Whenever I re-watch the movie Cast Away, I can’t help but notice that the hygiene situation is downplayed, and our hero seems to be doing just fine. However, if you think about it, the time he spent on that island without soap and other amenities is quite long. It always gets me thinking about what preppers would do in that type of a survival situation concerning their personal hygiene.
How would you mitigate the situation of not having your usual conveniences?
We should start off by saying that not having for a bar of soap for a few days, even a week, may not be a tragedy. As long as you have water to clean your body, you might be just fine. Your hands will be used to scrub every inch of your body to remove dirt and dead skin.
For a while, you will be good, and the pores of your skin will not clog up, and you may prevent skin inflammation. In some cases, your skin’s pores will have pustules and may look as they are infected, but if you’re lucky enough, they won’t progress in that direction. However, this can only last for so long, and you need to figure out a way to clean your body properly.
🧼 Soap from nature
When I’ve discussed the alternative of procuring soap in the wilderness, almost everyone I know in my community talks about making soap from ash and animal fat. You can procure hardwood ash rather easily in the wilderness, but the animal fat requires some practice and experience. Even if you manage to do so, it will take quite some time until you have your first soap bar ready. Time may not be on your side in a survival situation.
Even more, you have to mix the ash in a pan that you’ve probably already used it for cooking. Afterward, you will have to wash the pan properly, and the pH of the lye made from ash will certainly be irritating for those with sensitive skin. You will probably end up with something that looks to sunburn but feels worse.
My suggestion would be to learn about soap plants, those plants that have an increased content of saponins and can be used successfully as a soap substitute. I’ve talked about such plants on various occasions, and you can find articles on Prepper’s Will covering this topic. You will be able to crush the berries, leaves, or roots of such plants to obtain that natural compound called saponin.
By mixing this substance with water, you will obtain a frothy lather that was used by the Native Americans and early pioneers as soap and shampoo.
🧍 Body areas that need special care
Most of the smelly parts of your body are actually the most sensitive areas on your body. These areas need special care, and if you can’t produce or procure soap in the wild, you’d better just use water to clean those areas.
Being in good physical condition is recommended if you want to increase your chances of survival in an unknown environment. Obesity is a major problem in a survival situation, and it also poses a problem when it comes to personal hygiene. If you have rolls of fat, like many of the modern citizens, you may have a hard time staying clean.
The problem with being obese is that the overlapping intertriginous areas rub against each other, and they become moist and hot. These are the places under the belly fat, between the buttocks, under the breasts, and in the groin area the most often affected by heat and poor hygiene and will eventually emanate a foul smell that can be felt from miles.
Besides using water to clean those areas, a good idea is to let the air do part of the cleaning as well. Laying down and airing out those hard to reach spots will keep them dry and also help them to heal faster. If you manage to find some plants that can be ground into flour, you can apply the makeshift baby powder to said areas.
Remember that such operation also takes time and energy, and in certain survival situations, it may not be worth it.
Another problem that is worth mentioning for those moist areas is that the foul smell is created by yeast growing. Besides that foul smell, there may also be a lot of itching, peeling, or cracked skin, and in some cases, there may be blisters forming. It usually starts with redness of the skin, so make sure you are able to spot the early signs.
This may not be much to worry about, and it may just be uncomfortable to some, but when the skin breaks down, that area becomes susceptible to secondary infections rather quickly. To avoid this, try to find some wild garlic, make a paste from it and apply it to the affected areas twice a day.
Back in the day, our grandparents used apple cider vinegar to deal with such issues. They would fill a bathtub with water, pour half a cup of apple cider vinegar and soak in it for half an hour. The alternative was to soak natural fiber cloth in cider vinegar and place it on the affected area for 15 minutes at a time, twice a day.
👄 Oral hygiene
Finding a toothache tree may help you deal with a dental emergency in the wilderness, but preventing such oral health issues should be the way to go. If you have apple cider vinegar at hand, you can also use it to make toothpaste. For improvised toothpaste, use one tablespoon of baking soda to a half tablespoon of vinegar and add water until you obtain a paste.
This topic is often downplayed in survival literature, and people forget that proper oral hygiene is required to keep healthy gums. When your gums deteriorate, the infection will soon follow, and you will have to deal with a bigger problem. Not only will the gums start swallowing and even bleed, but your teeth can also become painful. You can imagine that you will have a hard time feeding yourself, and such a situation will lower your morale rather quickly.
For more information on how to deal with dental emergencies, I recommend reading these articles:
♀️ How about female hygiene?
The lady in your life has certain needs, and urinary tract infections can usually spell disaster in a survival situation. The symptoms include fever, urinary frequency, a burning sensation with urination, and incontinence. A urinary infection is caused when poor hygiene and poor hydration become the norm in a crisis.
Not only will you have to properly clean the area, but some supplements to boost your immune system are also required. You will have to forage for edibles such as wild garlic and various greens like spinach to help your immune system. Look for and consume plants that act as natural antibiotics and be sure to stay hydrated.
Menstruation is another issue that can pose problems, and our article on prepping for your period had a great success and was greatly appreciated by our female readers. In the military, suppressing menstruation rather than accommodate certain procedures that may interfere with combat roles is often preferred.
However, such solutions require advanced planning, and you need to discuss with your doctor about a hormonal rod implant that will provide contraception for around three years or an intrauterine device (IUD) that can be placed by a physician and kept for up to five years.
If such options are out of the question for you, you can either make your own sanitary pads or use menstrual cups. These have become highly popular in recent years, and more and more ladies are getting used to them.
🖊️ Final words
Keeping good hygiene in a survival situation may not seem like a priority, especially if you are dealing with a highly stressful scenario. It is often ignored since other, more pressing issues like procuring water, building a shelter, and such are the basics of survival. However, taking a few minutes to wash yourself and checking for early signs that may lead to serious health issues can prevent you from having to deal with situations you are not trained or prepared for. Thank you for visiting Prepper’s Will and for staying prepared!
Useful resources to check out: