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A few years ago, the New York Times published an article about how a third of people don’t wash their hands after using the bathroom, not even when they’re out in public. It’s pretty gross thinking about some stranger’s germ-coated hands touching the same chairs, doorknobs, and banisters that you touch, but it’s okay since we live in a relatively clean society.
A few extra germs won’t kill you. And besides, there is plenty of soap and running water available, and nowadays there are anti-bacterial gel dispensers everywhere.
However, after a natural disaster or an economic collapse, the level of hygiene in first world nations is going to plunge dramatically for three reasons: no tap water, no sewage treatment plants, and no garbage collection.
Without tap water, most people will be hard-pressed to keep their homes and themselves clean. Not only will they be unable to shower, they’ll be unable to wash their clothes. And if they’re unable to flush their toilets, they’ll simply go outside when nature calls (and many of them won’t bother to bury it).
When that happens, it will be a field day for bacteria.
Without sewage treatment plants, sewers could leak or overflow into the surrounding ponds, lakes, and pipelines. And if there’s no tap water, many people will collect and drink contaminated water without bothering to purify it. When that happens, waterborne diseases like cholera and dysentery could become commonplace.
Without garbage collection, trash will pile up all over the place. People will simply dump their garbage in their front or backyards, causing insect and rodent populations to grow exponentially. When that happens, we could see a return of deadly diseases like the plague.
On top of all that, the stress of living through a major, long-term disaster is going to weaken your immune system. When all this happens, it will be up to you to safeguard yourself and your family with proper survival hygiene.
To that end, here is a list of 27 items you should have on hand in case the shit hits the fan.
1. Anti-Bacterial Gel – To be clear, I’m not recommending you start slathering this stuff on your hands all the time. In fact, there are many reasons not to, including the fact that overuse of hand sanitizer could lead to the development of superbugs.
Instead, you should use soap and water. However, if you’re in a survival scenario where water is scarce and the people in your area are getting sick, you’ll be glad to have a bottle of anti-bacterial gel on hand.
2. Anti-Bacterial Soap – You didn’t think I’d make a list of sanitation supplies without mentioning soap, did you? Bar soap is very cheap, but also consider getting some liquid hand soap as it doesn’t require you to use quite as much water (which might be in short supply).
3. Anti-Bacterial Wipes – These are a great way to wash your hands without using any water. I have several canisters of Wet Ones Fresh Scent Wipes.
4. Baking Soda – It’s not just for baking food. You can use baking soda to make shampoo (1 part baking soda to 3 parts water) or toothpaste (2 parts baking soda to 1 part water), and it can be used to clean and deodorize things around the house.
5. Bleach – Be sure it’s regular unscented bleach. This kind of bleach has a longer shelf life, and in addition to cleaning, it can also be used to purify water.
7. Dental Floss – There may come a time when dentists are hard to find or you simply can’t afford one. Take good care of your teeth in the meantime because a bad toothache can be completely debilitating. I prefer floss forks because they’re so easy to use.
8. Deodorant – I highly recommend stocking up on antiperspirants as you’ll be sweating a lot if you’re cleaning up after a disaster or don’t have air conditioning. It won’t stop you from sweating, but it will at least minimize it. And the less you stink, the better.
9. Disinfecting Wipes – Unlike anti-bacterial wipes, these are for cleaning surface areas such as counters and sinks. I use Clorox Wipes. They come in four-packs at Walmart.
10. Face Masks – If the disaster you’re experiencing is a pandemic, you’ll need these. But even if it’s just someone in your home with the flu during a disaster, wear these and keep your hands very clean because the last thing you’ll need is you and the rest of your family getting sick.
11. Feminine Hygiene Products – I think this is pretty self-explanatory.
12. Kitty Litter – Not just for covering your cat’s poo. You’ll need it for your own poo in case you have to make an emergency toilet. Be sure to get the scoopable kind as it’s better at absorbing urine.
13. Laundry Detergent – You might be thinking, “How am I supposed to use laundry detergent if I don’t have power to run my washing machine?” Well, see #17 below.
14. Microfiber Towel – These things are so great! Unlike a regular towel, they don’t take up much space, yet they still absorb enough water to dry you off after a shower.
15. Mouth Wash – As I said above, you’ll want to take care of your teeth, and if you and several others are in close quarters (such as small room that you’re keeping warm during a winter power outage), they’ll appreciate you having fresh breath.
16. Nitrile Gloves – You don’t have to wear them all the time, but you’ll definitely need them when you’re taking care of someone sick, cleaning the toilet, or handling trash. I prefer nitrile, as opposed to latex, because they’re more puncture resistant.
17. Non-Electric Washing Machine – There are several options such as the WonderWash or the Laundry Pod. The cheapest option is to put your clothes, water, and detergent in a five-gallon bucket and wash them with a Mobile Washer Learn more in this post.
18. Paper Plates – You don’t want to waste your clean water washing dishes. Using paper plates will create more trash, but it will save you a lot of trouble. (Try to reuse the plates if they’re not too dirty.)
19. Paper Towels – Don’t use cloth towels any more than necessary because they have to be washed. That will be a big problem if water is in short supply. Paper towels are the fastest sanitary way to dry off your hands.
20. Plastic Utensils – See #18 above. Unless you have a reliable source of water nearby such as a well or a river, you’ll want to be careful not to use too much.
21. Portable Toilet – If you’re unable to flush toilets, this will be more comfortable than crouching over a latrine. Don’t forget to buy some trash bags to use as liners along with some toilet deodorant. Learn more in this post.
22. Shampoo & Conditioner – If you have a water source, don’t forget to stock up on extra shampoo and conditioner. Clean hair is a wonderful thing that we all tend to take for granted.
23. Solar Shower – These are great. You just fill it up with water and the sun heats up the water for a few hours. After that, you can have a nice warm shower.
24. Toilet Paper – There’s an old survivalist joke that when the SHTF, toilet paper will be worth its weight in gold. I wouldn’t be surprised if this actually happened.
25. Toothbrush & Toothpaste – Remember, the mouth is the dirtiest part of the body. And as I said above, you want to maintain your teeth as well as possible so you don’t end up with a horrible toothache during a time when dentists are hard to find.
26. Trash Bags – You can never have too many trash bags! Get plenty of regular kitchen trash bags, but some smaller trash bags or large contractor bags could also come in handy.
27. Water Filter – This one is crucial, and there are several options. The LifeStraw is very popular because it’s so easy to use. The downside is that it’s only good for about 250 gallons. A better option is the Sawyer Mini because it will filter up to 100,000 gallons. (I have one in my bug out bag.)
Unfortunately, neither of these will kill or filter out viruses. The Steripen is good for about 2000 gallons and it will kill viruses, but you’ll need to prefilter your water. I personally have a Big Berkey with Ceramic Filters, but it’s not very portable and it is a bit pricey.
Here are a few things that you and your family need to be doing in a grid down scenario:
• Wash Your Hands Regularly – Be sure to disinfect all water and only wash your hands with clean water. After you’ve washed them, don’t rinse them off with the same water because that water isn’t clean anymore. It is now what’s called “grey water”, and there are other uses for it.
• Keep Your Clean Water Clean – Disinfected water should be stored in thick, sealed containers that are clearly marked “Clean water.” Wear gloves when getting water out of or adding clean water to these containers so it doesn’t get dirty.
• Keep Your Garbage Sealed And Separate – Use thick trash bags and tie them closed with a double knot. Just to be safe, you might want to put particularly hazardous things like dirty diapers and rotten food in gallon Ziploc bags.
Imagine having tons of food, survival gear, and weapons stockpiled, only to be taken out by a disease of some kind. Don’t let that happen. Practice proper hygiene when the SHTF.