Paper Facial Tissue – Green Alternatives

Person Contemplating a Beautiful Green ForestAmericans could save 385,000 trees if each of us were willing to swap just 1 box of facial tissues made from virgin paper to recycled paper fiber. 1 Imagine how many forests we could save by always blowing our noses with recycled paper tissues, treeless tissues, or cloth handkerchiefs.

A previous post delved into the history of paper facial tissue and its environmental impact. In this post, we will evaluate green alternatives to facial tissue made from virgin paper pulp bleached white with chlorine.

I decided to experiment with facial tissues and cloth handkerchiefs. As a person with chronic post nasal drip or just a low tolerance for nasal dampness, I feel I am a qualified tester. My family will say I am picky. I like to think of myself as discerning.

Facial Tissue Experiment

My habit is to stuff slightly used facial tissues in my pocket or purse and reuse them several times if possible. Our household goes through an upright box of facial tissues every 2 weeks or so.

Our small town grocery market has a limited selection of facial tissue so I picked up a few boxes while visiting my sister and niece and on a trip to the “big city.” The 8 brands tested do not constitute an exhaustive study but will give you an idea of what is available.

The facial tissues tested (in random order) were: Kirkland Signature, Natural Value, Puffs Basic, Seventh Generation, Up & Up, Kleenex Expressions, Green2, and Softly. All tissues were white, 2-ply, unscented, came in a recycled paper box (except Green2 which contains no wood), and were deemed adequately absorbent. For the full results click Author’s Facial Tissue Comparison 2013-12-05.

8 Boxes of Facial Tissues for Author's Facial Tissue Experiment

Facial tissue material, softness, price, country of origin, and certifications were evaluated. To keep things simple each brand received a grade from 1 to 3 (high to low) in three categories: softness, environment, and price.

Test Findings
  • Tissues made from virgin paper pulp scored highest on the softness test, but not all brands scored high.
  • Natural Value was the only brand to bear the Totally Chlorine Free seal of the Chlorine Free Products Association.
  • Green2 was the only treeless tissue. It’s made from bagasse, a byproduct of sugar cane production, and bamboo grass, both of which are rapidly renewable.
  • Three brands made from virgin paper pulp (Up & Up, Softly, and Kleenex) carried the FSC Mixed label meaning they meet Forest Stewardship Council requirements for sourcing a portion of their wood from sustainably managed forests and other wood meets specific social and environmental conditions.
  • Softly also carried the Rainforest Alliance Certified seal indicating it meets certain sustainable business practices and its wood complies with FSC requirements.
  • The only product both sourced and made outside the U.S. was Green2 which is made in China.
  • Of the two recycled paper brands, Natural Value was about ½ the price of Seventh Generation and had the same softness.
  • Kleenex Expressions was the most expensive of all brands tested and cost 50% or more than virgin paper pulp brands Kirkland Signature and Up & Up which had equal softness.

Handkerchief Experiment

The handkerchief experiment could not begin until I obtained some cloth handkerchiefs. I walked to one of the local antique stores and purchased 8 pre-owned handkerchiefs of various sizes and fabrics.

Test Findings
  • Author's Collection of 8 Second Hand Cloth HandkerchiefsSome fabrics felt soft in the store but not on my nose.
  • Smaller handkerchiefs were less bulky when folded and stuffed in a pocket or purse (duh).
  • Absorbency varied but was satisfactory for all handkerchiefs.
  • Handkerchiefs tended to “dry out” between uses (unlike facial tissues that just got soggier).
  • One handkerchief lasted all day.


My informal experiments demonstrate there are viable and low-cost alternatives to buying paper facial tissues made from virgin paper pulp bleached white with chlorine.

It is not necessary to pay more for green alternatives.

Even virgin paper pulp facial tissue companies are beginning to focus on the environmental impact and sustainability of their products. Makes sense if your product relies on a constant supply of trees, clean water, and energy.

Cloth Handkerchiefs

I was surprised to find I preferred a cloth handkerchief to any brand of facial tissue for post nasal drip days, but not if I really needed to blow my nose. The small green bordered handkerchief in my collection was the softest and most absorbent.

A possible downside of handkerchiefs is their fabric. Cotton is an extremely water intensive and pesticide-heavy (if not organic) crop and synthetics are often petroleum based.

Pre-owned handkerchiefs that are reused a lot seem the best choice. You never know, you might find some stuffed in the back of a drawer or tucked away in a chest in the attic.

Paper Facial Tissues

Although I like the idea of Green2’s treeless paper, the environmental impact of shipping bulky boxes of facial tissue from China to the U.S. just does not make sense to me.

At about half the price with same softness, I selected Natural Value over Seventh Generation for recycled paper tissues to have around the house.

I admit that when I have a really bad cold, I blow my nose with virgin paper pulp facial tissues. I am still searching for a more eco-friendly brand with equal softness. Out of the 5 virgin paper brands tested, I think the best choice is Up & Up due to its softness, FSC Mix certification, and low price.

Try Your Own Facial Tissue Experiment

Now you are armed with information and some choices for green alternatives to facial tissues made from virgin paper pulp bleached white with chlorine. The next time you shop for facial tissue, look for an eco-friendly brand and try one out. Or skip facial tissues and give hankies a try.

Reader Note: When I mention a specific product in a post, it is because I think you and other readers may find the information useful. I do not accept product review solicitations and I do not receive compensation of any kind for mentioning a product in a post.

Related Posts


  1. Seventh Generation – 100% Recycled Facial Tissue: Did You Know…

Author: Linda Poppenheimer

Linda researches and writes about environmental topics to share information and to spark conversation. Her mission is to live more lightly on Earth and to persuade everyone else to do the same.

7 thoughts on “Paper Facial Tissue – Green Alternatives”

  1. Great article! I love the information brought into light with a bit of honest opinion to go with it. Keep up the great work. I look forward to your informative posts!

  2. I am forever grateful to Kimberly Clark if they had the idea to mass produce such a useful product as Kleenex. I can not think of any other item that I use as often other than TP.

    I recently bought some cloth napkins for daily use to save on paper napkins but found their use almost as bad as using handkerchiefs for more than one time. I might tuck in a cloth napkin if eating something messy to save on spotting my clothes for a meal as they are, in their favor, more absorbent than paper.

    Viva tissues !!!

    1. I respect personal choice and appreciate you sharing yours. Listening to differences of opinion is a good learning experience and I enjoy debate. How about trying out some FSC mixed virgin paper pulp or recycled brands and letting readers know what you liked best?

  3. I actually have cloth napkins and they are great. But I’m sorry, hankies are disgusting. Blowing your snot into a cloth, then folding it neatly putting it in your pocket, and pulling it out again and again to use is just gross. It is also unsanitary. I will not shake hands with someone who’s been blowing his nose with a hanky. Imagine all the door handles and credit card machines he’s contaminated if he is sick! No thankyou. I’ll buy green tissues.

  4. If you have a cold or the flu, then if you’re at home you anyway have the option of just going to the bathroom and blowing your nose at the sink. You can wash your hands with soap. I think this is the most sanitary of all.
    It’s nice to see of someone discussing something that has been preoccupying me for quite some time. Do you know how long do paper tissues take to decompose btw? I didn’t find any reference to the environmental impact after throwing the tissues away.
    I used a handkerchief when I was little and I’ll try to get back into it. I care a bit more about the environment than being a bit less sanitary. Anyway, you’re a pack of germs when you have the flu, whatever you use for blowing your nose.

  5. This is interesting because it corresponds closely to my own observations over the years — I was brought up on tissues (my mother was one of those women who always had a used tissue stuffed up her sleeve, which I hated as a child!) and switched over to handkerchiefs almost by accident when I had a bad cold, was out for the day, and resorted to buying a cheap nylon headscarf that happened to be on display in the department store where I was queuing, simply so that I could mop my streaming nose!
    I still have that scarf… and still use it overnight when I have a really bad cold and need to work my way along something that has more uses than a single handkerchief :-p
    But since then I’ve acquired several dozen handkerchiefs, mainly second-hand (and a few as gifts!)

    I discovered that, as you observe, handkerchiefs tend to dry out between uses, and that more importantly they don’t dry out my nose. When I was blowing my nose on tissues, after two or three days of a serious cold I used to get sore and flaking nostrils and it became really painful; mopping it with a cloth handkerchief doesn’t have that effect.
    I have handkerchiefs of various sizes and materials for different pockets; in my outdoor coats I have really large ones, and the one in the pocket of my cycling jacket is essential (something about hot air in a cold nose causes massive condensation, I think). I also have a couple of child-sized handkerchiefs with embarrassingly twee pictures printed on them, for use in very small breast pockets :-p

    From the ecological point of view I do wonder about the laundering and ironing of handkerchiefs (I prefer to iron mine in a gesture at sterilising them) — but they mainly go in as an overhead on washing that is being done anyway, and unless I actually have a cold as opposed to the usual drip, most of what goes into them is water, so they dry out between uses and don’t get washed all that often. I didn’t adopt them for green purposes, although it helps; it was for my own comfort and convenience. I’ve now got to the stage where every garment in the wardrobe can be relied upon to have a handkerchief in the pocket, and I just have to remember to replace them when I put the old one in the wash!

    When I go on holiday, I’d reckon to take four handkerchiefs; when I have a cold, I can get through four in a day. But luckily I have dozens.
    (And my mother used to get through mountains of tissues when she had a cold, cluttering up the bins everywhere…)

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