Emergency Preparedness Sanitation - Self Hygiene

 The discovery that staying clean prevents many illnesses was one of the key factors in extending our lifespans. In the modern world this is as simple as a twist of the faucet and a squirt of soap. But when there's no water coming out of the tap, what do you do? In this post I'll be sharing alternative ways and hygiene priorities in a grid-down situation. This will cover personal hygiene when:

I. Priorities

II. No or Low-Water Cleaning Solutions

III. Camp Showers (Improvised or Purchased)

IV. You Have Lots Of Water But Not From Taps

V. Hygiene Supplies To Get/Store Before Grid-Down

Toilet techniques, washing dishes, and washing clothing and bedding will have their own posts.


Section I. Priorities



Order of Importance* for Cleaning Yourself with Limited Resources
1. Hands
2. Groin
3. Feet
4. Armpits
5. Face & Neck
6. Hair
*This NOT the order in which your parts get washed. See the notes below for that information.

When you are this limited with cleaning supplies you have to focus on what's most important and that is your hands after urination or defecation. The biggest risk at this point is the transfer of some E. coli or other bad bacteria from one of your exit points back to an entrance point. The most common way this occurs is not washing your hands properly after using the toilet, then having your hands or something they touch come in contact with your mouth or eyes. As nasty as you feel all over, your hands are what need to be kept cleanest/disinfected. 

As the amount of water or other body cleaning solution becomes available you can wash more of yourself. The 2nd most important area to keep clean is your groin. This is to avoid bladder or other urinary tract infections. You'll already be in rough shape from dealing with the grid-down situation so your immune system will likely be weakened. Adding a UT infection to the disaster just makes things that much worse. Note, due to the large amounts of bacteria in this region, it should be the last section of your body you wash to avoid moving bacteria around, even if you have a good amount of water.

In a grid-down situation your feet may end up spending a lot of time wet from rain or sweat. Spending the day closed up in wet socks and shoes can quickly lead to a fungal infection. Back in World War I this infection was called "Trench Foot", being caused by spending day after day in the mud of the military trenches. Keeping your feet dry is extremely important so during break, if the temperature allows, remove your shoes and soaks, and rub your feet dry with some adsorbent cloth. If possible replace wet footwear with dry socks and shoes. Place the wet footwear where it can dry somehow. If there's something (water, beer, tea) that can be used to wash your feet, they are definitely #3 in importance, but if you can wash your hands, groin, and feet, wash your goin after hands and feet. 

If you still have cleaning supplies/water follow the illustration at the beginning of the section and include your armpits, washing them after your feet but still ending with your groin. If you have enough water to add your face, do it after your hands, then follow in the order of armpits --> feet --> groin. Don't do your hair unless you have access to almost regular amounts of water.  


Section II. No or Low-Water Cleaning Solutions

No Water: Okay, a disaster caught you off guard and left you without any water. Maybe you are in hotel without your normal emergency water stored. Maybe you thought, "It won't happen to me" and never bothered to store water. Maybe the disaster damaged your stored water. Regardless of the cause, there's no water available, even in the form of rain, ice, pool water, ponds, rivers, or water-filled ditch. You have NO water. What do you do?

Action 1. Seek out alternatives. Do you have beer or other alcohol? Do you have unsweetened tea? Canned veggies? Is there ANYTHING around that doesn't contain sugar and is not harmful to skin? A bottle of contact lens fluid? Maybe a neighbor or  someone in the hotel room next you just happens to have a bottle of vodka or a few cans of beer. Awesome! You now have something to help you get clean. 

Action 2. If there really is no water, beer, bottled ice tea, or other safe, sugarfree fluid available things are going to be a lot harder. In your searching did you find any coffee (instant or grounds), dry tea, dry oatmeal, kitchen herbs (pepper, oregano, thyme, sage, rosemary, etc), salt or granulated sugar? If you didn't have any of that, what about birdseed or leaves from a tree outside? This last one may be hard in the winter unless there are some pines or other evergreens around. At this point I'm going to assume you found something from that list, so it's on to the next action.

Action 3. If you're down to a salt shaker and a three year old bottle of Italian herbs seasoning it's time to face facts...most of your body is going to get really grungy. When you are this limited with cleaning supplies you have to focus on what's most important and that is your hands after urination or defecation. The biggest risk at this point is the transfer of some E. coli or other bad bacteria from one of your exit points back to an entrance point. The most common way this occurs is not washing your hands properly after using the toilet, then having your hands or something they touch come in contact with your mouth or eyes. As nasty as you feel all over, your hands are where you need to use what you found.

So, what do you do? After using the toilet you want to take approximately a non-heaping teaspoon for the coffee/herbs/salt/whatever and rub it over your hands. Dry tea or kitchen herbs like oregano or thyme are best as they contain natural antibiotic compounds. Sugar, salt, or coffee also have disinfecting properties, though not as good as the previous. Also note, salt can dry out your skin in low humidity, causing your skin to crack. If that's the case, track down some skin lotion, petroleum jelly, kitchen grease, or lard to rub into your hands to re-moisturize them.

If all you could find was dry oatmeal, birdseed or random tea leaves then rub-rub-rub them all over your hands for 3-5 minutes. The purpose is to physically damage and dry any bacteria that may be on your hands. The birdseed and oatmeal won't do much but they'll at least absorb/scrape off some of the bacteria. Many tree leaves have some natural antibiotic properties and are unlikely to contain irritants unless the tree produces white sap (irritating latex) when a leaf is damaged or you accidentally grabbed poison ivy. Once done rubbing, dispose of whatever you had been rubbing on your hands into a trashcan, compost bucket, or other waste container so you don't reuse the material. At this point still try to avoid touching your eyes our mouth but at least you will have lowered your risk of getting sick from E. coli or other bad microbe. Good luck and consider storing water for next time.

As for the rest of your body...rub yourself down with dry rags, towel, socks, or whatever fabric you can spare. For those of you who are menstruating...I have no clue what to do. While I live with three women, I've always had enough emergency supplies stashed to maintain normal cleaning habits regardless of the situation so we've never had to look into it.


Low Water: Your hunt was successful and you now have a beer, a can of peas, and small bucket of water from a puddle outside. Now you need to hunt done some sort of antimicrobial agent to add to it. Jump back up to Action 2. in the section above.


Section III. Improvised Showers

So, what do you do? How do you wash your body if you have water but no power? Improvise a shower!

Two gallon garden sprayer on Amazon. For a hot shower fill with 1/2 room temperature water + 1/2 boiling water but check final temperature before spraying on body!
Biodegradable, multipurpose soap on Amazon

Section IV. Improvised Clothes Washer

Making a washing machine out of a large bucket, lid, and toilet plunger. Use a new toilet plunger!


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