folded cloth handkerchiefs

Grandma always kept a pretty handkerchief handy in the pocket of her house dress. They were often decorated with colorful lace trim that she made. I still keep two of them on display where I can look at them and remember her. I love the old-fashioned, feminine style.

Dad also used handkerchiefs. He wouldn’t dream of leaving home without one in his suit pocket. My mom always had one clean and ironed, ready for him to take to work.

Hankies were such a part of life before disposable tissues became commonplace for wiping tears, blowing noses, or blotting sweaty faces. A box of monogrammed handkerchiefs always made a nice gift in those days.

While I wouldn’t want to carry a used handkerchief with me all day at work, I’ll use cloth hankies instead of disposable tissues when I’m at home. Even when I’m away from home, hankies are great for dabbing sweat from my neck and face when it’s hot. And when it’s really toasty, a wet handkerchief draped around the neck is cooling and refreshing.

During a recent bout of seasonal allergies, I used squares cut from old T-shirts and pajamas to blow my nose while at home. Though not as elegant as Grandma’s hankies, they were sturdy and absorbent and they worked! I tossed the used squares into a basin filled with soapy water to presoak before laundering and reusing.

When I’m away from home, I generally use disposable tissues — particularly during the pandemic. I prefer a tissue brand like Emerald that is made from sustainable materials. But when I’m at home, it’s easy to toss soiled handkerchiefs in the laundry, so I’ll use cloth hankies.

Even if we aren’t comfortable using handkerchiefs all of the time, using them instead of tissues when possible can still eliminate a lot of waste. And I feel that anything that we can do to help Mother Earth is worth our time and trouble.

By Joanna Lacey

Joanna Lacey lives in New York and has collected thousands of ideas from the frugal habits of her mother and grandmother. You can find her on Facebook at Joanna the Green Maven.