Linen vs. Cotton Napkins: What’s Best for Your Restaurant?

Linen and cotton napkins are generally superior to paper napkins, but the one that works best for your restaurant will depend on your specific needs. Cotton napkins absorb moisture better, making them better at wiping diners’ mouths and cleaning up spills. Linen, on the other hand, is more durable and tends to have a high-end feel. 

The Benefits of Linen Napkins

Linen napkins are the preference of many high-end, fine dining establishments. The perception is often that linen napkins are more expensive and luxurious, and many diners like their look and feel. They’re also highly durable and can be used for a long time with little risk of fraying. 

Even when wrinkled, linen napkins look nice. Ironing them is often unnecessary. 

Linen is generally considered a luxury fabric, but it’s still affordable. At a certain price point, materials become unreasonable even if businesses are aiming to impress their customers. 

Linen is also a greener option when compared to cotton. The flax used in linen production is naturally pest-resistant and requires fewer herbicides than cotton. That being said, organic cotton uses less water and fewer pesticides than traditionally sourced cotton.

Washing Linen Napkins

Linen napkins are durable and easy to wash. The general recommendation is to wash them in cold water on a gentle cycle, finishing them with a cold rinse. Harsh detergents should be avoided. 

Many linen napkins come with cleaning instructions, or the instructions are available on the manufacturer’s website. Because linen napkins can be more expensive, it’s a good idea to look for these instructions and follow them closely. 

Air drying is usually recommended for linen napkins. Alternatively, you can iron the napkins to help them dry.

Even though they are durable, you want to take care of your linen napkins to prolong their life span.

The Benefits of Cotton Napkins

Cotton napkins are often cheaper than linen napkins and come in a wide array of styles. Furthermore, many customers notice little difference between cotton and linen napkins. Cotton napkins are an excellent choice for a reusable napkin, and they are still a significant upgrade over paper napkins.

While linen napkins hold many advantages over cotton napkins, ultimately, there isn’t too much difference between the two materials in terms of utility. Cotton napkins are still reusable, can be cleaned and can last for years without noticeably deteriorating to the point that a customer would notice. 

Washing Cotton Napkins

Cotton and cotton-blend napkins can be washed with other cotton laundry. However, following the general suggestion to wash the same types of fiber together, cotton and cotton-blend napkins should not be washed with non-cotton items.

Table linens with details, such as laced edges or embroidery, should always be washed alone because there is a risk of the fabric catching, which could damage the cotton. Cotton napkins should also be air-dried like linen napkins. 

Which Is the Right Choice for Your Restaurant?

Many experts consider linen the high-end choice for a napkin, and customers often view linen napkins as fancy. Linen napkins are more sustainable and durable than cotton, and many people prefer their touch and look over cotton. 

Consider the overall aesthetic of your restaurant to determine which material fits best. For a fine dining establishment, the slight elevation that linen provides is likely worth the additional investment.

In the end, however, there’s no single right choice for a napkin. It depends on the specific needs of the restaurant. Much more can go into choosing napkins beyond the material, which we discuss further in this blog post.

Keep Consistent

Customers will notice if there is a mix of cotton and linen napkins at a table. While it’s unlikely to ruin their dining experience, it could be distracting. It could also affect how a dining area looks at a distance if some customers have linen napkins and others have cotton napkins, even if the type of napkin is consistent at a given table. This is especially true if the napkins are different colors. 

Let Alsco Manage Your Napkins

Whether you choose linen or cotton napkins for your business, you will have to launder, maintain, repair and track those napkins indefinitely. This has the potential to be a significant hidden cost, especially if you want to keep the appearance of your napkins consistent. 

Consider Alsco’s linen rental services before buying napkins. We manage the whole process of keeping your napkins clean, stocked and looking great. This cuts down on the complexity of managing this process on your end, as well as the overall costs involved. 

We pride ourselves on being environmentally friendly and punctual. Reach out to us today to learn more. We can stock your dining establishment with everything from napkins to tablecloths to kitchen towels, and we make the entire process easy.


Linen vs. Cotton: Which Is Greener? (June 2021). Treehugger.

How to Clean All of Your Table Linens Ahead of the Holidays. (October 2020). Martha Stewart.

It's Time to Upgrade Your Napkins. (January 2020). Food & Wine.

Contact Us

Interested in Alsco's Services? Visit our Contact page and let us know!