Whether it’s allergies, a cold, or something worse, when you’re standing in the drug or grocery store aisle and staring at all those colorful boxes wondering which to buy, chances are, you won’t go wrong. And that’s why you probably choose the box that matches your home décor more than the actual tissue inside. Most tissues do what they’re made to do. But as anyone who’s grabbed a tissue on their way out of a doctor’s office, or from a box on a random office desk, sometimes the mass-produced supply-store tissues can be a bit weak or scratchy.
A tissue’s job is to help you blow your nose and keep the germs at bay. It should be soothing, but it also needs to be durable, so it doesn’t disintegrate if you have to use it again or accidentally leave it crumpled in a coat pocket only to find it the following winter. It needs to effectively wipe away all that unpleasantness from your nose while at the same time be gentle enough to wipe away a child’s tears. That’s why Puffs Ultra Soft(available at Amazon) is our favorite facial tissue.
After putting nine of the most commonly found tissues on the market through our scientifically-designed tests, we discovered that the number of plies a tissue may have, or whether it includes lotion, doesn't necessarily make a great tissue.
Here are the best tissues we tested, ranked in order:
Puffs Ultra Soft
Kleenex Ultra Soft
Puffs Plus Lotion
Kleenex Soothing Lotion
Kleenex Trusted Care
Scotties Soothing Lotion
Target Up & Up
Walmart Great Value Everday
Scotties Everday Comfort
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The two-ply Puffs Ultra Soft and Strong very narrowly edged out the three-ply Kleenex Ultra Soft tissues. While the Kleenex brand felt slightly softer, the reusability and durability over the continued use of Puffs made it stronger. If you weren't looking, it could be perceived as a very lightweight handkerchief and it takes quite a bit of force to tear it apart. After our final scoring, we took a look to see how it fared among our friends at Wirecutter and Consumer Reports (via BusinessInsider) and they also gave high marks to Puffs Ultra Soft's discontinued predecessor.
Hi, I’m Alicia Cypress, the managing editor for Reviewed’s “Best Right Now” product guides. I oversee the team of editors and writers who have produced more than 400 of these buying guides to help you compare and purchase the best products. But recently I realized we were missing something: After Reviewed created guides for toilet paper, paper towels and trash bags, there was another paper product we failed to test. And more importantly, cold and allergy season is no longer limited to a single season, so I took matters into my own hands (and nose) and began researching tissues.
Choosing which tissues to test was pretty straightforward. As Kleenex is one of those ubiquitous brand names, it was vital to include them. We also chose other popular brands you were apt to find on store shelves, such as Puffs and Scotties. We then added in the Walmart and Target brands to round out the list. But testing the best wasn’t just about the brand names, we made sure to get several examples from some of the brands to see how two-ply might test against three-play or those with added lotion may fare within the same brand.
Testing tissues meant a lot of nose blowing. Together with my colleague, Reviewed Senior Scientist Julia MacDougall, we blew our noses with different force, over and over again and then some more. We tested for durability by using the same tissue multiple times and I used each tissue to sop up a teaspoon of water (note: tissues with added lotion don’t do so well here).
We spent several days with each box totaling about three weeks of testing. Lucky for us (although unlucky for them), during this same time frame, a handful of our Reviewed colleagues were struggling with colds and allergies, so we asked them to use a few boxes and give us their opinions.
One of our original tests was also to see how easy it was to pull each tissue out of the box, but ultimately decided not to use that in our scoring, since it quickly became obvious, that was more a question of the shape of the box, rather than the quality of the tissue. But for the record (and in case you’re curious), we found the long horizontal boxes are the best for quickly pulling out a tissue, while the square boxes usually needed a slight bit of extra force.
During our testing period, I also used each tissue multiple times to remove my eye makeup. This test not only helped me understand the durability of the tissues when wet with liquid but also how they felt around a sensitive part of the face while doing double duty for what it would be like to wipe away tears. To further see how these tissues hold up under intense emotional pressure, I surrounded myself with the boxes while watching episodes of “This is Us” and “A Million Little Things” to see which tissues I might reach for when the waterworks started to naturally flow.
What to Know About Facial Tissues
Are Tissues Kleenex? First and foremost, these are facial tissues. Bathroom tissue is toilet paper, and there’s also the more colorful kind of tissue you use to wrap gifts. Also, and perhaps, more importantly, it’s not Kleenex, either. Kleenex is a brand name and a registered trademark. The brand (along with other brands who face similar genericization of their products ) has even run advertisements in publications like the Columbia Journalism Review, to hammer in that their trademarked-name should not be used for the generic product. So, unless you’re talking about the specific Kleenex brand, don’t ask your friend for a Kleenex to blow your nose!
What Is a Ply? The word ply in the world of facial tissues refers to the number of paper layers making up each tissue. For this roundup, we only tested two-ply and three-ply tissues. The extra layers should provide extra durability, but as you’ll see in our results, the extra layers don’t always mean you’ll have a top tissue.
Do I Need Lotion in My Tissues? This is a personal preference. In our tests, we found that the tissues with lotion had a harder time sopping up the dab of water. And while I would have expected these to be the winners in our comfort testing, it’s a subjective call and not everyone who tested liked them.
Can I Flush Facial Tissues? Unlike toilet paper, facial tissues are not designed to immediately disintegrate in water, so flushing them down the toilet is not advised.
Other Facial Tissues We Tested
Kleenex Ultra Soft
In our scoring, Kleenex was a minuscule 0.003 behind Puffs. The only place it fell short was in the long-term durability tests. After multiple uses, it disintegrated a bit. Several weeks after our initial tests, I came down with a nasty cold, and the Kleenex Ultra Soft became my new best friend (it’s the brand I happened to have at home when the cold hit). For about three days, the tissues were nearly attached to my nose, and not only did it withstand the nasty germs without falling apart, but it was so soft and comfortable that not once did I feel my face getting chapped from over-usage. However, I did notice some white residue on a black sweatshirt I wore, which I could only believe came from the tiny fibers in the tissue. Choosing between the Puffs Ultra Soft and strong and the Kleenex Ultra Soft comes down to your own brand preference, and perhaps which happens to be cheaper that day, or the more common tissue measuring test: which box design may better match your bathroom décor.
Some people swear by lotion in their tissues, while others hate it. We can’t help you decide which camp you fall into, however, the Puff's got high marks on all our comfort and durability tests. Where it fell short, and we found this with other tissue brands we tested with lotion, is if you're trying to sop up any spilled liquid. The added lotion seems to repel additional moisture. But honestly, if your main concern is just comfort for your sore nose, there's no reason not to add this to your cart.
The testing scores from the Kleenex Soothing Lotion with aloe and vitamin E mimicked the Puffs Plus Lotion, acing almost all our tests except for the absorbency. However, we found the Puffs just slightly more comfortable for nose blowing.
The signature tissue box from Kleenex is its two-ply Trusted Care. As expected, without any bells and whistles (but really, it’s a tissue, it shouldn’t need anything fancy!) this fell to the middle of the pack. It did everything it’s supposed to do, with no complaints. Honestly, it’s probably best for Goldilocks—it’s not too soft, and it’s not too scratchy.
If you have a family with different preferences, or perhaps you like to keep a box on your desk at your office for those who may need it, this is probably the best tissue for you.
Scotties Soothing Aloe excels in its strength and durability, but lacks in comfort, mostly during consistent long-term use, and at times—despite the added aloe—it’s close to feeling a bit scratchy on our noses. Unfortunately, this strength (it’s also one of the few three-ply tissues we tested) doesn't necessarily mean it's absorbent. During testing, I had to rub a little harder while removing my makeup because of the liquid just kind of slid off it. And just like the other lotion-infused tissues, the Scotties Soothing Aloe just pushed water around instead of sopping it up.
The Target brand facial tissues are perfectly fine, passing all our tests. The two-ply tissues can withstand both normal and hard nose blows, sop up water, and remove makeup easily. It just wasn’t overly comfortable (but it wasn’t scratchy, either). And over sustained use, it lost some of its strength and absorbency and was no longer comforter to use. Their price is competitive with its Kleenex and Puffs counterparts, so if you want a softer tissue, those may be a better choice.
The Walmart-brand two-ply tissues were very similar to Target, passing most of our tests, and even besting their big-box competition in comfort when reusing the same tissue a couple of times (so during those horrible colds when you basically need a tissue attached to your nose). But despite the tissues becoming more comfortable, they also start to weaken before falling apart after a couple of uses, knocking it down in our results. For everyday use, however, these hold up fine and the box impressed one of my colleagues who kept it at her desk.
On the first touch, Scotties Everyday Comfort feels just like the tissues from Walmart and Target, but our testing scores show the Scotties are just a smidgen lower. After using over and over again, these tissues don’t hold up as well, as they don't do a good job at sopping up the water we spilled. In all our other tests, just like the majority of the other tissues we evaluated, it still did the number job it’s designed to do and at a reasonable softness level.
Alicia Cypress oversees Reviewed's "The Best Right Now" product guides. She’s a veteran journalist, spending her career before Reviewed at The Washington Post and NPR. In her free time, she studies and writes about wine.
We use standardized and scientific testing methods to scrutinize every product and provide you with objectively accurate results. If you’ve found different results in your own research, email us and we’ll compare notes. If it looks substantial, we’ll gladly re-test a product to try and reproduce these results. After all, peer reviews are a critical part of any scientific process.