Over the past few months, I’ve increasingly been using handkerchiefs. Compared to paper tissues, they clearly win the eco-argument – multi-use items that can be washed (minimal extra washing burden) compared to all the embodied energy and water in paper tissues that quickly get added to landfill. However, with growing global concerns over the COVID-19 virus, how do they stack up hygiene wise?
The tissue camp would probably claim that they do a better job. Use once, then throw away rather than leaving damp and mouldering in a pocket. However, I’m not so sure. Tissues often sit in pockets for a long period (I’ve inadvertently washed plenty of them in my time) even after use, not least because there isn’t always a convenient bin around. Sitting in a bin probably isn’t great either although should be okay if left undisturbed.
Hankies do get used for longer but they are a personal item, so you aren’t going to catch something you haven’t already got. Hankies can also be folded, so you aren’t always using the same part and, assuming you’ve got a collection of them, washed regularly in hot water (even pre-washed in very hot water if you felt paranoid).
For times when you are actively streaming with snot, I can see that tissues have a role. However, for regular use, I think the eco-friendly, traditional hanky wins out out, as long as you only use it on yourself and not for other people (urgh!) or wiping surfaces (less immediately icky but probably at least as risky in practice).