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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?