Handkerchiefs Are the Sustainable Alternative to Tissues

Handkerchiefs Are the Sustainable Alternative to Tissues
Growing up, my dad always carried a handkerchief in his pocket. I associated this cloth square with him and with men, the way I once did other “sensible” possessions like leather wallets and watches. I also privately wondered whether it wasn’t a little gross to blow your nose in a tiny blanket, then stuff it back in your pocket.

As years pass, however, I increasingly adopt my parents’ practicality, as well as their concern over the impact of waste on the environment. When the pandemic hit New York in March, I decided that instead of buying 50 boxes of Kleenex, I’d bid tissue adieu in lieu of a reusable option. I was already using bar towels instead of paper ones, so why not jump on the handkerchief train? I purchased a cheap 12-pack of cotton hankies (billed for men, as many are) off of Amazon—and then, later, a second pack, once I discovered just how handy hankies are.

They’re seriously so useful—and not just for tears (of which there are plenty, given the news cycle we’re living through). Hankies are my little “Renaissance” item: ideal not just for runny noses, they double as napkins, clean spills, soak up mask sweat, and dry my face mid-workout. And there are so many types out there! Plain, cotton ones are standard, sure, but there are plenty of printed, personalizable designs that additionally work well as gifts for newlyweds and loved ones, hair accessories, placemats, and as face masks. I’ve even tie-dyed some as a quarantine craft. 

I keep my handkerchiefs folded in a little basket by the front door and never leave home without throwing one in my bag, pocket, or running belt. Once used, I toss them in the washing machine in an undergarment bag—and I do mean only once used because, yes, it is unsanitary to stuff a germ-covered cloth into your pocket, where you’ll likely touch it again (not to mention dangerous, given COVID-19). If you get sick, it’s safer to opt for paper tissue, as you can immediately dispose of it. But for everyday, I keep many cloth hankies on hand to avoid repeat use.

I believe handkerchiefs are a win-win for us all. They save me money long-term and are a zero-waste alternative to box after box of tissue. Here’s a selection of hankies in a smorgasbord of sizes and styles to help kick off your own collection (which I sincerely hope you do).

All products featured on SELF are independently selected by our editors. However, when you buy something through our retail links, we may earn an affiliate commission.

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