My Airplane Hot Towel Rant — Am I Wrong?

Filed Under: Advice

I have a bone to pick with people. Let me start by acknowledging that I’m a selective germaphobe and I’m also really bad at science (great combo, I know!), so I might end up being totally off base here. That’s a risk I’m willing to take. Heck, I’d much rather be proven completely wrong on all of this, because when I can stop being disturbed by what everyone around me on planes seems to be doing.

My friend Matthew at Live and Let’s Fly writes about how SAS is cutting hot towels on short haul flights, in the name of the “environment.” What I find interesting about the story is how Matthew uses hot towels on planes. To be clear, I’m not trying to single people out, because lots of people take the same approach Matthew does.

Matthew talks about the importance of hot towels on planes, saying:

It’s also hygienic; by using it to clean our faces, then hands, then tray tables we cut down on illness

What’s used in airplane hot towels?

First of all, let’s be clear about what airplane hot towels are. Airlines have trays of towels, and then they pour hot water over them from the airplane’s water tank. Some airlines will put a mild scent into the towels as well, be it a lemon or rose scent. But that’s it — they’re not super soaking them with La Prairie anti-aging skin caviar.

With that in mind, I have a couple of concerns here in terms of how people use airplane hot towels.

Why do people wipe their faces with hot towels?

This isn’t the part I’m that confused about, but I’ll mention it nonetheless.

I didn’t used to be big into skincare, though having a husband who is militant about it has changed me. Every morning and night I have to use a cleanser and moisturizer, and that’s only the beginning.

But even before I did that, I never understood why people used airplane hot towels to wipe their faces:

  • Of course it’s great to wash your face, even if that would ideally involve using a cleanser
  • But if you’re someone who uses a moisturizer, wouldn’t you want to moisturize after removing whatever is on your face? I realize everyone has different skin, but my skin gets dry if I wash my face but don’t put on moisturizer

I’m not saying people shouldn’t wash their faces on planes. Quite to the contrary, I’ll sometimes go to the lavatory, wash my face with cleanser, and then apply moisturizer. Flying dries out your skin. But it seems that wiping down your face without moisturizing makes the situation worse, rather than better.

Just as I couldn’t use a warm towel in a restaurant in Japan to wipe down my face, I also wouldn’t use one on a plane right before my meal in that way.

Order of hot towel operations

The above is very much a personal choice. If people want to use a warm towel to dry out their skin without any moisturizer, then so be it. 😉

But Matthew suggests that the most hygienic thing to do is to clean your face, then clean your hands, and then clean your tray table.

It sure seems sort of disgusting to me to clean your face and hands, and then rub whatever is on the towel all around the tray table. Maybe science disagrees with me — and please tell me if it does — but the optics of that sort of disgust me, if nothing else.

How I use airplane warm towels

I never use an airplane warm towel offered before a meal to clean my face. Ever. I might go into the lavatory and wash my face and then apply moisturizer, but that’s it.

Personally I use an airplane warm towel just to clean my hands, or to clean my tray table and seat, but not both. I’ll often go to the lavatory shortly before the meal and wash my hands, and if that’s the case then I just use the warm towel to wipe down the tray table.

I’m curious how you guys feel about this. Again, I’m not trying to single out Matthew (who is a good friend), because tons of people do this, and I just don’t get it. It seems unsanitary, but I could totally be in the wrong here:

  • How do you use hot towels on planes?
  • Scientists and skincare experts, can you chime in? Is using a warm towel on your face and not moisturizing good for you? Is it hygienic to wash your face, then hands, and then tray table with the same towel?
  • Is anyone as confused by hot towel use on planes as I am?

PS: I knew my massive photo library of airplane hot towels would eventually come in handy!

  1. If they’re using airplane tank holding water that’s kinda gross. Though no different than using that same water to wash your face.

    Wiping down the surfaces would really be no different than the skin sloughing off naturally anyways.

    Sunscreen! In addition to moisturizing etc.

  2. I almost always use the hot towel on my face and I’ve deginitely shed oshibori used to wipe faces in Japanese restaurants.

    Can’t comment on the dryness issue, my skincare regimen is limited to soap and sunscreen (Dr Brunner’s and Dr Jart if anyone is interested)

  3. The germs on the tray table significantly outnumber those on our faces and hands. Surprisingly, your laptop keyboard may one of the dirtiest spaces around with respect to bacteria and germs. Having said that, I don’t typically care much for hot towels anyways. I am fresh before I board, so hardly see the point. I’m also not a hypochondriac, so care little about the potential for the germs/bacteria on a tray table unsettling me.

  4. my skin care is simple – a gentle rub with a face cloth and an organic moisturizing cream. My family has pristine skin – good genes?

  5. Honestly, you’re over-thinking this.

    As soon as I board a plane and get my belongings stowed I go to the lavatory and wash my hands with soapy water, because let’s face it, traveling is dirty. Often I pass on the hot towel that’s offered because I’ve just washed my hands. Sometimes I accept it and press it briefly against my face because the scented moisture feels good.

    But take it or leave it, we’re talking about a piece of wet cheesecloth, and it’s Not Worth Obsessing Over.

  6. My skin is oily, so a hot towel helps remove the oil and improves my skin’s health. I definitely don’t need any moisturizer. You write as though everyone has dry skin.

  7. I like to give my face a quick light wipe just because it’s refreshing. Then the same for my hands. I don’t see the hot towel as hygiene thing at all and I don’t worry too much about germs generally.

  8. Never the face or hands.

    I hold the towel up to my nose, and breathe – airplane air dries out my sinuses and this helps a bit.
    Then I wipe down the tray.

  9. It’s less about cleaning your face or tray table, and more about feeling refreshed. After a long flight, I use the hot towel at the end to wipe my face, back of my neck and hands to just feel a tad bit fresher. I’ll also use face and hand moisturizer, because as you say, wiping yourself to air dry is bad for your skin. But you can’t deny that it makes you feel just a tiny bit better.

    Maybe its cause I’m a native New Yorker and encounter a lot worse than what you’d find on any airplane J seat every day, but I always have to chuckle at people who think hot towels clean anything. Hate to break it to everyone, but using a wet towel with nothing on it to “clean,” be it your hands, or the tray table, aint gonna do anything except maybe lift some heavy visible grime (in which case, I’d be feeling a lot more uncomfortable to begin with), or move around some germs that you can’t see. Non-potable airplane water =/= disinfectant. Bring some wet wipes for that purpose if you’re gonna do it.

  10. Because it’s nice and refreshing after what is usually a long enough/stressful journey to the airport and then the plane…. pretty simple.

  11. Qatar Airways offer a choice of hot or cold towels and cold is heaven on the face after boarding. Surely, you don’t expect tray tables to be dirty in FIRST CLASS!!! (just joking).

  12. Towels on planes either hot or cold are not really a cleaning implement. They are really just a way of delivering heat or taking it away. They used to be termed ‘refresher towels’. If you want to clean your face or hands – go to the bathroom. If you want to de-germ your tray table use antiseptic wipes.

  13. I use it to wash my face just to be a bit fresh again.

    Moisture? Never used. Skin is ok. Just what you are used to.

    Wouldnt clean anything else. Wash hands with soaps after toilet visit only. Never carry anti bacterial gel. That stuff makes you more ill.

    Never had troubles.

    But, I do understand why SAS removes it on shorthaul. Economica.

  14. Why would a wet towel dry your face out? It’s, er, wet.

    If it rains do you panic and rush for the nearest bottle of moisturiser?

    How on earth did humanity survive so long before the invention of L’Oreal?

  15. I have never seen anyone use a hot towel to clean a tray table (or to clean a dining area at a restaurant table ahead of eating).

    On airplanes, I often to face (just as a refresher) then hands. At restaurants, I probably just do hands. Though when traveling in Asia I have seen all different kinds of methodology here.

  16. “I’ve never seen anyone moisturize their face”

    The hell? That’s like item #1 in the amenity kits.

  17. @ Alpha — You missed the word “thereafter,” which I stand by. I’ve never seen someone apply moisturizer immediately after the warm towel is offered, typically right before the meal service. I imagine most people would moisturize in the lavatory?

  18. A wet towel serves no function other than to move germs around and pick up debris. If you use it to “clean” the tray, the moisture in the wet, porous towel will transfer all the germs from the tray to your hands. And then your wet hands become germ beacons. The proper way to clean a tray table is with a disinfecting wipe, and hands can be cleaned with a different wipe or antibacterial cleanser. Skip the towel.

  19. Ben – “Most people” moisturize once or twice a day (in the morning and maybe at night before bed), if at all. Most aren’t that particular about this stuff either way

  20. I carry isopropyl alcohol wipes ( 70%) to deal with tray table, remote, arm rests, toilet door , and for my own fingers. The strategy is to minimize risk rather than eliminate it ( impossible).
    Trusting that other travelers will have hygienic habits is unwise.
    As for the towels: sometimes it’s impossible to avoid seeing people ( well, men) spitting and blowing their noses into them ( and the towel gets dumped onto the tray or the shelf between seats). Beyond gross. While Matthew would never do such a thing, he’s wrong on the towel issue, on a number of counts.

  21. A hot towel to a tray table will not clean it of germs unless the water is heavy on the alkaline side. Not sure what the need is to clean ones face off on a plane. It’s just a little thing the airline likes to do. I get the need at the end of a very long flight. The water in a plane water holding tank/bladder is gross. If one wants to not ingest germs heavy airline travel should be avoided as regardless class traveling as you are in a closed space with hundreds of people that could have any malady or sickness.

  22. Thanks Ben – I always have the same question seeing ppl wiped their faces with hot towel. I just use it to warm up a bit and that’s it.

  23. I use the first service towel on my hands before I eat. After dinner I quickly wash my face and apply a clear, invisible, moisture mask (it’s amazing. By the brand Lira… I can not recommend it enough and no one has ever noticed it, including my husband.)
    I use the second service to remove the mask, it acts like a perfect facial, and quickly + discreetly apply a moisturizing sunscreen. Fresh and ready to get off the plane.
    Admittedly, I am not a germaphobe, and I know that the towel does nothing to rid that tray of bacteria, so I just don’t worry about it.
    But I always walk off that plane looking fresh.

  24. “Most people” (out of 7.7 billion) don’t “moisturize”.

    And it’s gross — you are putting highly processed carcinogenic chemicals directly where it can be absorbed by your body.

  25. I only use on the face if I have been flying for a long time in a day, like if I hand’t had a chance to shower yet. Also hot towel on the face gives a fresh sensation to you face due to rapid evaporation of the hot water transferred to your face. This also work as to remove the thin layer of grease developed through the day, like washing your face with soap. If you don’t want to keep bothering other passenger about having to go to lavatory, then its convenient (unless you are in business or first), or you are just lazy to go to lavatory.

    This is the predecessor of “wet wipes”, used in Edo period in Japan when, lavatories or bathroom was not common or convenient, so a wet towel was given to patrons of the lodges prior to meals. So in this context I guess this is given on flight so you don’t have to walk to or wait in line to use the lavatory. Imagine if whole cabin decided to wash their hands at lavatory when they are about to serve meal, the line to lavatory clogging the aisles… Search for oshibori on google for more info.

    As for the order, I’m assuming people was their face cleaner than their hands, because your mouth and eyes are on it. So they want the first clean wipe be the face. Then second wipe on your hands, and last on the tray. Unless you use your fingers to eat food, I guess utensils provides enough amount of separation between your hand and food in terms of germs. And for the tray table, your face and hands will always have less germs than the tray table. Tray table are hardly washed and you don’t know what last passenger used it for.

  26. I clean my tray not to much for germs but for gunk. Leftover jelly, butter, wine, etc. that is on the tray and will be sticky if I touch it, or something that will get on my clothes if it rubs against them.

  27. I have rosacea for which I use a prescription cream on my face twice daily. I find the towels used on airplanes very abrasive (regardless of how sanitary they otherwise might be) and keep them away from my face entirely. Where they do come in handy for me is to clean behind my ears and around my neck, where the heat from the towel does seem to remove some excess oil. I’m not that sensitive to germs otherwise so it wouldn’t really occur to me to wipe down the tray table on a plane any more than it would occur to me to wipe down the table I’m working or eating at in the airport lounge or in a coffee shop.

  28. It does seem a bit strange that you’re weirded out with using the hot towel on your face, but ok with using the water in the bathroom, when it’s the same water?

    Also a bit strange that you’re worried about dehydration/dry skin/etc when you guzzle down coffee and champagne when you fly…if anything is not good for staying hydrated on an airplane, it’s alcohol and caffeine.

  29. @ Aaron — I never said I had an issue with the water. My primary confusion here is with suggesting that it’s good hygiene to wipe down your face, then your hands, and then the tray table.

  30. PS: you made your point about the Drag Show/Race in the other post. We don’t necessarily need to see more clips/Gifs from it on this or subsequent stories. The one here looks idiotic.

  31. Somewhat similar — I was on a 9-hour international flight from Europe to the US last month and one of the business class lavatories was usable, but not completely operable, ie, you could use the toilet, but the water and sink were inoperable. The sink was covered and the faucets taped up.

    The cabin crew throughout the flight constantly added one of those plastic trays of hot towels in the lavatory for people to use to ‘wash up’ after doing their business. Of course the towels would be hot at first, but it doesn’t stay hot forever and I was the unfortunate recipient of a cold towel. Eww.

  32. I wash my hands with soap in the bathroom, not with the towel.
    I use the towel to wipe my face (quite frankly if they use the water from the plane tank, it’s no different than using the water from the bathroom to wash your face), and then the tray table. The thing is that I’ll just use one side of the towel for my face (first) and the other side for the tray.
    That being said I don’t think that my face is that dirty that it would make the tray table even worse…? I could be wrong.

  33. I use makeup so I don’t wash my face with the hot towel only my hands and after the meal if another is offered I might dab around my mouth and wash my hands again. I don’t perform cleaning rituals on the tray table or surrounding areas with the towels.

    Hot towels and water (as in a hot shower) aren’t the enemies of good skin. Clean up your diet, drink lots of water and exercise daily and you’ve found the real fountain of youth. Moisturizer will not compensate for bad lifestyle choices. And too many products could clog pores and cause worse problems according to my cosmetic dermatologist. If you have big concerns set up a consult with a cosmetic dermatologist and get some advice.

  34. I tend to rest the hot tell gently on my face for a few seconds. I don’t rub or wipe my face, but this gives me a slight moisturizing steam. Then I’ll wipe my hands and that’s it.

  35. I’m with you Ben! I have oily skin and if I don’t moisturize it get even more oily. I don’t use the towel and wipe down the tray with an alcohol wipe.

  36. @ tim — Whew, I’m happy it took 11 years for the blog to take a turn for the worse! So out of my 25,000+ posts, the blog has taken a turn for the worse because I’m talking about a RuPaul themed plane, and because I posted a Housewives gif?

  37. In this case I think you need to, errr, dare I say, live and and let fly.

    It’s definitely a comfort thing and I don’t know who has any delusions that they’re “sanitizing” their hands.

    The water is potable I believe because it is usually boiled (or close to it) and then poured over the towels ( at least at UA anyway) same source as water they make coffee with. If they just used “hot” water from the same source as the lab the towels would be cold. Could be wrong on this point.

    I’m not sure the formal etiquette but after a long commute or travel day it sure feels good to wipe your face briefly. I’ve never had any dryness issues because of an airplane towel.

    But seriously, if not you’re thing fine but definitely ok to relax about what others are doing.

  38. Where is DCS when we need him most? Someone needs to explain the integumentary system. Healthy skin can survive a host of microbial assaults. The commercialized notion of what makes healthy skin has reaped trillions. Humans did just fine in the millennia before modern skincare pseudo science snake oil.

  39. Scientist answer here, can’t speak to airline process or anything.

    Most things (germs, pathogens, etc.) thrive is environments close to 98.6 where it starts to look a lot like the insides of our bodies cause that’s where they want to be. By the same token, they start to die in temperatures that are harmful to us.

    In other words, if you can comfortably wash your face without causing burning, the sanitizing benefit is minimal at best. If it was hot enough to kill things, it would be hot enough to scald you. Same is true for washing hands FYI. We use warm water because it’s easier to rinse with, the sanitizing effect comes solely from the soap. So yes, the idea that there’s a hygienic benefit is a total pipe dream from a technical/scientific perspective. If it “refreshes” you, have at it.

    There are a handful of interesting questions that come up in terms of process and whether or not things could be living in the towel, particularly for those of you inhale from the towels or hold them over your mouth and nose and breath in. Some of the REALLY nasty stuff out there is actually dangerous when aerosolized (i.e. water droplets that are breathed in). But as I said, I don’t know enough about how the process for heating, wetting, storing, and distributing these works.

  40. @Mel, that sounds disgusting! Did they at least offer anti-septic wipes? Were the other bathrooms ok to use?

  41. Since we are on the hot towel topic, can anyway tell me what happens to these hot towels after use? Especially the really good quality thick ones?


  42. I do think it’s gross to wipe face then hands then tray. Absolutely gross. Those doing that are definitely not making the tray cleaner but rather just spreading themselves around the cabin.

    My regimen is as follows:
    – Sit down, wipe down the armrests, tray table, SEAT BELT BUCKLE (dirtiest part besides the seat back pocket!) with a single wrapped Purel wipe (I wipe my laptop down with an alcohol swab about once a week, too). The 1000 pack on Amazon retails for about $14.
    – Receive hot towel, wipe face and hands to refresh (I like the feeling of evaporation on my wet face) and remove any sticky, dry or surface items from my skin
    – Prior to meal service, wash hands in lav and use paper towel to operate door to keep them clean
    – Eat

    I’m lucky in that I don’t have overly dry or oily skin. I use the towel for refreshment and to wipe away any dirt. The point is not to clean anything.

    On another note, most people should not be using a cleanser and moisturizer every morning and night – bodies evolved to take care of themselves. It’s the same as using shampoo and conditioner everyday (most people shouldn’t!!!) – removing the natural oils that skin (and hair) need to stay healthy by using cleansers. A light rub from a wet towel takes away some surface level oils and exfoliates a little dry skin, but is not “cleansing” the skin and doesn’t require moisturizer afterward.

  43. Japanese oshibori etiquette says no to wiping your face with the hot towel.
    I assume the airplane ones are one time use, but restaurants’ are reused after laundering/sanitizing and even then I find it pretty disgusting to see people wiping places other than their hands with them…

  44. @ Tommy Trash – Continually lauding DCS might actually encourage a blog from the guy. As for his opinion on matters of hygiene, his response to being told that a NYC Hilton GI had feces on its toilet seats was to shout some lamebrain insult as he is wont to do whenever anyone disagrees with him. So thanks but no thanks to any more “learned opinions.”

  45. I need the hot towels really hot. So hot it’s hard to pick up. Then I open it and the heat escapes in a matter of seconds . so it’s crucial that you open the hot towel and withong 8 tenths of a second put it on your face. I love that chill feeling on my face afterwards. Hot towels are refreshing.

  46. A hot towel on your face is relaxing for those brief seconds that the towel remains hot and moist (before evaporative cooling turns it into a lukewarm towel). Following that, I wipe my hands with it. The tray tables are nasty and there’s no way I would use the towel (or anything else lacking bleach or ammonia) on those. So, face then hands then that’s it.

  47. Comments here are funny.

    Anyway I’ll point out few things.

    1. IT’S (almost) A FREE WORLD. IT’S YOUR LIFE DO. WHAT YOU WANT. No one will stop you from wiping head to toe. But that doesn’t mean you should, sometimes you look smart, other times you look dumb.

    2. Airlines have trays of towels, and then they pour hot water over them from the airplane’s water tank
    – Your coffee and tea is from the same source. I don’t recall any mass sickness from that at all. Just to freak out germaphobes, there are dozens of airborne microorganism flying all the time.

    3. I couldn’t use a warm towel in a restaurant in Japan to wipe down my face.
    – You don’t. Doing so is bad etiquette in Japan gaijin.

    4. Why do people wipe their faces with hot towels?
    – Simple observation, people who use facial products likely don’t wipe. Those who do are people who washes face with bar soap (i.e. Irish Spring), or wash with only plain water.

    5. Is using a warm towel on your face and not moisturizing good for you?
    – The air is dry, hydrating face helps. At the end of the day, it’s just different methods of trying to stay hydrated.

    6. Is it hygienic to wash your face, then hands, and then tray table with the same towel?
    – Trying to wipe anything is trying to be hygienic. Will it cut down on illness, maybe a little.
    – The order of usage is instinctively from what you ‘think’ is least dirty to most dirty. Therefore, face, hand, table.
    – Surprisingly, nature corrects itself. From #4, If you put chemicals on your face, you shouldn’t be wiping your hands after face as some chemicals might be attached to the towel. But you don’t anyways.

    7. Matthew talks about the importance of hot towels on planes, saying:
    – @Matthew I just need to warn you, if you need to wipe everything just to be more hygienic don’t even think going to the lavatory. Oh and stop eating out or get food delivered.
    – It is always a good thing to practice good hygienic. Will it cut down on illness, most of the time no. Now if you dip your hand in feces, that is a whole different story.
    – Wiping tray tables probably helps little too. Now if you lick and eat straight off the tray tables that is a whole different story.

    N.B. Replacing the word face with feces does make this post a lot funnier.

  48. I use the hot or cold towel as needed. Primarily for wiping my hands. Those who go to the lavatory to wash their hands (do you touch the door latch and handle with your bare hands – THEN go back to your seat and pick up bread? 😉 ).

    I use the towel to wipe the tray table and surfaces where I may rest different things. Sometimes I use antibacterial or alcohol wipes on the surfaces and handset etc. Planes are filthy and I do not care who walks by and sees my mini clean :-D. I have to sit there for 5-18 hours.

    Yes, I also travel with lysol (mini or full can) or dettol spray to do a quick spray of hotel rooms/suites. Toilet seat (inside the bowl once) handle. Bathroom door handle, Remote control, phones and sometimes surfaces. At the very least I will use alcohol wipes for toilet seat and TV remote if thats all I have. Takes 30-60 seconds. Hotels are not really cleaning those bathrooms, they just drag germs and diseases from one toilet seat and remote control to the next.

  49. @Mike They’re thrown out. Even the plusher ones aren’t generally of a level of quality that would survive commercial laundering.

    The towels are for comfort not hygiene. The water is boiled, but as @jonah said, if it isn’t boiling when it touches your skin it isn’t doing anything for germs. I do find the towels are excellent at removing oil and grime from traveling through polluted cities to the airport.

    Tbh of all the disgusting things I’ve seen people do on airplanes, none involved the hot towels.

  50. @chancer
    I believe I read that DCS is a professor of Anatomy at a prestigious medical school here in NYC. He is uniquely quailed to answer this query. Let’s give the man props where they are due.

  51. I totally agree with you, it’s gross to wipe your face & hands with the hot towel AND then wipe down the tray table. I never would’ve done that. I can just imagine the oil & dirt from the face and then smear it all over the tray table. Really? That’s just gross. Spreading germs much?

  52. @Jonah
    Best and most direct answer yet to the question.
    I don’t wipe my face with the towel since I’ve been told it’s impolite. I will wipe the armrest and tray table after wiping my hands on a US domestic flight, though I’m sure that’s equally taboo in Japan. I know it doesn’t disinfect anything, but it makes me feel like things are cleaner, and I guess that’s the point of the towel in the first place.

  53. @Dennis – In that lav, there was a tray of hot-lukewarm-cold wet towels, a bottle of lotion, and paper towels, no anti-septic wipes. The 1 other lav in business class was ok.

  54. I use them to wipe my hands and face. We live in a disgusting dirty world as it is, the concern about this being un-hygenic is a little much imo.

    What bothers me most about the hot towels is reading flight reviews. Every single one seems to have a picture of the hot towel before use, and after. Please stop. There is nothing new, novel, or interesting about this, and seeing a picture of a used towel is kind of gross. We can all live with out seeing a photo.

  55. @Andy “seeing a picture of a used towel is kind of gross”

    Yikes! Doesn’t take much to gross you out.

    Not sure the world is any more disgusting or dirty than it’s ever been – in fact it’s probably less so?

    Lot of germophobes on this thread.

  56. I use the wet towel to wipe my face at the start of a flight and, on a longer flight, upon waking. Then I always apply a moisturiser or moisturising facemask on my face and hands after. This is so that it feels like my (generally dry) skin isn’t quite so parched and stretched thin, so it’s a mental thing as much as a physical one.

  57. I do it to feel refreshed more than anything. I’m actually not thinking about cleaning myself, but I like the scent (UA towels) and like the warmth on my hands. Then I usually pat my eyes with the warm towel, again, as it feels good. But I don’t wash my face with it. And I don’t clean the tray table with it. Is that really needed since they are either placing down a cloth napkin and then your plates or they give you a tray to set on your table. It’s not like you’re eating food right off the tray table, so why clean it?

  58. Real men don’t use moisturizer.
    So I use hot towels to wipe off whatever junk that’s on my face then hands then trays.

  59. I’m no germophobe (bacteria is everywhere and in the last 33 years we got along without major incidents) so i’ll just put it over my face, enjoy the nice feeling, wipe my hands and give it back. wiping the tray table is pointless if there’s no visible dirt on it.

  60. On the airplane it’s a combination of getting the gunk off you and feeling refreshed, the intention is not to disinfect, although plain water is much better at removing germs than people think. It’s also not going to strip moisture out of your face as it’s just water, not a detergent that will strip your natural oils. If you’re wiping off moisturizer then your moisturizer isn’t absorbing and therefore isn’t effective anyway, so removing it will make zero difference 🙂

  61. I like the hot towel, especially if I have been travelling for a while that day or it is at the end of a long flight. I find them very refreshing and use it to wipe my face, neck, and hands about the same time. I don’t wipe down seats or tray tables as I don’t plan on making oral contact with either of them. I’ve lived a lot of different places, been in the Army, and worked in environments like prisons where things are less than pristine or sterilized, so overall I don’t worry about germs and I have a robust immune system. I don’t worry about drying out my skin as I tend to have naturally oily skin on my face and head and using a hot towel is not something I’m doing on a regular basis. My only skin care regimen is to use sun block as I don’t have a lot of melanin. Obviously this might be different if a person has immune or other issues. I don’t know about the hygienic claim as there is no antibacterial or sterilizer in the hot towels, but I do say to each his or her own.

  62. It’s incredible the type of ‘articles’ that generate the most comments. I hope this doesn’t encourage these type of posts.

  63. I typically avoid hot towels too – if I do use them, I try to hold them near my face / nose for moisture as I also have bad issues with the dry air. Much better on new 787 / 350s though.

    To wipe down my face and body, I religiously use Ursa Major Essential Face Wipes:

    They make a huge difference after a long flight, especially if an immediate shower post-flight isn’t an option.

  64. I use them to clean my face. It feels good. Being in an airplane is a tube full of germs no matter what you do. You’re overthinking this.

  65. hello all
    1. I alway carry disinfecting wipes to clean the IFE touch screen, tray, armrests and anything a hundred other people have touched.
    2. the tray tables are especially filthy , even at the front of the plane.
    3. hand sanitize frequently and before dipping into the nuts and bread basket.
    4. most amenity kits have moisturizers so use them liberally.
    5. i must say, I do clean my face with the hot towel, i believe the water is boiled but ?
    6. its sounds anal, but i would like to arrive at my destination in top shape
    7. i always carry a mask…as most Japanese do in public places, but cant say i have used i

  66. Oy vey.
    FORGET the whole “moisturizing”, “dryness”, etc crap
    Using a wet (cold/hot, doesn’t matter) towel on your FACE in a public place is absolutely PROVINCIAL, AND IN THE WORST TASTE POSSIBLE.
    It surpresies me whenever I see someone do it (which is, unfortunately, quite often), and it is usually rude, tack people. Be it Americans, Latin Americans (even more so) or (rarely), Europeans. (I won’t even go into what Indians/SOME south-east Asians do). Yuck.
    Seriously, people. In this dat and age, instead of worrying about accruing “miles” and obtaining “premium” credit cards, get yourselves some MANNERS.
    The fact that we’re even having this discussion (on a “premium” travel blog, nonetheless), is absolutely unacceptable.
    Wet towel? HANDS. Tray table? Fine. (a BIT tacky).
    But FACE?

  67. Lol. Trust me. When you have been travelling 18hrs plus and you get on another flight to go another 9 hrs and someone offers you a hot towel whilst sat in economy in SQ you will take he opportunity to wipe your face. Ha ha. Love it.

  68. Stop obsessing over bacteria. We evolved to live with them, more than a kilo of our body mass is bacteria and they are essential for digestion. Stop all your anti-bacterial treatments & cleaning. All you do is kill the easy to kill bacteria, leaving space for the hard to kill bacteria to colonise resulting in a poorly balanced bacterial ecosystem which is way more dangerous – hence hospitals having MRSA problems. Plus some of those “kills 99% bacteria” hand washes contain Triclosan which is now know to be carcinogenic (it is also in Colgate Total toothpaste). Stop turning your back on a billion years of co-evolution and eat some dirt once in a while.

  69. Your beauty regimen needs to be from inside to out. First I would take Halo Beauty pills from @glamlifeguru. They even out your skin tone and make your skin lightly glow. Then I would wash you face with La Prairie foam cleaners to remove all the dirt and oil. After that, you should put toner on. May I suggest La Mer tonic? Then after is moisturizing time! Depending on your skin, I would use Cream de la Mer if you have dry skin. Or if you are oily, use Shiseido Men’s total Revitalizer Cream. Lastly, absolutely put on spf 50+ sunblock daily. Sun is your aging skin’s worst enemy! Your skin will look snatched if you follow this routine!

    And hot hand towels is for hands…

  70. Yep it’s nasty. Please don’t wipe the tray table with your nasty ass germs people. Even if sitting in F I don’t want to think about it.

  71. Obviously, people who fly economy are unsanitary.

    I find the hot towel helpful to cleanse my head if it is bleeding when I board.

  72. I tell my wife ” look honey, I can make a hat, a broach, a pterodactyl” If I get strange looks I say “come on, Johnny from Airplane?” “Airplane the movie?”

  73. I don’t understand this obsession with cleaning tray tables! I’m a flight attendant. Before every long haul flight, when there’s a long turn in a hub, or when the plane goes to a hangar the tray tables get sanitized. Cleaners come on, and part of the process for 1st/business is sanitizing the tray tables. They’re not dirty. The water from the tanks (and the seatbelts!) are far more disgusting than the tray tables before your longhaul flight.

  74. As an aside, my experience last week on Qantas SCL-SYD was (twice) rather frayed and well-worn hot towels with the near rancid (unperfumed) smell of wet towel left lying around for a long time before re-heating and presentation. Made the mistake of lightly refreshing my face before sticky fingers….. big mistake not repeated! Yuk!
    I thought these were single use only; looks like Qantas has gone into penny-pinching mode again.

  75. Perhaps your skin dries out because of all the chemicals you’re obsessively rubbing over it?

  76. Hot towels are also useful for wiping up, but not after you’ve wiped down the table. So gross.

  77. Why do you then drink coffee on the plane, they don’t use bottled water to make it. Plenty of articles on the internet about the water used for your coffee and that’s by far worse than using a hot towel to wipe your face.

  78. What a joke. “wash” your hands in those filthy airplane bathrooms? Sure you are. And I bet you then use your “just washed” hands to open the filthy door handle to the loo. Then promptly grab the seat back or arm rest or IFE remote or chair controls (yuck). Yet using a warm cloth to wipe your face is a pet peeve? Oh my.

    I bring disinfectant wipes, avoid touching any surfaces (even the latch to the overhead bin) until I’ve given a thorough wipe down. I invite everyone to take a good look at the people who sit/sleep in the seats – see how many blow their nose, cough without covering their face (or worse, cough into their hands), spill drinks, food. And don’t even get me started when 6 year olds are sitting up front…and the worst part is enjoying recycled air in a sealed, pressurized tube for 10-16 hours…how often are airplane filters cleaned? I bet as often as the carpets are cleaned…

  79. I never thought about the water they were using. I never drink tea on a plane for that reason. I guess I’ll stop using it on my face. I just love the warmth on my face before the towel turns ice cold. Oh well.


  80. I always keep the hot towel until the meal is served. While everyone else is cleaning up from their meals with dry napkins, I have a lovely wet towel to wipe away any meal debris from my face and hands, without having to get up and wait for the restroom.

  81. I use them to get a massive dose of moisture to my nose knowing it’s going to be drying out for the next (x) hours. Put over face, deep inhale through nose 4-5 times, then wipe face, hands, screen, other touchable surfaces.

  82. People like Matthew are the reason why I bring my own Clorox wipes and clean the seat, tray table, and seatbelt. Matthew is spreading his germs all over.

  83. Aircraft ‘tank’ water is perfectly safe to drink at most stations. Some airlines even use it to do the mid flight water rounds in economy class. There are some stations where we do not uplift water to the water tanks as it’s not fit for consumption. Water to the lavs and wash basins in the bathrooms come from a different source obviously.

    Clean freaks kinda amuse me. You see them furiously using a hot towel to ‘clean’ every conceivable surface. Yet a bit of warm water smearing bacteria doesn’t kill them. It just spreads them. If you want to kill the germs in your seat area bring alcohol wipes. And also use them on the hotel phone receiver, the TV remote in your hotel. In fact, I read that one area with the highest human bacteria is lift/elevator call buttons.

    Being one of those that hands out the hot towels, I can say the majority of customers use them to clean their hands. But that really depends on the phase of flight. On overnight flights I notice a shift in use from the first (dinner service) to the second (breakfast) service. Before dinner people tend to use them to clean their hands, and when being woken up from slumber for breakfast to use rub over their face and help wake them up.

    Some of the mid east carriers offer hot or cold towels. If it’s really hot I love to place a cool towel on the back of my neck.

    Oh…and I gave up moisturizer years ago and my skin has never been better. Being crew I spend half my life in a metal tube at altitude. Cleanse. Serum (always). A few drops of rosehip oil. And SPF.

    And don’t forget it’s what you put INSIDE that nourishes your skin too. I never leave home for work without my phone charger, passport, an avocado and some almonds/brazil nuts lol.

  84. I’ve been flying 50 years, business class the last 20, and have never used the proffered wet towel.
    The only time I use moisturizer is after my daily shower. Period!!!! Obsessing over these things on a plane is a waste of time and energy. It’s only a few hours; get over it!

  85. I honestly don’t even think about the hygienic factor. I use the hot towel on my face and hands simply because it feels nice and refreshing. I mean, a towel soaked in water alone isn’t going to kill any bacteria anyway.

  86. First of all – hot towels are offered with one set of tongs, then picked up with a new set “Bob”. As for cleaning your face with them – they are laundered then used again. But, I’ve seen people blow their noise, wash their feet, clean under their fingernails etc… do you still want to wash your face with a recycled on board bacteria wash frappe?

  87. Third World problem. Can’t believe this is actually worthy of a post on this site.


  88. @ Chris. At BA all our hot towels are thrown in the trash compactor after being collected in. They aren’t re-used. I’d imagine most airlines would be the same. Sad that it’s cheaper to throw out and replace these days than recycle.

  89. If you are a germophobe (guilty) you are wiping the tray and arm rests with an antibacterial wipe. I may use a separate one for my hands once service begins. Hot towel is a comfort item.

  90. The wet towels aren’t made hot with hot water. They’reaready wet and then warmed. Regardless, if you can’t bear to be around germs then stay in the bubble. Germs are good.

  91. I am not sure what a professor of anatomy has to offer on the subject, nor what is considered a prestigious medical school in NYC.

    But as a board-certified MD in infectious diseases, whose sole job is to deal with infections full-time and to do travel medicine, this whole article and the comments sections borders on the absurd, at least in regard to infections. I am not a dermatologist nor Emily Post and will defer those issues to others.

    Wanna cut down on illness risks? Wash your own hands with soap (or ETOH) and hope that the food handlers and preparers did the same and that the food is adequately cooked and from quality-controlled sources.

    Hot towels, wiping tray tables, wiping faces, etc. etc. is all irrelevant.

  92. @red robbo~ surely you mean ‘1st world problem’? I’m sure any 3rd world air passenger would not regard this tiny luxury as any sort of problem!

  93. A good portion of airplane things are simply tradition. Hot towels are one of them. It’s the 40’s, this new thing about flying is quick and fun, but the environment isn’t exactly the height of sophistication (compared to a train or ship) – loud, small, materials feel chintzy because of the need to be light, terribly expensive, etc. Hence these little bits that take things up a notch. It’s a holdover.

    -Face Wiper

  94. They’re ridiculous & airlines should let them go. No, I don’t want a hot towel to wipe off the very necessary lotion I just put on after washing my hands in the bathroom.

  95. Those towels are for your hands—not you face. It’s bad manners and ignorant to use them for anything else. Would you do that in a three-star Michelin restaurant?

    Personally, I decline them because it often takes them a long time to pick them back up and I don’t want them in my way.

    Matthew, knock it off! I might be the next person to occupy your seat.

    Lucky, sounds like your husband has been a good influence on your skincare regimen.

  96. My favorite thing about this thread is people insisting other people are living their lives incorrectly.

  97. When I get on a plane I immediately wipe down the tv, any controls, tray table and seatbelt with a Clorox wipe. That silly hot towel isn’t disinfecting anything. Last year I saw a toddler walking in the bathroom, the floor of which was wet with urine, with bare feet. The mother then put the toddler standing on the tray table. Actually can we talk about all of the people who go to the bathroom with only socks on? Disgusting.

  98. @ Robert Fahr

    That exactly. It’s been years since I’ve gotten sick traveling because we do a full detailing job with antibacterial wipes prior to buckling.

  99. @Christine – Not sure a 3 star Michelin restaurant is a comparative example. Would you lay down and go to sleep in a 3 star Michelin restaurant? Doubtful. Yet, you still do in a J/F cabin.

  100. The lavatory and everything in it should be avoided unless you really need to use the lavatory for the purpose it was intended for. Nothing in there is clean, even if you’re first to board.

    You are contaminated long before you board the plane, and you will remain contaminated until you have deplaned, removed the clothing you were traveling in and washed yourself from head to toe.

    For most people, this is not going to be an issue.

    While it’s true that there’s no cleaning agent on the washcloth, it is a cloth and therefore able to produce friction. Thus, it’s capable of removing many of the nasties you’re aiming to get to rid of. Ordinary soaps wouldn’t kill anything anyway.

    I’m a slight germaphobe (simply good practice in my field) and even I use those warm wash cloths, but only with the goal of refreshing myself. I do not use the same cloth on my face and hands; I ask for a second.

    Personally, when travel I use benzalkonium wipes to clean my hands. Facial cleansing/makeup remover wipes seem like the obvious companion for those who feel the need to wash their face on the plane. I am not one of those people.

    But even if you wash your face, you are constantly touching / recontaminating it without even knowing it. It’s very unlikely that a warm wet towel is going to do you any harm by comparison.

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