Are hankies socially acceptable these days?

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Until the advent of the modern paper facial tissue in 1924, centuries had passed with people of all social classes utilising handkerchiefs or rags of some sort to blow/dab their noses, mop their brows, and dry the odd tear.

So nowadays, with disposable paper tissues available to everyone, why would you choose to use a hankie?  Aren’t these little squares of material disgusting, germ-spreading items which should be banished to a long-gone era?

Well, I beg to differ!

I grew up with terrible allergies and asthma, so a box of tissues (or a wad if I was out) was a permanent fixture in my near vicinity at all times.  How many boxes I managed to get through I have no idea, but I’m sure it would equate to a small forest!

Several years ago after a particularly sneezy summer and the thought that perhaps the fibres on the tissues were not helping with the allergies, I started to research less irritating options for my delicate nose.  I discovered a whole world of hankies on the web and a community of hankie users which I had no idea had existed!  It turned out that apparently organic cotton handkerchiefs could solve half the battle in an allergy issue due to the fact that paper tissues are particularly ‘dusty’ and release thousands of tiny paper dust particles, many of which will go up your nose as you use them.  If you’ve ever left a tissue in a pocket which then ends up in the wash by accident, you will understand this point!

As I was already on my quest to reduce paper usage, and keen to try anything which could help my sniffling, I ordered several packs and ditched the tissues!

Years on and I am, and forever will be, a hankie convert.  I found that the allergies and sneezing, without doubt, improved by not using tissues and I have a whole host of hankies for different occasions.

For anyone who now thinks I am a particularly disgusting human being, I should point out that any time there is an acute snot issue due to illness, I will revert to tissues when out and about, so that I can dispose of these appropriately.  At home, if I have a cold, I continue to use hankies, keep them separate from the rest of the laundry and simply put them straight in a very hot wash, with a pre-soak if necessary.  We put babies in reusable nappies still don’t we?  And believe me, that’s a lot less pleasant than a few hankies!

Even though I might not need them so much these days as I have less allergies (mainly due to having cut out dairy from my diet), I still keep hankies on hand for all occasions and I have different styles for day and night.

My night time hankies have become a bit of a comforter – I like to have one under my pillow in case of a sniffle (but frequently lose them and blindly search around in the dark with my hands trying to seek it out which must seem quite comical!).  These are sturdy, trustworthy, man-size hankies.

Then for the day I try to appear more lady-like with delicate white hankies which can go unnoticed.  I tried some lovely brightly coloured, and patterned hankies from Atishoo at one point, but felt quite self-conscious using them, so reverted back to white as most people wouldn’t even know that you’re not using a tissue.  The reality is that most of the time my hankies are available for an unexpected sneeze/sneezing fit, or sniffle, so they never get really dirty and are no different to putting a tissue back in your pocket.

I keep several in a little pouch in my bag, or one in my pocket and dispose of them into the washing basket as soon as I’m home.  I only bother ironing the day hankies so there is not much extra work involved in using hankies versus tissues – but a huge decrease in expenditure, especially if you compare them to the price of luxury tissue brands (incidentally, the cheap/value paper tissues are likely to disintegrate terribly).

My boys have hankies which they can use at home if they need them, but I do not send them to school with hankies as I know I’d cause a furor after the ‘swine flu’ and ‘bird flu’ panics of recent years.  Schools tend to now provide boxes of tissues for the children probably to prevent them wiping their noses on their sleeves!

At home, for guests only, I have a box of tissues which I can whip out in case of a sneezing emergency!  I don’t have this anywhere accessible though as I learnt quickly that if there is a box of tissues readily available, they will become the go to item of choice by myself and anyone in the house until they are used up.  This is the same with kitchen/paper towels which I wrote a post on recently.  I do keep one roll of kitchen towels also for emergencies but it must be stashed away otherwise the ‘unpaper‘ towels are left unused.  It’s amazing how we are conditioned to use all things disposable!

So, what if you are ready to make the transition to hankies?

The only trouble I have found is that finding decent handkerchiefs is a bit of a challenge in a society where paper tissues are the done thing, so I’m on the constant lookout.  I mentioned Atishoo which have lovely designs (and are great for presents or making a statement), or for organic cotton try Organic Ally in the UK.  Try Etsy for some pretty handmade and monogrammed options.  My ‘day’ hankies are from Eco Barn in the UK, though I do find them a little small.  I stumbled across a lovely pack in John Lewis once and would have bought loads but alas they only had two left, so keep your eyes open and you never know where you will find them 🙂

What’s your stance on hankies – are they socially acceptable, or just gross, and will you still be my friend now that you know my secret?!

  • gerry


    Daniella–what a great article! We are kindred spirits as regards using handkerchieves.I don’t use anything else.

  • Anonymous


    I make my own. Super easy! 😀

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