The Importance of Post-Disaster Hygiene

Hygiene cannot be overemphasized, particularly after a disaster. For starters, keeping at least reasonably clean goes a long way toward preventing illness and infection. As any veteran will tell you, being able to just wash your hands after going to the bathroom will keep you from contracting what they sometimes call "ass and mouth disease."

Washing your hands keeps you from transferring bacteria from your nether regions to your face. Suffering from stomach upset is no fun in the best of times, let alone when your toilet is a five gallon pail filled with kitty litter (we'll discuss toilet issues in a bit).

If you or a member of your family get a cut or scrape while cleaning up yard debris, without being able to keep the injury clean it is likely to get infected. What started out as not much more than an inconvenience becomes much, much worse. Given that after a disaster is one of the worst times to have to seek medical treatment, it is very important to treat any and all wounds properly.

Humans stink, there's no two ways around it.

Then there's the morale aspect of hygiene. Humans stink, there's no two ways around it. And I do mean stink in the literal sense. From bad breath to B.O., the smell of someone who hasn't been able to wash for a few days, especially if they've been working hard, can be enough to knock you over. Heck, even in the best of times the odor emanating from a teenage boy's bedroom can be enough to make your eyes water. Now, imagine having to be in very close proximity to each other after say a week of nothing more than wiping down with a wet washcloth. Oh boy, sign me up!

So, it is safe to say that for all of these reasons, hygiene should be near the top of your list of problems to overcome. Unfortunately, running water is often one of the first things to cease after a disaster. Luckily though, there are a few things you can stockpile in advance for hygiene that don't necessarily require clean water.

Stock Up on Supplies!

Among the first of these would be hand sanitizer. It is cheap and readily available at just about every store in the country. Stock up on a fair amount of it and use it religiously every time you go to the bathroom as well as just before eating. While it won't remove dirt and crud from your hands, it will kill off bacteria that can make you sick. Keep in mind though that hand sanitizer, because it is usually alcohol based, will dry out your skin fairly quickly. Consider adding some hand lotion to your stockpile to offset that issue. Cracked and chaffed hands are no fun, especially when you're working outside.

Baby wipes are excellent for quick wash ups. Given their original intended purpose, they also work great for if you run out of toilet paper. Wipes won't work very well for washing your hair, of course, but they'll do well for just about everything else. You can buy them in large bulk containers as well as smaller travel size packages. They'll last quite a while as long as you keep them sealed tight to retain the moisture.

Compressed towels are another product along these same lines that also work very well. They are often a bit bigger than a standard baby wipe, which can be very convenient. Given that they start out the size of a nickel or so, you can store quite a lot of them in a small space.

Deodorant will be welcome, of course, but I'd suggest you stick with unscented varieties. Given how often you may be applying it in hopes of reducing your, um, "personal space," you don't want something that will just overpower the stink with a baby fresh scent. On that same note, avoid using perfumes and body sprays for the same reason.

Toothpaste and toothbrushes are a necessity. Proper tooth care will help keep you from getting mouth infections as well as allowing people to actually speak to you face to face. A good, strong mouthwash is also an excellent idea, for the same reasons.

If you've thought ahead and stored a portable camp shower, you'll be a hero to your family. These are made of black plastic and once filled, suspended from a tree branch. The sun heats the water rather quickly and you're then able to sort of hose yourself down. Granted, it won't be like taking the type of shower to which you're accustomed but still quite a bit better than using a couple baby wipes. You could also consider heating pots of water and using them for sponge baths. In fact, what you can do is boil water to disinfect wash rags and towels, then as the water cools use it for cleaning. Kill two birds with one stone, so to speak.

Where can you go?

Of course, no discussion on hygiene would be complete without addressing the rather icky topic of where you'll go when you have to go. For short term situations, you can probably still use your home toilet. You'll just have to manually fill the tank after every flush. And in those situations, follow the somewhat famous phrase, "Yellow, let it mellow. Brown, flush it down." Encourage your family members to use as little toilet paper as possible to get the job done. Don't let them spin the toilet paper roll like it is a slot machine. And on that topic, be sure to always have an ample supply of toilet paper. While baby wipes will work, you'd probably prefer to use them for general cleaning rather than in the bathroom.

Portable Camp Toilet

A portable camp toilet is a wonderful thing to have on hand, just in case the sewer system isn't working to peak efficiency. They fold up to a very small size for storage and yet are strong enough to handle most people. Don't forget to invest in extra bags for it. When the bags become full, tie them securely closed and set them aside for proper disposal. Short term, that means putting them in your trash. Long term though means either burning or burying. If you choose the latter, make sure the hole you dig is quite a distance from any water sources like rivers and ponds. After each use of the camp toilet, sprinkle in a bit of baking soda or powdered laundry detergent to help cut down the odor.

You could certainly use the aforementioned bucket with kitty litter as well. The downside of that is having to dump what will be a rather heavy bucket on a regular basis. Kitty litter gets quite heavy once you add liquid and solids to it. But, it'll do in a pinch.

Ideally, of course, you'll have planned ahead and not only have enough stored water on hand to allow your family to wash up regularly but also several rain barrels that filled during the last storm. If the taps are still running, fill all bathtubs. While I'd not encourage you to stick your head in the tub for a mouthful (seriously, just how clean is your tub?) but a filled tub will provide many gallons of water you can use for washing up and such.

Cleanliness will truly reduce the incidence of infection and illness and proper hygiene is the only way to provide for that.