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A Prepper’s Guide to Personal Hygiene When the SHTF

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When I think of prepping, I often envision the usual topics of discussion: stockpiling food, raising crops, accumulating weapons, and methods of water purification. These are all very important subjects that need to be discussed and expanded upon. However, one of the least discussed preparedness topics is maintaining good personal hygiene when the SHTF. While it may not be the most riveting problem to face, it’s still an important issue we’ll all be forced to reckon with during an SHTF event.

In the event of a sudden SHTF scenario or even the later stages of a slow-burning crisis, items like soap and shampoo may not be readily available. Jose told us about this happening in Venezuela. Whether it’s due to skyrocketing inflation that makes basic necessities unaffordable for the average person, overall shortages, or a large-scale disaster, practicing basic hygiene can become increasingly difficult.

While it’s always a good idea to stock up on soap, shampoo, and other supplies for hygiene, they’ll only last for so long, especially in the case of a societal collapse. They can act as a temporary solution to save you time and energy and keep you clean while you adapt to this new situation. However, as the disaster continues for several years, you may run out of supplies or find that the rest of it has gone bad.

Believe it or not, shampoo and soap do expire.

Sealed soaps and shampoos generally have a shelf life ranging from two to four years.

Using soaps, body washes, detergents, and shampoos that are far past their expiration dates is not only futile but also risky. Chemical compounds begin to break down and degrade in outdated products, rendering them useless, even rancid. When this happens, they can become breeding grounds for harmful bacteria and fungi.

Without soap to keep yourself, your group, and your pots and pans clean, things start to become unsanitary, and already bad living conditions worsen.

Consequences of poor personal hygiene when the SHTF

Poor hygiene can lead to anything ranging from irritating skin rashes to bacterial, fungal, and viral infections. Bad bacteria, dirt, and dead skin gradually accumulate and outnumber the good bacteria on your skin that are beneficial to your health. In its least threatening form, going a few months without showering or clean clothes can be a real morale killer for your prepper group. At its worst, living in such an unsanitary way can not only cause poor health and eventually kill you, but it can also cause unnecessary disease outbreaks, posing a direct threat to your family or group.

In an SHTF event, sicknesses that were once easily treatable in modern society suddenly become much more potentially life-threatening.

If you’re trapped in a perpetual state of survival mode, where you’re constantly thinking about how to obtain food or clean water or whether you can defend yourself and your family from attackers, your personal hygiene often becomes neglected in favor of other more critical priorities. And I don’t blame anyone. I’m not going to be thinking about when I can wash my hands if people are trying to break into my house. I’m not going to be thinking of showering if there’s been a long drought and I don’t have much drinking water left. T

here are going to be tough circumstances where personal hygiene is placed on the back burner. But when the immediate threats clear, it’s imperative that we get ourselves cleaned up to the best of our ability.

Current cleanliness routines are a more modern norm.

Showering once a day is more of a modern cultural norm. It started becoming popular in the 1800s when people were faced with the threats from unsanitary living conditions in populated areas. They took extra showers and began cleaning up their properties as a precaution.

Before people lived in complex, technologically advanced societies, they often couldn’t bathe as much as they needed. They lacked access to their own private showers or bathtubs and often had to travel to rivers or streams if they didn’t have their own well.

In the event of a societal collapse, at times, you may not have the luxury of being able to shower every day. If you find yourself in such a situation, you should try to make it a personal goal to bathe at least twice a week so you don’t compromise your health or the health of your family.

What did our ancestors use to keep themselves clean?

Today’s soap and shampoo products all have one very important trait in common: lye is used to create them.

Our current soaps cannot be made without it. Most companies, in addition to lye, use a cocktail of other chemicals in their soap recipes. In a more severe SHTF scenario, most of us won’t have access to jugs of lye or these chemical components anymore.

However, our ancestors survived without these particular types of soaps. So what did they use throughout the ages?

All around the world, people used a variety of ways to clean themselves before the invention of modern soap and shampoo. We can look to what our ancestors used around the world as our inspiration. Generations of people before us have survived for millennia by using natural alternatives.

People once used sand, clay, and salt to help scrub away dead skin and dirt. Some people used scrapers to help remove dirt and grime from their skin. Our ancestors would often make primitive bars of soap with beeswax, fats, and various vegetable oils, such as olive oil and coconut oil, mixed with ashes of wood. Sometimes they would clean their hair with vinegar, alcohol, lemon juice, and beer rinses. Others would use a pot of water to steep various herbs in it to bathe and wash their hair.

While people today may scoff at these ideas, it was certainly good enough to help our predecessors survive. I can personally attest that vinegar is an excellent cleanser. Olive oil on its own can help remove dirt and grime from the skin. I use it on a piece of soft towel to help safely clean my animals’ ears. When I first tried it years ago, I couldn’t believe how well it removed the dirt and wax!

Many of the herbs we stockpile in our medicine cabinets already have antifungal, antibacterial, and antiviral properties. We can easily grow, preserve, and use these herbs not just as a natural medicine but also as an alternative method to keep harmful germs off of our skin. I already added a few drops of oregano oil to a basin of water to soak my dishes in to help sterilize them, especially if my family is sick, and it works like a charm. And if the sage tea I drink can help me fight off the flu, it should also be good enough to add to hot water so I can bathe, should I have no access to soap or disinfectants during SHTF.

Some ideas for natural alternatives for personal hygiene when the SHTF

There are quite a few methods that we can use to stay sanitary and maintain our personal hygiene when the SHTF. It depends on what resources are available to us at the time, whether we’re bugging in or bugging out, and if we can grow and produce our materials or simply forage for them. No matter what you decide to use, it’s a good idea to boil any water you plan on using in order to sterilize it. If you don’t have that option, consider collecting rainwater or going to a water source that is fairly clean and not polluted.

Salt scrubs

We can forage for salt near sandy areas at riverbeds. While salt can help remove grime from the skin, it’s also an essential nutrient that can be difficult to procure. I would personally prefer to save and use salt on food for nutritional value during the collapse instead of using it to bathe.

Sand scrubs

This is a much more viable option to help scrub away dirt. Sand is common and easier to find. You can mix it with an oil of your choice or just use it with water.


Clay is another possible alternative to remove grime from your skin. It’s reportedly good to use for detoxification purposes.

Charcoal scrub

You can easily make your own charcoal scrub by burning wood from certain types of hardwood trees, such as ash, walnut, and oak. Charcoal is known for its absorbent, cleansing, and detoxifying properties, making it effective in removing dirt from the skin.


If you know how to make your own vinegar, this can be great to wash your hair and skin with, as well as clean pots and pans. Vinegar has natural antibacterial properties that can help keep you clean and sanitized.

Vegetable oils

For those who grow their crops, you can create various oils, such as corn oil, soybean oil, almond oil, and olive oil, to name a few. These oils can bind to oils and grime on your skin, making it easier to wash the dirt away. You can opt to add sand, salt or herbs to make an effective mixture. This is a suitable alternative for cleansing.

Herbal waters

Steep herbs of your choosing (or those available) in water to create herbal waters for rinsing and cleaning your hair and skin. Add one teaspoon of herbs per 12 ounces of water. Some herbs with antimicrobial properties include sage, rosemary, basil, tulsi, bay leaves, rose, hibiscus, calendula, lavender, thyme, oregano, pine needles, garlic, cloves, echinacea, ginger, peppermint, lemongrass, licorice root, goldenseal, dandelion, neem, tea tree, aloe vera, parsley, fennel, and catnip.

When foraging for these herbs, make sure you properly identify them to avoid using any look-alikes that may be ineffective or harmful to your skin. Conduct a small patch test on your skin to ensure you aren’t allergic to any of the herbs.

You can make your own (clear) essential oils from herbs to add to your laundry to give clothes a fresh, clean scent.

Starches to Clean Clothes

A variety of starches can be used to wash and scrub clothes. Wheat starch, cornstarch, potato starch, or rice starch can be used in place of laundry detergents for natural fabrics. They work by removing dirt and helping to prevent future dirt build-up. Simply save the water when cooking starchy foods to use for this purpose.

Lemon juice

While lemon juice was used in the past for hair and skin care, I strongly advise against using it on your skin. Lemon is photosensitive, as well as lime, grapefruit and bergamot. Any oils or juice that are absorbed into your skin will cause a chemical reaction when exposed to sunlight. You’ll experience blistering and severe burns on your skin from photosensitive oils. Use the previous recommended methods instead. Lemon juice can still be used to clean surfaces rather than skin.

These solutions will be different but effective.

Remember, these alternative methods won’t be like the shampoo, detergents, and soaps that we’ve grown accustomed to using. They won’t produce the same lather, bubbles or scents. However, they are based strictly on the function of removing oil, grime, and dirt and washing away germs. These methods rely on ingredients that we can grow or make ourselves and are relatively easy to find in nature.

Your hair may feel greasy after the first few times of using natural soap methods, but this is not because they don’t work. It’s because our skin is conditioned to produce an excess amount of oils due to the constant use of modern soaps, which unfortunately strip away our natural oils. In an SHTF event where we are forced to stop using modern soaps and start using alternative methods of cleaning ourselves, our skin will gradually begin to regulate oil production again and return to normal, healthy levels.

What are your thoughts on personal hygiene when the SHTF?

Maintaining personal hygiene during a crisis is important for your well-being and the overall health of your group. Utilizing natural alternatives to soap and shampoo can be an effective solution.

Do you have a strategy in place for keeping clean? If you have any other ideas or methods to share, let’s discuss them in the comments section.

About Blackbird

Blackbird grew up in poverty in the rural Pennsylvania countryside during a harsh economic recession. She learned self-reliance from her family at a young age and is now a seasoned prepper of many years. She enjoys nature walks, reading, gardening, working outdoors, and drawing in her spare time.

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