Tenugui have been a part of Japanese bathing culture for centuries thanks to their high absorbency, fast drying times, and natural exfoliating fibers. These thin towels have a distinct rectangular shape (approximately 90 cm by 35 cm) and often have screen-printed or hand-dyed designs on them to make them more decorative.
Today, tenugui are commonly used in Japanese homes and public baths. Tenugui have also re-emerged in popularity among the Japanese beauty community with the facial cleansing technique known as “tenugui sengan” (手ぬぐい洗顔). But, there are many ways to use these towels apart from just using it to wash your face or body. Here are 10 ways to use your tenugui and incorporate Japanese culture into your daily living.
What Is A “Tenugui” and Why Are They So Useful?
Before we introduce the 10 ways you can use your tenugui, let’s briefly explore the history of tenugui. These multipurpose towels are backed by nearly 1,300 years of continuous usage throughout the course of Japanese history. As the saying goes, “If it ain’t broke, dont fix it,” and the simple design and versatility of tenugui is a testament to its longevity.
The first tenugui of the early 7th century were made with natural fibers like silk and hemp. Later, the mass production of cotton from the 17th century onwards made them readily accessible throughout Japan. In fact, during the Edo Period (17th century to late 19th century), Japanese merchants used tenugui as a form of advertising, and in 21st century Japan, businesses continue this practice!
What exactly is so notable about tenugui? For starters, tenugui have unhemmed edges, which lets air flow through to dry evenly. This cuts down the growth of bacteria, making them a must-have bathing accessory.
Compared to regular towels and washcloths, tenugui are very absorbent, yet fold compactly and discreetly. A folded tenugui takes up little space in your drawer, cabinet, purse, diaper bag, or backpack.
10 Ways to Use Your Tenugui — Personal Use:
1. Hair Accessory
Accent your skincare routine with an accessory that’s both cute and functional. Use a tenugui as a headband to keep your hair back while you wash your face, and apply products, like our Green Radiance Clay Mask. Afterwards, use your tenugui to remove all residue and to exfoliate your way to smooth skin!
A tenugui measures 90 centimeters in length. You can tie it around your neck to keep yourself warm on a chilly day. You may also use a tenugui as a stylish belt or handbag accessory. Have fun experimenting with colors and patterns to dress up an outfit!
Using a tenugui as a handkerchief is an environmentally-friendly alternative to facial issues and paper towels. It’s always good to have a tenugui (or 2) on hand to blow your nose or to dry your hands. Once you’re home, simply insert your soiled tenugui in a laundry net and pop in the washing machine, then air dry on a sunny day to prevent the growth of bacteria.
4. Burp Cloth/Nursing Cover
Tenugui are an absolute must if you have a baby or small child! After all, they’re light, easy to wash and very absorbent. You’ll want to have a few of these stashed away in your diaper bag to deal with sweat, spit-ups and spills. Whether you need a nursing cover, burp cloth, diaper mat, or something to clean up liquids and bodily fluids, you can always depend on a tenugui. Tenugui make for excellent nursing covers because they’re made from a thin, lightweight cotton, so it won’t get too hot under there while your baby is nursing. Likewise, tenugui are great for blocking out the sun’s rays, whether your infant is in a stroller or in a baby carrier. As a burp cloth, diaper pad or nap
5. Sweat Towel
Tenugui are also ideal for wiping away sweat after a workout or dabbing away perspiration on hot days. If back sweat is your main concern, here’s a “cool” hack: Fold your tenugui in half and place it between your back and garment to keep sweat at bay. Be sure to change your tenugui when it’s wet to ensure that your back and clothes stay dry.
10 Ways To Use a Tenugui — Home Use:
6. Tea Towel
Use your tenugui to line a tea tray to catch any spills. You may also use it as a table runner to keep glassware, dishes, and utensils in place. Tenugui are also useful for keeping baked goods like breads, muffins, and rolls, warm and fresh. If you plan on gifting your freshly-baked goods to family or friends, wrap them up in a tenugui for a unique, personalized presentation.
7. Dish Towel
Tenugui are durable and very absorbent, making it an ideal choice for a dish towel. Use a 100% cotton tenugui to wash dishes or to dry dishes without leaving behind lint, streaks, or water spots. Likewise, you may use your tenugui to line the shelves of your kitchen cabinets to protect your glassware. This will make your cabinets look more presentable.
8. Vegetable Wrap & Crisper
After washing your leafy vegetables, place them on a tenugui to absorb excess water. Once dry, wrap your vegetables in the tenugui to keep them crisp. The dampness from the tenugui will give your veggies the humidity they need to stay fresh while keeping out excess moisture that causes them to wilt.
9. Bathroom Towel
A tenugui is a wonderful way to add a touch of Japanese aesthetic to your home. Pick a design or pattern that matches your bathroom theme. Or, even better, go for a tenugui that features Japanese designs like the majestic Mount Fuji, koi fish, or even ukiyo e woodblock print!
10. Bento Box Wrap
Bento boxes are compact containers designed to hold a balanced lunch consisting of rice and several side dishes. These lunch boxes are known for their colorful and often whimsical contents, so why not match your bento box with a wrap that’s just as aesthetically pleasing? When you use a tenugui as a bento box wrap, you’re not only making your lunch presentable, you also have a portable tablecloth to catch spills and crumbs, too!
10 Ways to Use Your Tenugui
As you can see, tenugui are extremely versatile multi-purpose cloths that have stood the test of time in Japanese culture — 1,300 years to be exact! These exfoliating towels have proven that they are more than a bathing accessory. You can use your tenugui as a home accessory or a fashion accessory.
Our list of 10 ways to use your tenugui is just the beginning as there are more creative ways of using a tenugui. If you’ve been on the fence thinking about getting a tenugui, now is the time to start collecting!