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I have done some specific articles on hygiene issues, but I think it is worthwhile to discuss the basics for overall hygiene during a SHTF situation. I have included links to some of my other articles that go into more detail on some areas of hygiene. This is a general hygiene post. You may need to add some things not listed if you have special needs.
A wash basin or small plastic tub or pan and a wash rag can go a long way. You can stay clean enough just wiping yourself down occasionally, especially if you have some soap. Hot water is nice if you can heat some up.
Bathing In A Stock Tank
When Matt and I were building the house, we often bathed in a stock tank using the water we heated in a barrel. It took some work, and we tended to stick to the schedule that a lot of people did in the past of just taking a major soak and bath once a week. It takes a long time to heat a lot of water up with a wood fire outside but it is what we had and what we did, and it meant a lot. It was very relaxing and worth it at times.
Of course, you have to dunk the hot water out and into the stock tank which takes some time and care. You don’t want to get scalded. A barrel of water can reach the boiling point so you will have to cool it off a bit with colder water.
I think it is wise to buy these in containers that either has only 10 wipes or that are in the plastic tubs. These wipes can dry out too fast if the package gets opened and only used over a large period or if a small puncture occurs during shipping or storage. The plastic tubs are really tough, so punctures are not as likely.
Don’t be afraid to pay more for more packaging or tougher containers. The price difference is well worth it to have something that will perform when you want it to. Be sure to get wet wipes that are okay with your skin type. Most are very gentle but if you are really sensitive then just make sure to try out a few before you buy a ton and put them back for SHTF.
It is good to have sponges for everything from bathing to keeping your home and kitchen clean. You can boil them to sanitize them and keep the usable for quite a while.
Get used to a new definition of clean
Modern times have made people so germ adverse and dirt phobic that is to the point where some are actually endangering their health with over cleanliness and hyper sanitization. You can survive a day or two without a shower and not be overly endangering their health. It takes a bit longer than that, especially if there is no pandemic in place.
Wash sheets but blankets can wait, or you can just set them out in the sun
Sheets are what gets really dirty, especially the bottom sheet where you are actually laying. In order of washing, first wash the bottom sheet, then top, then worry about blankets. Your pillowcases are also important because that is where you put your face. So bottom sheet and pillowcases are going in my hand washing before any other bedding during SHTF.
Washing your hair every day is pretty terrible for it in many cases. Shorter hair is easier to deal with during SHTF and can provide less of a medium for parasites such as lice to survive on. I am not going to tell you how much to wash your hair during good times, but during a SHTF situation, you can likely get away with once a week or less.
Dry shampoo can cost $5-$24 but let’s just get it out of the way that the main ingredient of any of the dry shampoos is rice or corn starch or a mixture of both.
So if you don’t want to stockpile cans of dry shampoo or just want to put back a few, get some bulk corn or rice starch and put that back. If you have some essential oils like Tea Tree or Peppermint that is even better because that will repel and prevent lice and insects as well as absorb any unpleasant smells!
Just mix the powder with enough essential oils for a pleasant scent. A shaker can like you use for herbs and spices can be helpful or you can put some of your homemade dry shampoo in a shower cap or processing cap and shake it around. The point is to distribute it throughout your hair without getting it in your eyes. Diatomaceous earth can be used in addition to help rid hair of lice and other insects if there seems to be a problem.
Combs and Hairbrushes
I like having a hairbrush, but a cheap comb is a far sight better than nothing at all when it comes to keeping it neat and put together. You can get a big pack of combs for next to nothing. Do not underestimate the value of a $0.20 comb during SHTF.
Consider a shorter hairstyle and have a way to cut hair
Long hair requires more care. Even if you do choose to keep your’s longer, you should invest in a hair cutting kit. It doesn’t have to be a fancy kit. In fact, it can just be a comb and scissors. A razor comb is nice to have but not necessary. If you have hair cutting skills and supplies, then you may be able to barter your skills. People will not be too picky about the most stylish cut so don’t think you have to know how to do the fanciest styles to have a useful skill.
Toothbrushes and toothpaste
I have a dozen toothbrushes put back. That is a few, and I am going to put back more. I also recommend putting back a dozen tubes of toothpaste per 2 people in your household. It doesn’t have to be a major brand. Anything is better than nothing. Look for deals or throw a pack of cheap toothbrushes or a tube of toothpaste in your cart next time you are at the Dollar Store.
Putting back toothbrushes and toothpaste provides a cushion that prevents dental issues during SHTF. Sorry, but during a major situation, extraction is the way any major tooth problems are dealt with and considering the risk of infection, it is best to do anything you can to prevent major dental issues.
When times are very tough shaving becomes a secondary concern. At the same time, it is something to be considered in a long-term situation. Hair can harbor disease or parasites. Shaving also relates to the psychology of normalcy during SHTF. It is a typical act, and that alone can make one feel so much better during a long-term situation.
Cheap razors are annoying, but I would rather have one of those than nothing at all. Add a 10 pack to your cart next time you are at the store or make a point to add it onto order for the next month.
There are a lot of different inexpensive soaps out there in numerous price ranges and concentrations. Here are my picks for soaps to put back.
This is the best soap regarding concentration. It is very oil stripping in nature but can be used for washing everything from clothes to your hair. The 8 oz-16 oz bottles are great for storage and trade but not always the most economical choice. If I catch the smaller sizes on sale, I make a point to put a few back.
I love Dr. Bronner’s and have been a consistent customer for many years. The Peppermint version is one of our favorites because it is very useful on animals as well. The Peppermint essential oil keeps insects and parasites at bay also. A few quarts of this will last a long time and is gentle enough for most anyone. For the very sensitive or when in doubt about what variety to get, go for the Baby Dr. Bronner’s. You can always add essential oils if you want a particular scent. I have never heard of anyone being overly sensitive to the Baby version of Dr. Bronner’s.
Body lotion is important because your skin can dry out and crack, especially if you are doing more manual labor or handwashing your laundry. Low humidity in your home can contribute to dry skin as well. If you live in an arid environment, then the problem of dry skin is probably something you are used to dealing with.
I recommend putting back something that is mild and not too smelly so that everyone can use it. If you want something that smells good, then add it to your preps for yourself.
One option that I recommend is a gallon jug of Alba Botanica emollient body lotion. This is very inexpensive and lasts a long time. You can get the lotion with a light and mild scent or totally unscented.
Of course, growing aloe is another option, but most people are going to have a hard time growing enough for a group if that is all the moisturizer they have.
Coconut, olive, or grapeseed oil can also be used for moisturizing. A large container of coconut oil goes a long way, and it is solid under regular household temperatures.
Bathroom issues and keeping bathroom areas clean
For more in-depth information on dealing with bathroom related issues during SHTF I recommend taking a look at the following Backdoor Survival posts:
It is better to plan for doing without a bathroom for a month or more rather than finding yourself with no resources and very unhygienic circumstances.
If possible have a years supply of feminine hygiene items put back. It really doesn’t cost that much to do this if you catch items on sale. Like toilet paper, you have to decide just how much space you want to take up with this type of thing. Other options include Diva Cups and washable pads.
If you have a baby that is going to be in diapers for a while then you should consider putting back some disposables. In a long-term situation, you may have to turn to using cloth diapers so it may be good to put back a few dozen of those and some diaper pins. Even if you never use cloth diapers, they have a lot of other uses.
While it is not a pleasant thought to be forced to wash diapers without an electric machine, I am confident that with the Wonder Wash washer I tested, it could be done. I never said SHTF would be easy. Parents of young kids are going to have a heavier load.
Remember to use code BDS6 when you checkout at The Laundry Alternative for 6% off the Wonder Wash and other SHTF laundry needs.
Cleaning bathroom areas
Oxygen cleaner, bleach, vinegar, and other cleaners are useful to have put back for cleaning toilets and sinks. Be careful about using too much bleach and harsh cleaners if you have a private septic system because it can kill off the bacteria that keep your septic system operating well.
Get in the habit of letting others know if something is amiss regarding skin or other hygiene issues
SHTF is no time to be shy. It is important to let someone else know about anything they may be concerning just in case something worsens. A lot of skin or hygiene issues can be dealt with fast and with little effort or supplies if they are addressed early. Minor conditions may just need some ointment or for the person to make an effort to keep an area dryer.
Make sure to look in the folds of your skin too. We all have areas of our bodies that tend to get overlooked.
Take the time to look over younger kids that may not realize they need to let you know something is amiss.
Hand sanitizers can be overused
A lot of people carry hand sanitizer all the time. While it is not necessarily a bad idea to have some on hand for a SHTF situation, using it all the time can have consequences. For starters, many of these sanitizers are somewhat drying to the skin. Another issue is that some experts argue that since hand sanitizers only get 99.9% of bacteria, it leaves the strongest to multiply and become stronger.
I am not a medical professional, so I will leave it up to you to decide what you think. I will say that I think that soap and water or wet wipes are fine for most cases. Save the hand sanitizer for when no water is available or if you are in contact with something particularly nasty.
Dealing with hygiene when there are sick people in your group
People get sick. During a SHTF situation, it can be even easier to get sick because of stress on the mind and body leading to a weaker immune system. When someone is sick, here are some tips for staying clean and stopping the spread of anything contagious.
- Isolate the sick person into one room. If they are too weak to make it to the restroom, you may need to set up a bucket toilet or similar.
- Minimize interaction with the sick person. I know it can be hard for someone being alone so hopefully, you have some entertainment options that you can leave with them.
- Wash hands after each visit to the sick person or use hand sanitizer if that is what is available.
- Do not allow co-sleeping with the sick person. I realize that nursing mothers will at least have to have their child around them part of the time, but that is the only exception I can think of.
- Keep the individual or sick group members isolated for a day or two past the time they start feeling better if at all possible.
- Wash all bedding and surfaces in the sick room after the illness passes. If you have to change bedding before that, make sure to immediately wash and do not allow others to touch it.
- Note: Gloves can be a big help and prevent the spread of illness when used for any of the previous steps.
Bleach solutions and Lysol are helpful for cleaning sick rooms. I cannot stand the smell of Lysol or bleach, but they really get the job done when dealing with germs and bacteria.
Washing clothing and towels
Keeping your clothes reasonably clean is important but don’t think for a minute that changing into a completely new set of clothes each day is a wise move. You will not be able to keep up with that.
Guidelines for clothes washing (these are just loose and obviously depend on activity levels and how much you sweat as well as what you are doing)
Pants and Jeans 3 days
Underwear and socks 1-2 days
Shirts 1-3 days
On our homestead, we do a lot of physical labor. Socks are very important to change daily. You do not want athlete’s foot or “jungle rot.” I have news for those that don’t know, jungle rot from having wet feet over an extended amount of time, does not go away. My father experienced it in Vietnam, and it continued to be a problem. T-shirts get sweaty and smelly fast too.
I recently did a post on a SHTF Laundry Kit that can help out a lot. You can wash a week’s worth of t-shirts in minutes even if you change your shirt daily.
Towels can be used a few times, but it is important not to overuse them because they can harbor a lot of bacteria and fungus. Make sure to allow them to dry in the sun after each use. This helps sanitize them and avoid musty smells. This can help you get a few uses out of a towel rather than a single use.
Consider purchasing smaller towels or fast drying synthetic fiber towels for SHTF
I love the big bath sheets and larger towels too but honestly most of us are probably fine using a hand towel after bathing, especially if you have short hair or don’t wash your hair every time you bathe. Bigger towels are much harder to wash and take more time to dry.
Synthetic fiber towels are helpful too. Towels designed for camp use are compact, absorbent, and easier to deal with if you are in a situation where you have to do laundry with a nonelectric machine or by hand.
Foot powders and sprays
It can be helpful to spray your shoes and boots or powder them. Jungle rot is the term I was raised with for what happens when feet are not kept dry, or socks changed. My father never got rid of the foot issues that started in 1967 in Vietnam. He still deals with this with the one foot he has left from that terrible war. Keep your feet dry and as clean as you can, or you will regret it. You can wear pants for a week and only be a little bit smelly under some circumstances, but if you don’t change those socks out, you are asking for trouble.
Do you have enough hygiene supplies put back? I know that writing this post for you made me consider what I need to add to my preps!
Samantha Biggers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.