In many Asian restaurants both inside and outside Asia, and also on some Asian airlines such as Korean and JAL if I recall correctly, hot cloth towels are given out to all passengers before each meal.

I know they're for cleaning your hands prior to eating but I've never been sure whether it's correct etiquette in the relevant Asian cultures to also use the towel on my face. I'm always too shy to ask.

I've definitely seen other westerners use them on their face and I've done so myself and found it very refreshing, but I've always been a bit worried that I might be doing something other people might find vulgar or even disgusting since I know ideas of hygiene vary widely and in surprising ways around the world.

(I'm not asking if I should do it, I'm just asking if it's good or bad etiquette in Asian cultures. Obviously it's my choice whether to regard other passengers'/diners' sensibilities or not.)

  • Incidentally, some U.S. airlines do this, too, at least in the premium cabins. Delta does this in business class on trans-Pac flights, for instance. I'm not sure if they do in economy or not.
    – reirab
    Commented Jul 20, 2015 at 18:00

2 Answers 2


Yes, it is correct and fine to wipe your hand, face, neck with it, be it with hot or cold towels. You can see that pretty much everywhere in Asia.

In Japan, you will be given one at hairdressers to specifically to wipe your face with it. Specially when it's hot and humid outside, a cold towel on your neck is something very nice!


In Japan, it's considered slightly gauche to do this. It's the kind of thing expected of a "country" person, or an oji-san (old man). I don't think anyone will find it offensive or disgusting. The vast majority of people won't care at all. And, if you are a westerner, you're not expected to follow (or even be aware of) Japanese customs, anyway.

In China, it's perfectly fine.

I don't now about Korea, Thailand, India, Khazakstan, or other Asian countries.

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