Maintaining some semblance of hygiene can be a morale booster in an emergency, and it can be vital to the health of individuals and groups. There are few things as vile as camping out with a group of people and having some kind of gastro-intestinal bug tear through camp because some fool didn’t wash his or her hands. You could contract things worse than that, too, that could create skin infections and cause serious harm.
It’s a good thing that these sanitation and hygiene problems can be prevented with just a little conscientious behavior. Whether your situation is a survival situation or a family campout, you can keep cleaner and safer by following a few simple steps.
Have a designated latrine or cat hole area and use it**
No one needs to step on a “landmine” when wandering the perimeter of camp for firewood. Designate a place for cat holes or utilize a proper latrine, and you will keep a great deal of dangerous filth out of your camp.
And of course, you’ll need some toilet paper!
Don’t waste valuable cloth or clothing for wiping. See what toilet paper substitutes can be found in the local environment. I like a stack of dead, dry leaves–with one green leaf in the center of the stack for structural integrity. You can also try bundles of dead grass or fibrous inner bark, or even a stack of just green leaves.
IMPORTANT: Make sure you know what poison oak, ivy, and sumac look like and avoid them! Some fuzzy leaves, like mullein, can also cause a rash.
Wash your hands often**
This no-brainer only gets tricky if you get caught without soap or hand sanitizer. In that case, you can wash your hands with saponin-bearing plants. Yucca roots and leaves; sweet pepper bush flowers; bouncing bet (aka common soapwort) leaves and roots; and clematis leaves and flowers can be crushed in a little water to produce suds. Don’t just try strange plants, though. Make the wrong choice and your skin can absorb toxins and produce a rash, at the very least.
Keep your teeth and gums clean and healthy**
Make a toothbrush from a hardwood stick like oak or hickory by cutting off a live twig and crushing one end to make it fibrous. You can also improvise dental floss from a variety of non-toxic cordage fibers, and toothpicks from dull thorns and wood splinters. 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 their shells can be boiled to release tannic acid. Swish this water in your mouth for a few minutes at a time a few times a day, until the irritation subsides.