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Pandemic Supplies and Alternatives For When Stores Are Sold Out

Avatar for Samantha Biggers Samantha Biggers  |  Updated: February 27, 2020
Pandemic Supplies and Alternatives For When Stores Are Sold Out

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Rule #1 Something is better than nothing. This applies to all levels of pandemic supplies.

It has come to my attention that a lot of supplies like N-95 or N-100 disposable masks and hand sanitizers are running out. I wanted to do this post to highlight supplies you should have on hand for a pandemic and also offer some alternatives that can be utilized if something is sold out.

I am also going to offer alternatives that are better than nothing but not great so that we have two levels of alternatives to choose from when supplies are limited or non-existent. Some of the supplies in this post still seem to be in good supply at the moment, but that might not always be the case.

Just to be clear, I am not a medical professional. I am merely a prepared individual that wants to offer some alternative solutions to others that may find they cannot get a particular item and those that are new to the world of preparedness. I cannot guarantee how well a better than nothing alternative is going to work out for you.

N-95 Disposable Masks

Note: Very few places seem to have these anymore due to worldwide demand.

For starters, these masks need to be replaced daily. That means in an extended situation you will either need a lot of them or limit how many times you go out around others.

For a long pandemic event, it is more economical and realistic to have some masks that can be used for an extended period of time. Also as we have seen recently, disposables sell out fast.

Good Alternatives: 3M Respirator with P100 /Organic and Volatile Vapor Cartridges. You may also want to purchase a spare set of cartridges.

Gas Mask With Appropriate Cartridge

A gas mask is the more expensive alternative option but they also cover your eyes a lot of the time so you get a lot of protection with a single item. MIRA Safety makes gas masks of exceptional quality and comfort. I wrote a review about the one I own for those that want more information. MIRA offers other styles as well and they have masks for even young kids so you may want to take a look at the MIRA website too.

Better Than Nothing Alternative: A few layers of cheesecloth and a t-shirt (See video below). In the video the fellow just uses a t-shirt but for something serious like a pandemic I would add a few layers of cheesecloth or even a layer of coffee filters if no cheesecloth is available. Anything that you can do to limit particles from entering your mouth while still being able to breath good enough is going to be a lot better than being totally exposed.

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Liquid Bleach

The best used by date for liquid bleach is listed as around 12 months. This means having a ton of it on hand and not using it may mean that you have some bleach that is not as effective when you need it. It is good to rotate your bleach out over the course of the year.

That being said, bleach is very inexpensive and something that a household should have on hand for many different situations. A few gallons are all of $5 in a lot of areas and it has many uses.

There are some alternatives though that have a longer shelf life and can be stored in a smaller space.

Good Alternatives: Oxygen cleaner ( some of this is scented and some is not just so you know) or bulk sodium percarbonate. Hydrogen peroxide is another affordable disinfectant.

Bleach Tablets Are Great

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The alternative that is just as good as liquid bleach as long as you have a water source is bleach tablets. I just bought some of these the other day because it seems like bleach jugs take up a lot of space and they tend to leak if knocked over even if they are new jugs. One bottle of 40 bleach tablets has a best buy date of 36 months after manufacture, a full 2 years longer than liquid bleach.

40 bleach tablets equal about 30 cups of bleach or nearly 2 gallons. Not a bad thing to have put back. They are clearly labeled but it is probably good to put these somewhere where there are no medicines nearby as they are in a fairly generic-looking pill bottle.

Better Than Nothing Alternatives: Vinegar or citric acid is effective at creating an inhospitable environment for germs and bacteria. While it is not as strong as bleach, cheap white distilled vinegar also has a lot of uses and it is inexpensive.

Tyvek Suits

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These are another item that can add up in cost and they are made to be disposed of very quickly, not worn multiple times. Sure you can save money by purchasing a lot of them but you should keep in mind that they tear easier than you would think. I have worn them for many hours when spraying grapes and working hard and the smallest briar will tear them.

That being said it is not a terrible idea to have a few of them for dealing with the beginning of a situation. This is not an item that stores are used to having in huge demand so there could be shortages as people do more pandemic shopping.

Good Alternatives: Of course an actual heavy-duty HAZMAT Suit made for extended wear is going to be a good choice if you have a budget of $120 or so. These are made to be much thicker and puncture-resistant.

Better Than Nothing Alternative: Plastic raingear or other waterproof clothing will offer some barrier protection. You can also easily spray down gear with disinfectant so you can reuse your gear while reducing contamination as much as possible. Some silicone spray or Scotchguard can be used to keep the gear waterproof over an extended time period and repeat washings.

Disposable Gloves

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Most people seem to buy the nitrite disposables. While these are great gloves, there are others that you can use too, especially if you don’t have a latex sensitivity.

Good Alternatives: Latex gloves are often less expensive than nitrile so if no one in your family is sensitive to it, then you may want to look for those rather than the popular nitrile.

Better Than Nothing Alternative: Plastic vinyl foodservice gloves are not as flexible and accommodating to different sizes of hands but they are latex-free and if they happen to be too large for someone, you can use big rubber bands or tie them on with something. They could also be useful as liners to other gloves too.

Hand Sanitizer

Washing your hands before even using hand sanitizer is a good idea but there are times when that is not possible. Hand sanitizer requires 15 seconds to work well.

The truth is that hand sanitizer is mostly alcohol. My bottle of Germ-X says it is 62% to be exact. Some of the alcohol-free versions are made with benzalkonium chloride.

Good Alternatives: 91% Rubbing Alcohol and a giant bottle of aloe vera for moisturizing afterward. You can use 70% too but 91% is good stuff to have around.

Better Than Nothing Alternative: Mouthwash with a high alcohol content such as Listerine Gold or even rubbing distilled vinegar on your hands.

I also want to mention that distilled alcohol for drinking can also provide antiseptic properties but the alcohol percentage determines the effectiveness. Selco talks about people successfully using Rakia during the Balkan Wars. A lot of liquors in US stores are only 40% alcohol and while that is better than nothing, a liquor with a higher percentage will work better. Everclear is very strong but I want to mention that it is sold in different strengths. They are 60%, 75.5%, 94.5%, and 95%. I advise getting the 75.5% or higher levels for sanitizing or making tinctures during a long emergency if you decide you want to add liquor to your preps for various purposes.

Plastic Sheeting

People that want to be prepared to set up a sick room often have plastic sheeting to help line things or seal off some openings. A lot of inexpensive plastics come from China so if shipments start to decrease, some plastics may become harder to find

Good Alternatives: Thick drum liners. You can get very thick bags that are made for either cleaning up construction waste or lining 55 gallons barrels that are used to ship or store things.

Better Than Nothing Alternative: Standard trash bags in big packs that you can tape together with duct tape or similar.

Other Popular Items and Alternatives

Pedialyte or other hydration and electrolyte solutions

Alternative: Emergen-C packets and water

Surgical Head Coverings or HazMat Hoods

Disposable plastic hairdressers caps. These are used for heavy conditioning treatments, perms, and hair dying. They cost just a few cents each.

Places To Look For Supplies

A lot of people are just looking at big box stores, Amazon, and major home improvement stores. Here are some other places where you may find some supplies. Yes, they may cost a little more but if that is what is available it may be worth it to you.

  • Farm and agricultural suppliers sometimes have masks and Tyvek suits as well as many types of gloves.
  • Paint stores carry masks, suits, and gloves.
  • Restaurant supply stores or kitchen stores often have some gear for keeping things clean in kitchens. Head coverings and gloves are likely. There may also be hand sanitizer, soaps, and possibly some face coverings.
  • Convenience stores near campgrounds, parks, etc. These often have extra items for campers and hikers that could be useful such as hand sanitizer and gloves as well as small medical kits.

Do you have any other alternatives to suggest to any of the items on this list? Have you found bare shelves to be a problem at your local stores?

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12 Responses to “Pandemic Supplies and Alternatives For When Stores Are Sold Out”

  1. In Afghanistan, back when they were the good guys defending themselves from Soviet invasion, people would wrap up in garbage bags then cover in blankets. Soak the blankets with bleach water, the chemically reactive chlorine in the beach protects the person from bacterial warfare agents and counters chemical warfare agents. First-hand experience, this worked.

  2. Anyone out there know if those bleach tablets are safe to use in purifying water to use in drinking? The bottle says other added ingredients: sodium bicarbonate (baking soda), stabilizers, fillers.

  3. P95 masks are still available at hardware stores like Lowe’s. They are N95s that also filter out oil based particles. Like $8 for 2 with very good quality.

    • I received the bleach tablets I order through Amazon today. One issue, they were made one year ago so there are only two years left on the shelf life.

  4. Throw in my 2 cents. Agree decontamination must be outside. This all assumes this is a serious, deadly, contagious outbreak and not just colds and flu. But if you don’t know what you are fighting, best practice is to treat it as a worst case scenario.

    2 types of people/animals to spray. 1st. Those in protective, waterproof material just spray off, remove garment, walk out with own clothes underneath. 2nd those in everyday clothing that require removal before the shower. (need privacy) Clothing may require washing outside (need wonder washer, large plastic tub, and clothes line to hang clean clothing,) or dispose clothing (think radiation fallout or bloody, etc). However, many viruses do not survive long outside their hosts and clothing can be hung up for the period of time. If the contagion can live outside the host, a portable shelter with 4 exterior ‘walls’ and can be divided into 3 compartments with plastic sheeting, a pallet with bathtub non-slip strips or other “floor” for shower portion to stand on so people don’t stand in the mud. need water reservoir and hose with spray attachment, like a solar shower. 1st area for removing clothing. 3rd for changing into clean clothing. Propane or Kerosene heaters during winter.

    Take vital signs after the shower. Keep a chart for each person in quarantine to monitor any changes. We will need to know what the contagion is in order to know the length of incubation and thus the quarantine period. Perhaps our author could research this, and post a chart on another blog post. These need revising as diseases mutate. Also need to cover older diseases that are currently eradicated. i.e. cholera, typhoid, TB. etc.

    A separate tent or shelter for quarantine. You do not want them in general population. Need easy to sanitize and non-porous: cots, tables chairs etc for their stay. Blankets can be washed. Each person needs to be quarantined individually so sick people do not infect healthy people. Plastic sheeting can be used to sub-divide shelter. Each person have their own water jug and possibly no-cook food to limit exposure of caretakers. portable toilets/pee jugs will be needed as well. A 4 sided hunting blind enclosure could be used as an outhouse. Bury the waste several feet down, will become humanure. The list can go on for some time. small trash cans to dispose tissues, hand sanitizer for each person, you get the idea.

    Under “Better-than-Nothing” category. If you can’t get n95 masks during an emergency, re-use your mask. If you did not get sneezed, coughed, vomited, or other bodily fluid on you, it may be ok. Your decision. All quarantined people should wear a mask to not contaminate their surroundings as much as possible. They can wear the same mask for the duration probably. They must keep a self record of all symptoms, if able. Parents do it for the children.

    Ski, swim or safety goggles better than nothing. Waterproof snow suit better than nothing. but not good for summer.

    Don’t give medications that can mask symptoms. Antibiotics are useless on viruses. Save your limited supply until you know what you are fighting. If you start, do the whole process properly. Don’t stop early just because symptoms diminish.

    Get and learn to use a stethoscope, blood pressure cuff, and taking a pulse. Need thermometer, pen light (not to bright, just enough to ensure eyes are reactive) and other diagnostic tools. Use these tools and self reported symptoms to look up diseases in medical reference books. (if internet is down). In a severe shtf – grid down situation, some diseases that were eradicated could re-appear.

    Another topic for another day. What to do with the dead.

    Hopefully we can all be ready when the family shows up sick without killing ourselves. pun intended.

  5. MOST hand sanitizers make good fire starters-good double duty item
    Used disposable one time use masks should be disposed of properly to prevent repeated use by others
    NEVER use any type of plastic bag or sheet over your head. Suffocation could result

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