Personal Hygiene after the SHTF May 26,2018

Medical ( General Medical Subjects )

Personal Hygiene After the SHTF

Although Hollywood and TV shows like Walking Dead like to show the characters as dirty and badly in need of a shower, if the SHTF or you have to bug out, you should pay close attention to your own personal hygiene.

Historically, there have always been a significant number of non-combat casualties in pre-modern wars.  Think of diseases like malaria in SE Asia, yellow fever in the Spanish American war, the flu pandemic in WWI, dysentery, colera, gangrene, small pox, measles, typhoid, trench foot, frostbite and a myriad of other diseases that in many cases were a result of poor hygiene on the battlefield.  Factoid:  In the Civil War non-combat casualties were over 50% of all casualties.

We have already discussed the importance of clean water in other articles ( and the importance of proper waste disposal ( so let’s limit this article to taking care of yourself.

Keeping clean:  my Mom grew up in SW Arkansas during the depression.  They did not have running water in their house and so they only got to take a bath on Saturday night and they all shared the same tub water (so it was a big thing to get to take your bath first!).  That doesn’t mean they didn’t wash during the week.  They would still wash up in the sink with soapy water and a washcloth.  So if you have done any camping, you know it doesn’t take long to get pretty ripe and aromatic (not in the good way).  Even if the weather is extremely cold – you still need to wash up.  Particularly your armpits, crotch and ass, and feet.  Easy to do if you have some Handiwipes, but regardless you should wet a piece of cloth (in soapy water if you can) and clean up periodically.

The CDC says that a significant number of disease transmission can be prevented by simply washing your hands.  You see many doctors and nurses use hand sanitizer whenever they enter a patient’s room for this very reason.  You can look up how Dr. Ignaz Semmelweis discovered that washing hands could save lives in 1846 in the maternity wards in Vienna.  Germs can be transmitted by dirty hands or touching dirty surfaces.  When the SHTF, washing your hands, especially before you eat is important. 

Toilet paper:  I hope you have some handy but you might want to consider how you will clean your rusty sherriff’s badge if you don’t.  The Romans used a wet sponge on a stick. Some running water and a little rub a dub dub of your backside will also suffice – wash your hands afterwards!

Dental Hygiene:  brushing your teeth can prevent a lot of dental problems and if dentists are not available after the SHTF, you might want to avoid a cavity by taking care of your teeth rather than have your buddy attempt his first tooth extraction from your mouth.  Brush daily (or twice daily if you can) and use floss to remove particles between your teeth daily.  Brushing not only removes plaque and bacteria that can cause cavities but also stimulates the gums to keep them healthy.

Insects and pests:  use of any chemical that repels insects will prevent bites and potential infection of bite areas.  Chiggers, ticks, fleas, lice, leeches are a nuisance and can carry / transmit diseases.  Flying insects that bite should be avoided by use of mosquito netting or repellent.  When I was in Africa (where you are 30 times more likely to get malaria!) I always slept under a mosquito net.  But any insect bite can make you uncomfortable so it is always better to avoid a bite.

Environmental exposure:  you need to protect your skin from the sun and your eyes from strain due to glare.  The easiest way to avoid sunburns is to cover up even in hot environments.  If you can’t cover up then limit your time in the sun to what your skin can tolerate.  If you are in the desert, on the water, or in the snow, there can be a lot of glare reflected off the ground or surface and this can result in severe eye strain that could lead to temporary or permanent blindness.  Include some sun glasses in your EDC or BOB.

Clean dry clothing: In the cold, wet and dirty clothes lose their insulation value.  If you are working hard, try to shed excess clothing to limit perspiration – you will also be reducing the amount of water you have to replenish.  But when you stop working (or moving), this is good time to change into clean dry clothing before your body gets chilled.  In hot weather, it is more about permitted your skin to dry by removing sweaty clothing.  Warm wet areas are prime places for bacteria, mold and fungus to grow and you don’t want them growing on your body!

Take care of your feet:  if the car breaks down or there is no fuel, your mobility may depend solely on your feet.  Take care of your feet as best you can.  You want to avoid blisters if possible and certainly want to prevent blisters from getting infected.  If you get a blister, it is usually better to not open it (the blister will not get infected.  But if it does open up, drain it and clean it and let it dry out.  If you can’t walk, your chances of survival are dropping significantly.  Have a good pair of walking or hiking shoes that are broken in.

Treating minor cuts, abrasions, and blisters:  In your first aid kit you should have four items – gauze, tape, some antiseptic to sterilize a wound (like rubbing alcohol or betadine) and some antibiotic ointment to prevent infection (like neosporin or bacitracin).  Oh, and some medical shears.  You don’t necessarily need bandaids, 2”x2” or 4”x4” gauze pads can be cut to any size and with the tape, you just made your own bandaid.  Wipe the wound with an antiseptic, apply the antibiotic and cover the wound with your fabricated bandaid.

So let’s review


-if you can’t bath or shower daily, at least take a sponge bath

-wash your hands particularly before meals or after going to the bathroom / outhouse / cat hole

-brush your teeth and floss each day

-cover up to prevent sunburn and avoid insect bites

-protect your eyes with sunglasses

-change into clean dry clothing after exertion

-take care of your feet

-avoid infection by treating even small cuts and wounds



-soap, washcloth, toothbrush, toothpaste, dental floss, small nail clipper, razor

-toilet paper, femine hygiene products, change of undershirt, underwear, and extra socks, sewing kit

-boonie cap, mosquito netting, sunglasses, good pair of walking / hiking shoes or boots

-moleskin, guaze, tape, alcohol or betadine, an antibiotic ointment, medical shears


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Comments : (1)

May 30, 2018

I would add that when we were on patrol and would be sweating a lot, we frequently saw large ammonia and sweat stains soaking the uniform after two or three days. This contact with the skin for even a short period of time can cause prickly heat and tissue breakdown. Skin rashes in the field were common. Fungal infection and sometimes bacterial infections with cellulitis occurred. If not treated, they are potentially fatal! Better to prevent with proper hygiene.

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