Do you like feeling clean? The vast majority of people want to be clean and hygienic. Daily showers or baths (sometimes more than one!), multiple hand washings, and brushing teeth a couple of times per day is the norm. But how will you do that if the grid is down, or after a disaster, or if you’re just wanting to explore a more off-grid type of lifestyle? Cleanliness remains paramount whether by choice or after a disaster. Especially after a disaster! Lets explore some options for off-grid personal hygiene.
Table of contents
Plan for Clean Water
Clean water is absolutely essential to proper hygiene. There is no way to get around that you need to it clean yourself. Make sure you include hygiene needs when you calculate how much water you need, how to store it, and how to purify non-potable water.
It is critical in an off-grid situation to do a thorough job to prevent illness and disease in yourself and those around you. This should be the #1 priority in personal hygiene. If you do nothing else, keep your hands clean!
The Proper Way to Wash Your Hands
Even under “normal” circumstances, many people wash their hands ineffectively. The CDC instructs that this is the proper way to wash your hands:
- Wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold), turn off the tap, and apply soap. (Here is a soap substitute option.)
- Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap. Be sure to lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails.
- Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. Need a timer? Hum the “Happy Birthday” song from beginning to end twice.
- Rinse your hands well under clean, running water.
- Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry them.
DIY Handwashing Station
With access to potable water, you could use a DIY foot pump operated hand washing station. This should be built in advance or at least have all the pieces in assembly-ready stage. Here’s one example:
There’s some controversy about the use of antibacterial gels. Water, soap, and friction is more effective than hand sanitizer gels in removing germs from hands. However, when water is at a premium, or completely unavailable, using a 60% alcohol (or higher) antibacterial gel to clean your hands after using the restroom, before touching food, before eating, and before caring for the sick or injured can be an excellent option. The use of these products is about prevention of illness and disease rather than the removal of dirt and odor. Hand sanitizer is less effective when your hands are have dirt and debris on them.
Read these tips to get the most effectiveness from hand sanitizer.
If you have water to spare for showers, consider using an outdoor heatable bag shower. The Coleman 5 Gallon Solar Shower can be filled and hung from a sturdy tree (it weighs 40 pounds when full!) where it will use solar energy to heat the water. The shower hose has an on-off valve so you can control the flow. The water pressure is fairly low, but it gets the job done. Beware however… left out in the sun long enough and the water gets HOT! Carefully check the temperature before using. This product can also be used to heat water for washing dishes and clothing without using consumable resources to create heat.
If you do use water for showering, consider standing in a kiddie pool to catch the water for reuse in your garden or to flush toilets. Even with soap and shampoos, the level of chemicals is too low to affect plants negatively. Other ways to reuse bathwater include toilet flushing and, if you weren’t too dirty, to wash your clothes. If you wash your body without shampoos or soap, or when using some “green” products, you can potentially reuse this water for drinking or cooking after boiling to kill germs.
Lakes and Streams
Bathing in ponds, lakes and streams is a great option. Even without soap you can often get “clean enough.” Beware of getting the water in your nose or mouth. If it’s water you would normally heat or chemically treat to make it safe to consume, you don’t want to drink any while bathing.
If water becomes a precious commodity during your situation, you will want to have ways of “dry” bathing.
My first choice is adult hygiene wipes. These are made specifically to use on bed bound patients or people who cannot get into a shower or tub due to injury or infirmary. In my experience, four wipes are sufficient for basic cleaning: One to hygienically clean the “important parts,” one for your face and hands, and a couple for your body. Of course if you have layers of dirt, it may require more wipes. You can buy a “club sized” package with 240 wipes, which should be sufficient for 50-60 washings. These wipes are excellent for cleaning the body but will not clean the hair well.
If all you had were baby wipes, those will work also.
To clean your hair, use a waterless shampoo. Simply work the liquid or foam into the hair for effective cleansing with no need to rinse. I’ve used them on short hair, then blotted with a towel. I was skeptical but it impressed me. The hair felt clean, and since nothing is truly unscented, the odor was fresh and not unpleasant at all.
Although I haven’t used them on medium or long hair, I imagine the result would be the same, but that you’d have to use a lot more product. Most were formulated for camping or for bed bound patients and would work great in an off-grid emergency situation. Waterless body washes are also available.
We all know the “rules” for clean teeth: Brush at least twice a day (preferably after each meal), floss every day, and don’t forget to clean the tongue. But in an emergency off-grid situation or if you’re adopting an off the grid lifestyle, this basic hygiene step becomes critical.
Many dental problems are preventable with good hygiene practices, and when that fails, disaster could strike. If you’ve ever had a toothache you know who debilitating it can be. Now imagine having no access to a dentist to help fix it. In addition, poor tooth care can lead to more than just cavities and abscesses. Gum disease and gingivitis has been linked with heart and lung disease and stroke, as well as low birth weight babies.
Replace your tooth brush every three months and keep a good stock on hand to supply for at least one year per family member. If you believe your tooth brush has become contaminated, it can be boiled to kill germs. Typically, this only needs to be done after illness, if you know it was somehow contaminated, or if you are sharing a toothbrush with someone else. (Sharing toothbrushes is NOT recommended, but if there’s only one, do it. The risks of “sharing germs” are lower than not brushing and having to deal with rotting teeth, especially if you are able to boil the toothbrush.)
The next time you open a new tube of toothpaste, write the date on it, then see how long it lasts with normal use. Adjust your supply accordingly to have a year (or more) of toothpaste for your family. Buy it on sale and with coupons and then rotate new toothpaste in as you finish a tube.
There is a printed “expiration date” on toothpaste. That is the time when the manufacturer says the fluoride may no longer be potent. It is not dangerous to use toothpaste after it’s printed expiration date, but it may not be as effective as it once was.
If you’re out of toothpaste, you can use straight baking soda or a mix of baking soda and a couple drops of hydrogen peroxide to form a paste or this licorice root herbal toothpaste. If you have no toothpaste, brushing without it, flossing and rinsing, though not ideal, is better than skipping it altogether.
Remember to floss! Flossing is an important and often neglected part of dental hygiene during good times. In bad times, when receiving professional dental care is difficult to impossible, flossing becomes even more important. Floss is cheap to buy and easy to store in bulk. Use it now and continue to use it daily.
There may come a time when you will have no access to a dentist. Would you know how to pull an infected tooth? How to repair a filling? What dental tools you should have on hand?
Proper dental hygiene now, in the good times, is essential. See your dentist for regular cleanings, get treatment and repairs completed as soon possible, and be diligent in good dental hygiene for you and your family every day.
These natural alternatives to odor control may not last as long as commercial deodorants.
- Crystal Deodorant Stones – Often referred to as “crystal deodorants” or “mineral deodorants,” they are a natural and alternative deodorant option. They are typically made from a naturally occurring mineral called potassium alum, which is a form of aluminum salt. You wet it and then apply it to clean, dry skin. The moisture on the skin dissolves a thin layer of the crystal, leaving behind a layer of mineral salts that help prevent the growth of odor-causing bacteria.
- Sage – Sage is a versatile herb and with its antibacterial properties, can be a natural deodorant alternative. You can use sage by making an infusion for a spray or applying dried, powdered sage to your underarms. While it may not control sweat like commercial options, it offers a pleasant-smelling, herbal alternative for odor control.
- Lemon juice / Apple cider vinegar / Witch hazel – Lemon juice and apple cider vinegar are natural deodorant options due to their antibacterial properties. Apply them to your underarms with a cotton ball and allow to air dry. However, be cautious if you have sensitive skin, as the acidity can cause irritation for some. You can also use witch hazel for odor control in the same way. Plus, you can make apple cider vinegar at home.
Ladies, for the majority of us, monthly menstruation is a fact of life that isn’t going to go away if the grid goes down. We are going to have to deal with it, so it’s best to be prepared.
A NOTE FOR THE MEN: Initially, I was going to encourage my male readers to “hide their eyes” for a few paragraphs. But then decided that they too would benefit from understanding these options in preparedness planning, especially if they have a non-prepping wife or girlfriend. Menstrual supplies have many other uses besides the intended and can be used for bartering… and you are guaranteed to be the much adored knight-in-shining armor for one or more ladies when you can meet this need when they cannot! You can anonymously buy these items online if you don’t want to put them in your real life shopping cart. If you won’t take my word for the need to to have tampons in your preps, head over to The Art of Manliness website and read their article, “Yes, That’s a Tampon in My Mouth: The Swiss Army Survival Tampon — 10 Survival Uses”
- Tampons and Pads – Determine what a monthly supply looks like for you, multiply that for the number of months you need to be prepared – I recommend 12 – and stock your home accordingly. Pros – No-brainer, easy to purchase and store, has other uses besides dealing with menstruation. Cons – Consumable, storage takes up more space than other options, and you will have to find a way to dispose of the used products.
- Diva Cups – Diva Cups are reusable cups that are worn internally to catch rather than absorb the menstrual flow. They can be cleaned with regular soap and water or with a special cleanser. Lifespan can be a year or more. Pros – Very small storage space, stores easily in a Bug Out Bag, reusable, nothing to dispose of after use. Cons – Becomes ineffective if damaged, requires water to clean, more expensive initially, but cheaper in the long run than a year’s worth of pads and tampons. You can read a Survival Mom review of Diva Cups here.
- Reusable Pads – Many women use washable, reusable pads. They can be purchased or you can make your own. Pros – Fewer supplies are needed to achieve a one-year supply, no trash to dispose of. Cons – Requires washing which consumes time and water.
- Period Underwear – In different styles and with different absorption levels, these are another possible layer of protection. Like reusable pads, they’ll need washing for which water may not be available.
The best option may be to invest in all four courses of action to extend the time you will be covered during an off-grid situation.
NOTE: If you have young girls living in your home, consider their future needs as well as you stock up on the product(s) of your choice.
Can you ever be too clean?
In the midst of a grid-down emergency, too much personal cleanliness can become a double-edged sword. Surprisingly, appearing overly clean and emanating pleasant fragrances may unintentionally communicate something quite significant to those around you – the presence of resources. As time progresses in a post-grid world, odors that once offended our senses will gradually fade into the background, becoming nearly imperceptible.
Yet, if someone were to enter the scene with minty-fresh breath and the unmistakable scent of Dial soap, they will stand out. Paradoxically, a layer of natural grime and a touch of halitosis might offer unexpected advantages in certain situations, like keeping your stockpile of supplies a secret.
Remember: A Little Dirt Doesn’t Hurt!
You don’t *have* to bathe every day. Cleaning the “critical parts” is all that’s needed to help stave off illness and infection. A layer of regular dirt on your body isn’t going to cause harm, except maybe to the sense of smell of those around you. However, don’t underestimate the psychological value of personal cleanliness. When you’re dirty and gross, there’s nothing better than a nice shower, clean hair, and freshly brushed teeth. Make sure you have the hygiene items you need!
What is your plan for keeping clean in a off grid situation?
Originally published June 9, 2015.