Maintaining sanitary conditions and disposing human waste products
1. Maintaining personal hygiene. With less water and more work needed to make hot water, it will be less convenience to wash up. But good personal hygiene reduces your chance of disease and helps maintain morale. It’s important to brush and floss your teeth regularly because it will be hard to find dentists with off-grid electric power. Stock up on essential products so that you have at least three month supply (soap, toilet paper, floss, toothpaste, sun block, sanitary napkins, shampoo, etc.)
If you run out of toilet paper you can cut small strips of cloth, use them and wash them. (Treat them like cloth diapers. See the section below for washing clothes.)
You can take a sponge bath using about a half gallon of water if necessary. One option is to purchase a “solar shower” ($10) Part of it is a black plastic bag that you fill with water and then hang up where it’s exposed to sunlight. The sunlight heats the water and you can shower with it via the hose attached.
2. Disinfecting food-preparation surfaces. Use one tablespoon of chlorine bleach per gallon of water. (Or ¾ teaspoon per quart of water.)
CAUTION: Never mix chlorine bleach with either ammonia or vinegar. That would create deadly chlorine gas.
3. Sterilizing dishes, glassware and cutlery in cold water. Use 2 teaspoons of bleach per gallon. Keep in water for at least two minutes.
4. Baby and infant sanitation. Stock up on all critical supplies (baby wipes, plastic bags for the baby potty, toilet paper, etc.) Purchase cloth diapers and safety pins as backup in case you run out of disposable diapers.
5. Washing clothes (and diapers)
a. Five-gallon bucket and plunger method. Use a clean toilet plunger. Optionally, you can cut out small “v” sections off of the plunger to increase agitation. Cut a small hole in the lid to the bucket so that the plunger handle can fit through. Put in water, detergent and dirty clothes and leave a small air space for agitation. Put plunger in, then drop lid around plunger handle and then seal lid. Plunge manually. It will be easier to plunge and easier to rinse if you don’t use too much detergent. Drain out soapy water, then squeeze out or wring out as much soapy water before adding rinse water. Set your plunger for rinse cycle and repeat. Use clothesline or hang to dry.
b. Another alternative, especially for large objects like blankets or coats, is to put water and detergent in a thick black garbage bag. Dissolve detergent completely in the water, and then put in clothes to be cleaned. Twist-tie shut. Shake bag some to agitate, then put in sunlight. The sunlight will heat up the contents of the black bag. Open bag where you can drain it, and squeeze out soapy water. Put in rinse water, agitate and drain. Repeat. Use clothesline or hang to dry.
6. Disposing of human waste (and animal waste)
Note: Washing hands after using the toilet is now much more important because of the increased chances of illness from feces.
a) Your home toilet can be turned into an emergency water-less toilet. Shut off the value from the toilet tank. Flush to empty the toilet bowl. Dry the toilet bowl with rags (wear rubber or latex gloves.) Lift the toilet seat and place a 13-gallon garbage bag under the seat of the toilet bowl and tape with duct-tape. Also tape the handle for flushing so that water from toilet tank is not accidentally let into bowl (Or drain the toilet tank. That water can be used for other purposes.)
Use the toilet as usual. If available, sprinkle about two tablespoons (1/8 cup) of hydrated lime (calcium hydroxide) into the bag after each production of solid waste to help prevent disease. Hydrated lime is to be preferred to quicklime (calcium oxide) which is more dangerous to use, but will work. Garden lime or pulverized limestone is not useful here.
The bag may be used several times before changing. Hydrated lime is very caustic, like bleach. It should be used carefully. Wash hands immediately if you come in contact with it. If your toilet generates an ammonia smell, ventilate the room, since ammonia is hard on the lungs, too. If you’ve stored enough bleach for other needs, you can use 2 tablespoons of bleach instead of hydrated lime.
Change the bag by lifting the toilet seat and carefully removing the bag without tearing it. Seal bag with a twist-tie. Place a bucket next to the toilet and transfer the bag to the bucket. Cover the entire toilet with a large 30 gallon trash bag to decrease odor. Carry bucket to an outside trashcan with tight-fitting lid or to a hole dug deep for disposal. If you must bury it, make sure bags are tightly sealed and that burial is at least 200 feet distant from water sources. Otherwise you will contaminate someone’s drinking water.
When just urinating, catch urine separately to save bags and to decrease the production of ammonia (when the lime is added.) Urine can be dumped in a shallow hole outside or spread over ground that will be later be used for a garden. (It is a nitrogen fertilizer.)
b) Get the materials to make an emergency toilet. You’d need: a five- or six-gallon pail with an airtight lid. (Restaurants often use these kinds of pails and lids.) ; a toilet seat (or use two 2 x 4’s for sitting that can be lifted off); many 13-gallon plastic bags, a pail opener for quick opening (shown on floor, and available at hardware stores), and hydrated lime (a 50 lb. bag is about $17.)
c) Dig a trench latrine. Either find a spot that is protected from view or create some kind of enclosure. Then dig a long, narrow trench, at least a foot deep, and cover it at you use it. Straddle the trench and squat. If you can put lime on the waste first, that’s preferred but not necessary.
d) Pet waste products. For cats, store extra kitty litter. Dogs kept inside will probably need a newspaper area, perhaps placed over kitty litter and plastic to catch the urine. Bag in plastic and store with the human waste.
7. Disposal of dead bodies. Unless someone died of an infectious disease, there’s no risk of transmission of diseases like cholera or plague. The danger is that a dead body may contaminate a water source if buried within five feet of the water table, or near a well or other water source. Nevertheless, wear rubber or nitrile gloves when handling a dead body or dead animal. Wrap a dead body in plastic sheeting or large plastic bags taped together, before transporting, because it will produce fluids. Bury it deep enough to be able to put 3-4 feet of dirt on top, so that the body is not disturbed by animals. But do not bury in low-laying ground, where the water table is high.