Using Handkerchiefs Instead of Facial Tissue

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Use a hanky? Seriously?

This is exactly how I reacted when Matt suggested I purchase some “pretty lady hankies” a few years ago. My 91-year-old grandpa and my own husband were the only two men I knew who carried handkerchiefs. I thought Matt’s hanky use was disgusting, and there were several parts about hankies I was totally uncomfortable with. (My grandpa is allowed to do whatever he wants, but Matt’s hanky use was very personal since it was happening in my house!)

I inundated Matt with questions (and disapproval) about hankies for a long time. “What about a REALLY runny nose?” “What happens when it gets all filled up?” “Do you stick it back in your pocket all wet?” It didn’t matter what his answers were… I was totally grossed out.

Then one day I had the mother of all colds. Matt brought a handkerchief to my bedside and I finally had to admit to him… it wasn’t that bad! However, I did NOT let people know about my hanky use right away – I was a closeted hanky user for a while.

At first I would borrow one from Matt ONLY when I had a cold. (It didn’t leave my nose raw and red like tissue did from repeated wiping.) The next step was leaving some in my bathroom at home where nobody would see them, and using it ONLY in the privacy of my own home. (Avoiding all possible awkward conversations about hankies.) When I got a little braver I started carrying one in my purse, but ducking behind things when I needed to use it. I’m still not to the point where I will fling it out of my back pocket, shake it open, and confidently empty the contents of my nose into it while in public – although I’m pretty certain that’s socially unacceptable no matter what. I now carry a hanky in my pocket or purse, leave one on my dresser, and a stack in the bathroom. I have fully replaced facial tissues with pretty lady hankies! (A shout out to my mother-in-law here for gifting me several very cool family heirloom hankies that she encouraged me to put to use!)

I have found that switching over to hankies, and completely ditching disposable facial tissue, is really just a matter of mentally overcoming the “ewww” factor. Now that I’m over it, I can clearly see the benefits of handkerchiefs over regular tissues.

Vintage Hankies

Five reasons to use a handkerchief

It saves money. I used to love coordinating all the cute tissue boxes with my bathrooms (wow, that’s marketing at its finest), but  I estimate we probably spent $20-$40 per year just on facial tissue. Not a huge savings, but I can certainly think of other things I could use that money for. We have not purchased a box of tissue in almost a year, and the tissues we purchased before that were to keep available for guests.

It produces less waste/saves resources. I have been so thankful for handkerchiefs as we strive to go paperless in our house. They take up very little space in the laundry and prevent our trash from filling up so quickly. Keep a stack of hankies in an easily accessible drawer in the house so family members aren’t tempted to use the paper alternative.

Hankies are more comfortable to use. Tissues used to make my nose raw after prolonged use. My 100% cotton hankies feel very nice on my face. As far as the moisture in the hanky goes… without going into graphic detail, I’ll just say that it all works out somehow and hasn’t been an issue for me. After using a hanky, it can be folded up, tucked away, and it’s usually dry the next time you pull it out. (And if this grosses you out, you can always grab a fresh hanky!)

Hankies create less of a mess. Hankies don’t leave any particles behind, and never rip as I’m using them. The white fuzz left on Matt’s face after using facial tissues is a thing of the past. (I kind of miss being able to laugh at this.) Hankies won’t create trouble in a load of laundry if accidentally left in a pocket–and we’ve all had this laundry mis-hap with tissues. Picking a gazillion of those little white tissue remnants off clothes coming out of the washer? Ugh! Never again! In fact, you’ll just end up with a clean hanky if one is left in a pocket.

Hankies are more sustainable. Handkerchiefs are a much more sustainable replacement for facial tissues AND many other things. Think about replacing other things in your home with hankies…paper napkins, paper towel, toilet paper, tissue paper, or other things around the house that might currently be disposable. We no longer have to worry about running out of tissues. In the past, when the last tissue had been used, we would grab for toilet paper and frantically run to add tissues to the grocery list. With hankies, you can grab a fresh one whenever your current one is getting icky, and you can forget about a trip to the store.

Hanky challenge

Although hankies have changed things for the better in my house, I’m not suggesting you have to become a full-on handkerchief-wielding fanatic all at once. Test it out at home to see if you like it… take baby steps into the world of handkerchiefs. Make your own hankies with scrap material or dig out an old bandana to use. Check Etsy, Amazon, or your local dollar store if you want to buy a package of cheap hankies. You might just find yourself hooked!


About Betsy Jabs

Betsy holds a bachelor's degree in Psychology and a Master's degree in Counseling, and for nearly a decade worked as an elementary counselor. In 2011 she left her counseling career to pursue healthy living. She loves using DIY Natural as a way to educate people to depend on themselves to nourish their bodies and live happier healthier lives. Connect with Betsy on Facebookand Twitter.

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  1. Sarah Gordon says

    Hey, this is so awesome. I had been thinking of using hankies for a while and then my mom gave me a bunch of vintage hankies too. We have been using them for the past few months and it has been so great. My kids love them too. I had no idea anyone who wasn’t in my grandfather’s (also a hankie user) generation used them. Great to know there are more of you out there!

  2. Marla B. says

    I have to say, there are some good reasons to have a hanky on hand, such as catching a sneeze, but using it for a cold is one that I will not do unless I am broke and lost out in the woods;)) I am a nurse and I am very big on germ control. I do not recommend harboring any germs in any article for reuse. You want to get it out of the body and disposed of asap. It may be more comfortable, and that may be enough for some. I will opt for lotion puffs. We do try to reuse many items and strive to be less wasteful, but somethings I do not compromise on. Sanitation and health is one of them. I do not use hot water for my laundry and hankies require hot water for sanitizing.

    • Matt Jabs says

      This opinion, doesn’t match our experience. It’s accurate to say that marketing has created overconcern for “germs.” Sort of a national mysophobia.

    • cheryl eustice says

      I have to wash everything in hot water due to dust mite allergy and I feel better about washing bedding and underwear in hot water.I could buy very expensive chemicals to kill dust mites.I feel the use of hot water is the better way to go .Now I am thinking about all that tissue floating in the air as paper breaks down easy.Not to mention the picture in my head of a dump pile full of open bags of used tissue and dirty diapers.It would be my luck to be driving by it.All that bacteria and virus from shots babies gets in those diapers.Not to mention the used tissue in open public wastebaskets.

  3. Shannon says

    I talked to my hubby last night about it and he’s not opposed to giving it a try. Plus we’re going to attempt to give up the paper towels. Also, made the attempt last night to purchase items for making my own laundry soap at Target. Was only able to get the Borax. I’ll have to try Wal-Mart for the other items. But I’m excited to try this and then dishwasher soap. Thanks for all the great tips.

  4. Donna R. says

    I use hankies most of the time. I have seasnoal allergies and often need to blow my nose. I find using hankies instead of tissues causes my nose to run less as the fuzz from the tissues just aggrevates my allergy all the more.

  5. Dora Muller Harrison says

    my husband and I use old t-shirts,,,never get a raw nose, and very soft and durable for a hardy blow..LOL, then just throw them in the wash…

  6. Lety Miana says

    Thanks for this affirmation! I have been using hankies for i don’t know how long — despite comments (positive and negative, mostly negative) on the use of hankies. I fully agree with all your reasons stated. and i’d be very happy to forward this article to friends, with the hope of encouraging more converts to go natural and save those trees as well.

  7. Mom says

    Hi Betty Lou, so glad to see that my Grandmas hankies made it to the world wide web! I am so glad you are enjoying them! Your Mother in Law

    • Betsy Jabs says

      Definitely loving them! In fact, I couldn’t find one of my favorites for the picture…the white one with a daffodil border. Must be hiding in a pocket somewhere. 🙂

  8. Lindsey @ NW Backyard Veggies says

    I love hankies. I feel sometimes like I was born in the wrong century! I have a hard time finding material that soaks up the scuzz, though. 100% cotton is super sweet and soft, but sometimes I feel like it’s not absorbent.

    I am on the hunt to find cheap mini terry cloth fabric to use – that should solve it!

    Plus, Trader Joes has awesome soothing hand sanitizer that doesn’t dry out your hands, so I just tote that with me everywhere and dose up – after pumping gas, shopping, and before eating or drinking. And I haven’t been sick in a long time. This post will probably jinx that. Oh, well.

    • Betsy Jabs says

      Nah, there’s no jinxing going on here. 🙂 I know what you’re saying about the absorbency of the cotton hankies. Let us know if you’re able to find a mini terry & if it works for you!

      • cheryl eustice says

        The use of fabric softner will affect the absorbency of cotton so you shouldn’t use it on towels either.

    • DinnerofHerbs says

      Flannel is great at absorbtion and sooooo soft. I’ve just made a huge batch of hankies from an old flannel sheet that had torn. Works a treat.

    • Martha B says

      I cut up old cotton T-shirts into hankies. They are really absorbent and so soft. If you just want some to keep in your bedroom to use during a bad cold (no sore nose from these), you don’t even have to hem them.

  9. Kara says

    My son started using a hanky when he was about four years old and staying with my dad one weekend. He came back not wanting to use tissues. I just got out his old burp cloths from when he was a baby, and we tie-dyed them fun colors. He’s eight now, and still using them!!

  10. Lauren says

    I don’t feel that your initial concerns were really addressed in this article, Betsy: ““What about a REALLY runny nose?” “What happens when it gets all filled up?” “Do you stick it back in your pocket all wet?” ” Those are all reasons why I’m averse to using hankies even though my dad has used them my whole life, and the article really didn’t convince me to that these were minor concerns or explain any remedies for them.

    Also thanks for your points about disposable tissues, Deb! The kindling idea is great!

    • Betsy Jabs says


      The great thing about hankies is that you can use them any way you like. For the “REALLY runny nose,” you will end up using more hankies…getting a fresh one when you see fit. When a hankie is “all filled up,” same thing…reach for a clean one. As for sticking it “back in your pocket all wet,” you don’t have to. If you fold it back up strategically, it ends up covering the wet spot, absorbing the moisture, and ending up virtually dry the next time you pull it out. You just choose a clean corner to use for your next wipe. If you don’t like the idea of the hanky absorbing the moisture and using it again–yup, just grab a clean one. 🙂

      Consider this…it’s not every day that you have a really runny nose, or tons of gunk coming out of your nose. Most days I just have little dribbles I blot with a hanky, making it unnecessary to use multiple hankies in one day. Hope I addressed everything you were wondering about! 🙂

    • L says

      Lauren, I have been using handkerchiefs for at least three years. My nose used to run all the time, so I would use a dozen or more tissues per day. Now I pull out my hanky once or twice a day and that’s it. I think the fibers from the tissues, and the ensuing dust, go into the nose and cause more irritation than would exist otherwise.
      1) If I get a really runny nose, I just use different parts of the hanky. They are much larger than tissues, and they do a better job of keeping the nose clean.
      2) When it gets all filled up, I grab a clean one. If I am away from home, I use toilet paper. But it getting “filled up” doesn’t really happen. A hanky will last four days when I am well. When I am sick, I carry a spare.
      3) I fold it so the damp part (it doesn’t really get wet as much as a paper tissue would) goes is sandwiched between dry parts.

      They do wash clean in the laundry with no issues. I certainly think that cloth handkerchiefs aren’t any more gross than cloth underwear.

      While I agree with Deb that those in the medical profession should stick to disposable everything, I do not think that is necessary for laymen. We should not overly limit our exposure to common germs, or we will lose our resistance.

      • cheryl eustice says

        I agree! I grew up using hankies and my mother worked in the medical field.They seem to do a better job then tissues.Also not any worse than washing underwear or cloth diapers.If you have a cold you are still spreading germs no matter what you use.I am amazed at how many people go to work because they have to.Doctors use to tell us to stay home.Everyone should be washing their hands after blowing their noses !I was a lot healthier using hankies than using tissues.I get grossed out seeing a pile of used tissues sitting there on top of the garbage until it gets taken out.Then I start thinking about all the germs on hard surfaces there must be.A hankie would be handy just to cover a cough,which we should be doing or using to open public doors- a clean one! Keep your hands away from your face when out in public.I think shopping carts and public doors are the worse-everyone uses them. To disinfect you have to keep the surface wet for ten minutes and then rinse.Zinc seems to really work at shortening a cold.

  11. Evy MacPhee says

    Love your site and articles.

    Nice to finally have something to share back.

    I only have one or two of the silk handkerchiefs and many of the cotton. I can throw the silk in with my fancy laundry, of which I still have some. The extreme luxury of having a silk handkerchief is not to be missed.

    I use cotton for most of the time.

    Don’t miss out of the dishtowels. They are hard to find elsewhere, for me anyway. I have given them as gifts to grateful recipients.

    I once had fantasies of marbling fabric. I find that I now use clothing blanks for sleeping and hanging around the house,

    100% cotton feels so good on the skin.

    Keep up the good work. I have not had to use store-bought, well advertised, dishwasher soap for two years. Discovering that adding washing soda and borax to my laundry has improved it.

  12. Angie says

    I have been saying this for year. Hankies are so fun and bright and never get torn up in your pocket or purse. As the woman in the thrift store told me when I asked her about them and what they are used for she said ” For tears honey” with a little wink. I use mine manly for wipping the runny nose I get from allergies and leave the big jobs for paper tissues, when we are becoming a generation of people who use paper towels to open bathroom doors I think anything more then a slight blow is just to offensive to the general public. When it comes to colds I use lotioned tissues only, this means no redness and no germ filled hankies waiting for me to do the laundry and spreading germs in my house. Now if I ran out of them let me tell you I would grab my pile of hankies and use them with vigger. I say carry one with you and see where it goes, it will still get good use and be something fun to find in your purse just remember to change it out once it is used, even if only for tears.

    • Betsy Jabs says

      Cute story about the woman in the thrift store. 🙂 I like your thinking…I also encourage people to try carrying one and see how they like it. Maybe just for blotting fingers, wiping tears, or dabbing a drippy allergy nose.

  13. Deb Sampson says

    I do use cloth napkins, cloth hand towels (everyone has their own and I change them daily….pick them up at rummage sales), but cloth hankies I don’t use except for the quilt I made from them!

  14. Sarah says

    I like the idea of using a hankie, but I just can’t get into it. I am fairly sure that I can get over the gross factor, but I can NOT get over the germ factor. How clean does the washer really get them and does it really kill germs? And are you spreading germs to other items in the laundry? I am refusing to use hankies until I can be assured they are sanitary.

    • Angie says

      Think about the fact that germs come out of your pores when you are sick, I assume you don’t through away your clothes sheets and bed when you have a cold so no need to worry about the germs. Maybe hand wash them in a sink of boiling hot water if it really bothers you. or get only white hankies and bleach them each use with the rest of your whites.

      • Betsy Jabs says

        Thanks for this Angie! I’m thinking the exact same thing if the germ factor bothers people. I don’t really worry about it…I can think of some things that end up in the laundry that are a lot more “germy” than a dirty hanky.

        If the germ factor is a problem for people…hankies could be pre-soaked in a bucket with sudsy water or water & several drops of tea tree oil (which will kill germs), washed separately, bleached (as Angie suggested), set on an extra rinse cycle, or dried on high heat or in the sun (to kill more germs). Just a few ideas for people to try, but I just throw them in with all my other laundry. I have actually been healthier over the past year using hankies than I ever was when using facial tissues. 🙂

  15. aj says

    I have some of those same vintage hankies!

    I have a box full of handkerchiefs that were my Grandmothers. I think they are so beautiful! I never quite knew what to do with them…but now I might just get them out and use them for what they were intended.

    Thanks for the reminder!

    • Betsy Jabs says

      Yes! I was tempted to just save these beautiful hankies, but it’s so much more fun to use them and be able to look at them all the time. 🙂 Let us know if you put yours to use and what you think of them!

  16. Elaine says

    I may try, like you, to just use hankies when I am at home. Maybe not when I have a cold, but just for allergy-related dabbing. Similarly, we have totally eliminated paper napkins at our house. I had been buying various cloth napkins over the years for dinner parties I rarely have. When we decided to reduce paper/plastic use, I collected all our cloth napkins with various prints. I keep them in a hanging basket in the kitchen. It is quite an eclectic collection! Unless we have a really messy meal, we can use them more than once, then toss them in the wash with dish cloths, towels, etc. I haven’t bought paper napkins in two years. Yay!

    • Betsy Jabs says

      That’s awesome Elaine! Don’t you just love that you can take one more thing off your shopping list for good? 🙂 I’m glad you’re willing to give hankies a shot at home…see if it cuts down on the facial tissues you have to buy.

  17. Shannon says

    My grandfather, too, was a hanky guy. My grandmother too. I have her old hankies that I was planning on putting in a quilt. Now you’ve got me thinking. If I can get passed the eeewww factor, I’m willing to give it a try. Thanks for this tip.

  18. Deb Sampson says

    Although I too remember lovely hankies and am very conscious of reducing paper use, as a nurse practitioner with years of infectious disease experience, I draw the line at using cloth hankies. Sanitation and containment of infectious organisms vs paper use is the issue here and evaluating the risk benefit ratio is important. In this case, the risk of using cloth that can spread disease far out weighs using paper tissues.

    The best way to prevent spread is to use paper tissues, dispose in a trash receptacle and wash/sanitize hands after every blow or wipe. I put my tissues in plain paper bags (saved from shopping trips), close the top and use them to start the wood stove. This solves 2 issues at once- sanitation AND reuse for fire starting.

    When I am sick, the paper bag and hand sanitizer are at my side. I have a little teaspoon full of Crisco or vegetable oil to spread on my nose after I blow (reduces irritation!). Keeping my germs as much to myself as possible, is really important to me.

    • Tabatha says

      I am also worried about the germ factor to this. I HATE germs. But I would really like to try this. I am all about sustainable and money saving household products. So I was thinking maybe spraying it with alcohol before putting it back in your pocket? I’m wondering how effective this would be, does anyone have any ideas?

      • Monica says

        I try to integrate sustainable practices throughout my life. I also like to keep harmful bacteria away from me and my family. I don’t use antibacterial soaps regularly(since overuse likely will leave bacteria that was resistant to it). I also don’t use hand sanitizers often (although I hear the type with just alcohol as the main ingredient will not create resistant bacteria, I haven’t looked into it yet) . The only way I would use a handkerchief would for single use before tossing it in the wash (they would probably all have to be white so that they could be disinfected with bleach). Perhaps soaking them in an alcohol bath before washing would do the trick too.

    • Shelley Essaunce says

      I’ve been a hanky user for over 20 years and I love them. I recently took a Safe Food Handling course and I learned that our noses and mouths have bacteria and at temps between 4c-60c, bacteria can double every 20 min. As a result of learning this, I use my hankies only once then put in laundry hamper for washing. I have dozen and dozens of them and this is not a problem unless I’m fighting a sinus problem and then I’ll be washing a load every other day. So I hear your concern for germs and I think we can use this info to influence how we use hankies. I’m totally hooked on hankies.

  19. Stacy @Stacy Makes Cents says

    🙂 A month or so ago, I posted something just like this. Our family has been using hankies for a while now. I was shocked at the number of people that told me I was really gross.
    Oh well – more money in my bank account. 😉

    • Betsy Jabs says

      I’m glad you’re getting the word out there too Stacy! I laugh now at my past attitude about hankies…there’s really nothing gross about them. 🙂

  20. Jacqueline says

    I’ve switched over entirely, too!
    I do keep a few tissues around in case I have a guest who needs one, but other than that I love my hankies! Less money, less garbage.
    I have a ton, mostly made from scrap material, and at the end of the day I throw them in the hamper and grab new ones as I need them. They take up no room in the wash machine, and I just hang them up to dry. Easy-peasy!

    • Betsy Jabs says

      Awesome Jacqueline! I hang mine to dry as well…it doesn’t take long for them to dry, and it makes my vintage hankies last longer. 🙂