Switching from Kleenex to handkerchiefs

If the word snot offends you, don’t even bother reading…

I saw a Kleenex commercial the other day about disposable hand towels. It claimed to “keep your family clean.” My husband and I looked at each other.

“Are you kidding me?” I squealed.
“That’s the most wasteful thing I’ve ever seen. What is wrong with us?” he chimed in.

And yet, I used toilet paper to blow my nose. Well, no more. After seeing the Today Show’s clip about Bea Johnson’s zero waste family switching to handkerchiefs, I thought, why not? My grandparents used them. When did we switch over from handkerchiefs being the norm to being “gross.” Why is it gross?


I’ve even had  two friends  say to me, “That would be the last straw. I couldn’t do zero waste if I had to use handkerchiefs.”
And in my head, I thought it was gross too. UNTIL I started using them.

And it wasn’t. I couldn’t believe it. I could use it more than once because handkerchiefs are huge and how much snot do you have in your nose, really? I wash them, and hang them on the drying rack in the back yard. They lightly dance like a child in a white cotton dress. I fold them in perfect squares and use them again.

Issued at the Naval Academy, my husband still had these in the original packaging.

It isn’t gross. It isn’t any more gross than eating food in another country you’ve always been taught is taboo, or relieving yourself in a hole in the ground of the African Delta. Sounds a little different at the time, but then it isn’t really.

I’m not grossed out. I’m using handkerchiefs, washing them and reusing them. And saving at least one tree from my snot.

And no, I don’t iron them. I don’t think my nose cares.

“Nose, do you care?”
(It said no.)

Ideas, stories about handkerchiefs, and others making the switch:
Using cloth handkerchiefs–a good thing or just gross? (condo-blues.blogspot.com)
Every Man Should Carry a Handkerchief (artofmanliness.com)
Using a Handkerchief Makes me Feel All Funny (lifelessplastic.blogspot.com)
Why aren’t we using handkerchiefs anymore? (www.laundrylist.org)
Eco-life Idea (rainfall8.wordpress.com)
Elftausend fur Ursula (elftausend.wordpress.com)

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22 responses to “Switching from Kleenex to handkerchiefs

  1. Handkerchiefs used to be very popular but then it was decided that they we not hygienic and so appeared tissues..these are not really any better as people use them and then put them in a bin from whence all the germs fly freely into the air. I think toilet tissue flushed down the loo is a better idea. But to avoid flushing to often, otherwise that is a waste of water. Of course the best idea is to stay healthy and not to catch colds

  2. forgot to mention..we have three handkerchiefs in our house, all my husbands

  3. Stacy S. Jensen

    I remember once in anthropology class in college we talked about a culture who allowed snot to run down their bodies and they washed it off later. When someone commented on how “gross” that was, the professor said, “Well, they thought it was gross when Americans blew their nose in a handkershief and then carried in it their pockets.”
    We live in a dry climate and I find myself using Kleenex a lot more.

  4. Some of my fondest memories of my grandmother are of her ironing her dainty, embroidered handkerchiefs. Good for you for embracing this older-fashioned custom and just saying no to tissues!

  5. I switched to handkerchiefs about six years ago when I was studying in India and have not looked back! Now Kleenex seem kind of gross to me. Though I admit that when I have a really runny nose and go through the handkerchiefs too quickly I do occasionally partake. Welcome!

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  7. Agree that disposable hand towels are ridiculous. I was recently in the South of France where disposable plastic loo covers are not uncommon

  8. It used to be very common to embroider strawberries, cherries or other red patterns on ladies handkerchiefs during the time of rampant tuberculosis – that way no one could tell if their cloth was red from the pattern or because they were sick. Thinking of this, I can see why handkerchiefs got a bad rap for being icky, but I think handkerchiefs are neat. They deserve to be recast as useful and healthful!

  9. I use hankies. And I have no problem with it! Kudos to you. I remember reading about a culture as well that had no problem with snot running from their noses- men in particular, from using a drug that was common to them. The Maori, maybe? It’s been a while!

  10. The other half

    I always hated using kleenex because I had to use two or three to make it strong enough. Sometimes even with multiple tissues, I’d blow a hole clean through the tissue ending up with a snotty mess of tissue on my hands. That was fairly disgusting. Now that Jenn is using my handkerchiefs, I opt to blow my nose in the shower. The snot goes right down the drain and there’s no messy tissue to dispose of or a handkerchief to wash. I feel that’s the greenest way to blow the snot out of my nose hole. 😉

  11. I’m thrilled with the comments about kleenex! It’s great that folks are thinking, talking and considering handkerchiefs (which when I wrote the post I spelled handerkerchiefs throughout the entire thing and my husband had to correct it for me!) It’s also good to hear that some of you have been using them too! I felt so alone! Thanks for that.
    I enjoyed hearing about the anthro professor comment, the loo covers in France, the bloody TB outbreak, how Jeremy switched over in India, memories of grandmothers ironing handkerchiefs, the fact that MissWhipLash’s husband owns three and how my hubby blows his nose in the shower. I don’t know when I’ve been so thoroughly entertained! 🙂
    Thanks everybody!

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  13. Good for you!!! I’ve been using handkerchiefs for many years. I started because I have allergies and tissues just seemed to make things worse. Your blog is great.

  14. Thanks learningandyearing! Good to hear there are so many of us hankie users out there. My grandma would be thrilled!

  15. Both my grandmothers always had handkerchiefs tucked in various nooks and crannies – and when I say this, I mean ON them…tucked up a sleeve, in a bra, waistline: wherever it wouldn’t show. One grandmother had some memory problems as she aged, and when she undressed, sometimes five or six hankies would fall out.

    My mom handed me a little bundle one day in a ziploc, and when I opened it, said “It’s one of Daddy’s handkerchiefs.” What can I say, she called him Daddy – we called him by his given name because he was too “young” to be a grandpa! This gifting happened in the 90’s, but he’d passed away in ’74. I was very touched.

    • Oh, what lovely stories. I laughed when you said “ON them” because I’ve seen older folks pull them out of their sleeve, and I think, how does it stay up there? Made me laugh. That was so sweet when your grandma undressed and they all fell out. I wanted to hug her.And the gift of your grandfather’s. How thoughtful of your mom to share it. I have my grandmother’s hankies. I don’t think she ever used them. Most have lovely patterns sewn on and I guess she must have thought they were too pretty to use, which also makes me sad.Well, this was just sad. I might have to go get a hanky myself! 🙂

  16. My husband hasn’t noticed that we haven’t had tissues in the house for over a year. I found a box in the garage a few months ago but left it in there. I have been using little cocktail napkins (that I bought but hadn’t used for who knows what reason) for my tissue needs and find it way more enjoyable. He never gets colds with runny noses so it’s a non-issue for him. I might invest in some real hankies soon.

    • I’m going to have to go out and buy me more hankies, I use them so much. Someone said go to the estate sales and you can get really nice ones for cheap. Cloth napkins too. Even tablecloths and then you can make whatever you want out of them. Pretty good idea!

      • Good idea! I think I have even seen brand new hankie packs at thrift stores before. I will have to keep my eyes open. Tissues are just garbage waiting to happen unless you have green bin pickup like my sil. All sorts of things can be composted that way including Q-Tips and hair.

  17. I grew up in Morocco and my family always used handkerchiefs and table cloths and glass cups and cloth towels. When I moved here at none years of age I grew into the paper lifestyle and cups made of paper, right now I’m proud to say I’m going back to the way I was raised and using towels abs handkerchiefs instead

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