Decontamination Procedures for Biological and Chemical Agents

We all know (at least the old dogs) about reports of “yellow rain” in Southeast Asia and Afghanistan. Reports of chemical weapons attacks come from Yemen, Laos, Vietnam, and Afghanistan. If recent history is any indicator, the possibility of a chemical/biological weapons attack on a civilian population may be greater than the chances of a nuclear attack or any other “world-ending” event.

The Soviet Union has had little compunction about using or allowing puppets to use such weapons. Chemical weapons have been more commonly used by the Soviets and their allies than biological weapons, but that may be changing.

Chemical and Biological warfare

On 7 April 2018, a chemical warfare attack was carried out in the Syrian city of Douma. Medics and witnesses reported that it caused the deaths of between 40 and 50 people and injuries to possibly well over 100. The attack was attributed to the Syrian Army by rebel forces in Douma, and by the United States, British, and French governments. The Syrian and Russian governments asserted that a widely-circulated video allegedly showing the aftermath of the attack was staged. (Source)

Many believe these are unlike previous “germ warfare” weapons because the new “germs” are being created by modern genetic engineering techniques. Though some of the reports appear to have been censored by the State Department, perhaps in an effort to keep things smooth at the next arms control meeting.

Decontaminaion Phase

Insiders maintain that China has made startling advances in biological warfare. And, lest you look at the problem as being that of other countries, it might be a good idea to reflect on the fact that many experts believe all countries who seek military supremacy are now developing biological weapons. In fact, many claims that the current Pandemic was caused by a virus developed specifically as a bio-weapon.

Regardless, the facts and secrets behind the current outbreak, we all have to deal with its rapidly developing, and chances are, things will not return to normal as fast as we expect once all of this is contained, and a vaccine is invented.

With just a little know-how, you can survive having these weapons deployed against you.

Biological Decontamination

The first step in avoiding contamination by biological agents is to protect your body. Common good health habits help. There is a lot you can do to protect yourself in other ways too. A number of books and manuals are available on the subject of biological/ chemical decontamination. Study these so you can learn how to detect and avoid this threat. Two such books are listed at the end of this article.

Unlike the military, you may have locations that cannot be abandoned. You have no supply line.

What happens if an enemy douses your area and your refuge with a liquid containing biological agents?

Abandon all your supplies?

Not if you can decontaminate your refuge area. If you know decontamination procedures, you will improve your survival chances to a very great extent.

Most known biological agents have a delay factor: symptoms develop only several hours to days after your exposure to the agent. That means you have to be on the lookout for biological contamination: by the time symptoms develop, it’s too late to protect yourself.

Using caution, avoiding contaminated areas when possible, and decontamination of any area or gear you must be in or near are the keys to surviving a biological attack. Whenever you feel that you might have been exposed to a biological agent, you should undergo decontamination procedures.

Another tricky part of biological warfare is the use of “vectors.” Vectors are plants or animals which are used to spread a biological agent. Fleas, flies, mosquitoes or other pests could be used as vectors to carry dangerous bacteria.

Related article: Surviving Chemical Weapons Without Special Equipment

Decontamination procedures and good hygiene

Good hygiene will cut down on a lot of your exposure here. Window and door screens, insect traps, insect poisons, and insect repellents would all be important as well. Since some of these vectors may be “piggybacked” on other vectors, rodents or unusual animals or birds in your area should also be suspect.

Most biological agents are living organisms that can survive only for a very short time outdoors unless they are designed to be resilient and survive for days on a surface. A dry, clean, sunlit environment is death for most micro-organisms used for biological weapons.

If the humidity is low in the area, most non-persistent biological agents would be killed within 24 hours when exposed to the sun and wind. Though spores might remain in the area, mother nature would pretty much decontaminate it after several days of sun and wind exposure at low humidity.

Washing Hands

People and small gear can be decontaminated in the same way they are when exposed to contagious diseases. Disinfectants and hot water with lots of soap are the order of the day. Special care should be taken to clean out and treat any cut or sore exposed to biological agents. A 70 percent ethyl alcohol or 80 percent isopropyl alcohol “rub down” will also clean most biological agents from a person’s skin. Be thorough and avoid breathing the fumes, and don’t get alcohol in your eyes.

For large-surface decontamination, a detergent in hot water is also effective, if the detergent is not too harsh for whatever it is to be used on.

A word of caution: Not all the biological agents are neutralized by the use of soap and water. But they will be rinsed off and won’t be able to harm you, provided you stay away from the runoff water which you used to wash the contaminated items. That should be disposed of in a safe place.

Heat can be used to sterilize small objects. Temperatures of 355 degrees F. or warmer for two or three hours, or boiling something in water, preferably with soap ora- detergent, for 20 minutes—at a complete boil—will decontaminate it.


During an epidemic, cleanliness is one of the best ways to ensure that you do not get sick. This works pretty much in every SHTF scenario, but especially during an epidemic. This means that both your bodies and the surfaces of your environment should be kept free from all bodily fluids and outdoor contaminants.

While soap and water are mostly effective as said earlier, they are generally only effective up to some percentage point. Instead, antiseptics that are designed explicitly to kill and break down all organic matter are preferred. For the surface areas, you will want to use a strong disinfectant. The two can technically substitute for one another in a pinch, but it is a better idea to keep both and use them for their intended purposes.

Just remember, antiseptics are used to disinfect the body. Disinfectants are used to disinfect non-living materials that are used for surfaces. If you must use a disinfectant to disinfect your body, be cautious. You need to rinse the disinfected area with clean, purified water afterward to prevent any negative reactions.

Read next: 7 Steps To Prepare Yourself For An Epidemic Outbreak

Chemical Aids

Two chemicals that can be used to combat biological agents are formalin (formaldehyde solution) and methyl alcohol. Both are available from chemical supply houses or your local drug store. The two liquids can be used straight from the bottle or in a mixture if they’re both available. A good mixture is 5 parts formaldehyde to 3 parts methanol.

Either, or the mixture of these will kill non-persistent bacteria and viruses within eight hours indoors. But you will need to allow some additional time for an enclosed area to air out—the fumes are dangerous. Use a spray bottle to apply the mixture at the rate of 4/5 quart per 100 cubic feet of space to be decontaminated.

Used by itself, a formalin solution of 36-40 percent solution gas to inert aqueous ingredients is the best choice. It should not be diluted and would be used indoors at a rate of 1 quart per 1,000 cubic feet of space to be decontaminated. An indoor area should be kept closed up for 16 hours following a spraying and then allowed to air out for three days before being occupied.

Formalin leaves a white residue on some objects following decontamination. The residue is harmless and can be removed with hot water.

Two-Pronged Attack

What if you are attacked with both chemical and biological weapons, or what if you aren’t sure whether the sticky goop or mist falling around your retreat calls for chemical or biological decontamination?

Two chemicals used for chemical decontamination, sodium hydroxide (caustic soda or lye) and sodium hypochlorite (household bleach), also work for biological decontamination.

Two good solutions that will work as multipurpose decontamination chemicals are 5 pounds of sodium hydroxide mixed in 12 gallons of water and ½ cup of bleach per gallon of water. For super-duper cleaning of small objects, the bleach can be used straight, or detergent can be added to either solution to help it lift off oily contamination.

Remember, too, that sodium hydroxide reacts with aluminum and some other metals and that it should be mixed slowly into the water to avoid a violent chemical reaction.

Food/Water Contamination

If your supplies have been exposed to biological contamination, the contents of sealed cans, jars, and some plastic wraps which art airtight should be safe to use if the container was disinfected before you opened it.

The outside of such containers should be cleaned by at least a 5-minute immersion in sodium hypochlorite or by soaking in boiling water for at least 20 minutes.

Food contaminated by biological agents may sometimes be salvaged, but you must be sure that the contamination involves only biological agents and not chemical ones. If you have doubts, discard the food.

Biologically contaminated food can be decontaminated in the following ways:

  • by boiling the food in water for 20 minutes:
  • by cooking it in a pressure cooker at 15 pounds. 250 degrees F. for 20 minutes:
  • or by baking it at 400 degrees F. for 40 minutes or for 325 degrees F. for two hours.

Although it is nearly impossible to use water contaminated by chemical agents, the same is not true of biological contamination. Water can be decontaminated by boiling it at a complete boil for 20 minutes. Water purification tablets or other chemicals used for killing bacteria and viruses can be used if the normal numbers of tablets are doubled. Be sure to allow the chemicals at least half an hour to kill the biological agents before the water is used.


There are persistent micro-organisms that might be used as biological agents that could contaminate an area for decades. These are anthrax. The USSR and China are thought to have stockpiles of it. The only solution to contamination by this type of weapon is to abandon the area and never go into it.

Face Mask Protection

The key to surviving persistent biological weapons attacks is avoidance. Give some thought to what you’re doing, what areas would be attacked by persistent agents, and keep a low profile if an enemy is in your area. Most persistent biological weapons would be used only when areas are to be totally ruined for later use, a good reason, nor to be in an area of strategic value.

Chemical Decontamination

Thousands of people have been killed by chemical weapons in the past few decades. Hopefully, you have a gas mask, protective suit, gloves, boots, and know-how to use them. If you do not have these, get them. But having this gear is a little like having a flashlight without batteries if you don’t know how to decontaminate areas made dangerous by chemical or biological weapons.

Decontamination of chemical or biological weapons has two parts. One is neutralizing the chemicals or killing the organisms that make the agent dangerous. The second is causing the substance that carries the agent to quit adhering to the area so you can wash it off and then dispose of the contaminated water safely.

Often you can get by with only neutralization or clean up, but it is best to carry out both to be on the safe side.


Whenever possible, protective clothing and gas masks should be used when cleaning up contaminated areas. Remember that water or water vapor used in clean-up will damage the filters on most gas masks. Care should be taken with permeable suits as well since water will damage them.

Let’s imagine that the area around your shelter is contaminated. What should you do?

First, avoid further contamination of your shelter area. Don’t move into it with contaminated clothing and gear, and don’t discard contaminated gear near the area you’re planning on cleaning up.

Non-persistent chemical agents, those which aren’t in a jellied state and which have a low boiling point, will evaporate and usually won’t require to clean up other than a loud airing out, except in times when it is below freezing. By increasing airflow to a contaminated area, or over contaminated objects, you can decontaminate an area covered with non-persistent agents.

Objects which are being aired out should be left in the air, and sunlight if possible, for at least three days in warm weather. The same applies to non-porous surfaces. Earth or other porous surfaces pose another problem since most agents soak into them and evaporate slowly. One route is to dig up and remove contaminated earth. After the earth airs out, it is safe, but it will probably take a long time to air out.

Whether earth or objects that are to be discarded, he very cautious in where you store contaminated materials and be sure they are labeled with warning signs so that someone won’t accidentally become contaminated.

Rubberized equipment or other gear that won’t be damaged by water can be cleaned by boiling in soapy water for two to eight hours, rinsed in clear water, then left to dry.

A few words of caution are in order: The boiling water will contain dangerous chemical vapors.

For rifles, ammunition, or other gear that would be damaged by soaking in boiling water, another method of decontamination is to use a 1 percent sodium hypochlorite solution (household bleach) to wipe off and neutralize the agent. Be sure to avoid getting any liquid in the gas mask filters when you decontaminate your gas mask.

Expendable contaminated objects can be burned in a very hot fire. Please note the word “hot.” As in furnace. Just a grass fire or even burning down a contaminated house won’t work. The dangerous chemicals will condense out of the smoke and fall on the surrounding area. Burning is suitable only for small objects and, even then, stay upwind from the fumes of the fire to be on the safe side,

Recommended reading: Dakin’s Solution – An Old Homemade Antiseptic Revised For Today

Persistent Agents

A persistent chemical agent is designed to make an area unsuitable for habitation for long periods of time. Such agents are generally easy to spot since they will be globules of sticky, oily goop designed to stick to foliage and personnel. Because the liquid that the chemicals are “packaged” in has a lower boiling point than that of non-persistent chemical weapons, it will take longer for the agent to evaporate into the air and become diluted.

Due to this oily packaging, persistent agents are harder to remove from an area and will take a long time to be degraded by Mother Nature. The worst of the persistent agents are the blister and nerve agents.

Decontamination of non-persistent agents is basically the same as for persistent ones, only the task is much easier, and if you just leave it alone in warm weather, the agent will evaporate away in several days to a week’s time.

To decontaminate an area where persistent agents have been delivered, you need to have a source of water with soap or detergent, as well as potent chemicals. Strong alkalies are among the most effective chemicals used in decontamination. Some of the best are quite common: chlorinated lime, calcium oxide, sodium hydroxide (lye or caustic soda), sodium carbonate, and sodium hypochlorite (in bleach).

A stroll down your local supermarket will allow you to obtain most of these. These alkalies will all greatly downgrade the danger of agents and will even neutralize most of them.

As mentioned before, in addition to neutralizing agents, the second prong of decontamination is to remove them from a surface or area. Organic solvents can be used for this. They lift agents off surfaces so that water can be used to wash the agent and solvent away. Organic solvents, too, are quite easy to obtain. They include alcohol, kerosene, gasoline, and acetone. Be careful with these since they’re all flammable.

The only catch with solvents is that they must be used in conjunction with a lot of running water, and they do not neutralize an agent so that the runoff is dangerous.

The best decontamination procedures combine the alkaline and solvent into one clean-up procedure. One good combination for this job is soap or detergents and warm water (warm water works best) with some alkaline dissolved in it.

One of the best alkalines for this task is sodium hydroxide (lye or caustic soda). This mixture will neutralize a wide range of chemical weapons—a real plus since you won’t often know what you’ve been attacked with. A good mixture of the sodium hydroxide solution is 5 pounds of sodium hydroxide to 12 gallons of water.

Alkalines are dangerous in their own right. Be careful about mixing the solution. Sodium hydroxide reacts violently with the water and should be added to water only a little at a time. If you spill some of the mix on yourself, it can be neutralized with vinegar or boric acid solution. It’s a good idea to have one or the other handy for accidents. Do not use sodium hydroxide on aluminum, tin, or zinc. The alkaline mixture will “eat” into the metal.

Decontaminating First Responder

Sodium carbonate (washing soda, sal soda, or laundry soda) can be used where sodium hydroxide isn’t available or would damage materials. Sodium carbonate is a second choice since it isn’t as active in chemical agent clean-up. Again, soap or detergent added to the sodium carbonate/ water solution will help lift agents off surfaces.

Sodium hypochlorite—straight from the bottle or mixed in water—is also good for neutralizing many chemical agents. The maximum dilution of sodium hypochlorite is probably ½ cup bleach per gallon of water. If the bleach is old, reduce the amount of water.

Some areas are easier to clean than others. Generally, the less porous a surface, the more easily it can be cleaned.

Gear packed in metal, glass, or plastic airtight containers will not be contaminated by chemical agents if you carefully decontaminate the outside of the containers before opening them. The material in open containers or in cardboard or paper containers will be contaminated by agent contact. Borderline protection is offered by cellophane, foil, or waxed boxes. Proper storage of survival gear and supplies will greatly improve your chances of decontaminating and using your survival stocks.

Generally, water contaminated by a chemical agent cannot be made safe to use. Boiling, distillation, etc., won’t do the job. You might be able to place activated charcoal (2 pounds) and sodium carbonate (2 ounces) into the water (1 gallon), leave it for 20 minutes, and filter it through a cloth and then boil it for 20 minutes . . . but this is a whole lot of work, and the end result is not too tasty. Best to find new sources of water, if at all possible.

Suggested Reading

If you aren’t familiar with how to protect yourself from biological or chemical weapons, get a book that addresses the subject. A good book is the: U.S. Army Nuclear Biological and Chemical Decontamination (Prepper Survival Army). Or get a copy of the Disinfection and Decontamination: Principles, Applications, and Related Issues Handbook. These will give you the basic information and more on what you need to know.


Biological and chemical weapons may well be used in future wars, and we are now seeing the effects of what a biological weapon (allegedly) can do in our modern society. Those who know what to do can protect themselves from the dangers of these weapons just as they can from other weapons. A little know-how can greatly improve your survival chances if such weapons are ever used against you.

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