As you may have noticed, this blog is all about being frugal, since I’m the Budget Epicurean and all. But not to the exclusion of new experiences and food, of course, hence the Epicurean part.
You probably also already know that one great way to save money is by not spending it.
And a great way to not spend money is to incorporate habits and products in your life that can be reused multiple times or in multiple ways. This keeps you from having to buy more than one product for the same need. Handily, not throwing things away also is great for the environment.
The process of incorporating more Zero Waste habits into your everyday life should be pretty easy at the beginning.
There are so many simple habits we can change: using real straws or refusing plastic ones, bringing your own metal or bamboo silverware, using actual hand towels or cloth napkins rather than paper towels.
If you think this is too big of a leap, I will show you in this series how you can help save the planet with One Small Thing at a time.
The One Thing we will talk about today: Handkerchiefs.
Warning: detailed descriptions of snot ahead. Proceed to click the x in the corner if you don’t want to read about it or are squeamish.
Handkerchiefs can be beautiful, utilitarian, or tell the story of a place and time in history. They can be hand-sewn cotton, or crafted of the finest quality silk. If they are meant only for decoration and not for use, they can be called pocket squares.
The word originated from “kerchief“, meaning a head covering. Their use became more widespread, and their purpose became moreso to wipe your face or hands, thus “hand” was added to create handkerchief.
Handkerchiefs are also differentiated from cloth napkins in that they are typically not of quite as heavy fabric, and are carried around all day, not just for use at the dinner table.
Fun fact: everyone produces about 1 to 1.5 L of snot every day.
The purpose of all this mucus is to:
- Protect your sinuses and lungs from dirt, dust, and other particles in the air we breathe
- Act as a defensive barrier to foreign bacteria
- Keep your cells lining your airways lubricated
Things that can increase mucus production includes cold weather, allergies, spicy foods, emotional upset, and illness or infections. Healthy mucus is thin and clear, and is typically swallowed or absorbed and we don’t even notice it. When it thickens or becomes discolored, that’s usually a sign of infection.
Since I recently inherited a large collection of gorgeous heirloom handkerchiefs from my great grandmother, I have become a total convert. Yes, I had all the same questions and fears you probably do, and let me dispel a few myths for those still on the fence.
Your pockets will not get wet
Yes, mucus is 80-90% water. But how much volume do you produce on average? I’d wager not much more than a teaspoon. Most hankies can handle it, especially if you fold it multiple times. If you happen to have a runny faucet, just bring multiple hankies and switch out halfway through the day.
They will not ruin your washing machine or clothes
Unless you are ill, and producing an abnormally large volume or, forgive me, viscous snot, your hankies will do just fine in a normal washing machine. I have a bin where used ones go, and when its full I just toss them in with the next load of towels. It is best to wash them on high heat, but even that is not totally required.
Women who use reusable menstrual pads or cloth diapers can tell you that a washing machine is perfectly capable of sterilizing bodily fluids. You wash your bathing suits and undies/boxers in the same washing machine with your other clothes don’t you? Enough said.
You should use a new one each day (or more often)
Some people seem to be under the mistaken impression that if you use a handkerchief, you only have one and you use it over and over and over. That is not true. Dried on snot is not great, no matter how crunchy-granola you are. If you only have one hankie, you better be washing that bad boy daily.
They have *so many* uses
Of course the main use we are discussing is for blowing your nose or wiping a runny nose. But that is only one small part of the usefulness of carrying a handkerchief.
You can wipe sweat off your brow on a scorching summer day.
You can wrap small items in it such as baked goods when no other bag or wrapper option is avaialble
It can be a fashionable head wrap in a windy convertible while driving up the Amalfi coast
It can wipe up small spills, muddy paws, sticky hands, or wipe your mouth after eating
You can dry your hands after washing them instead of using paper towels that kill millions of trees per year
You can cover your mouth & nose if there is particularly dusty/ dirty air situation or an offensive smell
It can be a substitute bandage for a small injury
It can be a grand gesture to someone who is teary-eyed to hand them your hankie
They can be used to polish shoes or clean glasses
They can be used for some kinds of dances to enhance arm movements
It can become and emergency sling for an arm or baby
It can stand in as a potholder to grab hot objects
Anything else I forgot? Feel free to tell me in the comments!
Hand washing and air drying is best, but not required
The gentler you are with your hankies the longer the fabric will last, this is true of all fabrics. Sure, if you can pre-soak them, and then gently hand wash them, and then pin them up on a line to dry out in the great outdoors, and then press each one to mint condition, that is the ideal.
But I can tell you from experience so far, they will survive a spin through the washer and tumble dry in the dryer. They may be a bit wrinkly on the other side, but who cares when I’m just putting them in my pocket?
They do not have to be expensive, and they will save you money in the long run
Sure you can buy 3 handkerchiefs for $65. Or, you could buy 100 for $10. Or you could even just make them yourself from old sheets, pillow cases, or tshirts. A handkerchief does not have to be fancy and expensive, it just needs to be a piece of cloth you can re-use after blowing your nose or wiping up spills.
And shoot, why not just ask grandma or grandpa? They might have some hanging around and be happy to hand them down for free!
You can also re-use a handkerchief for literal years. Just having a stack of 7 could prevent you from ever having to drop $3 on a box of tissues ever again! I know we used to go through a roll of paper towels and a box of kleenex at least every other week.
Now, with a bin of clean and a bin of dirty towels and hankies, we haven’t had to buy any of either in over a month. And probably won’t have to for a long time, at least until flu season*. This switch will probably save us hundreds over the next 6 decades or so. I may even get to pass these on to further generations some day, for even more savings!
*Important note: Disposable tissues are by far the better option when you are legitimately sick and/or in public. When you have a viral infection, and blow your nose, virus particles are in there. If you use a hankie, and re-use it, you risk infecting those around you with everything you touch. Better by far to use disposable, toss the germs right into the trash, and wash your hands afterwards.
So, yes, there are certain situations where something disposable is definitely called for. New babies, sickness, allergies, come to mind. But for every day general use, consider trying out a hankie. You never know, it could end up saving you thousands, and saving the future of the planet as well.
More posts about hankies for your reading pleasure:
“There is an inverse relationship between the handkerchief’s popularity and the rise of our germa-phobe culture. A society that sprays the air with disinfectant to rid it of those pesky bacterium and totes hand sanitizer on key chains looks eschew at the reusable tissue. I think hankie ignorance is partly to blame. Having not grown up around handkerchief-carrying men, it seems some people are under the impression that a hankie is used over and over again, all week long. But a man should take a clean handkerchief each day, and launder them weekly. It should go without saying that when offering a lady your handkerchief, it should always be an unused, clean one. You should probably tell her that when you hand it over, as to allay any fears she might have about what’s lurking in its folds.”