Hygiene in Emergencies

By Amy Aumick

Whether a storm hits your home, a vacation goes awry, or you fall on hard financial times, there are some items you absolutely cannot do without. It is important to consider personal hygiene in emergencies as much as good nutrition and first aid care.

This is especially true when power grids and water infrastructures are hit for an extended amount of time. It doesn’t take much money to keep these essentials on hand, just good preparation and simple household ingredients. Aside from a quality first-aid kit, there are many other ways to feel clean and keep your spirits up in a time of crisis.

When planning for a long bout of hunkering down, or even a stay in a shelter area, there are three main objectives to consider: natural waste, avoiding sickness and creature comforts. To begin your care kit, obtain a sealable rubber tub for storing supplies, rags for cleaning and one or more all-purpose plastic buckets with sealable tops, that preferably hold at least 10 gallons, for storing waste and boiled water.

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If you are staying home, be sure to fill your bathtub with water and add one-half cup of bleach ahead of time. You can use this water for a multitude of needs, such as cleaning and sanitizing, and to flush your toilet. You can use either distilled water or boiled water in all of the supplies you will need for your care kit.

Invest in a sturdy pair of rubber gloves, or a pack of them, for removing waste and for cleaning the inevitable messes that come with stormy weather. You’ll also need various sizes of spray bottles. Include one opaque-colored spray bottle for hydrogen peroxide, as its properties break down and lose potency when exposed to light. While gallon-sized, sealable plastic bags are handy to have around, you can also make do with plastic grocery sacks for removing waste and storing items from the elements.

Rubber boots for each family member can be beneficial for navigating through deep floodwaters. They will help avoid sharp objects that could cause unsanitary scrapes and cuts on the feet and legs, thus infecting the body.

These are the essential ingredients you will need to prepare your care kit: bleach, hydrogen peroxide, “clear” aloe vera gel, baking soda, vinegar, witch hazel and/or rubbing alcohol, bar(s) of soap, lemon juice, cornstarch and a quality dish detergent for scouring greasy messes. Borax is also helpful to have on hand, as it acts as a natural insect repellent around your living area. Optionally, you can store up apple-cider vinegar and essential oils, such as coconut oil, citronella, eucalyptus, cedarwood, lemongrass, lavender, tea tree and patchouli, to mix into personal hygiene products.

One of the first things that requires consideration is the elimination and separation of daily human waste. While toilet paper is certainly a luxury in lean times, don’t discount the affordable luxury of handmade wipes in the event of short supply or damaged goods. These wipes are easy to make, can be used for cleaning all parts of the body, and are especially needed for anyone requiring diapers or for menstruating women. To make these, use clean rags in a small plastic storage tub. Layer the rags flat in the container and add a mixture of three parts of cooled boiled water to one part witch hazel. You can make a separate batch with water and lemon juice for use before and after eating, or as a refreshing facial cleanser.

Bathing and showering will be a challenge whenever infrastructure is down for any extended amount of time, so alternatives will need to be considered. Most importantly, any openings of the body where germs can enter should take priority in keeping clean and dry. Proper hand sanitation can also make the difference between sickness and health. A good hand sanitizer is a mixture of one cup clear aloe vera gel to one tablespoon of witch hazel. Mix thoroughly and store in a squeeze bottle for easy use. Peroxide, sprayed directly on cuts, genitals or gums creates an excellent barrier to germs and can be used liberally when needed.

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Cornstarch is a great talcum for drying out moist or rashy areas of the body. You can also prepare a natural deodorant by mixing ¼ cup of baking soda and ¼ cup of cornstarch with 5 tablespoons of water, coconut oil or other essential oil.

Make toothpaste by mixing equal parts of baking soda and hydrogen peroxide. Adding coconut oil or even cinnamon can sweeten the taste.

For shampooing your hair, a “no-poo” option is usually best since it isn’t necessary to use a large amount of water. First, coat the hair with a mixture of baking soda and water for five or ten minutes, then brush the mixture out. Follow with a rinse of white or apple cider vinegar for softness. If the scalp becomes itchy or hair is tangled, use aloe vera gel or cocoa butter as a remedy.

An easy detergent for washing clothes can be made with shavings of bar soap, borax and a bucket of water. For serious stains, use dish detergent as a pre-treat on dark clothing and lemon juice or diluted bleach for lights and whites.

Special considerations need to be made for the ill, elderly, and small babies. When using supplies, it is important to ration properly to accommodate their special needs.

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One other consideration to make in particular is for menstruating women, as they have needs unique to any typical hygiene routine. While tampons are a luxury, they are highly recommended to keep in the care kit for use or for trade. Especially recommended are the brands that come individually wrapped in plastic without an added applicator as to avoid additional waste.

Hygiene in Emergencies

Your first aid kit and care kit are the first things to consider when preparing for crisis situations, but it is also important to consider remedies for unexpected illnesses that are usually stress-induced. These include pain relievers, cranberry pills for tract infections; peroxide and aloe vera gels are helpful canker sore and cold sore remedies.

Being prepared is the most important thing you can do to protect yourself and your family, but it’s also nice to have some creature comforts on hand to keep your spirits up when the dirt flies. Don’t overlook the smaller things in life that can make a difference between health and misery.

-Amy Aumick has been a freelance writer for over 15 years. She has worked with the Red Cross in hurricane disaster efforts and volunteers at local shelters.

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