Survival Sanitation: It all Begins with the Hands

by Erich

This is the first post in a three-part series on survival sanitation. In a survival situation, proper sanitation is of utmost importance if you want to avoid your family getting seriously sick.

If you add a lack of medical facilities due to grid-down issues, then staying healthy becomes even more crucial.

In this series I discuss the skills you need in order to avoid getting and spreading disease, and how to deal with waste and sewage when your town and city services are no longer working.

This may be a bit cliché, but having clean hands is really the first step in staying sanitary in a survival situation. Since the hands are the primary contact point with every-day objects as well as between humans, they are also the top spreaders of disease. Hand washing — although it’s a simple practice — is the single most effective way to prevent the spread of communicable diseases.

Diseases Spread through the Hands

The hands can spread disease caused by fecal-oral transmission (you or someone else goes to the bathroom, wipes, and doesn’t wash), indirect contact with respiratory secretions (coughing or sneezing into hands), and coming into contact with urine, saliva or other moist body substances (I won’t go there, but I’m sure you get the point).

Here is a list of the most common diseases that are easily spread by the hands:

Diseases Spread through Fecal-Oral Transmission

Ingesting even the tiniest particles of fecal material can infect you with any of the following:

  • salmonella
  • shigellosis (causes dysentry)
  • hepatitis A
  • giardia
  • enterovirus
  • amebiasis
  • campylobacteria
  • cholera

Diseases Spread through Indirect Contact with Respiratory Secretions

  • influenza (flu)
  • Streptococcus
  • respiratory syncytial virus (RSV)
  • the common cold

Diseases Spread by Contact with Bodily Fluids (Saliva, Urine, etc)

  • cytomegalovirus
  • typhoid
  • staphylococcal organisms
  • Epstein-barr virus

Given the many types of diseases that are so easily spread through the hands it should be a given that hand washing be put at the top in terms of importance during an emergency. This cannot be overstated — if you want to prevent your family from suffering from disease, be it a mild case of diarrhea or worse, then this must become a high priority.

Creating Good Hand Habits and Avoiding the Bad Ones

Just like we preppers like to practice fire-making, off-grid cooking, cooking from our food storage and all the other skills we do during non-emergencies, it’s important that we “practice” getting in the habit of keeping our hands clean during normal times. That way, if things get bad — whether it’s 3-days or 3-years, we’ll have one less thing to think about. This also includes getting rid of habits that involve hand-to-mouth contact (other than eating of course).

Habits to Develop

  • washing hands after going to the bathroom
  • washing hands before eating
  • washing hands after coming into contact with another person’s hands
  • sneezing or coughing into the crook of your elbow instead of your hands

Habits to Avoid

  • fingernail biting
  • chewing on objects (pens, pencils etc)
  • coughing or sneezing into your hands
  • general hand to near-mouth contact (many people have the habit of putting their hands near or on their mouth when they are deep in thought).

Homemade Sanitizing and Handwashing Solution

In a recent article I talked about how to make your own chlorine bleach that can be used not only for water disinfection but for sanitation as well. To make a simple solution that can be used for hand sanitizing, you’ll want to add one cup of household bleach (or homemade bleach) to a gallon of water.

To use, after washing your hands with soap and water simply rinse your hands with the sanitizing bleach solution.

Homemade Anthrax Killer

For an even more effective disinfectant that is actually powerful enough to kill anthrax spores, you’ll want to add a cup of vinegar to the cup-to-gallon sanitizing solution above.

According to Norman Miner the president of MicroChem Lab, vinegar changes household bleach from alkaline to acidic which will make it 80 to 200 times more effective at being an antimicrobial product.

(Nancy Kerchevel – Bloomberg News) “Bleach has been used as a disinfectant for decades. People just assume it will kill everything on a countertop,” Miner said in an interview.

“It’s one of the myths.”

Bleach can’t be bottled in an acidic state because it’s unstable, Miner said in an interview. After a day, it would start losing the chlorine that gives it its bleaching power.

Researchers tested the vinegar recipe on dried bacterial spores, considered the most resistant to disinfectants used on microbes, the Euless, Texas-based company said.

After researchers swabbed surfaces with the acidic dilution, all the spores were dead in 20 minutes, Miner said. An alkaline dilution left only 2.5 percent of the areas free of microbes after the same amount of time.

Emergency Aid

“In the event of an emergency involving Bacillus anthracis spores contaminating such environmental surfaces as counter tops, desk and table tops, and floors, for example, virtually every household has a sporicidal sterilant available in the form of diluted, acidified bleach,” Miner said in a statement.The vinegar-laced bleach also killed aspergillus negri, commonly recognized by most people as the black fungi that infect the tile grout of shower stalls, Miner said.

“Diluted bleach at an alkaline pH is a relatively poor disinfectant, but acidified diluted bleach will virtually kill anything in 10 to 20 minutes,” Miner said.

Keep in mind that this solution will lose it’s effectiveness after about a day, since it will start losing the chlorine that gives it it’s bleaching power. For household use, given the short effective shelf-life of this solution, you’ll want to make it in smaller amounts that can be used on a day-to-day basis.


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Comment by Jason Charles
2011-08-14 02:35:36

Great article. Very good approaches you are taking with this site.

2011-08-14 05:05:43

Thanks Jason. Appreciate the support!

Comment by Susan I.
2011-08-15 15:41:58

I thought this was so interesting, I e-mailed a link to my microbiology instructor.

2011-08-16 07:27:52

Thanks Susan 🙂

Comment by DPM
2011-08-24 07:37:18

Glad I keep a lot of vinegar in storage. Now if only there were only a “powdered vinegar” we could store long-term, like powdered chlorine for the homemade bleach…

Oh, wait – I think I have that covered. It’s not powdered, but it does grow on trees. Note to self – learn how to make apple cider vinegar.


Comment by Tactical Intelligence
2011-08-24 11:04:11

Nice DPM! I’ve been interested in learning how to make apple cider vinegar as well. If I do, I’ll be sure to post the process.

Comment by K R
2012-10-09 17:37:56

Wonderful idea with the vinegar. Can this combination be used to purify water for drinking and if so, how?

2012-10-09 21:10:26

Hey K R,

I’ve never tried it. The average amount of bleach per gallon for purification purposes is around 8 drops. So adding 8 drops of vinegar to it(bleach to vineger should be one to one) would certainly not hurt it.

You may be your on to something!

Comment by MC
2013-01-03 02:34:34

Mixing bleach with acids such as vinegar may improve its effectiveness as a microbicide, but it also produces chlorine gas – you know, like the Germans used as a chemical weapon in World War 1. This is a great way to cause severe damage to your eyes and respiratory tract, or even kill yourself.

Comment by Tactical Intelligence
2013-01-03 22:14:57


Keep in mind this isn’t a direct mixing of vinegar and bleach (very bad) but diluted bleach, greatly reducing toxic gasses.

Comment by lmadames
2014-09-26 13:43:47

This may sound silly but how do you wash your hands properly without running water? Do you use a bowl and dip your hands in? If so how much water is necessary for one wash. Can you reuse or share? Do you rinse with fresh water to remove all soap? How can you be most efficient?
The closest I have ever come to doing something like this is bathing myself with preheated water after Hurricane Sandy. I wasted so much water but then I wasn’t very concerned with conservation at the time. (Clean water was plentiful, hot water wasn’t.)

Comment by A.
2016-04-16 20:18:10

Hi. Great article. We recently had huge flooding in our area which resulted in emergency situations for a lot of people. The greatest problem was how to deal with human waste. Thanks for putting it up.

Comment by Travis Walker
2017-10-10 03:52:54

I’m so glad I have found this article. Few people talk about sanitation and how important it is for survival. Keeping our hands clean is one of the most important steps we can take to avoid disease as well as spreading it to other people.For hand sanitizer, you can also use different essential oils like Tea Tree, or any oils with anti-microbial properties, Aloe Vera Gel, and Rubbing Alcohol. Great pointing out how to use vinegar and bleach for water sanitation.

Comment by Sam
2018-01-31 03:30:11

So could either the alkaline or acidic solution be used in wound care to wash out a laceration?

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