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 times per day is the norm. If the grid goes down, we will still want to be clean, but it may get a little more difficult to do so. Here are a few things to remember about off-grid personal hygiene.
Proper Hand Washing
Many people wash their hands ineffectively. 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 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.
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.
There’s some controversy about the use of antibacterial gels. Water, soap, and friction is just as, or more, effective as the gels in removing germs from hands. But when water is at a premium, or completely unavailable, using an 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 but ideally, your hands are free of dirt and debris before using the gel. This is a very simple, off grid personal hygiene option that only requires a supply of hand sanitizer.
Your anti-bac should contain at least 60% alcohol. The higher the better, but less than 60% is ineffective.
You should use enough of the product to cover all surfaces of the hands.
For a germ or virus to be killed it must come in contact with the gel. Be sure to get the backs of the hands, in between the fingers, under the nails, and around jewelry.
You should rub the gel on your hands until completely dry. Wiping them on a paper towel (or your pants) counteracts the effectiveness of the gel.
Another reason to keep antibacterial gel on hand? It’s a good fire-starter.
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. 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.
Bathing in 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.
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. 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.
Off Grid Personal Hygiene: Dental Care
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, 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. See how long it lasts with normal use and then adjust your back stock 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.
Don’t forget 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.
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. If you have no toothpaste, brushing without it, flossing and rinsing, though not ideal, is better than skipping it altogether.
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? You can now download for free the entire “Where There Is No Dentist” guide for your prepping library.
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.
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.
The best option may be to invest in all three 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.
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 and set on the rest of 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.
OPSEC Warning: One thing to consider in an emergency grid-down situation is that too much personal cleanliness could be a bad thing. Being too clean and smelling too nice might send an unintended message to those around you. It says you have resources. Not long into a grid-down world, smells that were once considered offensive to the nose will mostly “disappear” and we won’t notice them anymore. If someone walks in with minty fresh breath and smelling of Dial soap, they will be noticed. A layer of dirt and some halitosis can be a benefit in some situations.
Start now to make sure you are staying prepared.