Cleaning Cloth Napkins: How to Take the Funk Out of Kitchen Linens
Cloth napkins, potholders, aprons, and other kitchen linens eventually require a thorough cleaning to rid them of the rancid grease smell that lingers after many months of use. After switching to a high-efficiency washing machine that uses much less water but sometimes leaves a tiny bit of grease behind, I realized that I had to defunk my linens a bit more regularly than if I used a less efficient machine.
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The most difficult part of this very simple process is accepting that you will have to repeat the process of boiling several times because one apron and a couple potholders (for example) is about all that will fit in a large stockpot.
Make sure the washing machine is empty (to soon receive piping hot linens), then fill a large stock pot with hot water, add a squirt of dish soap (I use plant-based soaps like Seventh Generation or Method) and add a generous ¼ cup of baking soda. Add a few cloth items at a time and be sure that water can flow all around the cloth. This is not the time to stuff the pot full- you want to be able to stir your cloth napkin soup easily to prevent scorching.
Bring the pot to a boil over high heat and stir occasionally. I found that boiling while I was cutting up the fixings for tacos was the perfect time to keep an eye on the pot while I was already tied to the cutting board nearby.
It is helpful for the first batch or two if you choose to add one particularly dirty, stained, or discolored item. This can help you determine if the batch needs to boil a bit longer or not. I had a discolored oven mitt that I kept my eye on and when it’s stain lifted significantly, I knew I was done. With this particular mitt, I poured vinegar directly on the mitt while it was still in the pot and vinegar did what vinegar does when it meets baking soda- it foamed and fizzed and helped release the stain so much so that this particular mitt is now part of the regular lineup rather than in the bottom of the drawer.
Turn the heat off and let the pot cool enough to safely pour much of the water out and then dump the very hot and wet contents into the washing machine.
Repeat this process until all your items have been boiled from 20-30 minutes. At this point, I ran my washing machine on a hot cycle with an extra rinse, a regular amount of laundry soap and vinegar in the fabric softener dispenser. Of course, most of those specifics were optional. Proceed with confidence if you happen to be out of vinegar or if you don’t have a super hot setting on your machine.
This post is really about a lot more than a good way to clean cloth napkins. By using cloth in the home (rather than disposable goods) you save money, time buying them, time from hauling out the trash, and it surely is better for Ol’ Mother Earth. Cloth napkins, aprons, and the like are a way to add class and sophistication to the table. I use cloth napkins every day, even if I am serving burgers purchased from the corner place in town and I never miss paper towels or napkins. More on that in another post, Wildflowers.
What disposables have you replaced in your home? Share in the comment section below, Wildflowers!