Use Handkerchiefs instead of Tissues #SimpleSwap #ChooseReuse

Ah, handkerchiefs. Most people think they are a thing of the past, but they are in fact still very common in Asia! I remember when I was in elementary school in Taiwan (I only went for six months there though) every morning the teacher would check if we had clean nails, all of our books, our notebooks, a pen, an eraser – and a handkerchief!

Back in Germany I forgot all about handkerchiefs. It wasn’t until I spent a year in Tokyo (and two months in Taiwan) during grad school when I realized that handkerchiefs are still very much in use. Not as snot rags, but for other odd jobs like drying your hands or wiping off smudged mascara. But why not use them for the occasional sniffles?

Worried about people giving you weird looks? Don’t be. Ever since I started living zero waste, I have learned that people do NOT give a dang. Seriously. Using mesh bags for your produce? The cashier won’t even bat an eye – they’re too busy to care! Blowing your nose into the fugliest handkerchief in the world? Well, people prefer to not look at your face when you’re blowing your nose anyway. No makeup on? Turns out people can’t tell the difference or just think you look tired. Forgot to shave your legs and forgot that you forgot? Seems like nobody is interested in looking at my stubs at least :D. No seriously, nobody has the time to inspect your legs.


Handkerchiefs are only unsanitary, if, and I repeat, if you don’t change them as you would toss a tissue! Do yourself a favor and do not blow your nose into a snot rag! Just use a clean hanky for crying out loud!

Be eco-friendly and save money!

Disposables will always cost you more in the long run. Of course they will, because even if they seem cheap – you will have to keep buying them all your life! So choose reuse!

Just ask your grandparents if they still have some hankies at home. I bet they do! And no, you will not waste more resources by washing them :D! Handkerchiefs are so small you can always stuff them into your washing machine when you wash a load. Generally, the paper production consumes a LOT of resources – 1 sheet of paper alone uses up 10 liters (2.6 gallons) of water!


Personally, I’m not a big fan of men’s handkerchiefs. Those things are ginormous! They are usually 40 x 40 cm to 50 x 50 cm (16 x 16 in to 20 x 20 in)! I mean, you could probably wrap a new-born baby into this thing and they would be gone for good, never to emerge again! Not like this bed sheet could ever fit into a woman’s pocket anyway. (Why do they make women’s pockets so shallow anyway??) Just get smaller hankies that you can change more often, please!

Ladies’ handkerchiefs are a lot more suitable to daily use in my opinion. They are 25 x 25cm to 30 x 30 cm (10 x 10 in to 12 x 12 in), so they are a slightly larger than your common tissue. They usually come with traditionally sexy embroidery and/or crochet edges, now who wouldn’t want those ;)!

I, however, went for children’s handkerchiefs. With 20 x 20xm (8 x 8 in) they are about the same size as a tissue. This makes it easy to quickly change to a clean one, something I consider quite important ;). They are usually sold in unsightly colors and/or with distorted cartoon characters that for some reason never made it on screen. I also have some with the fugliest cats ever, raaawrrr!

My husband just ignored all of these decorative choices and went for 20 x 20 cm (8 x 8 in) baby wipes (those are the hankies in the photo) made from unbleached cotton flannel. You can use these absorbent wipes to either wipe a baby’s butt, to blow your nose or to remove your makeup – the wipes won’t care. I use them as napkins though. Even though they are supposed to be smooth enough for babies, I feel they are too rough on my skin. Since they are white they are absolutely inconspicuous.

How to wash your handkerchiefs

We use a mesh laundry beg. Handkerchiefs are so small, you can always add them to your load. However, you should run them through a hot wash cycle regularly.

You can also put them into boiling hot water for 15 minutes before you rinse them with cold water and add them to your regular laundry.

How to carry around handkerchiefs

It’s super simple, really. I usually have 7 to 10 clean handkerchiefs on me in a small makeup bag with a zipper. If you have children’s hankies like I do, they will not take up any more space than regular tissues! And just like with regular tissues you need to remember to put some into your bag before leaving the house, duh!

Used handkerchiefs are stuffed into a compartment in my backpack that now only holds used handkerchiefs. When I still had purses (I got rid of all of them) I would have another makeup bag to put the used handkerchiefs in. At home I just toss the snot rags into the laundry basket.

How many handkerchiefs do I need?

That depends. I have a lot of allergies including very bad hay fever and smudged makeup now and then, so I do need more than my husband does. I have 36 children’s handkerchiefs, which isn’t quite enough when I’m down with a cold.

My husband, however, doesn’t even need all of his 36 baby wipes. Eight of them are still completely unused. Which is why I just use his baby wipes when I run out of my hideous hankies :P.

How can I get my hands on handkerchiefs?

  • Ask your grandparents, or your friend’s grandparents 😉
  • Tackle them as your next DIY project
  • Thrift stores
  • Craigslist
  • Sustainable online stores (e.g. Life Without Plastik)

I’m curious: Have you ever used handkerchiefs? I like them a lot better than tissues because they don’t rip. Would you consider using handkerchiefs instead of tissues or do you think it’s too gross?

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  2. I’ve been using hankies for over 6 months now, and I LOVE THEM. I have allergies (pollen and dust), and I work in a museum (extra dust), so I use them all the time. I cut up two old white cotton sheets that were worn, but that only made them extra soft and perfect as hankies. I opted to cut larger squares so I can use one or two for the whole day. I will never go back to paper tissues! #HankiesFTW

    • LOL, I totally feel you :D!!! With all of my allergies I also have the sniffles all year round ;)! And hankies are so much better for the nose! They don’t tear, and they are definitely more skin-friendly. No chemicals either! And no, I, too, will never go back to paper tissues!! Definitely #hankiesFTW!!!

  3. Thank you for this. I’ve been a hanky user for awhile, it’s nice to have another perspective.

    • Hi Chelsea,
      even the fugly hankies have started to grow on me LOL. They are so much softer on my nose, so that’s cool !

  4. Love your article! We used to use hankies and fell out of the habit, reverting back to kleenex :/ (I don’t know what ever happened to all our handkerchiefs?) In any case, let me tell you about kleenex: not only do you have to keep buying them, which is wasteful, but I swear they make them purposely dusty so you need to use more!! My son and husband have always suffered bad allergies. Sneeze- blow nose- sneeze- blow nose… over and over again it never stops because the KLEENEX ARE DESIGNED TO MAKE YOU SNEEZE!! (Imho). When they used hankies that cycle did not occur. So I am going back! Thanks for the inspiration!

  5. Hello! I read about your allergies and I DO recommend 2 things to EVERYONE that tells me they suffer from allergies (dust/pollen): Nettle tea, and pollen. I used to suffer from allergies EVERY-SINGLE-SPRING-AND-AUTUMN season. Coughing, runny nose, itchy nose, teary eyes… you name it! I used to go to the doctor and they just prescribed tons of drugs, and even after saturating my body with all those chemicals… nothing changed. So I got tired of it and decided to look for a natural option. And I found that pollen and nettle tea help. Start adding pollen in your diet: in your shakes, fruit salad, cereal, oatmeal, whatever! Start with 1/2 teaspoon, and then, each week add a bit more. This will help your body to adapt to it and your allergies won’t be as aggressive as they are now. Also, drink nettle tea. Every spring and autumn I drink 1 cup a day, sometimes even 2. Since I made those changes, my allergies have disappeared!! Really! It’s been like a year and a half since the last time I suffered from those allergy episodes. I don’t know if this works the same with everybody, but for me, they work WONDERS. (Also I don’t know if it’s easy to find in your area, I live in northwest Mexico). Hope this helps you and your readers, Shia!

  6. I collect handkerchiefs, especially embroidered or crochet-edged ones. Other good sources to explore are and ebay. Seriously! Many times you can get them in lots. I would, however, recommend not throwing them in the washing machine if they are vintage. Hand washing is much better.

    I started using handkerchiefs a few years ago because my one eye waters in the winter time. Paper tissues are too harsh and so wasteful. They’re also a godsend for the occasional hot flash…

    • Awww, the hand crochet ones are the cutest! We were also able to get our hands on a lot of these from a friend’s grandma and also off the internet <3! We have used some of these to wrap small presents like soap or shampoo bars in for people we thought would like and appreciate them. We always offered to take them back in case they did not like them, but they always did, and once the friend's mom even went: "If you don't like them I would like to have them for decoration!" Ahahaha!
      And btw, my eyes also water when it gets cold outside! I always thought it was only me :D!

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  9. Brigitte

    I’ve been using them for a year or so. Made me realize how much dust comes from disposable kleenex cause I sneeze much less since switching. I have a weekness for beautiful designs so I’ve bought different options, some hits some misses. Men’s handkerchief have cool designs but dark colours need cold wash which is doable but not ideal. Plus they’re large. If you sew, I’d recommend buying the men’s white ones and cut them to make 4 small ones. There’s a great company here in Canada called which makes small ones along with other eco options. Also found these cute ones when I travelled through the US last year…

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  12. I guess I’m a bit old fashioned and never stopped using hankies. Glad to have found you Wasteland Rebel.

  13. Just switched over and I can’t believe it took me so long. My 97yo dad still uses ’em, and I always thought they were gross. Then he gave me a bunch of various sizes and fabrics. I love using the large cotton ones for sweat wipes, but just this week thought of using the smaller synthetic ones for tissues, and I’m a convert.

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  15. I was just loading up on hankies and wanted to see how many people felt they needed overall. So thank you for sharing that number!

    Personally, I use rags at home that are made from cut up old t-shirts and tank tops — the softer ones are for noses and the rougher ones are for kitchen. The nose ones are stored around the house in makeshift tissue boxes: two identical old plastic food containers stacked inside each other so that the bottom layer (for used tissues) isn’t visible. I explain the system to guests when they come over.

    I also own a dozen handkerchiefs for public use. They are SO SOFT. I agree that standard issue handkerchiefs are too rough for my nose, because I also blow my nose a dozen times every day, but these are definitely soft enough. For daily use, hay fever, or wind-induced runny nose, I wash them about every two or three days of use (they’re not tiny, but not huge).

    I always switch to commercial tissues with lotion when I have a really bad cold, but I might take some of your advice and create little pouches of tissues for that. Then I could just apply lotion to my nose a couple of times a day instead of depending on the paper tissues… I haven’t decided.

    (I don’t own myhanky, I just love them.)

  16. I just started using hankies and there is an Etsy shop called Joy In The Home that makes AMAZING hankies! They’re all the size of regular tissues which I like. They’re white so they’re inconspicuous. And she makes them from two materials, cotton and a bamboo blend. And both are available in single or two ply. I LOVE the single ply bamboo ones, they are sooo soft! She even has a variety pack of all the types so you can try them before you buy a bunch! And I’m glad I did because I would have bought 2 ply when I ended up liking the single ply ones. She even sells water proof bags with two compartments to carry the hankies. Swear I don’t work for her. Lol. I just love these hankies and had to share.

  17. Also, how else do you guys store your hankies around the house besides the onecommwnt above? Love the layered containers idea.

    • Katherine

      I store them in waterproof bags with either one or two compartments. I’m still working out my system actually, but I have several in a few waterproof bags, some of which have two compartments and some of which have only one. If there is only one compartment, I will have another bag nearby for holding used hankies.

  18. Katherine

    So this is going to sound funny but I tried hankies before and I thought they were gross, hard on my nose, and tiring to wash by hand, which I tried to do because I thought it would be cleaner. And by the way, I’m okay with cloth reusable menstrual pads. Haha. Reading this post, I decided to try cotton handkerchiefs again. You are saving trees and money, hankies can be cute and pretty, and there are less chemicals in them too! Thanks for the tip about putting them in boiling hot water for 15 min, then rinsing with cold water before adding them to your regular laundry. I will see how that works out for me, but it does sound easier than attempting to hand wash every single one that I use. And my nose runs quite a lot. 🙁 . Anyway, thanks 😀

  19. I never bought kleenex or whatever because you can use toilet paper. It’s the same thing, you are going to throw it out or compost it. Why buy a special box that could be wrapped in plastic and does have a plastic sleeve. I would use toilet paper in the kitchen instead of buying paper towels. But I mostly use rags to clean up kitchen and household messes. If anything is too gross it goes in the wood stove or compost.
    However I see you have not mentioned alternatives to toilet paper! In the same vein as hankies, people used to use cloth and wash them just like diapers. My husband joked for years about ‘bum cloths’ but would never commit despite us being as zero waste as possible and biking all over the place forevers. I would google the concept and find some ideas but would think oh gross and forget about it. But then I saw a documentary about these amazing forests being cut down in Tasmania Australia and just turned into pulp for you guessed it, toilet paper!! Just as where I live in the coastal british columbia rainforest, beautiful trees get cut down and get turned into pulp for toilet paper. I just could not do it anymore. Even buying 100% recycled, it’s processed, bleached white and contains the debit machine paper that has plastics imbedded in it. And all the packaging. I simply cut up lots of soft cotton little squares from t-shirts etc from the rag bag to use as hankies and toilet paper. Sort by colour for use. I was amazed at how much better hankies are for blowing my nose, so just imagine the other thing. Super soft, not rough, but strong….I know it’s all disgusting to think about but if treated the way you would clean cloth diapers then it can be safe and hygienic.
    I still have T paper for guests, and my husband still refuses to try his beloved fantasy cloths.

    • Hey Heather! Have you ever considered a bidet? We have one (a hand-held bidet instead of the ones integrated in the toilet seat) and there’s seriously no going back! You use it to clean your private parts with water afterwards, and we use washcloths to tap ourselves dry :). It’s a lot more hygienic and like spa for your bum LOL! If you happen to be in Vancouver, I know the Soap Dispensary sells hand-held bidets!

      • I’m Italian, I couldn’t live without a bidet! So great! Also on my way to start using handkerchiefs now!

  20. I’ve been using hankies for at least ten years! Way better than tissues. I find they’re way softer on my nose, which is a bonus! Because I live in Metro Atlanta, Georgia, and allergy season here is killer.

    My husband finally made the switch about three or four years ago. He used one of mine out of desperation, and was won over by the softness.

  21. 4-5years actually. Much softer on the nose no more chaffed nose during colds! Not sure why I didn’t think to use before I did since I’ve used cloth for everything else for years. Cheaper, softer, reusable can be used for pretty much everything.

    • Haha yeah, you pretty much summed up how we feel about hankies!! As allergy season is approaching I’m very glad I don’t have to fight my runny nose with tissues and look like Rudolf anymore!

  22. Thank you. I have my first white ones. I think there 6 or 8. I have allergies too. And I’m so tired of buying Kleenex. And my eyes always water and my nose itches. This is my first time. I think I made a good decision. But from reading the comments I might have to buy a few more.

  23. Could I cut up a silky pillow case to use for hankies if I can’t find them?

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  25. As a child my mother used either toilet roll or napkins of which I used also until one day I decided to try and use one of my father’s clean handkerchiefs.
    It was a lot softer and also a decent size to bury my nose into.
    Since then I’ve never looked back and have been using them for around 25 years now

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