What is a Handkerchief Used for?

Perhaps many people believe that carrying a handkerchief represents conservatism, and consider the handkerchief itself as a relic from the past. However, this perception couldn’t be further from the truth. The handkerchief is not merely a small piece of fabric; it is a versatile tool that has transcended time and culture. From ancient civilizations to the modern era, from the East to the West, handkerchiefs boast an astonishing array of uses.

Traditional Uses of Handkerchiefs

Handkerchiefs have been serving their purpose for over 3000 years. Traditionally, they were utilized for personal hygiene, as accessories, and as a means of conveying emotions or messages.

Personal Hygiene

Handkerchiefs offer convenience and are carried by people to wipe away sweat, maintain facial cleanliness, and prevent the embarrassment of smudged makeup in front of others. They also come in handy for wiping or blowing the nose when discomfort arises. Durable handkerchiefs that can be washed repeatedly are your most hygienic choice and can be used for facial or hand cleaning.


Handkerchiefs also serve as decorative items, showcasing personal style. In hierarchical societies, nobles would carry high-quality silk handkerchiefs adorned with intricate patterns or decorative edges to set trends or display their social status and elegance.

Some gentlemen prefer to fold handkerchiefs and place them in the pocket of their suits instead of pocket squares. However, they serve a more comprehensive purpose than mere decoration. They not only embellish an ensemble but also help gentlemen maintain their image when necessary or offer them to ladies around them, showcasing grace and politeness. 

Emotional Purposes

In people’s hearts, handkerchiefs have symbolized love and remembrance. A scented handkerchief can be given as a romantic gift, carrying profound sentimental meaning. Whether it’s friendship, love, or family affection, handkerchiefs are regarded as precious tokens.

Moreover, handkerchiefs serve as a means of conveying information. In ancient Rome, people would wave handkerchiefs to signal the start of a competition. The ladies would use them to wipe away tears or wave them as farewell symbols.

Handkerchiefs also hold significant value as keepsakes in various ceremonies, such as baptisms or weddings. They serve as emotional carriers, cherished by both hosts and guests, preserving the memories of those special moments.

Modern Uses of Handkerchiefs

In the era of widespread tissue usage in modern society, handkerchiefs still retain their traditional purposes and take on new roles.

Eco-friendly Alternative to Tissues

With the growing recognition of sustainable development, people have become increasingly aware of the significant environmental impact of tissues. The production of tissues relies heavily on the consumption of wood, and the careless disposal of used tissues contributes to environmental pollution.

In contrast, handkerchiefs present a more sustainable and cost-effective alternative that greatly minimizes waste. They serve as effective substitutes for tissues and offer convenience in numerous ways, including wiping away sweat and stains and even aiding in makeup removal. Handkerchiefs can be washed and reused, a feat that is unattainable for tissues, which tend to tear easily when wet.

Functional Fashion Accessory

In the realm of fashion, handkerchiefs not only add color or personality to your outfits but also serve multiple functions. For instance, if you are a sports enthusiast, a handkerchief can be used as a headband or a sweatband to secure your hair and prevent sweat from affecting your vision. It can serve as a stylish embellishment that makes you more eye-catching, leaving a lasting impression.

Handkerchiefs can also be fashionable items to dress up your adorable pets. To some extent, pets wearing handkerchiefs can help keep them clean during playtime or exciting meal moments. They can also be used to wipe off stains on your pets’ bodies. The soft and comfortable fabric does not harm your sensitive pets and is more suitable for them.

Cleaning Tools

In daily life, when encountering dirt or stains, people usually reach for tissues to wipe them away. However, you may have noticed that using tissues to clean surfaces or screens often leaves behind white particles or noticeable marks. The texture of tissues can also cause wear and tear on delicate instruments. 

This is where a soft handkerchief comes in, as it flawlessly addresses this problem. Not only does it efficiently eliminate dirt and stains, but it does so without leaving any residue or causing any damage to the surfaces. As a result, it is especially well-suited for wiping instruments, glasses, cameras, phones, tablets, and more.

Of course, handkerchiefs can also be used for cleaning other objects, such as wiping windows or tables. If you accidentally spill a drink like cola on a table, a highly absorbent handkerchief can help you clean it quickly. When you’re tired during a walk and want to sit down and rest, you can lay the handkerchief on the ground or wipe down a park bench, providing you with a safe and hygienic environment.

Creative and Unconventional Uses of Handkerchiefs

The versatility of handkerchiefs extends far beyond the mentioned purposes. With people’s creativity, various uses for handkerchiefs have been continuously explored. Perhaps there are some that will pique your interest. Keep reading to find out more.

Emergency Medical Tools

In our daily activities, we inevitably encounter various situations. If someone gets injured and it’s difficult to quickly find medical first aid supplies, having a handkerchief with you can help you take prompt action. It can be used as a bandage or tourniquet, and even assist in stabilizing a fractured bone or wrapping ice as an improvised ice pack.

Functional Tools

A handkerchief will become your reliable companion. When hiking or camping and you come across dusty or strong-smelling environments, the handkerchief becomes your temporary mask. On sunny days when the warm sunlight induces drowsiness and the glaring light bothers you, it can also be used as an eye mask to shield your eyes. It can even serve as a water filter, as its delicate fabric can help strain out leaves, sand, stones, and other impurities.

When you find yourself wanting to eat something but unable to wash your hands, or when you’re in a hurry and on the go, a handkerchief can serve as a convenient barrier. By placing it underneath, you can enjoy your meal without getting your hands dirty.

DIY Crafts

It would be a shame to simply discard handkerchiefs with beautiful prints or embroidery. To preserve their beauty, you can use them for various DIY projects such as making dolls, framed decorations, pillowcases, or bracelets, giving them a second life. Even solid-colored handkerchiefs can be cut and repurposed into material pouches for convenient access whenever needed.


Throughout the passage of time, handkerchiefs have demonstrated their enduring value. Whether through their traditional role in personal hygiene or the myriad of new creative uses, handkerchiefs have stood the test of time with their simple elegance and practicality, showcasing their timeless charm.

More Resources:

What is a Handkerchief – Source: Sinosilk

What is Paisley – Source: Sinosilk

What are Bandanas? –  Source: Sinosilk

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