21 Different Types of Napkins

Add a special touch to your table setting by choosing the right napkin and know which types are appropriate depending on the level of formality of the meal.
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Table napkin tied with a blue ribbon placed on a table setting.

Spartans in Ancient Greece used the first napkins and ate them. Called apomagdalie, the napkins were made of soft dough and were indispensable when fingers were used for eating. The first paper napkin came from China in the 2nd century A.D. The Chinese folded the napkins into squares and used them inside of baskets that held teacups.

It was the Japanese, however, who introduced the paper napkin to the market during the 19th century. People were initially reluctant to use it in social settings until American etiquette author Emily Post gave her seal of approval in 1948 when she was made to choose between the paper napkins and a cloth napkin.

Type

Dispenser

Dispenser type napkins.

If you own a restaurant or a bar where you are going to have napkin dispensers out on the tables or bar, then you will want to make sure that you buy napkins that will work with these dispensers. These napkins come in two types. One type is where some have been specially folded together so that when one napkin is pulled out, another will be lifted up and ready to be removed easily. In another type, they are simply folded and placed on top of each other so that they will be ready to be pulled out, but won’t have part of the napkin pulled up and out of the dispenser. The type that you buy will depend on the type of dispenser that you have. Either way, your diners or customers will have a much easier time getting their own napkins and your staff won’t have to wait on them for this.

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Beverage

Napkins for beverages.

Beverage, or cocktail, napkins are generally small, folded so that they are in multiple layers, and often have funny or cute sayings on them. They can be bought personalized so that the name of your bar, or even information about your party or wedding, is printed on the napkin. This makes it really easy to add a personal touch to your event. When you are shopping for beverage napkins you will want to make sure that you buy ones that are high enough quality that they won’t be too thin and rip when a wet glass is placed on them. Lower quality beverage napkins will be much thinner than higher quality ones and won’t be able to stand up to a drink being placed on them repeatedly.

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Dinner

Disposable napkins for dinner.

Dinner napkins are going to be fairly large so that they will completely cover the lap of the diner. This ensures that any food that drops to the lap won’t land on clothing and will keep clothing clean and free of stains. When you are shopping for dinner napkins, you need to make sure that they have enough weight to them that they won’t easily slide off of a person’s lap, as some thinner and lighter dinner napkins tend to do this and it can be very frustrating for the person using the napkin. Additionally, make sure that they are thick enough to stand up to being used for an entire meal so that the person using your dinner napkins doesn’t put a hole in it the first time they use the napkin to wipe their mouth.

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Shape

Square

Square shaped napkin.

Square napkins are very popular and look great when laid out on a bar or a table at a party. They work well when you are passing appetizers at an event, as they are not so large that they will get in the way, but ones that are folded will be able to spread out and offer more coverage, if necessary. Look for square napkins that are cut very straight, as otherwise, they will begin to look a bit more rectangular, and it will affect the overall feel and atmosphere of your event.

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Rectangle

Rectangle shaped table napkins.

Rectangular napkins are the most common shape of a napkin that you can find and for good reason. They look great next to a plate, spread out well when used on the lap or tucked into a shirt, and come in a variety of styles and colors that make it easy to choose napkins for your events. There are some touches to look for when choosing rectangular napkins to ensure that they are a little more elevated than your regular napkins, and these include stitching around the edges and finished corners. Together these two touches will make your napkin look very high quality and will ensure that they last for a long time. If you want to do a lot of napkin folding to decorate your table, then you will want to invest in a number of rectangular napkins, as this is the most common shape that is used in napkin folding and you will have a number of different designs that you can choose from.

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Round

Round shaped napkins.

It’s a little more difficult to find round napkins, and since they aren’t as popular as square or rectangle napkins, you may not have a large number of choices when comparing styles and colors as you will with a more popular napkin shape. These napkins look amazing when used correctly on the table, and while they don’t offer as many shape options if you want to attempt napkin folding, when pulled through a napkin ring they will look very classy. Make sure that when you are shopping for round napkins that they are perfectly round so that you don’t have to worry about them looking oval or oblong when they are on the table, which can throw off your presentation if you are not careful.

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Material

Linen

Linen type napkins.

Linen napkins are very popular even today because of how durable they are and the fact that they can be easily washed. Even if you spill messy food on a linen napkin you can usually get out any stains due to the strength of the fibers and how forgiving they are when you wash them. These napkins will wear incredibly well and stand up to a lot of use before they begin to wear thin and need to be replaced. This natural fiber is absorbent but not quite as absorbent as cotton, so if you are worried about cleaning up spills, then you may want to consider a different material.

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Cotton

Contemporary cotton napkins.

Cotton napkins need to be woven, not knit if you want them to be durable enough to be used time and time again. You want to make sure that the cotton napkins you select can stand up to a lot of use and washing, but aren’t so rough that they are painful to use when wiping your face. Cotton is very absorbent, so you can easily clean up spills at the dinner table with these napkins, and because it is such a forgiving material, you won’t have to worry about stains setting in these napkins. While you may need to spray the napkins to remove any stains, this is a fast and easy way to ensure that they are completely clean when they come out of the wash.

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Jute

Contemporary jute napkins.

For a rustic look when you are setting up your table, you will want to opt for jute napkins. These are going to be a natural brown color but can be trimmed with bright thread to add a pop of color and interest to the napkin. They are not as comfortable for use on the face as linen or cotton napkins are, but they will become softer with use and regular washing.

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Polyester

Polyester type napkins.

While not as popular as other types of cloth napkins, it’s still very easy to find polyester napkins. These napkins are great at resisting stains and won’t fade, no matter how many times you wash them, which is more than can be said for cotton napkins. When you choose polyester napkins you will want to feel them to ensure that they are not too slippery, as this can make it very difficult for you to keep your napkin on your lap while you are eating.

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Paper

Paper napkins.

Paper napkins are very inexpensive and easy to buy. They are generally used in fast-food restaurants and other restaurants that need to be able to feed and move diners through the restaurant quickly. Because of the ease of buying and using paper napkins, there are some families who prefer to use them instead of cloth napkins. There are major environmental concerns over using these napkins, which is something to consider if you are torn between cloth and paper napkins. In addition, because they are not as hardy or sturdy as cloth napkins are, you generally have to use more of them for each meal, which will only add to the waste and the overall cost of these napkins. In general, they are less expensive than cloth napkins, but because you have to continue buying them and they can’t be reused, the cost will add up over time.

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Care

Machine Wash

Contemporary green colored napkins.

One of the major perks of cloth napkins is that you can use them and then throw them in the washing machine to get them clean. If you have a busy life and don’t want to deal with hand washing your cloth napkins, then you will want to make sure that you choose napkins that are machine washable. This will allow you to throw them in with a load of towels and then toss them into the dryer when they are clean. Because you don’t have to worry about any special care with machine wash cloth napkins you are much more likely to use them on a regular basis and wash them. Otherwise, you may decide that paper napkins are easier and require less care and cleaning and switch back to these products.

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Dry Clean Only

Trend dinner napkins.

Some napkins need to be taken to the dry cleaner when they are dirty. This is a little frustrating if you are in a hurry and don’t want to have to make the extra trip to have your napkins cleaned, but depending on the type of fabric used and whether or not there are any decorations on the napkin, you will want to be safe and have a professional wash them for you. If you know that you won’t make the time to take your napkins to the dry cleaner, then you will simply want to opt for cloth napkins that you can easily wash at home.

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Hand Wash

Hayley rose chic design napkins.

Some cloth napkins need more gentle care than what you can give them by putting them in the washing machine, and these need to be hand washed in the sink. This only takes a minute and then the napkins can be left to dry flat or put into the dryer on a low tumble to ensure that they are dried all the way through. When you choose to hand wash only napkins you will want to make sure that you are willing to commit to this task each time you use them or you will find that you don’t like using your cloth napkins as much as you thought that you would and may revert back to paper napkins instead.

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Feature

Personalized

Pink personalised napkins.

The best way to show your excitement about a big event such as a wedding, bridal shower, or birthday party is with personalized napkins. While many people only think about the color of their napkins when they are opting for personalized napkins, you can actually choose not only the color but also any words or pictures that you want to have printed on your napkins. This will allow you to create a unique look that will be very memorable and can even serve as a reminder of your special day. Another way that some people like to use personalized napkins is as a gift for a special event. They make a great way to commemorate and celebrate the purchase of a new home, a retirement, or a milestone anniversary.

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Set

Solid colored napkin set.

If you want to make sure that all of the napkins that you use in your home match, then you will want to go ahead and buy your new cloth napkins as a set. This will allow you to set a lovely table where all of the napkins are the same, which will create a cohesive look that your guests are sure to appreciate. While some people are skilled and able to find napkins that don’t match perfectly but will complement each other when used on the table, for the fastest and easiest way to create a unified look simply buy a set of napkins. You can easily find napkins that are sold in pairs or ones that are sold in larger sets and buy the ones that will best meet your needs.

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Embroidered

Contemporary embroidered napkin.

For a little extra visual and textural interest, consider buying napkins that are embroidered. This can either be done by hand, which will allow you to personalize your napkins, or done by machine, which is typically the case when you buy napkins from a store. Embroidered napkins will elevate your dining or drinking experience, as they are considered to be a little bit more special than regular napkins. Look for embroidered napkins that have fun designs on them, as these can match the rest of the décor in your home or show off something that you like, such as pansies or dogs.

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Reversible

Black traditional napkins.

If you are going to be completing napkin folding and want to make sure that both sides of your masterpiece look amazing, then you will want to buy reversible napkins. These have the same pattern on both sides of the napkin, that way it doesn’t matter which side is facing up. This also makes it very easy to quickly fold your napkins and get them on the table without worrying about a front and a back of the napkin. If you have children who are helping you set the table, then this can be quite beneficial, as it ensures that your napkins will look great, no matter how they are folded.

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Ruffles

Ruffle trim solid taupe napkin.

Ruffled napkins are a little bit more elegant than regular napkins and will likely make you feel very fancy when you are using them to dine. The ruffle will, of course, add to the overall size of your napkin, so you will want to make sure that you choose one whose size will work for your needs. Additionally, ruffles may tend to wrinkle a lot more easily and if you want to make sure that your napkins look the best that they can, you may have to iron these on a regular basis.

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Recycled

Cotton cloth dinner napkin.

If you love how easy paper napkins are to use but don’t like the idea that you are going to be using up a lot of trees for the ease of paper, then it’s time to look for ones that are made out of 100% recycled material. These will allow you the ease of the use of paper napkins and you can rest easy about using them one time and then be throwing them away, but since they are from recycled materials you don’t need to worry about the environmental impact that using your paper napkins will have. This is a great way for people who love cloth napkins to keep disposable napkins on hand without the guilt that comes along with buying and using paper napkins.

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Anti-Wrinkle

Contemporary tracks and blossoms napkin set.

If you’re busy then you most likely don’t have a lot of time to devote to ironing your napkins to ensure that they look smooth and flat. Rather than giving up on the idea of having a nice looking table, all you have to do is buy napkins that are anti-wrinkle. While these will wrinkle some if you leave them in the dryer all day long instead of taking them out and folding them, they will remain much flatter than other napkins, which will remove some of the pressure that you may feel to iron them. If you love to entertain and want to make sure that your table always looks its best, then you will want to opt for this feature.

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Size

Small

Small hem stitch cloth napkin.

It’s normal to want smaller napkins for your parties or when passing appetizers and 6×6 inches is a great size when you want something on the smaller size. These napkins are easy to handle with one hand so you don’t have to worry about your guests struggling to use your napkins, while at the same time balancing their plate and drink, but the napkin is still large enough to wipe fingers or a person’s mouth. When you do choose these small napkins, you will want to make sure that the ones you select are made of quality material, as you don’t want them to rip when being used, which will cause your guests to have to use more napkins.

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Medium

Hemstitch cocktail medium napkins.

Normally people only need a medium-sized napkin when they are setting the table or eating a normal meal. These tend to be around 10×10 inches, which is large enough that they can be folded and laid by the plate for a nice presentation. When shopping for medium-sized napkins you want to make sure that they are not so thick that you will have problems folding them, as they can be used for some folded napkin designs. This is a very common size for napkins and is small enough for a person to easily handle them, but large enough to provide coverage on a lap.

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Large

Large napkin set.

Perfect for people who want to really practice their napkin folding or are worried about not having enough protection on their laps when eating, large napkins, which are usually around 19×19 inches, offer ample space and protection. These napkins are perfect for intricate folding because they are so large that you won’t have trouble making the creases and points, and can spread out all over a person’s lap or chest when you are eating a particularly messy meal. These napkins are a little bit harder to come by due to their large size and are often made out of a material that will need to be taken to the dry cleaners when dirty.

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