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. Dave says

    Hi Betsy nice article encouraging women to toss the tissues and add handkerchiefs. Do you use strictly plain white cotton/silk hankys cause they are the best for your nose?

  2. Shelley Essaunce says

    I love hankies! I have a friend who is an expert at garage sales and she picks most of her hankies up there and she shares them with me. I’ve purchased new ones from organic unbleached cotton, sewed some and another friend sewed some for our hiking trips. I’ve crocheted borders on hankies and shared for birthdays and when someone is crying. They are helpful for snuff-users too, as my son will attest too as he uses the batch we sewed together. I keep extras in the car, in my purse, at the office, in my coat pockets, by my bed, in the bathroom and throughout the house. I use empty kleenex boxes, ceramic covers for kleenex boxes and new cardboard boxes for the hankies and fold them so they are connected to next one to come out, so they have a familiar place within my home. After learning about the bacteria in our noses and that they double every 20 min at room temp, I now get a fresh one after every use. I carry a small plastic bag with me when I am out to put them in. I have lovely reminders of my friendships when I use them too. It feels good that I am not using trees to discard bodily fluids.

    • gerry says

      Shelley–Love that you keep your handkerchieves in so many places so you’ll always have one.I keep several in my go-bag and jacket, and a half dozen each,mixed mens’ and ladies’ in the kitchen,bathroom and living room-really convenient that way.Using it once is a little severe really.If you blow your nose reasonably often,there really isn’t time for bacteria to attain appreciable numbers and many are not pathogens anyway.You should enjoy using each one more!

  3. gerry says

    Another nifty idea is to use the same side each time once it’s been opened and used.It’s easier to find a clean spot and even well-used handkerchieves appear unused from the other(clean)side if anyone is looking-a good point of etiquette.This is true even for white or pastels unless the fabric is on the sheer side.Womens’ floral print handkerchieves are a plus because they can appear unused even after a lot of use,and they’re pretty to look at.

  4. Jake says

    Im a guy over 30 and I’ve been using handkerchiefs for over 15 years and there is no turning back for me. I have allergies that cause a constant runny nose.
    I only use 100% white cotten cause the blends are not as absorbant and dont feel as soft. There cheap and have one for every day of the month, so im not worried of using one and tossing if needed when in a pinch in public washrooms if you know what I mean.
    I fold mine in half then make 3 more folds like in a fan pattert or a paper airplane with out the point so that I end up with two blowing flods one side and one on the other. that way i dont have a wet ball of snotty cotton and I know which side is clean for blowing and what not.

  5. Kim says

    I just ordered some hanky books. I can’t wait to give them a try! I already use cloth pads for light days and tampon backup and love them. I use small Monday through Sunday towels in the kitchen and cloth napkins. It so gratifying when you’re not wasteful.

      • Kim says

        Yes. They look so neat. In two ways, hehe. A quick google search will pull them up. The 3 pack was only 20 dollars with shipping and I think each has 8 “pages” if I remember correctly.

    • L says

      As you are already on cloth pads, have you considered switching from tampons to a menstrual cup? They are so much safer, not painful, not smelly like tampons, and super cheap in the long run. I got a DivaCup a few years back, and it is still going strong. Be sure to shop around for a good price, whichever brand you pick. Wikipedia has some decent info on the concept. The only issue is that there is a learning curve (maybe one or two periods) to get them in properly.

      Also, since starting on it, my cramps have decreased significantly. Woot!

      • Kim says

        Hey L! I have a DivaCup also. I bought it about two years ago and discovered my body doesn’t work well with it. I have tried it a couple more times over the years but I don’t feel comfortable with the fit. Glad it works for you! I will continue to try it periodically.

  6. Tabatha says

    I think for pee it would be perfectly sanitary, I don’t think I could ever use it for poo though. I am considering switching to reusable menstrual pads, I’m currently pregnant so I think I will see how I like the postpartum ones.

  7. Norm says

    OK, well my previous entry doesn’t appear to be datestamped but it was aaaaages ago and I still haven’t caught a cold so I reckon hankies for me are at least as good as tissues (and yes, I was one of those people who hung onto it until I couldn’t use it any more!).

    Now I’m seriously thinking about the ‘family cloth’ step. My reasoning is this – if I’m having a wee I just use toilet paper. Wee is sterile so I reckon it should be OK to use a cloth. I can just put the cloths in the wet wipes container, and have a nappy bucket to drop them into, then they can go in the next wash.

    Now I want these cloths to be very distinctive and different from my hankies (I’m not sure there’d be any cross contamination issues, but we have the ‘ewww’ factor to consider). So I was thinking about what I could use as my reusable wet-wipes, and when I was on Amazon tonight I saw some adverts for reusable baby wipes, so next payday I’ll be getting some of them.

    But then that made me think, well if we use terry nappies for babies why can’t we use something similar for adults? The hygiene issue is surely the same. And I used to use reusable sanitary pads when I still had the need (I’d better explain – I ~am~ female – ‘Norm’ is a nickname) and I managed to keep them sanitary. So when I get my reusable wet wipes I’m going to at least trial them for wees, and if that’s successful I’ll see if I can bring myself to take the next step!

    • Betsy Jabs says

      That’s the ticket Norm! (I’m laughing because I always thought you were a male!) Use whatever you’re comfortable with and keep taking steps! It’s amazing to me now that I’m not grossed out by much anymore. I’ve seen t-shirt squares and old flannel squares used as wipes. Don’t feel as though you have to spend a chunk of money on these! We’ve read that others in the “family cloth” community only use the cloth for #1…so you’re off to a great start with this idea. 🙂

      • Norm says

        I think I’ve given all my old towels to the animal centre and friends with dogs, and I don’t have any T-shirts that I’m ready to give up yet. I’ll have a rummage around and see if there’s anything else that will do the job. (My latest ‘re-purposing’ was to turn a pair of my DH’s cute boxer shorts into a headscarf and matching wrist band – he’d only worn them once and they got mangled – don’t know if it was Ddog that chewed them or the washing machine!)

  8. NG says

    My father uses hankies and I have never really thought about it as being gross. I personally don’t use tissue very often, I get sick once every three to five years but I now have children who catch the normal colds going around every year. I might put a little “kid” hankie collection together for each of them. My dad will get a kick out of seeing them with their hankies I’m sure 🙂 Thanks for reminding everyone about this.

    • Betsy Jabs says

      What a great idea to put together a “kid” hanky collection! My nephew always wants to use a hanky each time he sees his grandpa pulling one out of his pocket…and he’ll try to mimic the loud, trumpet-like blowing noises of his grandpa. 🙂

  9. Deb Sampson, RN, APRN says

    Spraying with alcohol is not effective. The only way to ‘kill’ germs is to launder in hot water and soap after every use- Chlorine bleach also works but is toxic if inhaled and damaging to the environment and patterns.

    • gerry says

      Maybe if they were boiled for several hours and then autoclaved for several more? We’re not dealing with bubonic plague,you know!

      • Tabatha says

        Lol gerry I love your response! It’s true, as a society we’re soo afraid of germs when they are just natural. The antibacterial soaps, lysol wipes and hand sanitizers are so much more harmful and people don’t even realize it

        • Deb APRN says

          If it were just Bubonic Plague, I wouldn’t worry about this idea. That germ is easy to kill and the Plague is easily treated. What IS worrisome is Swine and bird flu- hardy viruses, easily passed on ‘hankies; AND hands, and there is no effective treatment especially for children and the elderly.

          I strongly believe in reuse but to advocate for reusing anything contaminated with respiratory body fluids is asking for trouble. We can go back to earlier halcyon days (which are a myth, of course) and if we do, we can also see that the major cause of morbidity and mortality will be communicable diseases, just as it was pre 1950.

          So let’s use some common sense here as well as sense about infectious disease and contagion….
          Allowing kids to get dirty while playing.? GOOD IDEA.
          Avoid Antibiotic soap and OCD with chemical cleaners? Best IDEA YET!
          Reusable diapers sanitized in hot water and mild soap between use? SURE
          Using one’s own set of bath towels for a whole week? GREAT
          But using cloth hankies more than once before washing? FOOLISH.

          • gerry says

            Many,and I underline many,people use tissues more than once and yes,they then put them back in pocket or purse and,and oh,yes- “walk- around-with-it-ewww-gross!”.If someone uses a tissue on a train,in a restaurant,in a movie theater seat and on and on,they don’t conveniently discard it on the floor–back it goes with all the other old ones and there it sits until memory kicks in and they remember to throw them away a week later.The act of using a tissue is somehow seen by it’s advocates as some socially beneficial big favor to humanity.Have you given any thought to how many germs waft up from open or partially open refuse containers from the soggy tissues people toss in(after the requisite third or fourth use),or how many times saintly tissue users have brushed their wet fingers on items everyone touches-door handles,overhead subway straps,the disc you’re holding in the video store now.Any experienced handkerchief user has DRY fingers,yet another selling point.

          • Betsy Jabs says

            Great points Gerry. We’re not sharing hankies with anyone else, and hands normally get washed after blowing, so I don’t have a problem using them more than once before washing.

          • Tabatha says

            That’s a true point too, my grandma ALWAYS has crumpled up tissues in her pocket! She’s always pulling one out of her pocket, wiping her nose and putting it back. So far, no deadly illnesses and I’m sure she’s been doing this 20+ years

        • gerry says

          It really has reached new heights of craziness,especially with an item like hand sanitizers etc..We’re going to breed strains of all the bugs we think we’re exterminating,that will just be stronger and more resistant-that is the nature of the process.

          • cheryl eustice says

            I strongly agree.I even have a habit of putting used tissue in my pocket when there is no wastebasket.I hate the thought of littering because I don’t want to think of infecting someone else and having it come back to me as something else.Notice we seem to be getting sicker more often than we used to?I even seen people reuse paper tissue.I think it comes down to people misusing tissue regardless of what they use.You should dispose of it in a container with a lid or small paper bag.Wash hands after.

  10. Laura says

    I switched to hankies after a certain brand of tissue makers produced a commercial that encouraged more paper waste. Really?? A personal paper towel thing in the bathroom?

    What I do with my wet hankies is fold them up and put them in a plastic bag in my purse. When I need more clean ones, I put them in a lingerie bag and throw them in the wash. That way, they don’t get mixed up with all my other clothes and I’m less likely to lose them.

    Many newer washing machines have a sanitation option, which was great when I lived with someone who had it. I would just throw my bag of hankies in with their stuff that needed sanitizing. Voila! Fresh hankies, germ free!

    • Betsy Jabs says

      Those personal paper towel dispensers for home bathrooms make me crazy! We laugh at those every time the commercials air!
      I love your idea of putting wet hankies in a plastic bag in your purse! I may have to implement this. Too bad we’ve always had cheap washers without the sanitizing option…sounds great! 🙂

  11. Norm says

    It never occurred to me that people might think that using hankies was ‘gross’ but like the nurses who’ve posted here I was under the impression it was very unhygienic. I had to be persuaded to go towards paper hankies – now I’m going to trial cloth hankies and see if we’re any worse off. I do wash or sanitise my hands after using a tissue anyway. I’ve also got into the habit of coughing into my elbow instead of my hands in an effort to reduce germ spreading.

    But nobody has mentioned the part of the article that REALLY made my eyes pop, ‘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. ‘ Toilet paper? Really?!!! You use hankies for that?

    • Betsy Jabs says

      Norm, I was kind of surprised nobody commented on that part either. 🙂 We don’t use hankies in place of toilet paper, but there is a large community of people who use “family cloth,” which is basically reusable toilet paper. Similar to cloth diapers, some families will keep a stack of soft cloths near the toilet and a container for soiled ones, wash and sanitize them, then use again. Some families really swear by it, although it’s definitely not for everyone. 🙂

      • Norm says

        Well I’m using proper hankies again for my nose now, Betsy, and can report that there has been no increase in colds, cold sores or the like in our household. I do like not finding bits of tissue in my laundry!

        I imagine the family cloth would feel nicer to use than toilet paper, but I wouldn’t have the discipline to keep up with the laundry required to keep my home smelling sweet!

      • Tabatha says

        I am definitely against family cloth! Not only is it super GROSS, I don’t think it’s sanitary. Here is my reasoning. In the olden days people used cloth diapres, and washed them no big deal right? People also used hankies rather than throw-away tissues. So when we use cloth diapers and hankies, we are essentially going back to a time where we had less waste and used healthier, more natural options.
        But throughout history, people have NEVER used reusable toilet tissue. They always used leaves, or in later days magazine pages or just washed after using the bathroom.
        I’m sure you could get them sanitized, if you really wanted to but I think it would take a lot of work for that to be safe. Besides, I touch/look at/smell poop when I poop, I don’t want to do it all again when I do the laundry!

          • cheryl eustice says

            You must be throwing away underwear.Again there is the pile at the dump-not pretty.Back in the day when cloth diapers was in use you had to swish the cloth in clean water in the toilet and flush until the diaper was clean as you can get it.Then it was rung out and kept in a covered container(diaper pail) in a pre-soak until they were washed. Then dried in the sun or dryer.Both kills germs.For any germs in water-we all use the toilet not to mention run off from farms.Are you a pet owner? I am sure you changed a litter box or cleaned up a pet accident.You can always clean a washer with a little bleach in some hot water.Now-this Sunday paper has a coupon for paper hand towels because they are cleaner and healthier than what-a clean towel? It sounds like to me that a company is trying to make more money to pay for their stock holders who expect a ten percent increase in stocks each year.

  12. Cheryl says

    I’m very much looking forward to trying hankies! My allergies are really hyped up this season after such a warm winter. After using so many tissues, my nose gets very raw & chapped. I don’t like the feel of the lotion tissues so I’ve just been putting Chapstick or something similar on my nose all the time, after blowing. Then, as a hotel desk clerk, I’d feel self conscious because I’d have a raw nose that’s red AND shiny. Not a good look if your name isn’t Rudolph. My son has outgrown last summer’s tshirts so I’m sure I’ll be re-purposing those very soon. Thanks for an excellent site.

  13. Donna says

    I’ve always used hankies. I still have some from when I was little. They’re smaller than a ladies hanky. I also inherited my grandma’s and use them all the time. Never occured to me that some people might think it’s gross. I save the prettiest ones for weddings and funerals. My husband also uses hankies but he prefers a bandana. For some reason.

  14. Toni says

    I switched to cloth napkins in our house a while ago. It was a slow switch but I finally got my hubby and daughter on board. I still buy rolls of the cheapest paper towels for quick cleanup of spills or on the go snacks. Now I am going to give handkerchiefs a shot. I know some guys at work that use them too. I’m tired of the raw nose so that is a bonus too.

    I’m so glad I found your site and will consider buying your book too as I have started on my journey to home made products. 🙂

  15. Sarah @ Eat Live Austin says

    One of my Indian friends was over when he had a runny nose and what he would do is go to the bathroom, blow his nose into his hands, and wash them. Not sure if it’s because of his culture or just himself. But it uses even less resouces! Ha. Of course it’d be a nuisance to go to the bathroom all the time, and you definitely couldn’t do it in publc.

  16. KarenF says

    Love keeping a hankie in my makeup bag … it comes in handy for watery eyes due to allergies or while enjoying time outdoors when it’s hot. The tissue fuzz (that lined the inside of every purse & my nose whenever I unfolded a tissue) was irritating in every sense of the word. Then, I had a combination “duh!” / “aha!” moment as I held an inherited hankie. LOVE that! I do keep a box of tissues in the linen closet for if one of us is very my-nose-is-a-faucet sick.

    Just discovered your site this evening by way of Amazon (your book came up as a recommendation). Loved it enough to subscribe via Google Reader! 😉

  17. Fiona says

    I love hankies. Can’t leave home without one. Keep spares in my handbag. Even my 15 yo daughter uses a hanky everyday. People are so over obsessed with germs these days, they need to realise germs are everywhere, we can’t avoid them. Give your hankies a spray with eucalyptus. It smells divine and disinfects the germs as well. Keep up the great work Betsy and Matt.

  18. Patti Graham says

    Nice job with the vintage looking hankies. Cute.

    I fondly remember my dad using hankies and, in fact, I learned how to iron on his newly cleaned hankies. His were the monogram kind. My dad, an executive in NYC, was a bit of a neat freak so I think my mom was glad to have me do this one chore.

    BTW – I don’t iron anymore. (ha ha)

    Patti Graham, Author