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Napkin vs. Tissue Paper: What's the Difference?

Edited by Harlon Moss || By Aimie Carlson || Updated on June 20, 2024
A napkin is a cloth for cleaning the face and hands during meals, while tissue paper is a soft, thin, disposable paper used for cleaning or hygiene.

Key Differences

Napkins are primarily used during dining to wipe hands and face, often made of cloth for multiple uses or disposable paper. Tissue paper, however, is designed for general hygiene purposes, including blowing the nose or wiping tears.
Cloth napkins are durable, reusable, and part of formal dining settings, while paper napkins are disposable but less durable. Tissue paper is softer and more fragile, designed for single use, especially for delicate tasks.
Napkins are larger and have a texture suitable for wiping food spills. Tissue paper is typically smaller, thinner, and has a softer texture, making it gentle for use on skin.
Cloth napkins are environmentally friendly due to their reusability. In contrast, both paper napkins and tissue paper contribute to waste, although they are often made from recycled materials.
In many cultures, cloth napkins are a part of traditional table settings, symbolizing etiquette and sophistication. Tissue paper is universally recognized as a staple in personal hygiene.

Comparison Chart

Primary Use

Cleaning hands and face during meals
General hygiene and cleaning


Soft, thin paper


Cloth is reusable
Designed for single use, fragile

Size and Texture

Larger, suitable for wiping spills
Smaller, softer, gentle on skin

Environmental Impact

Cloth is eco-friendly
Often disposable, contributing to waste

Napkin and Tissue Paper Definitions


In older or formal usage, a napkin refers specifically to a cloth version.
The elegant dinner table was set with linen napkins.

Tissue Paper

A soft, absorbent, thin paper used for wiping or cleaning, especially the face.
She dabbed her eyes gently with tissue paper.


A napkin can also refer to a sanitary pad.
She made sure to pack napkins in her bag before leaving.

Tissue Paper

Tissue paper refers to a delicate paper for sensitive use, like removing makeup.
She used tissue paper to remove her makeup gently.


A square piece of cloth or paper used at meals to wipe the mouth and fingers.
She neatly folded the napkin on her lap before starting to eat.

Tissue Paper

Tissue paper is used for personal hygiene, like blowing one's nose.
He took a piece of tissue paper to blow his nose.


In British English, a napkin may also refer to a baby's diaper.
She changed the baby's napkin before putting him to bed.

Tissue Paper

A thin, translucent paper used for wrapping or crafting.
She wrapped the gift in colorful tissue paper.


A napkin can be a decorative element in table settings.
The napkins were folded into swans for the wedding banquet.

Tissue Paper

In art and decoration, tissue paper is used for creating various crafts.
The children made flowers out of tissue paper for the class project.


A piece of cloth or absorbent paper used at table to protect the clothes or wipe the lips and fingers.


A cloth or towel.


A sanitary napkin.


Chiefly British A diaper.


A serviette; a (usually rectangular) piece of cloth or paper used at the table for wiping the mouth and hands for cleanliness while eating.


A nappy (UK), a diaper (American).


A small scarf worn on the head by Christian women (chiefly Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox) when entering a church, as a token of modesty.


A little towel, made of cloth or paper, esp. one for wiping the fingers and mouth at table.


A handkerchief.


To protect clothing; wipe mouth


Garment consisting of a folded cloth drawn up between the legs and fastened at the waist; worn by infants to catch excrement


Are napkins reusable?

Cloth napkins are reusable, while paper napkins are usually disposable.

What is a napkin?

A napkin is a piece of cloth or paper used during meals to clean the hands and face.

Is tissue paper biodegradable?

Most tissue papers are biodegradable, but some may contain additives that affect this.

Can napkins be decorative?

Yes, especially cloth napkins can be decorative and part of table setting aesthetics.

What is tissue paper?

Tissue paper is a soft, thin, disposable paper used for cleaning or hygiene purposes.

Can napkins be used for cleaning surfaces?

Paper napkins can be used for cleaning surfaces, but they are less effective than specific cleaning products.

What are napkins made of?

Napkins can be made of cloth (like cotton or linen) or disposable paper.

What are the environmental impacts of using tissue paper?

Tissue paper contributes to waste and deforestation, although recycled options are more sustainable.

Can tissue paper be recycled?

Used tissue paper is generally not recyclable due to contamination and its low-quality fiber.

Are there different types of napkins?

Yes, ranging from everyday paper napkins to formal, high-quality cloth napkins.

How is tissue paper different from toilet paper?

Tissue paper is generally softer and more absorbent than toilet paper.

Can tissue paper cause allergies?

Some people may be allergic to the dyes or fragrances used in certain tissue papers.

How should cloth napkins be folded?

Cloth napkins can be folded in various styles, depending on the formality of the occasion.

Are all tissue papers the same?

No, tissue papers vary in softness, strength, and absorbency.

Is it better to use cloth or paper napkins?

Cloth napkins are more sustainable, but paper napkins are convenient for certain situations.

Why is tissue paper sometimes colored?

Colored tissue paper is mainly for aesthetic purposes, like in gift wrapping.

Is tissue paper good for sensitive skin?

High-quality, soft tissue paper can be suitable for sensitive skin.

How are cloth napkins cleaned?

Cloth napkins are laundered like other fabrics, often needing washing after each use.

Is tissue paper safe for composting?

Plain tissue paper without inks or additives can be composted, but it's best to check the specific product.

Are paper napkins recyclable?

Used paper napkins are usually not recyclable due to food contamination.
About Author
Written by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.
Edited by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.

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