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21 Different Types of Napkins

Different varieties of napkins, collage photo.

Quicklist: Napkins

  1. Napkin Dispensers
  2. Beverage Napkins
  3. Dinner Napkins
  4. Square
  5. Rectangle
  6. Round
  7. Linen
  8. Cotton
  9. Jute
  10. Polyester
  11. Paper
  12. Machine Wash
  13. Dry Clean Only
  14. Hand Wash
  15. Personalized
  16. Set
  17. Embroidered
  18. Reversible
  19. Ruffles
  20. Recycled
  21. Anti-Wrinkle

The Spartans of ancient Greece were among the first cultures on record to make use of napkins — called apomagdalie, they were made of soft dough and indispensable when fingers were the main eating utensils.

The first paper napkin was introduced in China in the 2nd century CE, with the invention of paper. The Chinese folded the napkins into squares and used them inside of baskets that held teacups. During the same period, ancient Romans were using cloth napkins, called mappa, with their meals.

Paper napkins remained a novelty in social settings until American etiquette author Emily Post gave her seal of approval in 1948 — a new paper napkin was preferable to a recycled cloth napkin in her world.

Related: Types of Placemats | Types of Tablecloths | Extravagant Floral Arrangements

Types of Napkins

Napkin Dispensers

Dispenser type napkins.

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Dispenser napkins come in two types: In one design, the napkins are specially folded together so that when one is pulled out, another lifts up into place. In another type, they are simply folded and placed on top of each other ready to be pulled out.

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Beverage Napkins

Napkins for beverages.

Beverage, or cocktail, napkins are generally small and folded in multiple layers. They can be bought personalized so that the name of your bar, or information about your party or wedding, is printed on the napkin.

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. 

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Dinner Napkins

Disposable napkins for dinner.

Dinner napkins are fairly large so that they 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.

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Napkin Shapes

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.

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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 features 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 features will make your napkins look 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 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 would with a more popular 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.

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Napkin Materials

Linen

Linen type napkins.

Linen napkins are very popular 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, opt for jute napkins. These are 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 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.

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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Napkin 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.

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Dry Clean Only

Trend dinner napkins.

Some napkins need to be dry cleaned 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.

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Hand Wash

Hayley rose chic design napkins.

Some cloth napkins need more gentle care 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.

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Napkin Features

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.

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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. 

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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 primary piece 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. 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.

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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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Napkin Sizes

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 perfect 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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Top Brands of Napkins

Whether you opt for cotton, polyester, or linen napkins, the best brands offer naturally made materials that are easy to clean and fit your budget. In addition, the environmental impact of reusing cloth over paper is one of the primary reasons for the resurgence of cloth napkins.

Adding cloth napkins to your table screams class while being functional. To ensure you have the best possible napkins within your budget, consider the following top brands:

Crate and Barrel

Aspen Crisp White Cotton Napkins, Set of 8

Source: Crate and Barrel

Crate and Barrel’s Aspen Cloth Napkins are versatile but offer a more formal aesthetic, which is ideal for special occasions. Constructed from 100% cotton, these napkins are smooth without texture, like fine dining linens.

This product can be purchased in sets of eight or individually, so you can buy the exact amount. One of the greatest draws of these napkins is how soft they feel. The only downsides to these table linens are the hems aren’t reinforced and the material is relatively thin.

Eight Owls

Linen Napkins –100% French Flax – Stonewashed Pure Linen Cloth Napkins - Size 18 Inch x 18 Inch – Set of 4 (Natural Rustic Taupe)

Eight Owl makes high-quality, durable napkins that can be used at your dinner table for years. Specifically, their French Linen napkins, constructed from 100% French flax, are some of the best available due to their stain resistance. The soft texture and slightly worn look are due to the stonewashed process.

While these napkins are priced higher for a set of four, they outlast most of the competition and continue to soften with each wash. The Eight Owl French Linen Napkins are available in 13 solid colors, including mulberry, purple and taupe.

Food52

Five Two Everyday Soft Cotton Cloth Napkins

Source: Food52

If you’re shopping for an everyday set, consider Food52 Five Two Everyday Soft Cotton Napkins. Purchasable in sets of four or six, these napkins are best known for their incredibly soft material, as the name suggests.

Also, these don’t require special maintenance and have a designed crinkle texture to hide potential wrinkling. Furthermore, multiple color options exist, including versatile neutrals.

Maxmill Jacquard

maxmill Jacquard Cloth Napkin 20 x 20 Inch Swirl Pattern Solid Washable Polyester Dinner Napkins Set of 4 with Hemmed Edges Great for Family Holiday Dinners Weddings Parties and Banquets Ivory

The Maxmill Jacquard 4-Pack Cloth Napkin is an elegant table set focused on formal events. This minimal yet beautifully refined cloth napkin elevates all dinner tables, making them ideal for a holiday, birthday, or festive occasion. Constructed from 100% polyester, these napkins are wrinkle and stain-resistant.

As a result, you can create an ideal table setting with 15 stunning colors to choose from to impress your guests. To up the ante, these textured napkins are available with matching tablecloths in round, rectangular, and square shapes.

Ruvanti

Ruvanti Kitchen Cloth Napkins 12 Pack 18X18 Inch Dinner Napkins Soft, Comfortable, Reusable Napkins, Durable Linen Napkins, Perfect Table Napkins, Charcoal Grey Napkins for Dinners, Parties & Wedding.

Boasting over 7,000 Amazon reviews, the Ruvanti 12-Pack Kitchen Cloth Napkins are incredibly durable for daily use. Made from a 40% polyester and 60% cotton blend, these napkins benefit from both materials.

Polyester offers some wrinkle and stain resistance, and cotton provides absorption and softness. Since these are sold as a set of 12, you will have plenty to use between washes. Additionally, the Kitchen Cloth Napkins are available in 11 solid colors.

Urban Villa

Urban Villa Chambray Slub Set of 12 Dinner Napkins (20X20 Inch) 100% Cotton Everyday Use Premium Quality Over Sized Cloth Napkins with Mitered Corners Ultra Soft Durable Hotel Quality (Black/White)

Urban Villa’s 12-Pack Chambray Dinner Napkins are made from 100% absorbent and soft cotton and are available in an attractive finish. These napkins can be ordered in 17 solid colors like neutral white or black, bright green, and red.

It’s important to note that these are only somewhat stain resistant, and you must iron them to achieve a wrinkle-free appearance. However, if the texture is a deal-breaker, then the relaxed look offers a unique farmhouse vibe, and the softness of the cotton is unmatched.

Utopia

Utopia Home [24 Pack, White] Cloth Napkins 17x17 Inches, 100% Polyester Dinner Napkins with Hemmed Edges, Washable Napkins Ideal for Parties, Weddings and Dinners

These 24-Pack of Home Cloth Napkins are an excellent option for parties of groups larger than two. Comprised of 100% polyester, these napkins are stain and wrinkle-resistant at a budget-friendly cost.

Depending on your party theme, you can select from eight solid color options, such as blue, pink, red, and traditional white. If you need a larger number of these napkins, purchase the 288-pack, which is surprisingly affordable.

Williams Sonoma

Williams Sonoma Pantry Napkins

Source: Williams Sonoma

Williams Sonoma offers some of the best napkins in the industry due to its high-quality material and versatility. Their Pantry Napkins are made from sustainably sourced cotton, which provides softness and a subtle texture.

The fabric has a comfortable feeling or durability without stiffness and does well in the laundry. However, like other cotton products, they are prone to wrinkling, and this product is available in limited colors.

These top brands have similar traits in their napkins: multiple solid color options, durability, easy maintenance, and wrinkle and stain resistance. In addition, most brands are affordable enough to fit any budget while offering a robust product. You won’t be disappointed by considering any of these brands for your next event!

Where to Buy Napkins

Webstaurant

Webstaurant store homepage

Webstaurant is a business supply store that caters specifically to restaurants. Amongst the many supplies they need, restaurants burn through napkins of all types at a high rate.

At Webstaurant, they can choose from hundreds of paper and cloth napkins, customize dozens of napkin designs, and find napkin dispensers with classic and unique shapes. Despite all the options and quality, the prices will be hard to beat. Even the custom napkins are solidly on the cheap end compared to similar products.

ULine

Any home or business that needs a vast quantity of napkins in easily accessible locations can consider the no-nonsense napkins and dispensers from Uline. Their napkins aren’t the greatest or the cheapest, but the supply is reliable for large-scale enterprises.

Custom Napkins Now

If you want a personal touch, Custom Napkins Now can supply you with napkins featuring unique designs. On top of the prominent paper napkin options, their hand towels are close enough to cloth napkins to count. They’ll imprint designs on just about anything, including shot glasses, hats, bags, shirts, wristbands, and mouse pads.

Imprint

Imprint has the same overall business model as Custom Napkins Now, although its additional offerings make more sense when only considering the names of the companies. The two shops have a wide overlap on the types of products they’ll customize. Imprint is a bit more expensive, though, and a few cents more per napkin can really start to add up.

Caravan Home Décor

To get away from the paper napkins and relatively cheap cloth, you’ll want to hunt at home décor stores like Caravan Home Decor. Linen and other reusable napkins are more common, and the designs branch away from simple colors or expensive custom designs. Expect a mark up for both artistic value and quality, but they can potentially last for a lifetime.

Neiman Marcus

Building on the high-end hints of the above vendor, stores like Neiman Marcus sell luxury napkins from designers like Dolce and Gabana for hundreds of dollars per napkin. Most people won’t want to pay that much for something that’ll be wiping up excess food bits, but the customer is always right in matters of taste.

Staples

As an office supply store, Staples has a decent stock of basic and slightly colorful paper napkins. While marketed to wedding shoppers, they have some personalized napkin options that are fairly inexpensive as far as custom napkins go. Some people feel more comfortable doing business in person, and Staples offers physical storefronts for such folks.

Office Depot

Office Depot and Staples are two dueling competitors in the office supply marketplace. Their personalized napkin option keeps it simple, but it’s on par with the ones available at Staples.

A healthy selection of basic and pre-printed paper napkins round out its relevance to napkin seekers. Online shoppers can nitpick between the two, but those who want a physical store might have one or the other closer to them.

Overstock

Overstock.com has everything from paper napkins with a variety of imprinted designs to high-quality napkins for fancy table arrangements. Their inventory isn’t as reliable as other stores, so the available selection may change between your visits.

Even with those limitations, the product list still has a healthy number of options. You may not think that you’ll find a set of napkins for your corgi-themed party, but you never know until you look. The prices are cheaper than you’ll find at most other retailers.

Amazon

Many vendors sell through Amazon these days, and the potential Prime membership savings on shipping and handling can make incidental napkin purchases reasonable for households.

Even without the membership, it can be hard to find the same products at a lower price than on Amazon, and the shipping can sometimes be waived on larger orders. Restaurants and larger organizations will want to look at the options available to them from an Amazon business account.

Any General or Convenience Store

Basic paper napkins are available at a wide selection of brick-and-mortar storefronts. Smaller packs might have a slightly higher unit price compared to bulk purchases, but you won’t have to wait for them to be delivered. There are frequently holiday-themed napkins when the seasonal displays are out, too.

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