zero waste

The (not so) humble handkerchief

I have been using cloth handkerchiefs since I was a child. The convent school I attended (it was a very pleasant experience) didn’t allow tissues, at least when I was very young, as they felt tissues were too messy. I went through a period of using tissues later in life, but I haven’t used them for over twenty years now.

A lot of people are disgusted by the notion of using handkerchiefs. I don’t understand how paper tissues could be hygienic, considering that you dispose of them, which means potential contamination. To be honest, few things disgust me more than seeing balled up tissue paper lying around, which happens too often in public places such as the bus. I think handkerchiefs are actually more hygienic, as you can use as many clean ones as you need, then simply launder them and re-use them. I also find tissues to be much softer on my nose. Besides suffering from year-round allergies, I was diagnosed with vasomotor rhinitis a few years ago, so I need to use a handkerchief very often. Tissues would be far too harsh.

The environmental benefits of handkerchiefs are obvious as well, since handkerchiefs are re-usable and can be made from repurposed fabric, which is what I tend to do. I sew my own handkerchiefs; I’m not an expert sewer by any means, but hankies are so easy to make. I’ve re-purposed items such as cloth napkins that I’ve never used, scraps of material from other sewing projects, and so forth. This helps further reduce waste, as it means I haven’t bought anything new. When I have a cold, I use flannel hankies, which are the softest on the skin. I go through a lot of hankies, which is why this is one area in my home where I don’t practice minimalism, i.e., I have a lot of hankies. I keep an eye open for hankies when I visit antique or consignment stores and have found some lovely embroidered hankies over the years.

For those not inclined to sewing, you can often find hankies sold at local farmers’ markets and natural-foods stores; they are often labelled as “cloth wipes.” These wipes can be used also in place of toilet paper, to clean sticky fingers, and so forth. Below are a few Canadian companies that make hankies; some even make tissue-style popup boxes to store the hankies. I’ve purchased hankies from these companies, as I like to support local businesses, in addition to making my own.

Eco-Freako: This company is based in Sechelt, BC. I’ve had some of their Hankettes hankies for several years. The hankies are very durable and come in different sizes. I haven’t had any luck finding these in physical stores, so I’ve ordered them online in the past.

Oko Creations: This company is based in Boisbriand, Quebec. I’ve had some of their hankies for years as well. You can often find their hankies in natural-food stores, as well.

The Home Made Happy: This is an Etsy store run by Julia Lussier, who lives in Halifax, NS. Julia makes a variety of products, including cloth wipes, which can be used as hankies. I have purchased Julia’s products at local artisan markets and have had some lovely chats with her about zero waste and sustainable living. Julia is taking a break during the COVID-19 pandemic, but I hope she will be back soon.

Cheeks Ahoy: This company is based in Peterborough, Ontario. They sell a variety of products, including cloth wipes that can be used as hankies. The company doesn’t sell its products online, but you can find them at a variety of stores across the country.

If you haven’t used hankies in the past, I would recommend that you try them. Channel your grandparents, or great grandparents.

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