The Quaint Hankie: Quick Switch #006


In the past I have used toilet paper for ordinary nose-blowing situations and, perhaps, some of those soft lotion-ized packs of tissues when a cold came calling. However, last month a virus struck the Coyle-Carr household during our Uber-Frugal Month Challenge (I mentioned the challenge briefly here).

It is funny how small shifts in priorities--even for a short amount of time--can make room for new rhythms. It is also interesting the way a change in one "department" can significantly impact other areas as well; everything is truly connected. Because we participated in the frugal month challenge, I thought twice about requesting tissues from the store.

My husband Aaron took the plunge first. While still sniffling, he got paid to go sit in a room for 8 hours with strangers. He took his trusty blue handkerchief and a bottle of gifted hand-sanitizer. And it worked.  

Between Aaron's positive testimonial and the encouragement of our frugal month, I found myself ready to take the next step on my zero-waste journey:


Trading paper tissues for cloth handkerchiefs.


5 Reasons to Use Handkerchiefs:

The beautiful snowy view from our apartment. Trade these for tissues? I don't think so.

The beautiful snowy view from our apartment. Trade these for tissues? I don't think so.

1. Paper comes from trees. 

It takes over 90 years to grow a box of tissues.Whether from virgin forests or post-consumer sources, choosing to use tissues allocates a portion of the earth's lungs for single-use hygienic convenience. Over 255-BILLION Americans make this choice annually. We do not need this.

2. You're going to do laundry anyway, right?

Producing, packaging, and transporting paper tissues takes enormous amounts of energy and water. Using sustainably sourced hankies eliminates issues on the production side. Handkerchiefs require washing, of course, but there is a huge difference between adding hankies to your household laundry and processing paper tissues. But your water bill will probably not even reflect the change.

3. Hankies are softer and sturdier.

Handkerchiefs come in a variety of materials, but they are almost all gentler on the nose than paper tissues. Think of hankies like sheets--the higher the thread count, the more luxurious the feel. Paper tissues don't even have a thread count. :P 

Paper tissues also tend to, uh hem, disintegrate when they're, uh, needed most. One productive blow and the whole thing comes apart in soggy mess. Not so with cloth handkerchiefs. They won't break down on you and leave you stranded (or stringy) (sorry).  

4. Minimized cost.

Handkerchiefs could even be free to you. Your softest cloth napkins, mismatched sheets, or old t-shirts can be repurposed for the job. Thrift shops and family attics teem with a range of handkerchief options. And you only have to buy/make them once, whereas tissue boxes, of course, have to be purchased over and over again.

"I am mesmerized. I am falling for Kleenex marketing. Please help me." - aka: A 1950s advertisement, Time Magazine. 

"I am mesmerized. I am falling for Kleenex marketing. Please help me." - aka: A 1950s advertisement, Time Magazine. 

Paper tissues were created using World War I military technology and offered to the public in 1924. The wartime suppliers needed a new market niche. Ever the clever capitalists, they created a need for their own product in our society. It seems, though, that there is little need for disposable tissues--especially when the greater environmental impact is taken into account. 

It is hard to do sometimes, but conscientious earth-dwellers are starting to outsmart money-hungry marketers.

I mean, how cute is that?

I mean, how cute is that?

5. They're quaint, ain't they?

I mean, which would you prefer--a plain paper tissue that is here today and tomorrow (or a few hours) thrown away? Or a pretty little piece of functionality that has graced society for centuries?

The latter?

Thought so. 


Generally speaking, use handkerchiefs like tissues...only slightly differently. 

The Fold

I can use a hankie several times before it needs to be tossed in the laundry bin. BUT there's a technique to it (ask me how I know). For the most efficient handkerchief use, it's all about the fold.

The Bin

For everyday nose-blowing it is no issue to just throw used hankies in with the regular laundry. However, if one is sick and or suffering from allergies, it might be helpful to have a special laundry bin nearby. You know, for easy access.

I did this. 

It is our cleaning bucket lined with an old pillowcase. It sat by me while I convalesced.

It was nice to not have to touch the used handkerchiefs. When it was time to wash, I just picked up the pillowcase and put the whole thing in the washer. Easy peasy. 

The Bag

What to do with thoroughly used hankies while on-the-go? Use a wet bag.


Now, a wet bag can be many things:

  • a lined cosmetic pouch
  • a used Ziploc or other repurposed plastic bag
  • or a specially designed waterproof cloth sack that can hold, say, cloth menstrual products or used diapers...

My wet bag came with my cloth liners--which will themselves come up in a later post, be assured.

The idea is to have a little place to tuck your hankies 'til you have access to your laundry basket. A wet bag is not needed for daily use, but definitely helps when there's an abundant need for hankies.

Practical Encouragements

Be bold, friends-- 

I don’t know about you, but I have always been a little embarrassed to blow my nose in front of others. Just imagine what it felt like to pull out a hankie—something I was sure others would think really weird at best and really gross at worst—and honk my nose in the middle of an Old Testament lecture.

Well, I did it and nobody died.

In fact, I was able to neatly fold said hankie on my lap and get back to note-taking; no harm, no foul. When it comes to changing habits, the best route--and probably the only route--is to go boldly. Sure, you are trying something new and weird, but you are also doing something better for the skin of your nose, the health of the planet, and, even, the size of your wallet. So there.

And considerate, too.

While being bold, be extra considerate of the squeamish by washing your hands regularly. Anyone who blows their nose needs to wash up on the reg, of course, but maybe be a little loud about it when establishing yourself as a hankie-user? This might help others warm up to the idea. Who knows, soon you might not be the only cotton-swabber in the bunch. 

Happy switching!

Are you a hankie user? Have any advice to share?

Still unsure about tossing tissues for good? How can I help? What are your concerns?

Thanks for being here.


P.S. Happy St. Brigid's Day! Find me on Instagram for a peek into our celebratory shenanigans. :)