Once upon a time, all napkins were made of cloth. When paper napkins were introduced to America in the 1930s, linen napkins took a backseat to the convenience of paper. Although great for everyday casual use, paper napkins are not usually the top choice when setting a table for a dinner party.
A good replacement for paper, linen napkins are reusable and make an environmentally friendly and aesthetically pleasing option to use every day. However, because of their luxurious feel, they are often saved for special occasions and used to dress up a table.
Available in a few different sizes and in a multitude of colors and designs, there are some things to look out for when deciding which ones to buy, such as if they have special washing instructions and how it is stitched and finished.
Below, we feature eight of the best linen napkins you can purchase online. Read on to find the ones that will suit your needs.
1. Top Pick: Solino Home 100% Pure Linen Hemstitch Dinner Napkins
Some people believe that linen and cotton are the same, but they aren’t. Although they are both natural fibers, cotton is woven from the white fluffy stuff that grows in the plant’s boll, while linen is made from flax, which is more difficult to weave into fabric. Because of that, most 100 percent pure linen napkins tend to be more expensive than those made of cotton.
That being said, purists are willing to pay a few extra dollars to have the strength, durability and elegance that is the hallmark of linen napkins. Each batch of these 100 percent pure linen napkins from Solino Home are unique, as they are made by skilled artisans. This means they will vary slightly in color or texture.
Where they won’t vary is in the quality and craftsmanship of these 20-inch by 20-inch hemstitched napkins. The napkins are machine washable, and for a crisp, wrinkle-free look, can be ironed at a low temperature.
This set of four come in beige, but if that’s not to your taste, you can choose from 24 other solid colors to suit your décor. The company also has matching placemats and runners to create the “look” you want to present for that very special occasion.
- Hem stitched
- Made from 100 percent pure linen
- Available in 24 different solid colors
- Only four in a package
2. Best Runner Up: Ruvanti Kitchen Cloth Napkins 12 Pack
The runner up choice as the best linen napkins are not actually made from linen – these are a poly-cotton blend — but we think Ruvanti’s kitchen cloth napkins are still an excellent option if you are looking for an easy-care napkin with the look and feel of real linen.
At 18 inches by 18 inches, these cloth napkins are slightly smaller than our first pick, but still remain an elegant and impressive choice to bring a level of charm and sophistication to your table. The cotton/polyester napkins are super soft to touch and lack some of the stiffness sometimes found in pure linen napkins.
This set is affordable and come in a package of 12 durable, hotel quality cloth napkins that have each been carefully cut and sewn with perfect corners for a tailored look. You can feel confident they will stand up to the most critical eye no matter the occasion, whether it’s a special anniversary or a fancy dinner party.
These come in a lovely charcoal, but if that’s not to your taste, you can choose from 11 other classic colors including white, black, burgundy and orange. No matter which color you choose, they are easy to care for – reusable over and over again, they can be washed in cold water with like colors and tumble dried on low.
- Tailored look
- Available in 12 classic colors
- Machine wash, tumble dry on low
- Soft feel
Not real linen made from flax
3. Best Versatile: Eight Owls Linen Napkins
There are some occasions when only your best dinnerware, crystal and tablecloth will do, while other times something more relaxed and casual is what you need. But if even for the most casual of occasions you prefer to have the quality of 100 percent flax linen napkins on your table, then consider these versatile linen napkins from Eight Owls.
These stonewashed napkins can be used for your fanciest dinner event, family Thanksgiving dinner or backyard party. Machine wash these napkins in warm water on the gentle cycle and use a warm iron on the reverse side for a crisp formal look. Use out of the dryer and forego the ironing, and with a more relaxed look, they will add a more contemporary vibe to your table.
The 18-inch by 18-inch linen napkins are made from pure French flax, with same-colored stitching for a smooth, finished look. They are available in 14 rustic or rich, vibrant colors and are beautifully packaged, making them a thoughtful housewarming gift or stocking stuffer.
- Made of stonewashed 100 percent French flax linen
- Versatile for a crisp or casual look
- Available in 14 colors
- Only four in a package
4. Best Natural Unbleached: MARC OLIVER Natural Unbleached Undyed Pure French Linen Table Napkins
Much of the fabric that is used in our clothing contains bleach and dye, and the same can be said for linen napkins – hence the great variety and vibrancy in colors available with many brands. These French flax linen table napkins from Marc Oliver do come in a small assortment of muted colors, but they also have this option that has no bleach or dye, if you prefer something more natural.
These natural unbleached 100 percent French linen cloth napkins come in a package of four and are soft washed for less shrinkage after washing and have a relaxed farmhouse feel and look. The napkins are hand tailored with thick fabric, have fully hemmed edges and mitered corners for a quality finish. You can also iron the napkins if you prefer a more formal, crisp look.
The napkins are stain-resistant and easy to care for; machine wash them in cool water and line dry or put them into the dryer on low heat and remove before they are fully dry. These linen napkins are available in black, blue/gray, light gray, pink as well as natural.
- Made from unbleached French flax
- No dyes
- Relaxed rustic farmhouse look
5. Best Cocktail Size: Bumblebee Linens 12 White Linen Cocktail Napkins
Most of the linen napkins described on this list are dinner-sized — either 16 inches by 16 inches, 18 inches by 18 inches or 20 inches by 20 inches. However, there are times when you’re going to want something smaller that is better suited for a cocktail party.
These lovely white napkins are perfect for cocktail hour as a place to rest a drink or for keeping fingers clean during hors oeuvres. Made from a blend of 60 percent pre-shrunk linen and 40 percent pre-shrunk cotton, they are soft to the touch and easy to care for. The napkins in this package of 12 measure six inches by six inches and have a delicate eyelet square pattern in the center that gives them a special touch of elegance.
They don’t, however, come in a great variety of colors, although the three colors you can choose from, ecru, ivory or white, will complement any decor and color scheme. These napkins are machine washable and can be ironed.
- Affordably priced
- Package of 12
- Easy to care for
- Cocktail party size
- Not pure linen
- Only three colors to choose from
6. Best Value Pack: Urban Villa White 18 By 18 Inches Casement Weave Linen Napkins
If you dream of linen napkins but can’t afford real linen, then you can fool the crowd and please your pocketbook with a beautiful alternative. Unlike our runner-up pick that is a cotton/poly blend, there is something to be said about the soft beauty of these 100 percent cotton napkins from Urban Villa.
This 12-pack of large 20-inch by 20-inch linen-look and feel napkins are more affordable than 100 percent flax linen napkins and are soft to the touch, durable and wrinkle resistant, with mitered edges for a quality, finished look. The brilliantly white napkins are easy to care for and maintain; just pop them into the washing machine. You don’t need to iron them, but you can.
This pack comes in pristine white but if that’s not your jam, the napkins also come in an assortment of 16 different checked plaid color combos such as black and white, Christmas checks, Mini-Harvest and green and white. Use the white napkins for special occasions and the colored plaid checks for themed dinners and everyday use.
- Made from 100 percent cotton
- Soft and durable
- Value pack
- Not real linen
- No solid colors except for white
7. Best Mix and Match: My Kitchen Linens Linen Napkin
All of the other products on this list come in packages of four, six or 12 napkins. This is very useful if you want the same-colored linen napkins, since it’s usually more cost effective to buy in bulk. However, if you want to change up your décor or table theme, it means buying more packages in another color, which can add up to lots of dollars and dozens of linen napkins.
We included this linen napkin from My Kitchen Linens because that is what it is – one napkin and one napkin only, measuring 16 inches by 16 inches. What use is that? The advantage here is that although there is only one napkin featured, there is a choice of 12 different colors, including red, black, dusty rose, denim blue, sky blue and more.
With this pick you don’t have to purchase more than you want — buy the amount you need in the color you want or mix and match the palette for a burst of color on your table. Regardless of the color, all the napkins are made of 100 percent premium quality linen, are pre-washed for softness and are machine washable.
- Single napkin
- Buy the amount you need
- Choose the colors you want
- Made of 100 percent quality linen
- More expensive than purchasing many in a pack
8. Also Consider: EarthsOwn Decor Natural Cotton Linen Napkin
This is another cotton napkin that is worth considering if you are looking for a simple yet classic linen-type napkin to grace your table.
Unlike the other 100 percent cotton napkins mentioned earlier, these are made from washable organic cotton and are slightly smaller in size, measuring 18 inches by 18 inches, which make them an ideal addition to your holiday dinner table or other special celebration meal. The stitching is perfectly matched to the same color as each napkin and the texture of the fabric is incredibly soft against your skin.
Hand-crafted with a muted beauty and classic styling, the six in this set boast mitered corners and come beautifully packaged, which makes them a great housewarming or bridal shower gift. They are a natural ivory tone that will complement and enhance many different color palettes and come in a handy carrying bag, which makes them easy to store away and keep dust free until you need them.
- Made from organic cotton
- Machine washable
- Mitered corners
- Only available in one color
- Not made from real linen
What to look for when buying linen napkins:
Perhaps the first factor to consider when looking to purchase linen napkins is to decide if you want real linen or a napkin that feels and looks like real linen. Understanding what linen is made of, and how it differs from cotton and cotton blends, is the first step.
Linen is made from fine fibers derived from the flax plant. The fibers are carefully extracted and spun into yarn that is woven into long sheets of comfortable, durable linen fabric. Cotton, on the other hand, is a fabric derived from the white, fluffy interior of the boll of a cotton plant that is then twisted and stretched into fiber that is woven into cloth.
Cotton and linen are both natural fibers and produce fine napkins, but they are not the same, so if you are determined to have true linen napkins, makes sure they are made from the flax plant.
Cotton versus linen: Choosing 100 percent linen napkins as opposed to 100 percent cotton, a cotton/linen blend or a cotton/polyester blend is a personal choice, each of which has its advantages and disadvantages. Pure linen cloth napkins are slightly stiffer than cotton or a blend, but they are more durable and long-lasting. Pure linen napkins are also more expensive, since the process to harvest flax is more difficult and the turning it into fabric takes longer
Choosing a linen-look napkin that is made from 100 percent cotton is a good choice, as it usually has a softer feel than pure linen, unless the linen is stonewashed. For easier wash and wear care, a cotton/polyester blend is suggested, but depending on the brand, it may not have the elegant look and quality of linen you may want.
Size: As you have probably noticed by the variety in the items on our list, linen napkins are available in different sizes, from six-inch by six-inch cocktail napkins to 16 by 16 inches, 18 by 18 inches, and the largest size, 20 by 20 inches. Except for the cocktail size, which is for a specific use, the size you purchase is completely up to you and should really depend on the size of your table and the event you will be using them for. However, if you choose to give a set or two of linen napkins as a gift, then consider the size the person who you are gifting them to would use.
Colors: Since linen napkins are often used to set a beautiful table for a special dinner event, they are available in almost every color and hue on the spectrum, and in some cases, plaid checks and holiday themes. The color you choose is totally up to your specific taste and need.
Photo credit: Akasha/Shutterstock