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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