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What Are Placemats?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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Placemats are pads which are used to protect the surface of a table, counter, or bar. They are installed at each place setting at a table, and they are designed to accommodate plates, glasses, silverware, and other dining equipment so that the table does not become stained, scuffed, scarred, burned, or otherwise damaged. Both homes and restaurants use placemats, and there are a dizzying array of options, ranging from paper placemats designed for disposable use to hand-beaded versions for upscale dinner parties.

The primary function of the mat is to protect the table. They tend to be thick, insulating the table from heat, and many are water-resistant so that spills will not seep through and stain the table. Many are also ornamental in addition to functional, and they are designed to coordinate with napkins and other table décor.

Wood, bamboo, cork, cotton, linen, knits, paper, beading, plastic, and a wide variety of other materials can be used for placemats. The mat is often flexible so that it can be rolled or folded for storage. An assortment of geometric shapes can also be used. Round, oval, square, and rectangular types are very common, but it is also possible to find octagonal versions, or designs which are cut into irregular shapes. Some types can also double as trivets for hot pots and pans, especially if they are folded over to increase the insulation.

Restaurants tend to use temporary placemats which are replaced after each use. Temporary mats in restaurants may be printed with information about the restaurant or the area. Some restaurants offer the mats as drawing pads, encouraging customers to use crayons, pens, or pencils on their placemats to amuse themselves while they wait for food. Temporary versions can also be used at home, where they are very handy for kids parties and potentially messy dinners, such as lobster feeds.

Home users tend to prefer permanent placemats, which may be laminated or sealed to increase their durability. Some people keep several different designs in storage, so that they can coordinate for different events, while others use a basic set for all occasions. A set of purchased or hand-made placemats can make an excellent housewarming gift, especially in the case of people who are setting up house with a brand new table. When choosing these table accessories as a gift, it is a good idea to think about the taste of the person who will be receiving them, and to consider purchasing coordinating napkins as well.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a HomeQuestionsAnswered researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments
By Sinbad — On Sep 22, 2011

If you have children, or work with children, making placemats can be a fun activity to have the children do.

They will have fun being able to personalize their very own placemat with whatever materials you have. You can keep it pretty simple by just using what you already have, or your school has. Like scrap paper, buttons, tissue paper, markers, crayons, etc.

Once they are finished personalizing their own placemat, you can either have them watch you laminate it or you can let them laminate their placemat themselves.

After lamination, the children will have a lasting memory of this fun activity. They may even want to use it as their official placemat for the dinner table. This may even get a child who is not into crafts and/or meal time a chance to get into both.

Personalized placemats can be an adorable keepsake also!

By Saraq90 — On Sep 21, 2011

Placemats are great for protecting your table and table clothe. I like getting mine at the dollar store, or somewhere cheap that has fun patterns, and just tossing them out when they get dingy.

Placemats can be really fun, with the right people and at the right place. For instance, I went to a friend's casual dinner party and she had what looked like formal white clothe placemats. I didn't think too much of it, except the usual, "oh, those look fancy". Then, being the creative, fun, nice person she is she gave us all sharpie's and let us draw/write whatever we wanted on our own placemat.

It was interesting and funny to see what everyone created! It turned something so ordinary into something extraordinary and fun!

A few months later, I went to another dinner party at her house and she got the placemats out again. It was fun to reminisce and to add more stuff on!

By Speechie — On Sep 21, 2011

My favorite placemats, hands-down, are bamboo placemats. Here's why - You can clean them easily. They do not wrinkle. And finally, the neutral tones these placemats come in look fantastic against the wood grain of a wooden dining room table.

I have a decorative favorite - beaded placemats. Gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous. However, as my husband says - they are "all form no function." I say this, because they are impossible to clean. So I say yes, to putting them on the table for decoration and no, to putting them in use.

By SarahSon — On Sep 20, 2011

@myharley - I also have a set of crocheted placemats that were made by my aunt. The set she made for me are made with an off color of white, and are trimmed with pastel colors on the ends.

These look so pretty on a spring table with some fresh flowers in the middle of the table. I find myself using them at different times throughout the year, but always look forward to getting them out in the spring.

I think placemats add a special touch to any table. I have one big drawer in my buffet table that is full of an assortment of placemats.

By myharley — On Sep 20, 2011

My grandma was an avid crocheter and made me a few sets of placemats. My favorite set she made for me was for Christmas.

These rectangular placemats are made from red and green yarn. She also made a matching oval mat to be set in the middle of the table to set a centerpiece on.

I use these for my table every Christmas. Not only do they look very festive, but they also bring back so many memories of my grandma.

Another nice thing about these are when you are done with your meal, you can just throw them in the washing machine. They are so easy to keep clean and have stayed in great shape for many years.

By Azuza — On Sep 20, 2011

@indemnifyme - Ah, college. I paid my way through school and I was too broke to buy a lot of things. I think someone gave me my placemats though.

One thing I wanted to point out is you can totally make your own placemats. If you can knit, all you would need to do is find a cone of 100% cotton yarn on sale, which isn't hard to do. The you could knit yourself self some sturdy, machine washable placemats!

One of my friends actually did this and she was very happy with the results. Plus she had some extra yarn left over, so if something happens to one of the placemats she can always make another one.

By indemnifyme — On Sep 19, 2011

When I was in college I was pretty broke, so I chose not to purchase placemats for my dining room table. This was a bad, bad idea!

The dining room table was a nice wooden table, given to me by my mother. When she gave it to me it was in great condition. After a few years with no placemats, not so much. It ended up getting scratched and stained horribly.

I will never not buy placemats again. They are totally a necessity for keeping a table looking nice.

By manykitties2 — On Sep 19, 2011

There are some gorgeous quilted placemats you can buy if you are willing to check out some of the farmer's markets in your area. Whenever I go to the one near my city there are always lots of artisans selling their wares.

The quilted placemats I last purchased were really sturdy and washing machine friendly, which is a bonus with kids. I hate having to fight with getting handmade things clean.

What I think the biggest benefit of the quilted placemats I purchased are as they make a really great protector for nicely finished wood. I hate getting scratches on my tables, and the quilted placemats are especially thick.

By Sara007 — On Sep 18, 2011

When I was younger my mother always used to drag out the Christmas placemats to dress up our dining room table. I actually really liked them because they had various wintry scenes on them. On some you could see snowmen, and on others traditional Christmas scenes.

Nowadays I have my own home and I also made sure to go out and buy some Christmas placemats for our holiday decoration box. I chose more simple placemats, void of any scenery, but they still look beautiful. The ones I found are silver and look like they have white snowflakes dotting them. Plus, have the prettiest sparkling border.

By sunshine31 — On Sep 18, 2011

@BrickBack - I think that you can use cork placemats or even round placemats to change things up a bit. Sometimes you can add texture to the room by using a woven or linen placemat on your dining room table. I have different sets of placemats for both using and decorating.

I always use vinyl placemats with my kids. It is so easy to clean and you just have to wipe off the leftover food. Cloth placemats are pretty, but you have to wash them in a washing machine and dry them in the dryer and make sure you pull them out as soon as the cycle is over so that they don’t get wrinkled.

Linen placemats have to be dry cleaned, so I try to use those on special occasions only.

By BrickBack — On Sep 18, 2011

The nice thing about using placemats is that it can really dress up your dining room table.

I use woven placemats that are bright lime which is one of the main colors that I use in my apartment.

I like to decorate with lime, blue, white and beige or sand color. I live on the beach and tend to use the colors of the beach throughout my apartment. My dining room table is white and the stark contrast of the bright lime really makes the dining area pop.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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