I’ve seen hundreds of articles about how to survive the apocalypse by using specialized skills, and/or living off a hoard of food. However, one of the most important skills most people learn during childhood doesn’t get the attention it deserves… Hygiene!
How will you stay healthy to use those skills and enjoy all that preserved food if you can’t practice basic hygiene? Keep in mind that going to the grocery store for more soap and toothpaste probably won’t be possible. That means you’ll need to be creative when it comes to your hygiene needs.
You’ll find alternative methods for maintaining good hygiene after the SHTF in this article. If these methods don’t appeal to your tastes, do some research and find what works best for you. However, I think the substitutions and methods listed in this article are more practical in a survival situation.
There are many things you can do to maintain good oral health. You can conserve the supply of toothpaste or replace it entirely.
If you absolutely must have toothpaste and need to make it last as long as possible, you’ve got to stop using so much toothpaste. According to most dental experts and manufacturers, adults only need a pea-sized “dollop” of toothpaste,.
That’s a blob of about half a centimeter or a quarter of an inch!
If you have a healthy mouth, it may be a good idea to further stretch your supply of dental products by alternating your brushing and “washing”. You can double the life of your toothpaste and mouthwash if you don’t use both products every time you clean your teeth. Some dentists claim that rinsing the mouth with water or mouthwash after brushing, wastes the benefits of fluoride in toothpaste.
To do this, brush your teeth at night and spit out the foam. Allow the teeth to absorb the leftover fluoride as you sleep. And then rinse your mouth out with mouthwash in the morning, after breakfast.
But what if you run out of toothpaste?
Humans have been cleaning their teeth long before modern toothpaste was invented. Most ancient cultures used devices or solutions to get food particles out of their teeth, but I must warn you that none are going to be as minty-fresh as the manufactured paste most of us are addicted to. Be aware that some of these alternatives may cause irritation, and it may be necessary to temporarily switch substitutions.
- Toothbrush (by itself, or with “paste”)
- Spun Thread or “Sewing String” (substitute for both floss and toothbrush)
- Frayed Twig as a substitute toothbrush
It’s easy to make a basic toothpaste by combining: 2/3 cup of baking soda, 1 teaspoon of salt, and enough water to turn it into a paste. You can add peppermint essential oil to freshen your breath as well. Making and storing toothpaste may not be possible for some people. The following can be used individually:
There are a few mouthwashes you can use as well. The theory behind these mouthwashes is to pull food particles out of your teeth and/or make bacteria residing in your mouth inert.
- Coconut Oil
- Salt & Water
- Hydrogen Peroxide (diluted in water)
- Essential Oil & Water (mix in salt for extra abrasiveness)
It’s probably a good idea to switch over to alternate dental hygiene methods when you realize civilization has collapsed, long before supply forces you to make the switch. Doing so gives you an opportunity to experiment with new methods, and it maintains that supply so you can switch back to a tried-and-true product if you suffer any side effects. If you don’t notice any side effects, you can save the minty toothpaste for when you’re going to be intimate. Or, if the new hygiene practices are working, and dates aren’t a possibility, you can trade that leftover toothpaste with someone desperate.
I wanted to be a nurse in my early 20s, before deciding it wasn’t the best profession for me. The most memorable lesson I have from nursing school was watching classmate after classmate fail the sanitary exam regarding soap and water. According to medical standards of the early 2000s, soap isn’t technically needed to make your hands sanitary between patients. Friction is what kills germs and bacteria, and you only need to rub your hands under running water. Washing with soap creates suds which generate more friction and trap the dead microbes, making it easier to rinse them off.
I did what I had to and pass the exam, but never trusted friction ALONE to maintain cleanliness.
After the SHTF, washing with soap and water will be even more important than it is today because it’s a valuable tool to ward off infectious illnesses. It may be an essential item to stock, but storage space isn’t infinite and you’ll eventually need to make your own.
There’s only one way to make soap and that’s by using lye, oil, and water. Making soap requires a lot of time and can be dangerous if you don’t know how to handle lye. You’ll also need some practice to perfect your recipe.
Below is a basic description on how to make soap in a survival situation, without refined materials.
- Make lye by collecting white, powdery wood ash in a bucket or container with holes on the bottom. Make certain there’s a water-tight container beneath the ash bucket.
- Leach lye out by pouring water over the ashes and allow the mixture to drain into a container below. Leaching may take an entire day, but doesn’t require much attention. The captured lye-water should be light brown.
- Boil the lye-water down for several hours until it’s incredibly thick. If you have 1 gallon of lye-water, the refined lye will be about 1 cup.
- In a separate pot, melt or warm about 1 cup of leftover meat fat or cooking oil (or both).
- Add the warm lye into the oil/fat and mix while boiling for about 3 minutes.
- Reduce heat and stir for a full minute, every 10-15 minutes. Do this repeatedly until the soap is golden-brown and has a thick consistency (this can take hours).
- Optional: Now’s the time to add any extra ingredients, such as: herbs, essential oils, coffee grains, or salt.
- Pour mixture into a mold and cover with a towel.
- Allow to cure for at least 1 week.
- Remove from mold and cut soap into bars. Consider using cupcake molds or something similar to eliminate this last step.
That’s the basic soapmaking process. I loathe providing specific recipes because there’s no telling what materials you’ll have after the SHTF. Search the web if you need detailed or specific recipes.
I’d like to mention a couple alternatives to soap:
People in desert cultures have used sand to clean themselves for millennia. Even in modern times, sand baths are common in poverty-stricken desert communities, because water is too precious to waste on bathing. This may sound gross to westerners, but the abrasiveness of sand does work to absorb or scrape off body oils and dead skin.
The primary problem with a sand scrub is it can’t effectively kill and remove microbes. That means your hands may not be sanitary for cooking or first aid. Another problem with sand baths is it takes much longer to cleanse an entire body, than it does with a soapy bath or shower.
Ancient Greeks, Romans, and Egyptians once bathed using oil. They slathered oil onto their bodies and scraped it off to remove dead skin and dirt.
Roman gladiators sold their oil scrapings to fans because it was thought it enhanced sexual vigor in men and was an aphrodisiac to women. Who knows, if you’re young and sexy maybe you can sell such scrapings. If not, then I’d probably reuse the oil as a fire accelerant or an ingredient in… soap.
Soap wins in the end! (Just kidding.)
If your family includes females at or around menstruating age, you should be prepared if/when they have a period. Women have been going through menstrual cycles since the dawn of time, so this isn’t a new problem. We’ve coped with periods long before tampons existed and will continue to do so after the SHTF.
Tampon substitutions may include:
- Washable cloths, rags, or clean clothes you don’t care if they stain (like socks).
- Unused or sterilized sponges.
- Toilet paper or paper towels.
- Gauze bandages.
- You can also learn to live with it and use nothing.
Even if your family doesn’t need them, it’s a good idea to stock a couple boxes of tampons to trade with desperate people.
I’ll close this article by quoting a phrase my father repeated throughout my childhood: “Cleanliness is next to godliness.” Good hygiene is immensely important during a survival situation because it helps stave off illness. And, if you’re single, maintaining good hygiene may help attract an intimate survivalist partner.
 Medical Disclaimer: The author of this article is not a doctor, dentist, or any kind of medical professional. The information presented is for educational and informational purposes only, does not constitute any professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.
If you or any other person has a medical concern, you should consult your health care provider or seek other professional medical treatment immediately. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you read on this blog, website or in any linked materials.
This article is part of a series about survivalism and being prepared for anything, but that doesn’t mean you should ignore established medical practices or avoid potentially expensive treatments. Always survive to use your skills another day by using the medical services currently available.
 Harris Dental. (2013, January 28). How Much Toothpaste Should You Be Using? Retrieved from Harris Dental: https://www.harrisdental.com/blog/how-much-toothpaste-should-you-be-using
 Arm & Hammer. (n.d.). How Much Toothpaste Should You Use? Retrieved from Arm & Hammer: https://www.armandhammer.com/articles/how-much-toothpaste-to-use
 Gold Coast Holistic Dental Care. (n.d.). Find out 6 easy ways to keep your teeth clean in a natural way. Retrieved from Gold Coast Holistic Dental Care: https://gcholisticdentalcare.com.au/top-6-to-naturally-clean-teeth.html
 Smilepoint Dental Care. (n.d.). What can I use instead of toothpaste? Retrieved from Smilepoint Dental Care: https://www.smilepointdentalcare.com/what-can-i-use-instead-of-toothpaste/
 Charcoal: Extra caution must be used when using this method of oral hygiene. I reluctantly list charcoal as a toothpaste substitute because it requires skill to safely produce. The lye in ash, which may be present in charcoal, can harm your teeth and gums.
 CBC Life. (2019, June 19). Surviving in the wild: How to transform campfire charcoal into a teeth-cleaning powder should you need to. Retrieved from CBC: https://www.cbc.ca/life/video/surviving-in-the-wild-how-to-transform-campfire-charcoal-into-a-teeth-cleaning-powder-should-you-need-to-1.5181928
 Lying Lye-less Recipes: There are lye-less recipes available online, but they’re lying or misleading you. Most of these recipes call for a “soap base”, which is basically soap that’s been through the dangerous lye reaction. Soap bases may be concentrated allowing for other ingredients (fragrance or dyes) to be added.
 Gauze Tampon: I personally don’t like the idea of using a wound-care product you may need later for something that’s not life-threatening.