchen drawer for the cloth towels and bought this basket to go in a cabinet underneath that drawer.  So, when a mess is made in the kitchen, I reach into the drawer and pull out a huck towel, clean up, and throw it right in the basket.  If it’s a yucky mess, I’ll rinse the towel out thoroughly before throwing it in the basket.  Once a week or so, I’ll wash the towels en mass.  And voila, we have virtually eliminated the need for paper towels. 

What I LOVE About Switching to Cloth Napkins

I love this substitution in our lives for many reasons.

1. It's Pandemic Proof

See above.  No more scrambling when stores are out of paper towels.

2. It's Environmentally Concious

The production and disposal of paper towels is an incredibly resource consuming process.  There are trees to be cut, processing to be done, transportation to be arranged, and plastic for wrapping used each time I buy a 12 roll pack.  Also, paper towels cannot be recycled so they go in landfills and produce greenhouse gases as they decompose.  

3. It's Frugal AF

I sat down and crunched the numbers on how much money we will save. 

Before switching to cloth, we were spending $20 on a 12 rolls of paper towel on average about every 3 weeks.

So that’s $346.66 dollars a year for paper towels. 

The cost of the initial investment to switch to cloth was a total of $76.97. 

That includes:

$15.49 for microfiber towels

$25.50 for 50 huck towels

$10.99 for 12 cloth napkins

and $24.99 for the basket.

That’s it. 

The only other recurring expense with this would be the cost of washing.  Thankfully, someone has already calculated the cost of doing a load of laundry in my area, that’s $0.42 in an energy star high efficiency washer like mine. 

So if I do one load of laundry every week for a year, that’ll cost me $21.84 (0.42X52). 

That brings the total cost of cloth napkins usage to $98.81 a year

(compare to $346.66 a year for paper towels). 

Savings With Sustained Change

But, wait there’s more. 

This isn’t just a one year change.  Now that we have a good system, we will likely sustain this change for many years to come. 

So, if we had continued to buy paper towels every 3 weeks for the next 50 years, we would spend a whopping $17,333. 

In contrast, if we sustain our cloth napkin usage for the next 50 years, replacing the napkins every 5 years ((15.49 +25.50+10.99) x10)) and doing laundry every week ($21.84×50), then our total cost for 50 years would be only $1,611. 

That’s a savings of $15,721.20!

By making this small change in our daily routine, we will be able to save over 15 thousand dollars over a lifetime. 

But of course, we won’t just be putting the savings in a jar and letting them depreciate, we will be investing the savings. 

$247.85 saved yearly and invested for 50 years, at a 7% average return yields… wait for it… $107,811.27. 

That’s the power of compounding and atomic habit changes.  A little bit, done consistently, can add up to a lot… over a hundred thousand dollars of savings over a lifetime.  

That’s all for today, folks!

Stay Frugal, Y’all!


Standard Disclaimer: Not meant as individualized financial or medical advice.  This post contains affiliate links.            


Rated 0 out of 5 stars.
No ratings yet

Add a rating
bottom of page