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Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Hankie Debate

To hankie or not to hankie,
That is the question.
Once upon a time it was never a feared object but it seems to be slipping into obsolescence.

When you have a cold and blow your nose there are typically many viruses that may be found. There is still debate about how long these viruses can live outside of the body, some say days and others a few hours. If nasal secretions get onto our hands they can then be passed to others by touching everyday objects like door knobs, light switches, telephones etc. If you have watched a sneeze recorded on camera, slowed and macro then you will get an idea of the power and spray potential of the nose.
 Best practice is to wash your hands after sneezing or blowing to remove and kill the viruses regardless of whether you are using tissue or cloth.

The ABC Health and Wellbeing published an article citing as their source Professor Jack Gwaltney who says putting hankies into a normal wash is sufficient to kill viruses and washing at high temperatures is not necessary. Your nasal secretions are natural bodily fluids and water soluble.
So good hygiene obviously is key and that includes disposing of tissues and washing used handkerchiefs.

Rebecca Blackburn also wrote an article Tissues Vs Handkerchiefs in which she lays out all the number crunching on environmental impacts from both sides. At the time of her writing the article, Australians were using 273 000 tonnes of tissue products mostly all from virgin fibre. She based her calculations on a 1g tissue and a 15g cotton hanky assumed to be good for 520 uses.
It takes 2.2L of water to produce ONE tissue; that is four times as much as to produce 1 cotton hanky even though a huge amount of water is used to produce the cotton initially. It takes 165L to grow and produce one cotton hanky and a further 0.15L to wash but given that it is good for 520 washes, it's water footprint comes back to a mere 0.47L.

As far as energy goes, it takes about the same amount to produce a single tissue from virgin pulp as it does to produce and launder a cotton hanky 520 times.
As far as waste goes, tissues produce about 1.3g of waste including manufacturing waste. Hankies produce about 0.05g mostly from coal mining waste created to produce the energy needed to wash the hankies.

So the humble hankie wins on all accounts on the energy debate and I can think of better things to do with virgin fibres. As far as hygiene goes I think we have also busted some of those myths too. It is perfectly OK to use a handkerchief and wash it normally, no tricks or hoops jumped.

As you can see, I have a large hankie collection. They are much kinder on the nose and a beautiful accessory. I always believe a true gentleman always carries a hankie and can be relied upon to assist a lady in distress. 

They wipe hands and brows as well as eyes and noses.
They dust seats or wipe spills.
They carry money tied up in the corner.
They are tucked in sleeves as well as pockets.

The white man's hankie above with the letter "A" belonged to a dear friend and it was all that I wanted after he died as a token.
The little square folded purple one is my newest. Mum brought it back from France for me.

These are perhaps my oldest personally owned. They always remind me of another dear elderly friend of my grandparents. His name was Peter and he owned Mellicks store and drapery at Longreach in QLD. I felt so grown up when he gave me beautiful boxed handkerchief sets, not like the childish ones in the photo above with drawings on them and days of the week. They were the ones I would take to Mass on Sundays, not for school, too precious!
The child's hankies in the photo earlier are the remnants of a number of sets my children had and isn't it interesting that we have four "Sundays" and a "Tuesday" left.
And still I use them....

Like these precious one that family members have made. Hand embroidered and crocheted edges.
Some handkerchiefs are works of art and some are exquisite examples of lace making and cut work.
Some have frayed hems but they are the softest of all.

They can be used as air filters like when people tied them around their noses and mouths fighting fires.
They are emergency bandages for cuts and grazes.
They are personal coolers; dampened and worn around the neck or around the wrist on pulse points.
Remember when they were also used as "hats" upon the head with a knot tied at each corner?

So what are your memories? Do you still use Hankies? Do you remember wrapping one of your precious baby teeth up at school in your hankie to take it safely home for under the pillow that night?


  1. My dad was bald and would do the four corner knotted hat version when on the beach. My mum, as an older lady, has weepy eyes. Tissues, because of the minute wood particles, make this worse. Hankies, dabbed gently at the corner of her eye do the job and cause no further problems. We keep a box of tissues for visitors who always look dumbfounded and a little amazed that we eschew such everyday items.

  2. Of course we are a hankie house, so much kinder to the nose when you have a cold and so useful as you said for oh so many things. When I first started school, and caught the bus home all by myself my pennies were wrapped in the corner of my hankie so that they wouldn't be lost before they were needed.

  3. I definately love a hankie, we have tissues around the house as well but a hankie in the handbag is essential. Kids love their cute retro hankies -they have been told to use tissues at school though. Is it really going to stop those nasty colds spreading by using paper pulp?

  4. We are a hankie home too, except the Mr. He will use a hanky but opts for tissues in times of flu. I don't think we have any as pretty as some of yours though and I remember Nan ripping the hem off a fraying hankie to secure our plaits after swimming one day. :)

  5. We are a hankie household too. I just tell visitors they can use one of our clean hankies or toilet paper. They always choose the toilet paper.

    I agree with Jenny they are so much gentler on the nose.
    I need to gather a few more though as we seem to have lots that have all developed holes at the same time, not sure if it's just old age as they were old ones or if someone has found a new use for them that causes holes?

    cheers Kate

  6. What a lovely collection of hankies you have! I think hankies were the first things I ever used an iron on...Mum obviously felt it was safe to let me iron them when I was about 10. (her iron was sooo heavy) DH uses hankies but I must admit I use tissues. However after all the facts you presented in your post, I'm thinking I'd better go and 'dig out' by collection from the drawers and start using them again. Remember the game 'I wrote a letter to my love and on the way I dropped it'...we used to use a hanky for the

  7. Humfh...

    I am a tissue user and these figures I think are converting me... MUCH to the amusement of my hubby who all along suggested this!!! The figures will plague me if I ever use a tissue again!!!

  8. Ok ok ok... you've convinced me to change my ways and become a hanky girl. (My partner who already uses hankies will be very surprised by this). HOWEVER I think I might head off to DJs and buy new ones... I don't think I'll be able to get my head around using second hand ones from Vinnes. Ridiculous me knows... and yet...

  9. Everyone at my place the last week has had the flu... And we have run out of hankies! Looking at all of yours I'm thinking that maybe I should make some.


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