In a survival situation, one of the most important things to consider is hygiene, especially if you are caring for children. In developed countries, waterborne illnesses and skin diseases are no longer common, but even in a short-term survival situation, unclean spectres rear their ugly heads. Fortunately, a simple family hygiene kit is easy to prepare and store.
Although public health has advanced much in the past 150 years, at its core it consists of isolating waste and washing hands properly. Other important considerations are regular bathing and dental hygiene. As a mother of six children, I would also add simple wound care to this list. Any wound that is not dealt with promptly can fester, and my boys seem to rip off toenails and accumulate punctures with alarming frequency.
A 5-gallon bucket, lined with a trash bag, or a latrine trench work great for an adult and even for an older child. So what do you do with a young child who is still toilet training or a baby in diapers? For the past 12 years, I have had at least one child in diapers, at all times. Yeah, and you will have to change a diaper before a crisis is over. Babies are masters of inconvenient timing.
For diapering, I keep a 5-gallon bucket and two 2.5-gallon buckets on hand. The larger bucket is stuffed full of receiving blankets. Yes, the simple flannel receiving blanket is truly a mother’s godsend. Those suckers can be used as bath towels, washcloths, diapers, and diaper wipes. They can also be sanitized by bleach or by boiling and dried in the sun. They can also be used to swaddle a newborn, which helps to stop the crying. Crying babies attract predators. The buckets can be used for soaking and washing diapers. The smaller buckets I use are simply short versions of a 5-gallon bucket, and in a pinch they work for bathing a smaller baby. Babies and toddlers really should be bathed every day. I don’t know how they get so dirty, but I sure don’t want them eating the stuff they crawl around in.
The smaller buckets also work well for toileting younger children, being shorter. I keep a toilet seat adapter on hand for smaller bottoms to sit comfortably, and of course I keep TP. There are alternatives, but in a crisis even TP is a comfort, especially TP.
Hand-washing stations save lives! At least, it seems that way to a mom. My simplest station involves a pitcher and basin, a bar of soap, and the aforementioned baby blankets. Using that, I can insist that my kids wash their hands and faces before meals and bed. Yeah, I know. You’d think in a crisis they could get away with some dirt, but moms will be moms. (And clean hands and face make a kid look cared-for. Yes, it’s all about the image.) For washing up after toileting or diaper changes and before cooking, I have a different setup packed away. A large drink container fitted with a spigot allows running water for washing. I use small squares of baby blankets that can be tossed into a diaper pail, but you can store paper towels. (I also use this kind of square for baby wipes.) My kids also carry these squares as handkerchiefs. Used handkerchiefs also go in the diaper pail.
Kids, especially boys, need regular baths. Babies need baths every day.Unfortunately, large tubs are not particularly easy to come by, especially on a budget. What’s a mom to do? Rubbermaid to the rescue! I use large and medium totes to store my hygiene kits in. The totes double as bathtubs. A very large tote can even be used for adult baths. Water is heated and mixed with cold water in the tub itself. I usually wash two small children at once in the large tote. I use a medium tote or a shallow bucket to bathe a baby; it saves water, and it is easy to keep a grip on the slippery piglet.
As an aside, I am aware of the research into plastics. I know that the plastic in the totes is probably full of endocrine disruptors. And yes, that means that all those chemicals may be absorbed into the skin. However, in a crisis situation, I still prefer to deal with long-term effects of plastic exposure rather than the short-term effects of acute diaper rash. On a related note, always test the temperature of the bath before letting your children into it. A crisis situation does not need to be made worse by scalding.
As far as the actual bathing, I dip out a bucket of water from the bath before I put the children in it. After they have splashed around a while, I stand them up and lather them with a flannel and soap. (I use ordinary bar soap.) Then I use the clean water to wash their faces and rinse them off. Pouring water over them from an ordinary coffee can works well. I also wash their hair about once a week. I sit them on a stool with their head tipped back onto the edge of the tub and lather and rinse their hair in the tub. If there are any skin problems, I add dry brushing with a stiff-bristled brush before every bath. Add warm towels, a woodstove, and some curtains, and kids think it’s a great adventure.
One of my sons has been on anti-seizure medications for two years. Have you ever read the warnings on those things? One in particular talks about the gum disease, tooth problems, and infections that can result from its use. This boy also has a tendency to run into and fall on things, with his mouth. Sigh. Because of this, I keep a dental health kit on hand. It covers brushing morning and night, flossing once a day, rinsing with salt water for wounds, and clove and wintergreen oils for infections. If you have a lot of infections or weak teeth, I also suggest adding Listerine or hydrogen peroxide for rinsing. Another thing to keep on hand is baking soda for brushing.
The best routine I have found for problem teeth is to begin with oil pulling. Take a spoonful of coconut oil and swish in your mouth for a long time (like 10-20 minutes). Then brush with baking soda and a drop of wintergreen oil. Floss at least once a day. Finally, rinse with salt water and a few drops of hydrogen peroxide. Establishing a good dental hygiene routine before a crisis is key, for yourself and your kids. In a crisis, your teeth may not be top on your list of priorities. If you are already maintaining good dental hygiene before the balloon goes up, your teeth probably won’t give out on you before you get back around to them.
I believe I already mentioned that my boys get into stuff, a lot of stuff. Even my daughters get frequent splinters, cuts, and other minor wounds, especially on their feet. One of my most important preps is a special first aid kit geared for children’s everyday trauma. I keep a pan big enough for foot baths, salt, baking soda, tweezers, hydrogen peroxide, 90% rubbing alcohol, gauze, and tape on hand. I try not to use antibiotic cream or adhesive bandages. Serious traumas are dealt with from the trauma kit that my husband maintains.
My children play outside barefoot all summer long, so foot damage is the most common trouble I have to deal with. Splinters are treated with baking soda paste to loosen them, and then the foot is soaked in warm salt water afterward and a clean sock put on. Clean socks and bare feet are warriors against foot disease! Soap and water are used to wash out scrapes and cuts. Disinfectants aren’t used unless redness and swelling indicate infection. Usually it is enough to keep the area clean and wash or soak the area twice a day. Bandaging is rare, mostly for cuts on fingers, since they are used so much.
I also keep a kettle for quickly boiling water, and my herbal kit on hand to treat simple problems. I highly recommend an herbal medicine chest, even if you don’t have kids. I also let my children play with the pets, play in good earth, feed them unwashed organic garden veggies, bake with freshly milled whole grain flour, and only sanitize when necessary. A good microbiome is the best defense against illness!
“Monday, wash day, all you hungry brothers, we wish the same to you.” Washday is no fun, but it is necessary. I keep a large pot, and a selection of totes and buckets on hand for crisis washing. I wash dishes in a pair of dishpans after every meal, dry with floursack towels, and scald my dishcloths and dishpans. I boil diapers, underclothes, and any linens from sickbeds. I use sturdy whites and bleach everything in the sun. If you want to know how to do laundry, as in a time of polio without a washing machine, I recommend America’s Housekeeping Book by the New York Herald Home Institute. In fact, I recommend that any parent worried about possible TEOTWAWKI read parenting and housekeeping books from the 1940s and before. Those people knew how to keep things under control, even through flu epidemics and world wars.
Making My Kits
In the various sections, I talked about the components of my kits. Here is a breakdown of how they are actually put together:
- One 5-gallon bucket filled with clean receiving blankets,
- Two 2.5-gallon buckets filled with receiving blankets (use one as your “diaper pail”),
- One small toilet seat adapter,
- A small Tupperware for wipes and wipe liquid,
- Gentle soap,
- Diaper cream,
- One medium tote,
- A case of TP,
- A box of trash bags, and
- A bag of kitty litter.
- One 55-gallon tote filled with towels,
- Floursack towels, and
- Receiving blankets,
- Basin and pitcher,
- A 2.5-gallon bucket with spigot,
- A case of soap,
- A coffee can,
- A boiling pot,
- Dish soap,
- Dishcloths, and
- Two dishpans.
My dental and my first aid kits are in constant use. I don’t keep them put away, but I do have a lot of backups stored where they can be put into another large tote in a hurry. Finally, I have a laundry kit. I keep about six 5- and 2.5-gallon buckets, two very large pots, laundry soap, and a bucket washer stored away, with plenty of clothesline, and I have white vinegar as a fabric rinse. Until then, I use my washing machine.
And a last word about water. I store a lot of water for all of this, like barrels worth. A two-week supply for my large family, including hygiene and pets, is 18 barrels. That’s a lot. But planning for washing is a good idea. If you are not prepared, you will get sick from the stress of a disaster, if nothing else. Since I have my children to think about, I try to anticipate what will keep them healthy and convey a sense of normalcy. Keeping clean is one of those things. I am also working on ways of maintaining hygiene without access to water. It would be hard to take all those barrels if we had to evacuate, for instance. But my kids are worth the extra care.