A reminder from an African war comrade: emergency hygiene


In all our talk about the current food crisis and preparing for hard times, I’ve neglected to mention one aspect that’s particularly important:  personal and household hygiene.  An old buddy from Africa reminded me about that during an e-mail exchange today.  It’s important enough a topic that I figured I’d best address it right away.  If things go to hell in a handbasket, and electricity supply becomes intermittent, or you have to “bug out” to a different location, hygiene becomes supremely important.

More diseases are associated with dirt, and being dirty, than just about any other cause.  Tetanus, blood poisoning in its various flavors, skin conditions such as athletes foot, jock itch and the like . . . they’re all a lot easier to catch when we’re not clean.  In particular, if dirt on our skin enters the bloodstream when we cut ourselves by accident, that can make things many times worse than they need to be.  Personal hygiene not only makes us less repugnant to live with, it can actually be a life-saver.

Therefore, as a first step, make a list of everyone in your family’s preferred brands, flavors, scents, etc. of personal hygiene products (soap, toothpaste, shampoo, and what have you).  Stock them deep.  If the variety is too wide, get tough with your family and tell them you’re only going to stock one common brand, and they get to vote on which one it’ll be.  They’ll complain, but this is for emergency use, and having anything is better than having nothing.  I’d say stock enough for at least six months for everybody, and a year’s supply if possible.  Add extra towels and facecloths for everyone.

Of particular importance is feminine hygiene.  Guys, you’ve got no idea what a can of worms this can be!  Tampons vs. napkins;  winged versus non-winged;  colors, thickness, scents (!!!) . . . My strong advice is to let your ladies buy whatever they want, just so long as they get at least six months’ worth, preferably enough for a year.  Put it away safely, and let them use it as needed – and make sure to re-stock it if it drops below six months’ worth.  You don’t – I repeat, you DO NOT – want to have to live with ladies whose supplies have run out, and whose monthly dreadfuls have arrived.  That’s happened to me twice in different parts of Africa.  “Crabby” doesn’t begin to cover it.  Further deponent sayeth naught!  (Except that it might help to keep your neighborhood peaceful and quiet if you set aside a stash of another year’s worth of the stuff, to hand out to borrowing neighbors.  Believe me, they’ll be grateful!)

Oh, guys – one VERY important point.  Store sanitary napkins and/or tampons in a cool, dry place.  DO NOT store them anywhere they can get very hot or very cold.  If you do, after a year or so, the paper of which they’re made will harden up and become scratchy and itchy.  If they’re forced to use them like that, so will the ladies in your life!  Take extra care of feminine hygiene items, for your own sake.

When it comes to the kitchen, food poisoning is an ever-present danger.  It’s probably killed more human beings over the past few millennia than even disease epidemics.  To avoid it, you’ll need to take great care to clean and sanitize pots, pans, crockery, cutlery and so on.  Using disposable plates, bowls and cups can be very useful, saving water and time;  but over an extended period, supplies of them will probably run out, forcing you to use washables.  Stock enough dish soap for several months at least – again, I prefer a year’s supply – plus cleaning cloths, kitchen sponges, brushes, etc. – whatever you normally use.  I also recommend buying a couple of bus boxes, the kind they use in restaurants to gather up dirty dishes from tables.  They’re big enough to make handy portable sinks for washing up, one for soapy water and one for fresh water for rinsing;  and they use less water than a conventional kitchen sink, which might be an important factor.  Add a couple of dish drying racks and some kitchen towels, and you’re set.

Now for the serious bit.  If you suffer a through-the-skin wound, or have any sort of fungal infection, you’re going to need to keep the area not only clean, but sanitized.  That’s particularly important if there are any open wounds involved.  It goes double for anybody’s hands that will help treat your injuries or infections, as they can carry infection on their skin.  For that reason, I regard it as particularly important to have antiseptic and antimicrobial soap on hand – and not just in small quantities.  If you have to treat a fungal infection such as jock itch, you may need to use it a couple of times a week for several months.  That means keeping a decent supply on hand.

The #1 choice, that you’ll find in hospitals all over America, is Hibiclens.  I’ve got a gallon of it stashed away.  It’s expensive, but it’s what many doctors and nurses rely on every day.  That speaks volumes, right there.  However, Hibiclens warns very strongly against using it around the eyes or mucous membranes, or for repeated general washing.  I presume that’s because its ingredients are strong enough to be potentially harmful if absorbed.  I tend to keep it back for wound care and medically indicated use.

A cheaper alternative, also used in many hospitals, and without the dire warnings about over-use or mucous membranes, is Opti-Scrub.  I’ve got a gallon of this stuff, too, for use in general washing where antimicrobial properties are still needed, such as fungal infections.

There are a number of other antimicrobial soaps available, but I’ve used both Hibiclens and Opti-Scrub and can therefore vouch for their effectiveness.  I haven’t used any of the others, so I can’t recommend them out of personal experience.  Feel free to shop around and try them yourself.  No matter which you choose, I’d also lay in a few smaller squeeze bottles, and dispense it into them for ease of use.

As for applying such soaps, you can use gauze swabs, facecloths, or anything else that comes to hand.  Just remember not to put them back into general use without washing them very thoroughly to remove, not just the medicated soap, but also any infection they may be carrying.  It’s worth having an oversupply of such cloths, just in case.  The same goes for things like microfiber cleaning cloths and towels.  They’re amazingly useful in many situations, and make great trading material for those who didn’t stock them until it was too late.  (Ask those who’ve done long wilderness expeditions in Africa or South America about how desperate one can get for something one really, really needs or wants, and how much one’s willing to offer in trade to get it.  Conventional economics go out of the window in such situations.  At one time in central Africa, I got an AK-47, four loaded magazines and two hand grenades in exchange for a six-pack of cold beer from the ice-box and a bottle of what was alleged to be Scotch whisky, but which I doubt had ever been within a thousand miles of the Highlands.  The weapons proved to be much more useful over the rest of the trip than the liquor would have been!)

Finally, let’s look at keeping our clothes clean.  If you have access to a working washing machine, that’s great:  but in hard times, the power may be unreliable, or you may have to move.  In that case, plan ahead and have what you need already in store.

I have two five-gallon buckets fitted with Gamma Seal screw-on lids, with a hole bored through the middle of each lid.  I’ve inserted a laundry agitator (similar to this example) through each hole.  I now have makeshift washing machines, each of which can handle a pair of jeans, or a couple of shirts or sets of underwear.  I can set them up anywhere, anytime, provided I have water and some low-foaming laundry detergent.  I have a pack of unscented powder laundry detergent for use on the road, and regular liquid detergent for use at home.  (I highly recommend unscented detergents for use “on the go”, as you never know when you might meet someone with asthma who might be affected by strong scents;  and besides, you might not want others to be able to smell you before they see you, or you see them!)

Anyway, there are some thoughts for you as you make your preparations for hard times ahead.  I hope they help.



  1. I've mentioned this in other blogs as well. Keeping several bottles of isopropyl alcohol and/or Listerine on hand is a good idea, especially if water becomes scarce to the point where you can only use it for drinking and not basic hygiene.

  2. Peter when in the sand box I used a two-pail mop bucket with squeezer and a toilet plunger with 1/2-inch holes drilled in it to make an agitator. Ivory Soap was used.

    That and some 550-cord twisted, and clothes pins you're in business.

    You start with one side soapy water, other rinse water, PUT the squeezer aimed at the wash water. You start with clothing that is mostly clean like underwear and socks and work towards the very dirty stuff.

    Once the rinse water is pretty soapy drain the wash water and the rinse with some more soap is the wash water.

    Later we found a hose connection and make drains for both buckets for easier deployment. Screwing it down on a table makes it easier on the back.

    Still use this set up at the deer camp.

  3. One thing that used to be a common cleaning chemical in America is… vinegar. Plain old white vinegar works great for wiping down counters and other surfaces in the kitchen.

    As to dishes and clothes and other soapy things, don't overlook the power of Dawn. I currently wash my clothes with it, using a quarter cup or so on everything, and my clothes are cleaner and oil-freer than with any commercial laundry detergent. Bonus point for Dawn not being toxic and you can dump your clothes water on your lawn with no problem.

    Hydrogen Peroxide, in either medical strength or hair bleaching strength, can also be a great boon to the household. One of the few ways to get blood stains out of clothes, after all (hey, I'm klutzy, not murderous, though there's that also.)

    And rubbing alcohol is one of the things old timers used to use to help fight fevers or heat issues.

  4. You can set up subscriptions in Amazon. I've done that for a while now. I have a good store of 4×4 guaze, corban, and other medical stuff by just letting it ship every month.

    Providone Iodine works for wound cleaning and bandage prep, too.

    Great idea on a mop bucket wringer washing machine, Michael. Too easy!

  5. There are loads of good articles on this very topic over at PrepSchoolDaily dot blogspot dot com, including posts specific to the use of Hibiclens, rubbing alcohol (it can also be used to relieve nausea), Betadine (including numerous other preparedness uses), peroxide (gardening uses as well), and Dakin's solution (a WWI-era DIY solution for disinfecting surfaces and washing wounds). Today's article is on homemade cleaning solutions; yesterday's was on how to deal with athlete's foot and jock itch in trying times.

    Yes, keeping clean is of utmost importance always, but most especially when things collapse.

  6. And as for washing clothes, instead of using hands to do the job and getting a sore back in the meantime, we're going to do it Korean-style, using the legs and feet. Those muscles are better suited to the task and will not get sore and tired like the upper body muscles will. The task will also help get the feet clean and will spare overworked hand skin from getting even more dried out and damaged.

    The washer women of the US army in the 19th century were the highest paid women of the period (yes, really). Their hands were always in terrible shape and they always walked with them tucked behind their backs.

  7. Go to any farm supply store and get a couple of bottles of Betadine. Cheap way to clean any wounds and works just as well on people as it does farm or ranch stock.

  8. Do not rely on antimicrobial soaps in everyday use. This can, and is, leading to a rise in resistant microbes. Reserve that for special circumstances and use it sparingly if ever. Regular old soap works fine, as long as you apply lots of running water and friction to scrub loose your invisible hitchhikers.

  9. I'm a fan of dish detergent for lots of uses. It's effective, safe, biodegradable, and is designed to rinse completely away without residue. Dishes, hands, body, hair, clothes. I learned this working as a mechanic. Yes, it foams when dumped in a machine, but it's not an issue when working by hand.

    Luckily, we have an Amish store near us where I can buy it for $6 a gallon.

  10. I looked at a lot of pans to use here, mostly the steam table stainless stuff as I was looking for durability. They are a bit flimsy and the edges are sharper than I care for.

    A friend had one of these, much sturdier, no sharp edges and the big one 23.5"×15.5“×6” is great for soaking BBQ / grill grates and other large items. Just pretend it isn't a litter box.


  11. Anyone promulgating the myth that "enough dirt and sweat renders your clothing waterproof" needs to be Gibbs slapped. Cross of Iron was a great movie, but if German soldiers really think that way it just proves that German Landsers are no smarter than American grunts.

  12. One of the nasties all over the place is the cellulitis bacteria: gets in through a cut/puncture/damned scratch, and it can kill. After going bad very fast sometimes.

    I'm getting over that bastard for the second time. This time I washed the hands really well after I noticed the dings, but it wasn't soon enough/well enough.

  13. The veterinary version of Hibiclens – branded here in Aus as “Hibitane” – with the same active ingredient, should be available from your ag-supply store.

  14. As many of us are a little short of a dollar, I’m more than happy to buy generic products rather than paying extra for somebody’s favourite scented soap or shampoo. This is about an emergency, after all. There will be a lot worse things to get accustomed to.

    I haven’t read through it yet, but there’s an interesting little book by Ragnar Benson titled “Do-It Yourself Medicine”. He lists a lot of alternatives to human-approved products . If a veterinary product has the identical active ingredients and is available without orescription, it may be a valid alternative for emergencies… if only because we can afford to buy it and squirrel it away.

    On other subjects, how about issues such as toilet paper? I’ve used alternatives like grass (preferably soft, green and without burrs or seeds) and I’ve heard of the third-world use of water and your left hand . Some hikers use a portable bidé (squeeze-bottle with an appropriately-angled nozzle). Given the level of panic-buying of TP whenever supplies run short, it might be worth thinking about.

  15. As a further note regarding non-human-approved products.
    The active ingredient may not be your only concern. Many products contain other ingredients to promote shelf-life, absorption, etc.
    If you have questions or concerns, registered veterinary products should have a Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) or similar, available for download and listing all ingredients along with potential toxicities, side-effects and treatments for exposures or over-doses.
    Do. Your. Homework…

    The same goes for doses… mostly they are related to body-weight.

    Contrary to myth and legend, agricultural products registered for use on food animals must be fairly extensively tested before being made available for sale. Farmers do not just get to use anything we like or find cheap. Nor do we get to poison our customers without consequences.
    Just be aware that there are differences in biology between humans and other species.


  16. *hollow laughter*
    You are indeed right about feminine hygiene products. I was lucky enough to have a cautious mother who recommended I always keep a years' supply or more, and I definitely did not regret that in 2020 – or ever, really.
    I once got a lecture about stocking up on hygiene items from a German neighbor who lived in the Ruhr valley after World War 2 – talk about a difficult childhood! He practiced what he preached, too; his widow has well more than a lifetime's supply of all kinds of soap. I certainly took his point, and have been building my own little stash from the dollar store. I had not yet gotten around to laundry detergent, but I will certainly start getting some of that, too – wearing dirty clothes is a sure way to invite pests.

  17. A few days post-Presidential election, Amazon said that they've worked out a system to get covid vaccine anywhere with same-day delivery.
    They deliberately waited until the election was 'called'.
    So…if anyone really believes that covid vaccines saved lives, they also have to admit that Amazon deliberately let people die for political reasons.
    This can't be denied.
    Life is harder for those of us with genuine scruples, ethics, and sundry morals, but it helps my soul to not shop there.

    The amazon logo is an erect penis. I'm sorry, but it is. They did an online-only ad campaign where the 'amazon smile' logo appears over peoples' faces…yes, over their mouths. Watch those ads and you'll be a believer.

    Talk to God, everyone. Even if He doesn't talk back, He likes to hear from you.

  18. Remember too, to have enough iodized salt. People forget just how hard salt can be to get, and how important iodine is.

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