When most folks think of survival, the words clean and hygienic don’t usually come to mind. In fact, the art of surviving in the wild can be a filthy, nasty endeavor. But it doesn’t always have to be.

As you’ll see, there’s more to surviving than just wiping with leaves. (see my emergency toilet paper post here). Here are a few simple tips for staying clean while you stay alive.

Soap Substitutes
There are a few wild plants that have a natural soap in their leaves, roots, stems, and flowers. Make certain that you are using a safe soap plant by checking it out thoroughly in a good field guide. Yucca roots and leaves; sweet pepper bush flowers; bouncing bet leaves and roots; or clematis leaves and flowers can be crushed in a little washer to produce suds. Do your homework. Don’t just try strange plants.

Don’t forget the toothbrush!
Many green twigs of trees and shrubs can be pounded or chewed into a fuzzy brush suitable for scrubbing the teeth. Native Americans historically used dogwood and various oak twigs for brushing. The natural tannic acid in these woods can also help to promote mouth and gum health.

Don’t use poisonous woods like cherry, yew, black locust, buckeye, horse chestnut, laurel, rhododendron, poison sumac, or poison ivy vine.

Dental Floss and Toothpicks
Non-toxic cordage fibers from plants such as dead stinging nettle inner bark or other strong plant fibers can be used as floss. Select fibers that don’t break apart easily, to avoid a mouth full of fibers. Animal fibers like dried sinew or long human hair can all be used as perhaps the best floss for teeth that aren’t packed too close together. Should you need a toothpick, most dull thorns and wood splinters are fine choices. Just be careful not to injure your gums. If you do poke your gums and they feel infected later, rinse your mouth with acorn water. Acorns and shells can be boiled in water for their tannic acid. Then this bitter water can be rinsed in the mouth for a few minutes at a time, a few times a day, until the irritation subsides.

File Those Claws Down
Use a small abrasive pebble as a finger nail file. Use it regularly to keep your nails short, instead of waiting for them to get long. Short nails mean cleaner nails. Cleaner nails keep you from infecting yourself with all kinds of bacteria and pathogens.

Have you ever used any of these tricks to get cleaned up out in the woods? Please tell us all about it in the comments.