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In the wilderness, poor hygiene can kill you – the importance of personal hygiene in a survival situation.

Handmade soap with the extract of stinging nettle (Urtica dioica)

Introduction to Personal Hygiene in the Wilderness

One of the leading causes of death in long-term survival situations is infections and disease.  Both leading causes are directly related to personal hygiene.  Cleanliness is extremely important to your survival.

Of course, a hot shower with soap is ideal but in a survival situation this luxury is rarely available.  Alternatives are available though.  Using soap and a cloth to water and wash yourself will suffice.

Pay particular attention to the feet, crotch, hands, armpits, and hair as these are prime areas for infestations and infections.  Germs on your hands are particularly dangerous as they can infect food and open wounds.  Your hands should be washed after handling any material that is likely to carry germs, after using the bathroom, after caring for a sick or injured person, and before handling any food or water utensils.

An air bath, although not ideal, can suffice if no water is available.  Remove as much of your clothing as possible and expose your body to air for at least 1 hour.

Cleaning your teeth

Cleaning your teeth with a toothbrush at least once each day is ideal but if no toothbrush is available, you can make a “chewing stick” by taking a small stick and chewing the end to separate the wood fibers.  The chewing stick can then be used to brush your teeth.  Small amounts of sand, baking soda, or salt can be used as an abrasive to remove plaque.

You can also wrap a clean strip of cloth around your fingers and rub your teeth to wipe away food particles.

Temporary fillings for cavities can be created by placing candle wax, tobacco, hot pepper, or gingerroot into the cavity.

Cleaning clothing

Clean clothing is also important in the quest to maintain good hygiene.  Dirty clothing or bedding can carry germs which can lead to skin infections or parasitic infestation.  If no water is available, you can “air” clean clothing and bedding by shaking the item and then airing it in the sun for 2 hours.  Sleeping bags can be turned inside out and aired out each day.

Substitutes for Soap

Commercial soap is created from vegetable or animal oils and fats that are treated with a strong alkaline solution.  The alkaline solution, or lye, causes the animal fats to hydrolyze into free fatty acids which then combine with the lye to form soap.  Soap breaks down body oil and grease, which normally will not mix with water, so that they can be washed away.

If you do not have soap available, sand, ashes, or soap made from animal fat and wood ashes can be used instead.

Making soap from animal fat and ash

  1. Cut fat from an animal and extract grease by heating in a pot
  2. Add water to keep the fat from sticking to the pot as it cooks
  3. Pour the grease into a container and allow it to harden
  4. Create a slurry (mixture of ashes and water) and pour through a straining cloth.  The resulting liquid is “potash” or “lye”.
  5. Mix two parts of grease to one part lye.
  6. Boil mixture until it thickens
  7. Pour mixture into a pan and allow it to harden.  Cut into bars.

Check this article for more detailed information about soap and how to make it in the wild.

Image Credits

Handmade soap with the extract of stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) via Wikipedia Commons with usage type - GNU Free. July 13, 2005

Featured Image Credit

Handmade soap with the extract of stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) via Wikipedia Commons with usage type - GNU Free. July 13, 2005
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