How to use a handkerchief?

The TSHU Guide to adopting—and really using—cotton hankies for good.

The common reaction on using handkerchiefs

_ “Gross”

_ “Ewwwww”

_ “Why go back?”

_ “But… Hygiene?”

Yes, these are common reactions. But don’t let them stop you. In this post, we’ll explain everything you know so you can start using handkerchiefs without worrying that:

  1. You’ll look like your grandpa
  2. You’ll die of a horrible virus
  3. You’ll be deemed disgusting.

What’s more, we swear it’s possible to look cool with a handkerchief. And we know you’ll soon be relishing the many benefits that come from using cotton hankies. Here’s the gist.

First things first: why you shouldn’t use paper tissues!

Why shouldn’t you use paper tissues on a daily basis? The reasons are numerous:

  • Their ecological impact is disastrous. Indeed, it takes some 100 to 200 litres of water to make a ton of paper. We hear you thinking and yes, making cotton requires water too—but in the case of cotton, water is used once and since you reuse the handkerchief again and again, the impact is lessened. Not to mention all the paper tissues that will end up in the trash…
  • They are often bleached with chlorine (ick). No, that pristine white handkerchief did not grow on a tree.
  • They cannot be recycled.
  • They are overpackaged in cardboard (if you’re lucky) and often cardboard with plastic (ugh).

So, why use a cloth handkerchief?

Again, there are loads of reasons to adopt and use handkerchiefs. Here are a few:

  • They are soooo much handier! Think about it! Once you get into the habit of carrying one around with you, you’ll never run out. Oh—and handkerchiefs take up less space in your bag or pocket than a pack.
  • They are way more stylish than paper tissues! Of course, you can absolutely opt for unbleached undyed fabric, but you can also go bold and try a coloured handkerchief.
  • No more dirty sleeve. Although most of you will vehemently deny that you do, the simple truth is that most of us occasionally wipe our nose on our sleeve. Why would you if you had a perfectly pretty handkerchief handy?
  • It’s a zero-waste hack! This is a huge benefit: less trash, less waste. No more bins overflowing with crumpled up tissues—and adios unwanted surprises in the laundry machine.
  • They are so much more comfortable than paper tissues! And they are much less irritant if you have allergies. Oh—and they’re not full of dust mites.


Ask yourself this:

  • Have you ever left a used paper tissue in your pocket? If so, how is that cleaner than a cotton handkerchief? At least your cotton hanky won’t disintegrate, leaving small particles everywhere!
  • Have you ever reused a paper tissue? If so, was it strong enough to contain a second wave of mucus? We think not. Cotton—especially if doubled up—won’t let you down.
  • Do you wash your hands every time you blow your nose? If not, we assure you: your use of paper tissues was not more hygienic than using handkerchiefs.

Are handkerchiefs hygienic?

Today, we live in a germaphobic culture. While many people think that cloth hankies automatically mean poor hygiene, we beg to differ.

  • Primo, having a hanky doesn’t mean you need to use it for days without cleaning it!
  • Segundo—if you’re sick and you don’t wash your hands after blowing your nose—in cotton or in paper, you’ll be spreading your virus like crazy—handkerchief or not.
  • Tercio: you can grab a new hanky every day and wash your hankies weekly.

Yes, you got it—the key is to use your handkerchief wisely.

How to use the handkerchief?

Let’s dig into the subject now and talk about how to use your handkerchief! Ok, so there is a different etiquette here. Just like with paper tissues, you should do things differently if you’re simply dabbing at some extra fluids or if you’re dealing with the flu. So, here are two different sets of instructions to follow.

How to use a handkerchief when you’re healthy? [aka 90% of the time]

This one is pretty straightforward.

  1. Blow, fold, slide and repeat. Start in a corner and work your way towards the opposite side. Hankies are big and provide ample space to blow many times without double dipping.
  2. Once the handkerchief is soiled (most likely, it will simply be wet!), toss it in the machine and get a fresh one. You’ll notice that if you fold it wisely and place it back in your pocket or hanky holder, it will most likely dry. Normal, since most nasal discharge is composed essentially of water when you’re healthy. Now it’s up to you to reuse it, or simply throw in the wash and grab a fresh hanky.
  3. Caring for your hanky. When it comes down to cleaning your handkerchief, we recommend washing it in the machine with the rest of your laundry (no the snot will not “contaminate” your other clothes!). We suggest washing the hankies in cold to lukewarm water for a regular use (20 degrees is the ideal temperature, in our opinion). Dry the handkerchief out in the sun for extra anti-bacterial action.

How to use a handkerchief when you’re sick [aka 10% of the time (unless you have kids in daycare)]

This one’s a little bit trickier—but what you learn here can serve you well, whatever you use to deal with your infectious mucus, so read on!

  1. Stock up on two-ply handkerchiefs, loads of them.
  2. WASH YOUR HANDS after every blow (we cannot stress this enough—the same goes for you, paper tissue users!)
  3. Dispose of your loaded hankies wisely—aka, don’t leave your handkerchief on the counter, on your desk or simply lying around (again, same goes for paper tissues!). If you’re at home, simply keep a bin close by and change your hanky after every snot marathon. If you’re not—it will take a little bit more planning ahead but you can still wing it by bringing along a tote for your dirty hankies and another one for your clean stash.
  4. Wash your handkerchiefs in warm water (40 degrees is way warm enough to make your viruses disappear, provided you use soap in your laundry!) and dry out in the sun. You can also spray your hankies with a little bit of lavender essential oil, which has disinfectant properties and oh yeah—smells damn good!

Need a compromise?

The important part is to start somewhere. So if you can’t be bothered to manage your cotton hankies when you’re sick, we’ll forgive you (for real!). Go out there and get an eco-friendly box of tissues (one made from recycled material, preferably!) without feeling guilty. On the other hand, for the 90% of the time that you’re not sick—try the cotton cloth! Why should one or two colds per year dictate how you use handkerchiefs for the rest of the year? We promise: your nose will love the sweet soft feel of cotton.

Recap: why handkerchiefs are better than paper tissues

  • Cause they don’t make your nose red as quickly, since they’re soft and non-irritant.
  • They are good for the environment
  • They are cheaper than paper tissues—of course, upfront you’ll have to spend a little in order to gather a nice collection, but thankfully, there are some awesome discounts on sets. And they’ll outlast any box of kleenex. 🙂
  • They look great and can be styled to match your clothes, mood or shoes! Plus, having a precious, pretty hanky will surely put a smile on your face.

If you have no need for a handkerchief on a daily basis, they can serve a million other uses:

    • Wipe the sweat off your brow or your hands
    • Wrap a sandwich or a snack
    • Clean your kids
    • Polish your cell phone screen or sunglasses
    • Mop up a spill

First steps

If you’re unsure how to begin or if you’re afraid to invest in a big collection before trying out the hanky for a little while, we suggest going for orphan handkerchiefs or a set of plain organic cotton hankies. Try them at home, familiarize yourself with the routine, the folds and carrying one around with you and then, go out into the world. At this point, you may want to purchase a cool handkerchief with stylish print to flaunt proudly. You might even want to encourage your kids to do the same with some cute children’s handkerchiefs. In any case, we’re convinced once you discover the comfort of cotton handkerchiefs, you won’t go back to paper tissues! And remember, for every TSHU Handkerchief you adopt, we commit to planting a tree, to reinforce your eco-friendly actions. 🙂

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