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What Are the Best Cloth Napkins?

Photo: Retailer

Using cloth napkins instead of paper ones at dinner (or for any meal) is not only an easy way to elevate an at-home dining experience — something most of us may be looking to do right now — but also a simple step toward living more sustainably. Not to mention, cloth napkins almost always look more sophisticated than paper ones, no matter how intricate their designs may be. As interior designer (and author of Design Rules: The Insider’s Guide to Becoming Your Own Decorator) Elaine Griffin puts it, “Nothing says ‘I care’ more than cloth napkins” on a dinner-party table (and we are optimistic that we’ll be setting dinner-party tables again soon enough). To find the best cloth napkins, we reached out to Griffin and ten other experts — including interior designers and hospitality professionals — about their favorites. Most of their 23 recommendations below come in sets, so we’ve started with those and organized them by price. Beneath the sets, we included a handful of individually sold cloth napkins for folks who only need one or two — or who like to mix and match.

Best under-$50 cloth napkin sets

If you’re new to cloth napkins, here’s a set that might help you ease into using them. My Drap’s cotton napkins come in a roll much like paper towels, and function like them, too — except, unlike paper towels, these can be washed and used again. (They’re kind of like our favorite Swedish dishcloths in that way.) They come recommended by Vogue sustainability editor Tonne Goodman — who loves them so much that she once wrote an ode to them — and real-estate agent (and Strategist contributor) Robert Khederian. Says Khederian, “These are pure genius: A cocktail napkin that comes on a roll in a pack of 50 for under $20. Tearing them off when company comes over is a shortcut to being the most elegant host.” According to him, the napkins, which come in a bunch of colors and patterns, are “semi-reusable” — Khederian notes that “you can wash them like you would any other napkin,” and the manufacturer says each napkin is good for about six washes.

As countless restaurant tables suggest, you can’t really go wrong with simple linen napkins. This set from Williams Sonoma comes recommended by Sam Bernstein, the founder of hospitality group Table22. Made of stonewashed linen, “these are large and durable,” he tells us. “They really stand up to a lot of use.” Plus, Bernstein adds that they’re “available in so many colors” — 18 in total, including neutrals and more vibrant options like pumpkin orange.

Claire Olshan, the founder of lifestyle boutique DADA Daily, says these floral-print napkins from Zara Home have the effect of “bringing the outside in.” The 100 percent cotton napkins’ delicate print, she adds, strikes the perfect balance between “the beauty, femininity, and untouched rawness of nature.” Shown in mustard, they also come in a lighter natural color.

For something a little more graphic but no less colorful, consider these gridded napkins that interior designer Ghislaine Viñas recommends for their “delicious mustard color.” The canvas napkins are made of a linen-cotton blend, and their bold pattern “can set a table off into a dramatic direction,” says Viñas, telling us to imagine how these would pop against “a black tablecloth with white place settings.”

If you prefer the look of crisp white napkins, this set made of pure flax linen stands out due to its stitched border. Griffin is “wild about them,” saying, “These luxurious pure-linen napkins have hemstitching and Swiss dot embroidery, two of the most elegant details for linens known to mankind.”

These classic-looking napkins have a French stripe down the middle and can be purchased in one of three styles: natural with a gray stripe, natural with a navy stripe (shown), and blue with a navy stripe. Heather Goerzen, who works in creative and design for online interior-design service Havenly, told us about them. She says the organic-cotton napkins have a “modern pastoral vibe and rustic quality” that would make any table feel a bit more like one inside a giant old farmhouse.

This writer owns multiple sets of these napkins from Food52’s in-house line (and wrote about them here). Made of really thick cotton, they’re super soft to the touch and almost have a lineny feel, but aren’t too precious that you can’t easily throw them into the wash. The napkins come in a bunch of muted colors and you can even get them in a mixed set if you prefer an intentionally mismatched look; I went with the mixed sets, buying a “cool set” of gray and navy napkins and a “warm set” of tan, pink, and burnt-clay napkins. Prices start at $30 for a set of four same-colored napkins; if you want a mixed set like mine, they’re $45 for six napkins.

These cotton napkins from Lostine also stand out for their subtle-but-distinctive border, which is made of hand-tied warp threads. “They are elegant in both their stitching and weight,” explains Liza Curtiss, a principal at Le Whit design studio, who recommends them. Cotton napkins, she adds, are typically less fussy (i.e., wrinkly) than linen ones, making the material a better choice for those who want cloth napkins that are easier to maintain. As the photo shows, you can get the set in either a natural or red color.

“These are my absolute favorite cloth napkins,” says interior designer Leah Alexander. Made from organic cotton, the “unique and vibrant” mustard-yellow napkins are hand-block-printed with an abstract floral design. They come from Atlanta-based Sustainable Home Goods, which Alexander says is a favorite place to shop for ethically produced home décor.

Best under-$100 cloth-napkin sets

If you’re looking to invest in a set of cloth napkins, Khederian says you should focus on quality and versatility — two attributes he says are found in these linen napkins from Sferra. “The white linen will match any table and be just as stylish today as it will ten years from today,” he says. “Sferra is one of the best brands out there, so with proper care, these napkins will be with you for the next decade (if not longer)!” And if the notion of going a decade without staining a white napkin makes you nervous, know that these come in (literally) 100 other colors.

According to Amanda Spina, the general manager at Brooklyn restaurant the Four Horsemen, cloth napkins are “both incredibly easy and stupidly hard” to get right. “A lot of them can be a little too picnicky or twee,” she says. “You also don’t want something so pretty that you’re afraid to actually use it.” It is with all of these considerations in mind that she recommends these linen napkins from Gjusta Goods. The solid-colored napkins come in seven muted colors, some with contrasting edge stitching. “It’s hard to know which color to go with,” Spina admits, “as they are all quite nice!”