Monday, January 7, 2013

Personal and Clothing Hygiene - DK Richardson Guest Post

Personal and clothing hygiene

More men were lost in the Civil War to poor sanitation than were ever killed in battle; this is true for the Boer war as well. I cover basic field sanitation, describe ways to wash your clothes in a disaster situation and list several ways to bath while in less than ideal conditions. Being clean isn't about smelling bad, it is a health issue. This chapter assumes you have been forced from your home, and are not at a developed campground or shelter - that is to say, worst case. I cover in-home issues in the next section.

Section One - Field Sanitation

Sanitation in the field can be problematic. Water is normally in short supply and unless you are staying at a shelter or developed campground, there are no toilet facilities. If you cook your food, disposal of the wash water (and food scraps) will quickly become an issue as well. The U.S. Army has a manual, FM 21-10 (Or FM 4-25-12) should you wish to look at how the Big Army covers this - unfortunately, almost none of the material is of use for a small family or individual.

Since we've already covered 'Water' in a prior chapter, we'll move onto some of the more gritty aspects of the subject. Remember - DO NOT DRINK UNTREATED WATER>

Field Sanitation:

Personal items and equipment.

Some of the personal items that you should have in your kit (for each individual) are:

Toilet paper and baby wipes - put these in a plastic bag to keep them dry.

Lip balm and sun screen. Your skin is an entry point for disease, protect it.

Foot powder

Insect repellant - bugs will drive you crazy and some carry disease.

Hand sanitizing gel - several small bottles are better than one large container.

Toothbrush and toothpaste or tooth powder - good dental hygiene is important.


Large hand towel or microfiber towel

Hand soap - several brands are sold for camping, like Dr. Bonner's.

*If you live in tick country, a small container of baby oil or Vaseline

*If you live in a very bug/mosquito prone area, a headnet and square of bug screen are a big plus.

*If you have the space, a hand-pump spray bottle or fold-up solar shower will come in handy.

Equipment items:

You will need at least a trowel or small shovel - for a family group, you'll find quickly that you need a real full-sized shovel if you will be on your own for more than a couple of days. A modern 'tool, entrenching, folding' should be more than enough for a couple of days.

*Metal buckets - if you think you will be forced from your home for an extended period, a set of 3 gallon metal buckets are worth their weight in gold. I'll explain why, even if they don't make into our short term DIY disaster kit.

Human waste disposal.

Human waste must be deposed of properly - it poses a tremendous health hazard.  If you do not have access to a cesspit or outdoor toilet, you will need to dig your own latrine or slit trench for human waste. ALWAYS bury your waste. This helps to keep it out of the local watershed and reduces the spread of disease.

Why? Simple - During the response to the Haiti earthquake, a single response team from Nepal started a cholera outbreak - from their toilet faculties leaking into the Meye river. In 17 months cholera had killed more than 7,050 Haitians and sickened more than 531,000, or 5 percent of the population. Lightning fast and virulent, it spread to every Haitian state, erupting into the world’s largest cholera epidemic despite a huge international mobilization still dealing with the effects of the Jan. 12, 2010, earthquake.
If you are on the move, you can dig a fast 'cat hole' to bury your waste in a individual basis. The hole should be about a foot (8 to 13 inches) deep and about a foot across. If you are on grass or sod, cut the sod and lay it back, you'll use it later; set the evacuated dirt to one side. Once you have finished your business, I have seen recommendations to burn your toilet paper before burying the waste. After cleaning your hands, use the evacuated dirt to bury the waste and restore then sod, if at all possible.
If you are forced to camp in an unimproved area, you will want to dig a slit trench of disposal of human waste. The trench should be about 2.5 feet deep and as wide as you shovel. Pile the dirt at one end to cover your waste after using the facility.
Wash hands carefully after a bowel movement or face the consequences. I recommend washing with soap and water, and then use a hand sanitizer to endure your hands are really clean. Adults need to monitor children closely to ensure they clean themselves well and wash their hands as described. Locate your latrine well away from any water source and your camp.

Camp sanitation:

Food scraps and wash water.  

These attract animals and insects. Wet garbage/food scraps may be disposed of in the slit trench and buried. Dig a dry well (French well) and use it to dispose of your wash and rinse wastewater.


Gather and dispose of all garbage as it is generated, and ensure your disposal methods meet local laws/ordinances in this regard.  Garbage is an attractant for animals and can pose a health hazard.  If you are forced to bury your trash, dig a deep pit and cover the garbage as it is pitted. Burning of garbage may reduce bulk, but check local ordinances to ensure you remain legal. I'll have a bit more on this in Section Two.

Food storage. 
Store food away from your camp area and secure it from insects. Inspect food closely prior to cooking to ensure it is free from contamination. In the case of your DIY disaster kit, a simple inspection to ensure the food container has not been breached should be enough.

Personal Hygiene

Personal hygiene is important, no matter your circumstances.  Washing of your hands is the best defense against disease, and being clean is a major morale factor.

Brushing your teeth is not just polite, it can prevent larger medical problems, so pack a toothbrush and toothpaste or toothpowder for each member of your group. Brush after every meal.

Concentrated "Camp soap" can be used for everything but brushing your teeth.  Consider putting a bottle or two in your kit. Dish soap will do for hand washing, but remember, over time it can cause issues with your skin. If you don't carry camp soap, several of the smaller hand soap bars, often found in hotels, will work just as well. Shampoo in travel sized containers is a real morale booster - clean hair just helps you to feel better.
You can take a 'shower' with very little water - and I can assure you from personal experience, even cold water will work to clean you, but tepid/warm water makes for a better experience. Children fuss less with warm water. So, how do you take a field shower with little water?
I've been in short water situations, so I first make a small 'basin' and put a plastic bag in the basin to catch the wash water runoff. Add a couple of cups of hopefully warm water to your spray bottle. Strip and stand in the basin, then wet yourself with water from your bottle.

One cup of water (less, actually) will make a standard size washcloth dripping wet. Add soap and work into a lather.

Wash. That is to say, scrub away. (If you are going to bathe more than one person, put the washcloth in a baggie/plastic bag to keep it clean(er).

Use the remaining water in the spray bottle to rinse.
As dumb as this may sound, if you have never taken this kind of shower, practice at home first. Tell the children it's a science experiment. Measure how much water you use to wet and rinse yourself. If water is not an issue, then the so-called Solar Showers that hold anywhere from 4 to 5 gallons of water provide a more familiar experience.
Capturing your wash and rinse water allows you to recycle it for washing your clothing. Yes, I know - but, think of it as a pre-wash - to get the worst of the dirt out before you hand wash and rinse the clothing. This clothes washing isn't much of an issue with your DIY disaster kit, as we're aiming for no more than 4 days of support.

Section Two - At Home.

Most people are completely dependant on municipal water systems for their water supply. One item that I recommend to everyone is a bathtub bladder. These will hold 100 gallons of pre-disaster water, assumablely safe to drink. (SeeWaterBoB or bathtub bladder).
Human waste disposal:

If you are on a septic system, you will likely have no issues, outside of a flooding situation. If you are on a city sewer system, you may have real issues and more quickly than you realize. Many of these systems use lift pumps and when the power is out, the sewage will quickly back up - sometimes into your home.

If you don't have a backflow preventer, you should check to see how your local sewer system is configured, then decide if a back flow preventer is a good investment. I would recommend it in any case.
If you are on a septic system, use your kitchen and bath wash water or any other gray water to flush your toilet.
If you are unable to use your home sanitation system, you need to decide how you will deal with human waste. Sneaking out at night to dump your waste into a storm drain or runoff ditch will not make your neighbors happy.

A simple 5 gallon bucket, some trash bags and kitty litter will work, but again, you will need to have some way to dispose of the waste that it ethical.

My best suggestion is to check with your local authority for your best and or legal disposal options are in a disaster - before the need arises.


A metal 55 gallon drum equipped with a wire hardware mesh cover to prevent embers from escaping may be your best bet for disposal of trash that will burn. Several holes in the bottom and sides of the drum will aid in the combustion of the trash. Cans may be crushed to save on volume. Again, check with your local authority for trash collection locations in a disaster.
Wash day:

Washing day need not be too terrible, but it will be work, make no mistake about. A pair of plastic bins that hold several gallons of water as well as some kind of agitator will get you started. If clean water is in short supply, you will have to decide what will need washing the most.

Rather than re-invent the wheel, so to speak, I'll direct you to this excellent Brit site

Current non-electric cleaning offerings may be found at Lehman's on line.

Thank you, Mr. Richardson.
Please leave comments and suggestions below, or email them to


  1. Hi, Good post, but my question is about the 2, 3 gallon metal buckets... I did not see the explanation and am very curious... Thanks!

  2. I'll pass your question on to Mr. Richardson. Thanks for your question.


  3. The buckets can be used to heat water over a campfire - and then used for bathing, used to wash & rinse dishes, can be used for washing clothes.

    Buckets are one of those 'tools' that have many uses.

    1. Thanks, Mr. Richardson, for your prompt reply!