Apr 26, 2019

Ten Great Uses for a Handkerchief...Other Than Blowing Your Nose

A few years ago I was driving to a lunch meeting with a publisher for a book project and the conversation turned to old stuff making a comeback. I took her by surprise when I mentioned handkerchiefs, and even more so when I produced one from my back pocket. I had never really thought much of it, because carrying handkerchiefs is my way of classing up a serious problem with allergies, where my sinuses go DEFCON 1 and launch sneezing attacks at a moment's notice. (Like my man Sneezy says... "When you gotta, you gotta.") 

But I'm not the only one looking to supplement tissues with fabric. The resurgence of handkerchiefs is part of the larger picture of kids born in the 80's reaching back into Grandpa's closet and workshop for a feeling of concreteness and authenticity. Regardless of your position on reaching for retro, I'd argue that the handkerchief, far from being a relic relegated to nostalgic millennials, is a useful tool... and not just for catching sneezes.

Here's a list of some of the things you can use handkerchiefs for in your everyday life. 

1. Towel

Rode your bike into town without checking for that unexpected rainstorm, which means you didn't cover up your seat ahead of time? No need to soak your sleeve! Wipe it down with a corner of your handkerchief, and afterwards hang that corner out of your pocket so it can dry.

2. Washcloth

Spilled ketchup on your shirt on a lunch break? Head to the bathroom, lather up your handkerchief with some hand soap, scrub-a-dub, and you've saved yourself some embarrassment.

3. Ice pack

Thunked your forehead on the corner of the car after grabbing that runaway quarter? Grab some ice from the gas station soda fountain, wrap it up in your handkerchief, and you've got yourself an ice pack.

4. Container

Need somewhere to put those baby greens you just harvested from your garden? Easy peasy. 



5. Phone screen cleaner

Does your screen ever look like you smeared an entire bag of Wavy Lay's all over it? Yeah, mine too. But a good, hard wipe with the corner of my shirt is annoying. Handkerchief to the rescue. It'll do with your eye or sunglasses as well. 

6. Portable A/C

The only thing roasting at the ballpark in July should be the kielbasas. Run your handkerchief under cold water and slap it to the back of your neck. The evaporating water will cool you and catch whatever breeze happens to come your way.

7. Coaster

Don't be that guy who leaves a ring on someone's table with your sweaty glass. Slip your handkerchief underneath. It's the courteous thing to do.

8. Gear cleaner

Keep the blade of your pocketknife free of sap and liquid with a quick wipe-down.

9. Sleep mask

I don't know about you, but power naps aren't super effective in the glaring sun. Fold the handkerchief over itself several times, and voila, instant dark room.

10. Emergency coffee filter

OK, it's unlikely that I'll ever really need to do this. But I find it an oddly comforting thought that I can make an emergency pourover using a handkerchief as a filter.

Final thought: Two is one, one is none

The efficacy of these suggestions runs off the assumption that you've got a clean handkerchief, but what if you're like me and you're prone to rendering it a useless snotrag within 15 minutes of being outside?

Easy: carry two. As the adage goes, "One for show, one for blow." They're small, so two shouldn't take up too much pocket real estate. (Bonus: if you're the blazer-wearing type, a small decorative one is perfect for a pocket square.)

What have you used your handkerchief for in a pinch? Leave your comment below!



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Jo on Jun 19, 2020:

HI I'm Jo and a big hanky lover! I've designed a range of 100% soft linen hankies. You'll find them in my etsy shop! Aww... Bless! www.etsy.com/shop/BlessHanky

Art Denney on Apr 22, 2018:

I carry a bandana, and I am fashion conscious enough to make sure it blends with my clothes. Bandanas are often lightly larger than handkerchiefs. In addition to these excellent ideas, I've found the bandana useful as a first aid tool, better than the back of my silk tie for cleaning my glasses, and as a pot holder when cooking with an iron skillet.

Normand McDonald on Apr 20, 2018:

It's been great hearing from so many of you and you're handkerchief stories!
As I was reading the latest comments I suddenly remembered being at a lumber yard with my grandfather one Saturday morning. He purchased a few 4x8 pieces of lumber and loaded them in the back of his pick-up truck. Then he realized he needed something red on the end of the lumber for safety reasons. His handkerchiefs were always the ones with a red and white paisley design.So.... you guessed it. Out came his ever trusted handkerchief and with the help of a lumber yard hammer and nail we were good to head for home. My dear grandmother was less than thrilled with the plan but hey, it did the trick! I was quite impressed with my grandfather's problem solving skills !

JoelSelby on Apr 19, 2018:

@RW — Especially if you're wearing dress pants and don't want to come out of the bathroom looking like you didn't make it to the stall in time.

JoelSelby on Apr 19, 2018:

@Brogan McCluskie — Ha, for sure! (Although, during allergy season, I know I've definitely dripped snot into my coffee. Gross but true.)

JoelSelby on Apr 19, 2018:

@Jeanine — All fantastic uses, thanks for your additions! I've wiped down many a playground slide for my daughter after one of our many summer thunderstorms we get here in South.

Also, good shout on the floral handkerchiefs for purses—sounds like a nice gift for my wife.

JoelSelby on Apr 19, 2018:

@R.S. — Good mention of the bandanna! I'd like to get a handful after having written this, especially for hiking trips. Also, I think that makes sense on the purpose for dad pockets, ha! (Other than maybe the ubiquitous loose change to mindlessly jingle, which dates back to before the Greeks!)

JoelSelby on Apr 19, 2018:

@Aaron — I've never used mine as a coaster either, but I probably will now after having written this!

JoelSelby on Apr 19, 2018:

@Jeremy — I love those Dad moments. Literally last week I used my handkerchief to dry off my toddler's feet and sandals after she tromped through a puddle at the playground and started freaking out, ha!

JoelSelby on Apr 19, 2018:

@Normand McDonald — Great to hear! That's a hilarious story, by the way. I wonder what else she reused?

RW on Apr 18, 2018:

Keep one inbathrooms.while traveling to dry my hands on and open doors in bathrooms.

Brogan McCluskie on Apr 17, 2018:

Very cool! Just make sure you haven't blown your nose in it before you decide to make coffee:)

Jeanine on Apr 16, 2018:

My Dad has carried a "hanky" as he calls it since I can remember, and yes, as a kid and teen, I asked to borrow it often. Always white 100% cotton. As a lady of the purse-carrying variety, I began carrying men's hankies. Once my auntie saw me pull out a boring brown one, and she decided I needed more feminine ones. She gave me a whole bunch of adorable floral ones, beautifully soft and broken-in, and now I carry those for the odd eye-wiping and whatnot. My girlfriends are always delighted by the pretty prints of pansies and roses. But I also carry a colorful bandanna at all times, because they're so useful.

A better napkin at the movies for buttery fingers, an impromptu bib for messy meals, and whatever else needs wiping. In rainy Seattle, I'm forever wiping off a wet bus seat with it. Headband or hair cover, ponytail holder, dust mask, or wetted to wash my face or cool my neck, I love my bandannas! I always pack a bunch when I travel, too. Great to use on a plane to cover that gross tray table that never gets cleaned.

R.S. on Apr 16, 2018:

I grew up on the outskirts of Phoenix, AZ. and have carried a bandana ever since I was first allowed to travel beyond the confines of the front yard. It is a head cover, a cooler, a pouch, a bandage, an air filter, a towel, a flag, and an all around useful item for any and every situation that I've ever encountered. As I aged, married, and raised children, I found that wives and daughters greatly expand the demand for a clean dry square of soft cloth to be produced instantaneously from my pocket. Since they place an inordinate emphasis upon the "clean" and "dry" specifications - I soon found that a handkerchief in the right front pocket, a large white bandana in the left, and a colored bandana in the left rear would usually allow me to meet the needs (both theirs and mine) of a normal day. Trips afield often require more. No matter. They're easy to carry. I, sometimes, wonder if handkerchiefs / bandanas, and pocket knives aren't the original reason why a Dad has pockets at all. Consider this: They pre-date car keys by thousands of years. I cannot imagine being without at least one.

Normand McDonald on Apr 15, 2018:

Hey Aaron. I had not heard the term " snot rag" for years. Reminds me of a friend I had a long time ago who always used that term when referring to a handkerchief.Great memories. My allergies and it's resulting never ending drip, keep me using mine NUMEROUS times a day.

Aaron on Apr 15, 2018:

never used mine as a coaster. i filter my cold brew with one, they make for good field bandages when thorns and barbed wire are tougher then your skin. often use mine to carry thistle flowers back to be destroyed. and as always i never leave home without a snot rag.

Jeremy on Apr 15, 2018:

I started a few years ago with our first kid and it's been a lifesaver. The first time he made a mess and I calmly whipped out a hankerchief you'd have thought I pulled an elephant out of my pocket based on the looks from other parents. I've never felt like such a dad. I rarely leave the house without one these days.

Normand McDonald on Apr 15, 2018:

Hey, I'm almost 66 years old and have NEVER stopped using my oh so important handkerchief.The main reason is...I can't stand having my fingers go through a wet paper tissue! Over the years and in recent years buying them has not always been easy. I use white one ( another version of tidy whiteys I guess!). I do find them at Walmart most of the time.Having a clean handkerchief has come in handy MANY times in my life I can assure you. Much more environmentally friendly than the disposable alternative.Which brings me to a funny but true story. When I was growing up our neighbor, a sweet frugal elderly lady used disposable tissues. HOWEVER she would spread them out on her dresser to dry them out and reuses them. She was ahead of her time I guess!!! Great lady for sure. Handkerchiefs? You bet.