Maybe you have hay fever, COVID, a cold, or the flu, and you’re grabbing a tissue or a handkerchief. But which one’s better at stopping infections from spreading? Which one is kinder to the environment? Is it the hanky, which has been around since Roman times, or the more common paper tissue?
Let’s talk about the history of these things first.
A long time ago, the Romans used something called a “sudarium” to wipe away sweat or cover their mouths and faces. Over time, people used what we now call a handkerchief or hanky for lots of things – like covering their heads, cleaning their hands, or even as a fashion statement. Wealthy folks used them to show off their status, and even royalty gave them as fancy gifts. Handkerchiefs also had meanings related to love and personal preferences. In the late 19th century, there was something called the “handkerchief code” used in LGBTQ+ communities to indicate sexual preferences.
Paper tissues, on the other hand, can be traced back to China in ancient times, but the tissue we use today for wiping noses and removing makeup didn’t really show up until the 1920s. Now, let’s figure out which one is better for our health. A long time ago, cloth hankies were seen as germ magnets and were even called “little flags of Death” because they could carry germs. Later, people told us to use hankies for coughs and sneezes to stop diseases from spreading. But using a reusable cotton hanky and then touching other things can spread viruses. Even if you wash the hanky right away, you might still touch doorknobs and the washing machine with your contaminated hands. Viruses don’t usually survive as long on tissues. So, as long as you throw them away properly and don’t leave them around, the chance of passing germs to others is lower.
But do hankies or tissues really work well at stopping coughs and sneezes?
Both can catch stuff that comes out of your mouth when you cough or sneeze. But studies have shown that they aren’t great at filtering out tiny particles, pollutants, or pathogens from the air.
Now, what about the planet?
You might think cotton hankies are better for the environment than tissues, right? Well, not really. A study looked at the environmental impact of reusable cotton hankies compared to disposable paper tissues. They considered things like climate change, pollution, harm to humans, and resource use. Surprisingly, the cotton hanky had five to seven times more impact than a tissue, and most of the impact came from making the products, not using or getting rid of them.
If you really want to use a cotton hanky, you could choose organic cotton, which is better for the environment than regular cotton. However, organic cotton needs more land to produce the same amount, which can make the environmental impact even worse.
If you want to feel good about using tissues, go for the ones made from recycled material. They create fewer greenhouse gas emissions compared to regular tissues.
So, in the end, using paper tissues and throwing them away properly is better for both your health and the environment. But they might not have the same charm as the historic and versatile cloth hanky.
Image Source: https://pharmeasy.in/blog/tissues-vs-handkerchief-what-would-your-skin-prefer/