This is one scenario when a steamer just won’t do.

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Every year, right after Thanksgiving, plastic tubs filled with paper-towel-wrapped Christmas ornaments and sparkling holiday decorations are pulled from an upstairs closet at my parents' house to make their annual debut. Around the same time, so too do the iron and decades-old ironing board appear—less festive than the candle-powered German Christmas Pyramid and the glittery macaroni crafts we made in preschool, but essential, nonetheless. The iron may not get much play the rest of the year, thanks to wrinkle-releasing sprays, wrinkle-resistant fabrics, and handheld steamers; but when it comes to preparing tablecloths and cloth napkins for the holiday table, there's just no substitute for a classic iron.

Holiday entertaining calls for special china, hand-me-down silver, and cherished glassware, so it only follows that the tablecloth and cloth napkins on which they're set are thoughtfully presented, as well.  An iron is the best way to achieve that crisp look.

Here are tips for ironing linen or linen-blend napkins:

  • Wash them on a delicate cycle with a gentle detergent. Harsh detergents can break down the fibers in your textiles (as do starches!), so avoid using them.
  • Remove napkins from the dryer when they're still a little damp and press immediately. (If you don't plan to iron them immediately, you can put the damp napkins in the refrigerator to keep them from drying out until you're ready to press.)
  • Use a high heat setting for the best results.
  • A burst of steam can help with extra stubborn wrinkles.
  • Once you've ironed the entirety of the flat napkin, fold it into the desired shape, pressing the creases of each fold along the way. Napkins are then ready to be stored or set on the table.

The same rules apply to ironing tablecloths, though you'll need a little more patience and time to work through its larger surface area. We also recommend placing a clean sheet under the ironing board in case the tablecloth edges drag the floor while you work—that way, it doesn't pick up unwanted dirt or dust before covering your table.

Yes, ironing napkins is a little extra work—and yet another task on an already long holiday to-do list—but a freshly pressed napkin is one more small way to show your guests that you care. And isn't that what the season is all about?

WATCH: How To Get Wrinkles Out of Your Clothes Without An Iron