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Handkerchief vs. Napkin: Know the Difference

Shumaila Saeed
By Shumaila Saeed || Updated on December 25, 2023
A handkerchief is a small cloth for personal hygiene, typically carried in a pocket, while a napkin is a larger cloth or paper used at meals to wipe the mouth and hands.
Handkerchief vs. Napkin

Key Differences

A handkerchief is traditionally a small square of fabric, often made of cotton, linen, or silk, designed for personal use. It is carried in a pocket or purse and is used for wiping the nose or forehead. In contrast, a napkin is a piece of fabric or paper used during meals to wipe the mouth and hands. Napkins are typically larger than handkerchiefs and are found on dining tables.
Shumaila Saeed
Shumaila Saeed
Dec 04, 2023
Historically, handkerchiefs have been symbols of elegance and class, often embroidered or monogrammed. They serve a personal hygiene purpose but also have a decorative aspect. Napkins, on the other hand, are primarily utilitarian, meant to maintain cleanliness during eating. They can be disposable or made of washable fabric and are essential in dining etiquette.
Shumaila Saeed
Shumaila Saeed
Dec 04, 2023
In terms of material, handkerchiefs are usually made from durable and soft materials meant for repeated use and washing. They are designed to be gentle on the skin. Napkins, especially paper ones, are more about practicality and disposability, with less emphasis on durability.
Shumaila Saeed
Shumaila Saeed
Dec 04, 2023
The cultural significance of handkerchiefs extends beyond their practical use. They have been featured in literature and movies as tokens of affection or memorabilia. Napkins, while important in dining culture, do not generally hold the same sentimental value and are seen more as a necessity than an accessory.
Shumaila Saeed
Shumaila Saeed
Dec 04, 2023
The evolution of these items reflects changing social norms. Handkerchiefs, once a staple in personal attire, have seen a decline with the advent of disposable tissues. Napkins, however, continue to evolve in design and material, adapting to modern dining practices and environmental concerns.
Shumaila Saeed
Shumaila Saeed
Dec 04, 2023
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Comparison Chart

Primary Use

Personal hygiene, wiping nose or forehead
Wiping mouth and hands during meals
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Shumaila Saeed
Dec 04, 2023

Material

Cotton, linen, silk
Fabric, paper
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Shumaila Saeed
Dec 04, 2023

Size

Smaller, pocket-sized
Larger, table-sized
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Shumaila Saeed
Dec 04, 2023

Cultural Significance

Often a personal or sentimental item
Seen as a dining necessity
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Shumaila Saeed
Dec 04, 2023

Durability

Designed for repeated use and washing
Ranges from disposable to washable
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Shumaila Saeed
Dec 04, 2023
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Handkerchief and Napkin Definitions

Handkerchief

A pocket accessory for wiping the nose or face:
He pulled out a handkerchief to sneeze discreetly.
Shumaila Saeed
Shumaila Saeed
Nov 26, 2023

Napkin

A cloth or paper for wiping hands and mouth during meals
She neatly placed the napkin on her lap.
Shumaila Saeed
Shumaila Saeed
Nov 26, 2023

Handkerchief

A small square of cloth for personal hygiene:
She dabbed her eyes with a lace handkerchief.
Shumaila Saeed
Shumaila Saeed
Nov 26, 2023

Napkin

A disposable or washable fabric used in eating settings
The restaurant provided paper napkins with the meal.
Shumaila Saeed
Shumaila Saeed
Nov 26, 2023

Handkerchief

A fabric square, often decorative, for personal use:
Her handkerchief was embroidered with her initials.
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Shumaila Saeed
Nov 26, 2023
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Napkin

An essential item in dining for hygiene purposes
She requested an extra napkin for her messy sandwich.
Shumaila Saeed
Shumaila Saeed
Nov 26, 2023

Handkerchief

A cloth token often exchanged as a memento:
He kept his grandmother's handkerchief as a keepsake.
Shumaila Saeed
Shumaila Saeed
Nov 26, 2023

Napkin

A foldable square used for decor and etiquette at meals
The napkins were folded into elegant swans.
Shumaila Saeed
Shumaila Saeed
Nov 26, 2023

Handkerchief

A reusable cloth for absorbing tears or sweat:
During the hot day, he frequently used his handkerchief.
Shumaila Saeed
Shumaila Saeed
Nov 26, 2023

Napkin

A dining table accessory for maintaining cleanliness
He used a napkin to clean up the spilled juice.
Shumaila Saeed
Shumaila Saeed
Nov 26, 2023

Handkerchief

A small square of cloth used especially for wiping the nose or mouth.
Shumaila Saeed
Shumaila Saeed
Oct 19, 2023

Napkin

A piece of cloth or absorbent paper used at table to protect the clothes or wipe the lips and fingers.
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Shumaila Saeed
Oct 19, 2023

Handkerchief

A large piece of cloth worn as a decorative article; a scarf.
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Shumaila Saeed
Oct 19, 2023

Napkin

A cloth or towel.
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Shumaila Saeed
Oct 19, 2023

Handkerchief

A piece of cloth, usually square and often fine and elegant, carried for wiping the face, eyes, nose or hands.
Shumaila Saeed
Shumaila Saeed
Oct 19, 2023

Napkin

A sanitary napkin.
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Shumaila Saeed
Oct 19, 2023

Handkerchief

A piece of cloth shaped like a handkerchief to be worn about the neck; a neckerchief or neckcloth.
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Shumaila Saeed
Oct 19, 2023

Napkin

Chiefly British A diaper.
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Shumaila Saeed
Oct 19, 2023

Handkerchief

A piece of cloth, usually square and often fine and elegant, carried for wiping the face or hands.
Shumaila Saeed
Shumaila Saeed
Oct 19, 2023

Napkin

A serviette; a (usually rectangular) piece of cloth or paper used at the table for wiping the mouth and hands for cleanliness while eating.
Shumaila Saeed
Shumaila Saeed
Oct 19, 2023

Handkerchief

A piece of cloth shaped like a handkerchief to be worn about the neck; a neckerchief; a neckcloth.
Shumaila Saeed
Shumaila Saeed
Oct 19, 2023

Napkin

A nappy (UK), a diaper (American).
Shumaila Saeed
Shumaila Saeed
Oct 19, 2023

Handkerchief

A square piece of cloth used for wiping the eyes or nose or as a costume accessory
Shumaila Saeed
Shumaila Saeed
Oct 19, 2023

Napkin

A small scarf worn on the head by Christian women (chiefly Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox) when entering a church, as a token of modesty.
Shumaila Saeed
Shumaila Saeed
Oct 19, 2023

Napkin

A little towel, made of cloth or paper, esp. one for wiping the fingers and mouth at table.
Shumaila Saeed
Shumaila Saeed
Oct 19, 2023

Napkin

A handkerchief.
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Shumaila Saeed
Oct 19, 2023

Napkin

To protect clothing; wipe mouth
Shumaila Saeed
Shumaila Saeed
Oct 19, 2023

Napkin

Garment consisting of a folded cloth drawn up between the legs and fastened at the waist; worn by infants to catch excrement
Shumaila Saeed
Shumaila Saeed
Oct 19, 2023

Repeatedly Asked Queries

What is a handkerchief?

A small cloth for personal hygiene, usually carried in a pocket.
Shumaila Saeed
Shumaila Saeed
Dec 04, 2023

What is a napkin?

A cloth or paper used at meals to wipe the mouth and hands.
Shumaila Saeed
Shumaila Saeed
Dec 04, 2023

Are handkerchiefs only for men?

No, they are used by people of all genders.
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Shumaila Saeed
Dec 04, 2023

Are handkerchiefs reusable?

Yes, they are designed for repeated use and washing.
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Shumaila Saeed
Dec 04, 2023

Is it sanitary to use a handkerchief?

Yes, if it is washed regularly.
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Shumaila Saeed
Dec 04, 2023

What materials are napkins made from?

Either paper or various fabrics like cotton or linen.
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Shumaila Saeed
Dec 04, 2023

How often should a handkerchief be washed?

After each use, for hygiene reasons.
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Shumaila Saeed
Dec 04, 2023

Are paper napkins environmentally friendly?

Generally, no, unless they are made from recycled materials.
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Shumaila Saeed
Dec 04, 2023

Can napkins be reusable?

Yes, fabric napkins are washable and reusable.
Shumaila Saeed
Shumaila Saeed
Dec 04, 2023

Do napkins have a standard size?

Sizes vary but are larger than handkerchiefs, usually around 16 to 24 inches square.
Shumaila Saeed
Shumaila Saeed
Dec 04, 2023

Are disposable napkins recyclable?

Generally no, especially if soiled with food.
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Shumaila Saeed
Dec 04, 2023

Are cloth napkins better than paper ones?

For sustainability and durability, yes.
Shumaila Saeed
Shumaila Saeed
Dec 04, 2023

Can handkerchiefs be a fashion statement?

Yes, especially when they are decorative or have unique designs.
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Shumaila Saeed
Dec 04, 2023

Can handkerchiefs be used at meals?

While not typical, they can be used if no napkin is available.
Shumaila Saeed
Shumaila Saeed
Dec 04, 2023

Is it fashionable to carry a handkerchief?

It can be, depending on personal style and culture.
Shumaila Saeed
Shumaila Saeed
Dec 04, 2023

Can napkins be decorative?

Yes, especially fabric ones used in formal dining.
Shumaila Saeed
Shumaila Saeed
Dec 04, 2023

Should napkins match the table setting?

In formal settings, yes, to complement the decor.
Shumaila Saeed
Shumaila Saeed
Dec 04, 2023

How do I choose a good handkerchief?

Look for soft, absorbent material and a size that fits your needs.
Shumaila Saeed
Shumaila Saeed
Dec 04, 2023

What's the proper way to use a napkin at a meal?

Place it on your lap during the meal and use it to dab your mouth gently.
Shumaila Saeed
Shumaila Saeed
Dec 04, 2023

What's the best material for a handkerchief?

Cotton or silk, for softness and absorbency.
Shumaila Saeed
Shumaila Saeed
Dec 04, 2023

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About Author
Shumaila Saeed
Written by
Shumaila Saeed
Shumaila Saeed, an expert content creator with 6 years of experience, specializes in distilling complex topics into easily digestible comparisons, shining a light on the nuances that both inform and educate readers with clarity and accuracy.

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