The humble handkerchief.


For someone who spends so much of her life blogging, I don’t actually read many blogs.  To be honest with you when I started this website I didn’t even really know what a blog was.  I just wanted a place to put out all the information that was oozing from my head.

Speaking of things oozing from my head, I bought what was probably my first official box of Kleenex over the holidays.  The box had a Santa on it and I’m a sucker for anything Christmas related around Christmas time.    I’m usually too cheap to buy actual nose blowing tissues when other less expensive options like toilet paper, paper towels and shirt sleeves are always so handy.

But I loved that little box of tissues.  It made me feel like a grown up.  Like I was professionally ready for any nasal issue that might arise for me or any guest that entered my home.  At the sign of the slightest sniffle I ran for the box and plunked it down in front of them with an expectant grin, waiting for them to marvel at my preparedness.

Sometimes I even made people come outside with me and then dragged them back inside.  They didn’t know it but I was forcing their nose to run, like one might force tulip bulbs.  All so I could break out the box.

Then last week I came across an article which got me to thinking.  What about the good old fashioned handkerchief?  My father never, ever left the house without putting “slacks” and a button up shirt as opposed to jeans and a tee shirt on, and he definitely never left the house without a handkerchief in his pocket.

But we’re all thinking the same thing aren’t we?  Handkerchiefs are gross.  They are cloth carrying cases for snot which we casually throw into our purses or pockets to mingle with our hairbrush, lipstick and juggling balls.    Ucky.

This little article though, had me think twice about turning my nose up at the humble handkerchief.


A case for bringing back the handkerchief!

So what are you?  Handkerchief, genuine nose blowing tissues, or the cuff of your sleeve?

Lemme know.

Have a great weekend!




  1. Jamieson says:

    I am ALL FOR IT! And now I have a simple sewing craft to break in my new Janome. It’s been six weeks since Christmas and for some reason I can’t bring myself to turn it on, read a manual, or pop in the DVD – even though I basically begged for a new machine.
    Everybody I know: gird yourself for a mittful of hankies next birthday/Christmas/Arbor Day (for the allergy sufferers especially).

  2. Jamieson says:

    PS It even embroiders, I’m told.

  3. SusanR says:

    I guess I prefer to immediately dispose of items covered in bodily fluids.
    However, the bit about your father reminded me of my grandfather’s ritual when he left the house. He would recite this as he gently tapped the appropriate spot on his body to confirm the item was in place: “Wallet, keys, spectacles, testicles.” Don’t leave home without ’em, I guess.

  4. Julia Smith says:

    I use hankies constantly. I have crazy allergies- and hankies are so wonderful. I never have to buy kleenex, and my nose never gets red/raw.

  5. Debbie says:

    As a cronic runny nose girl I am all of the above. I love paper towel because they last a long time in my sleeve, I love tissue because I don’t have to wash them. Then there is the hankey. I have lived long enough that I started life with the hankey and they could be pretty. Thats about it.

  6. Marsha says:

    My DH has always carried a handkerchief, and he’s a jeans and polo/tee kinda guy. They come in very handy. And, I grab one of his when I have a cold because they are MUCH gentler on a sore nose than most kleenex…I don’t buy the expensive ones with aloe or lotion. I do have a nice collection of vintage ladies handkerchiefs, but they are too fragile for regular use. So, I like handkerchiefs, but even a sleeve works in an emergency!

  7. Valerie says:

    Paper towelling hurts, boxed tissues (regardless of brand) stick, if you have to answer the door then sleeves won’t allow you to look your best and cotton handkerchiefs – I agree have the potential to be really gross and germy. They were an item of clothing my Father adorned daily as well. I recall my Mother IRONING the dozen or so of them every single week….little white squares……groan.

    The best when you have to blow your nose in my opinion is toilet paper.

  8. stephanie says:

    It’s a laundry issue .. what load is it – dark, light, snotty … it’s icky wherever you put it.

  9. Bernard says:

    I use the front of my shirt – at the very end where it neatly tucks back under whatever shorts/pants I happen to be wearing. Flannel shirts are the best with all that excess material that conveniently splits apart at the end of the button row. Two wipes for the price of one.

    What a bargain.


  10. Peg says:

    what!!! first to comment.hanky or actually bandanas. my old lady nose is always a little i use a fresh one each day 🙂

  11. victoria says:

    I frequently wipe tears (big on the emotional) on my scarf as well as blowing my kids noses in whatever’s around my neck. A bit gross but like the article said: you just throw it in the wash at the end of the day. ….

  12. Cathy Reeves says:

    My nasal issues go waaay back so I am loyal to the humble kleenex ( or puffs or whatever ). When it lingers for days on end, the lotion kind is kinder to the schnozzola ( spell check did that).
    Just don’t use them to clean eyewear or you’ll be walking into walls.

    *Bless you*

  13. christine says:

    ew ew ew But I am sooo glad as a hoarder I have all my hankies from grade school.I might be missing “Thursday” if anyone has a spare.Which makes me think about how nice it would be to have my underwear all “daysed” again too.

  14. Chris says:

    What every type of disposable paper item I can get my hands on. At work I am the device most widely used.

  15. Stephanie Hobson says:

    Karen, did you read the comments? As is often the case they are extremely entertaining.

  16. Christy says:

    Just getting over a three month long sinus infection. Hands down I am strictly a tissue girl, preferably the extra fancy kind with lotion. I kept my clean, on the go stash neatly folded in a ziplock bag in my purse.

  17. Nancy Blue Moon says:

    Handkerchief for tears..everything else..tissues..Happy Weekend Karen!

  18. stephanie rooney says:

    So, which load do you put these nasty bits in .. dark, light, snotty. Icky whichever way you think about it.

  19. Call Me Patty says:

    Definitely nose blowing tissues. Toilet paper only when I’m out of tissues. Handkerchief? They’re just yucky snot rags.

  20. CJ says:

    Handkerchiefs for tears and tissues for sanity preservation.

    I cry when I laugh, at RSPCA commercials, and, well, at just about anything sometimes. This is when handkerchiefs come into their own. A soggy tissue just doesn’t cut it then. The first time I got teary around my now husband, he handed me a clean handkerchief. I still have it (read I am a sap).

    But for when you’re on public transport or somewhere you can’t escape a sniffing person, then the ability to donate a tissue to said sniffer can completely restore one’s sanity. That, and having them for guests or when I’m diseased, is essential.

  21. dee says:

    Loved your article on Handkerchiefs! I have a small collection of them. Some were my moms, some my grandmothers. I love everyone of them, they are some plain, some with embroidery, some with a tatted edges. All colors. ALL get used by me. None of my friends use hankies, as they find them yucky, their loss.
    One of my favorites was found in my husbands grandmothers cookbook I was given as a gift years back, she used it for her bookmarker. It stays there in that old cookbook, with special thoughts of her when I use that book. 🙂

    My husband uses white handkerchiefs and the old blue or red when he is outdoors working. Great for keeping the sweat off the brow on a summers day.

  22. Pat says:

    Nose blowing tissues, for sure. Now I am going to date myself with this memory. I remember as a young girl always having a handkerchief. Can’t quite recall when it changed to “kleenex” but do remember that it was absolute taboo to ever, ever leave a tissue on a table, counter, etc. It went into the garbage can, NOW or into your pocket for further use. Handkerchief….yeck….used again and again then washed with all your clothes. Ick! However, from an environmental point of view, we would have less garbage in the landfill and use fewer trees. I suppose it is like the diaper debate in some way….disposable versus cloth….kinda..

  23. Natika says:

    In Japan everyone carries a handkerchief, but not for nose blowing. They are used to dry your hands after cleaning them since most public washrooms / school washrooms don’t supply paper hand towels. I think it’s a great idea and I’ve started carrying one around with me always.

    I don’t think I could handle blowing my nose with one however, particularly if I knew I was sick. First off, they are supposed to be clean for when I dry my hands so I don’t recontaminate my hands and spread germs around. Second, even assuming I have a clean one for drying hands and a dirty one for blowing my nose, where am I putting the dirty one in between using it? Anything it touches would be contaminated!

    I guess if you knew you weren’t sick and it was just a reaction from going to a hot place from a cold place quickly it would be ok, but I don’t think I could do more than daub in any event. (By the label so I knew which was the contaminated corner).

  24. Natika says:

    P.S. I usually duck into a washroom and use the toilet paper. It’s convenient because then the soap and water for de-contaminating my hands are also right there. Unless I’m on that day of a cold where my nose is a tap and I also just can’t stop sneezing. Then I use the lotion tissues and stay at home so as not to contaminate everyone else. Unless I hate them. In that case, I’d try to sneeze in their coffee.

  25. Hazel says:

    Handkerchiefs, definitely. Here’s the thing- you don’t have to use the same one constantly- use it a couple of times and put it in the wash! I also manage not to recontaminate myself using them…

    The grandfather’s saying before leaving home reminds e of the rhyme when genuflecting- spectacles, testicles, wallet and watch… tap appropriate reason as reciting!

    • Natika says:

      It’s not yourself you need to worry about contaminating, it’s other people. Germs are transferred most often by sneezing into the air OR by a sick person touching something and a not-yet-sick person touching that same thing soon after.

      Having a hanky full of contaminated bodily fluids on your person or in your purse means over the course of a day you’re touching and transferring those germs repeatedly. If you use a hanky for tears or allergies or anything else that isn’t going to make anyone else sick, then it’s perfectly fine. However, if you are sick and you are out in public (such as being at work), it’s not very considerate to the people around you to be using a hanky. Nor is it considerate to blow your nose in public in such as case as some germs will escape the hanky/tissue and go flying through the air.

      Of course, the most considerate thing to do when sick is to stay home. When one can’t for whatever reason, blowing one’s nose in the privacy of the bathroom, throwing away the snot holder, followed by a thorough cleaning of your hands with soap before you leave the bathroom lowers the chances of other people in that area getting what you have.

      As for sneezing, it’s now recommended that one sneeze into one’s elbow instead of one’s hands. Although it’s never going to be 100% perfect, it’s assumed that you aren’t touching things frequently with the inside of your elbow the same way you would touch things with your hands.

      • Hazel says:

        I work in a primary school, so I think there are far more potent germ spreaders around than me!

        On a serious note, my previous job was one where infection control knowledge was inherent and vital. I know how bacteria and viruses spread and think I am both sensible and considerate.
        Of course, I can’t answer for every hanky user, but then have you ever seen people reusing the same paper tissue until there is no dry part left? People don’t use a tissue once and then bin it; they use it and then put it up their sleeve or in their pocket. No different to a cotton handkerchief.
        Assuming we need to be protected from every last germ, things such as hand washing are far more important than getting upset about the fact I’m not chopping down trees to wipe my nose. 🙂

        • Natika says:

          ha ha! Omigod, kids spread germs like wildfire! I think that’s actually why I’ve become more diligent – I work at an elementary school. (And I used to be a microbiologist).

          You are right that if people are re-using tissues like that than it’s no better than a hanky. That’s disgusting though! I didn’t realise people did that!

          I know that some people don’t wash their hands after blowing their nose, but I was hoping with all the campaigns about it (and I was trying to remind people by including that in my note) that more people would start. You’re right that hand-washing is the biggest thing.

          I can see using a hanky for environmental reasons. Still, I’d have to have a plastic ziplock bag for the dirty ones. And I’d only be able to use them once. Maybe I just have a mental hang-up about it, but for now I can’t get passed that. And I think I would absolutely die if someone passed me their handkerchief to use.

        • Hazel says:

          There are times at work when you realise you’re never going escape whatever illness the children next to you have…That sinking feeling as you get sneezed on again…

      • Angela says:

        In winter my nose runs and I believe that applies to everyone as the nose automatically increases fluid production to protect the lung tissue and running nose happens when there is excess of this fluid.
        But what I am confused about is can I get people ill if I blow my nose using a serviette and not wash my hands immediately because of the reason there is no where to and maybe touch money or anything else and somehow, someone touches the money I have touched and bites his finger or eat snacks without washing his hands? I’m not sick at all but have a running nose when I’m outside in the cold.

  26. Susie says:

    My grandmother said, “A lady always carries a hanky.” So being a lady by gender I have a box full of the most beautiful embroidered, tatted, crocheted, etc “hankie” ever. I love the beauty in the workmanship and love someone used to create such a work of art that I collect. However, they are way too pretty, and in some cases too fragile to hold a good sneeze. Do I carry one? No, I always forget. Someday I will find a way to display these treasures from the past. For now, I love knowing they are mine in case I need a delicate wipe for a lady like runny nose.

  27. karol says:

    I have seasonal allergies, so my nose is on a long term drip mode for most of the fall and winter. I use tissues or toilet paper, and like my mother and her mother before her, I tuck a clean one in my sleeve for instant access.

  28. RosieW says:

    I learned to iron on my daddy’s handkerchiefs. Only took a few seconds per as they were sprinkled and ready for a hot iron. Guess this was before spray/steam irons.

    My friend Nancy did something so nice. After her mother died, tons of her mom’s friends sent condolence notes. Nancy responded, thanking each of them, and including one of Anne’s hankies.

  29. Beckie says:

    hankie gal here

    to me, they just look so much nicer to pull out ~in public~

    I use a fresh one everyday and if (when) I forget to take one out of a pocket, no messy tissue mess in the laundry

    it’s a habit my Gram instilled in me and makes me feel close to her, even though she is gone

    (DH uses a bandana instead of an *official* hankie type hankie…comes in handy for restrooms without towels, a sweaty brow, a sticky nephew, etc)

  30. Rose says:

    I’ll stock up and buy a 6 pack of kleenex from Shoppers at the beginning of winter, then put the boxes everywhere. In the summer when I’m running or gardening in the heat, I’ll wear a wet bandana around my kneck to cool me down or wipe off the sweat.

  31. Tigersmom says:

    The idea of hanging onto and reusing and washing a hankie grosses me out. Hankies are for tears ONLY. Tissues for nose stuff.

    I have tissues in every room in my house, plus my car and purse.

    If I have a cold and my nose gets raw I use Neosporin (if I think of it, I use it before my nose gets raw to prevent it) because the tissues with lotion always give me a nice big zit to go with my illness. I always try to grab a tissue for a sneeze as I saw somewhere that using your hand to cover a sneeze pretty much does nothing.

  32. Danica says:

    Nose blowing tissues!!! But I load up on boxes when they go on sale at Shoppers Drug Mart for .69cents! You should check it out! Just think you will get Shopper’s Optimum Points doing it! 🙂

  33. Jody says:

    I read the linked article. I think now I’ll go get some pretty hankies or steal a few from my Dad. I’ll use them to wipe away the occasional tear or slightly runny nose after being outside in the cold. The clear fluid coming out of your nose when outside in the cold or having a good cry is really just tears. However thick green snot and pretty hankies do not go together.

    • Jody says:

      Guess what I picked up today at Valley Antiques–2 sweet embroidered cotton/linen hankies. Now I’m ready when Canada wins another gold medal and my heart swells and my eyes overflow with emotion hearing our national anthem.

  34. Suanne says:

    NO! To hankies for nasal drainage. O.K. for wiping tears, I guess, but I’ll take Kleenex, to be disposed of neatly after use, thank you very much. To each his/her own, but I certainly don’t want crusty nose exudate in my laundry. Eeewwww!

  35. jainegayer says:

    Paper towels or toilet tissue at home usually, and my coat sleeve at the barn. The barn coat is usually splattered with manure, hay, bedding and mud so I figure a little snot won’t even be noticed.
    I can just imagine me pulling out a cute little lace hanky at the barn.

  36. michelle says:

    my hubs has always been a hankie guy…he says with a schnoz his size a tissue just won’t do it. he has one in his pocket at all times. my girls (ages 5 and 8) have been able to blow their noses since before they could walk and use hankies when they are under the weather. they also sleep with a hankie under their pillow to catch those errant mid night drips. as for the laundry…we have amassed such a quantity of hankies over the years that they go into their own laundry basket (actually the drawer under my washer) until i have enough for a small load. then i use the sanitary setting on my steam washer for to alleviate the ewww. my hubs wasn’t ironing them, but has recently started again. works for me; i don’t have to fold all those stupid little squares!!

  37. Jcrn says:

    My husband was trained by his mother to never leave home without a handkerchief . So he doesn’t. But I automatically avoid shaking heads with someone who uses them. Unless I know they also carry antibacterial wipes and/ or wash their hands after sneezing and coughing into their handkerchiefs.

    I use to think handkerchiefs were a good idea. That was before our state had 37 flu/ related deaths, the latest a 23 year old young woman, her parents’ only daughter…tore at my heart just to read about that. Also, a nurse friend who is not an alarmist, told me of a study which revealed the dangerous bacterium which live and grow on the average handkerchief in the course of a day, especially handkerchiefs which are likely to be used regularly. Yucky results, .

    Of course, it is equally disgusting ( if you think about it much which I don’t) to realize what goes into the air every time a toilet is flushed and inevitably lands on nearby counters – and toothbrushes, hair brushes, etc…in an average bathroom.

    There is only so much we can control.

    • Natika says:

      Closing the toilet lid goes a long way to preventing the water from spraying everywhere. Also, then ALL genders have the same lowering/raising responsibilities and we can stop having that little war too. 😉

    • Natika says:

      Closing the toilet lid goes a long way to preventing the water from spraying everywhere. Also, then ALL genders have the same lowering/raising responsibilities and we can stop having that little war too.

  38. Jcrn says:

    Oops, shaking hands” not ” shaking heads” ,

  39. Ev says:

    Puffs w/lotion rule! Always have one near– extreme allergies! Would not consider handkerchiefs. My father did though, and my mom hated washing the things! Sometimes she even just threw them away! We did not have a lot of money, but she must have often spent some of it on new hankies!

  40. Nicola says:

    I’ve done hankies since moving to Canada after university – that’s 25 years of winter nose dribbles. Tissues make my nose raw. Hankies even get irritating when I have a bad cold! Best thing was my then boyfriend now husband didn’t bat an eye and has done the same 🙂

  41. Rebecca says:

    I think it’s a cute idea for sniffles, tears and sweat but not for full on cold snot.

  42. Cathy says:

    I often say that my husband is an old soul. He uses cloth handkerchiefs, wears dungarees – not jeans, eats dinner – not lunch, I could go on…… There are good and bad sides to the cloth, but it’s starting to make more sense. He has allergies and I wear contacts and it seems that you can’t find plain paper tissues any longer. They all have sneeze guard or lotion, etc. He’s allergic to that stuff and it irritates my eyes. Aren’t we just a mess? The clean cotton hankies almost make sense except that he leaves them in his pants pocket in the laundry, so I don’t see them till I take everything out of the dryer. Sigh…..

  43. Marti says:

    My mother had me online ordering some for her 70+year old self last week. She was talking about making her own (yep, she’s THAT old school) and I said “No, let’s get you some vintage ones off”

    Since she planned to use them to teach a neighbor girl to crochet, it seemed like we needed handkerchiefs that were lower priced than “vintage.” I ended up ordering a dozen from this website: (including these)

    I have to admit, she didn’t sell me on them. But I think you’re right. I need some. They might help my “better angels” to keep me in line…. and my snotty stuff prettily stashed in my purse. Seriously, I think I’ll get some, too.

  44. Cindy says:

    I always keep two hankies in my purse. They don’t get nasty, and I wash them often. I carry tissues in my purse when I have a cold though. I love my hankies!

  45. Teddee Grace says:

    Well, if you grew up so poor that you had to take an old cotton sock to school to blow your nose on when you had a head cold (sometimes when you had a real doozy you’d wonder if there was a way to just hook the sock on your nose), you’ll go for the disposable alternative every time.

  46. Julie says:

    I have a super soft pale blue handkerchief that was my grandmothers and she gave it to me when I was a teenager. I had never used it before but I always loved it so much. I kept it in the pocket of my wedding dress last June and I felt like she was there with me the whole time. I even used it and it made me smile when I did. Now just writing this down is making me smile…thanks Karen!

  47. Regena Fickes says:

    I always think of rubbing my nose on a tree trunk when I use a tissue. I have horrible allergies and constant use of a tissue leaves my nose sore. I do use tissues and keep them on hand for guests and emergencies, but carry handkerchiefs with me at all times.

  48. Rondina Muncy says:

    I use men’s handkerchiefs for crying and Kleenex for nose-blowing. I figured out (back in the 70s when men still carried them) that women’s handkerchiefs were nice, dainty pieces of useless cloth. I still use the same ones that I bought originally. They’re ancient and in perfect condition—unlike their owner.

  49. Jennifer says:

    I love the viva paper towels for blowing instead of weak tissues. I usually stuff one in my cleavage in the morning. They last several blows. I’m also not opposed to blowing “snot rockets” if I’m out doing yard work and no tissues are in sight. My 19 year old son has several red bandanas. He gets a lot of nose bleeds.

  50. Mari says:

    I buy tissues based on the design on the box. The box has to look good with my décor!

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