Zero Waste Challenge Day 6: Handkerchiefs

Not so long ago people used handkerchiefs to wipe their noses, chins, and faces from wet kisses or the occasional runny nose. I remember watching my grandma iron her handkerchiefs after they came off the clothes lines. They were neatly folded, crisp, and ready for the week ahead. 

 Vintage handkerchiefs from my grandma(s). Clearly I don't iron like my grandma did. 

Vintage handkerchiefs from my grandma(s). Clearly I don't iron like my grandma did. 

Nowadays, handkerchiefs have taken the back seat to yet another disposable single-use item, the paper tissue. Having to wash and dry tissues, who's got time for that? It sounds messy and down-right time consuming, right? 

Well, not exactly.

One of the core mindsets of this zero waste journey is simplicity. And creating a simple handkerchief system for your personal routine will make these nose blowers a well-loved and appreciated part of your everyday life. 

Why did our grandparents use them? Well again, the idea of buying something to use once and toss wasn't a smart idea. And people didn't have as much stuff as we do now, so you were a bit more intentional about what your purchases were and how you used them in your life. Items were often made to last as well. 

Handkerchiefs were something personal too. You could reflect your own style in the kinds you used. I have a few handkerchiefs from my grandma that she used just for the summer time - embroidered tropical birds and all. And for the spring time, purple embroidered flowers. It was special and pretty to use, even if it was just for blowing your nose with. I still use the same handkerchiefs that my grandma and great grandma used! Talk about lasting quality!

The problem: 

Not so long ago the concept of using something once and tossing it out was seriously frowned upon. Why spend the time and energy to go to a store, spend good money on something, just to toss it after one use?

In fact, our American culture was trained to accept this new throw-away lifestyle after a lot of convincing by advertising companies. Needless to say, our culture shifted and we are hooked on the conviences of the toss-and-go lifestyle. 

Beyond just the throw-away culture, commercial paper products (like tissues) can often come from virgin forests and also contain a host of chemicals for whitening and processing. Many commercial brand tissues are bleached with the most common offender, chlorine. Chlorine is in many paper-based products; such as paper towels, toilet paper, tissues, coffee filters, and milk cartons. These toxic substances pollute our waterways and even enter our bodies through our skin and get into our bloodstream. 

Okay, so bleaching and disposables are no bueno. So what's another solution? 


Reusable cotton handkerchiefs and wipes. Ahhh, but you say "gross" and "germy". I say, if it was good enough from your grandma, it's good enough for you! 

The key to using handkerchiefs is to have a system in place. 

Where to get them? 

There are some great places where you can get soft, organic, reusable tissues. You can also make your own from old sheets or clothing. I have a whole jar of hankies from an old cotton circle scarf. 

I also have inherited a few from my grandparents and my husband's grandparents too. Vintage shops and thrift stores often have well-loved hankies. 

Where to get your reusable tissues:

HankyBook: A book of hankies! Soft, absorbent and reusable! 

Cut up some old t's or old sheets into 6x6 inch squares

Thrift or vintage store

Keeping them clean:

I created a system with my hankies. I keep a few mason jars around the house stuffed full of them and a little basket underneath or nearby the tissue jar for easy tossing. I have enough of them that I'm not doing wash all the time. And there cut to just the right size that they are easy to hang-dry. 

When it's not cold and flu season, I wash them with towels or toss them into a small load of wash. But if someone's got a nasty cold, I wash them separately with hot water. Luckily, that only happens maybe once a year. 

If you’re still not ready to reuse:

Find yourself some unbleached, 100% recycled tissues, or toilet paper (something like these: Seventh Generation) and when you're done (try to) compost them!

Join Going Zero Waste & Be Zero on a 30 Day Zero Waste Challenge!

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