A typical Dutch item: a washcloth (washandje)

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If you’re Dutch, or you have lived in the Netherlands for a long time, you know that there are some things that you do that are not so common in other countries.

Let’s give you some examples:

We made videos about these things. These were funny for foreigners, but also for Dutch people. For the Dutch viewers, it’s interesting to see how other people react to their strange habits and customs.

But for this video it’s a bit different.

In this video we talked about something the Dutch don’t realise is typically Dutch!

Het washandje

The wheres, hows and whys of the washandje and the Netherlands are difficult to say. But let’s take a look to see if it’s smart to use one.

Do you get cleaner with a ‘washandje’?

The simple answer is: no.

According to a research (Bron: quest[1]) washing yourself with your hands makes you just as clean as washing yourself with a washandje.

So it might feel cleaner to wash yourself with a washandje (and yes, I can promise you it does feel cleaner) and the scrubbing does make your skin look smoother and healthier, but, in fact, it’s not really healthier.

And to make matters worse, the chances are high that your washandje is more dirty than your hands.

Wet washcloths have skin cells on them and are a perfect breeding ground for bacteria and fungi. Especially if they are left hanging in a warm, damp bathroom.

There are also bacteria on your hands, but these are easy to wash off. If you clean your hands before you use them to wash yourself, it is actually more hygienic than washing with a washcloth that has been hanging in the bathroom for a few days.

What do you do when you enter a Dutch bathroom and see a washandje and you want to use it because you want to experience the Dutch culture?

Tips for using a washcloth

Want to keep it as hygienic as possible? The following three tips are useful.

1 Only use a washcloth for one wash and then wash it before the next use.

2 Do several people in the house use washcloths? Then use one each.

3 The following applies to both hand and washcloth washing: use a block of soap and rinse the soap after washing as well.

From the comments: Is it typically Dutch?

My experience was that this item was only used in the Netherlands and parts of Belgium. And the Dutch didn’t even realise it.

So, it was just recently when I found out they do not use a ‘washandje’ everywhere around the world   

But I was wrong, they are used elsewhere. Thanks to the comments I learned about het washandje in other cultures.

In Arab countries, people use a so-called ‘kese’, an extra rough washcloth, to exfoliate, or remove dead skin cells.


They also sell them everywhere in Germany, in every shop that sells towels. The German name is ‘Waschhandschuh’. 

Czech Republic

“We used to use it in the Czech Republic as well, but it’s no longer popular. We call it žínka, which could mean ‘vrouwtje’, or better: something made from material of horses tail.”


“It is a version of a face cloth (in France called gant de toillette) in the old days people would use it to freshen up like someone else said instead of a shower. It is not that long ago that people didn’t have bath in their house.”

And there were many reactions from people that really didn’t know about it.


“Surprise that in many countries you can find ‘washandje’ or kind of, for sure in Brazil we don’t have it.”

When to use one

Het washandje is known to be useful in different situations.

  • When you don’t have much time for washing

This use if the most popular one. In a hurry, but still want to freshen up? Just take a washandje!

  • To wash your baby

Washing a baby is not always easy. The washandje makes it a lot easier.

  • Keeping your smartphone dry

Some foreigners came up with this suggestion, and it’s not bad at all! So if you are going to the bathroom and you need a nice and dry place to put your phone, use a washandje.

  • For children to play with in the bath

It’s not only something to wash with. Children love to play with it. Simple but effective.

  • Make it warm and unfreeze the windows of your car

Something completely different, but I know for a fact that this one works. In the winter, when all your windows are frozen just use a warm washandje.

  • Put ice in it for bruises

This one is also used pretty often. If you have an injury and you need ice on the bruise just put some in a washandje!

The word: washandje

A little wash hand. That’s the meaning of washandje. It’s a shorter version of the word ’washandschoen’.

A handschoen (hand shoe) is a glove.

 (1) https://www.quest.nl/mens/lifestyle/a30295203/hygiene-wassen-washandje-handen/

Bart de Pau
online Dutch teacher & founder of the Dutch Summer School & Dutch Winter School