8 Prepper Hacks for Cleaning Without Running Water

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Author of Be Ready for Anything and Build a Better Pantry on a Budget online course

That magic moment when you go to wash your hands….and nothing comes out of the tap.

Late on one Friday evening – you know, too late to reach the local repair guy – that was the scenario at our rented farm. Nary a drop was coming from our faucets.

For the past couple of months, I had believed there was an impending issue with our well. However, it was one of those intermittent problems that was impossible to diagnose before it actually fell apart completely. So, there we were after dinner on a Friday night, with laundry halfway through a wash cycle, a sink mounded with dirty dishes, and the debris of a canning session all over the counters. And no running water.

Of course, having lived up North through a well going dry, numerous power outages, and frozen lines, this wasn’t our first rodeo. The nice thing about prepping is that we always plan for the worst-case scenario.

We immediately shifted to Plan B mode and tapped into our stored water.


While cleaning is certainly less than fun in these conditions, it can be done.  Here are 8 tips for cleaning without running water. (These and many more can be found in my book, The Prepper’s Water Survival Guide.)

1.) Break into the supply of disposable products.

Obviously, in a long-term scenario, disposable products won’t be what you turn to for cleaning. However, during a short-term power outage, they can be very helpful in getting your food prep areas cleaned.

Before washing extra dirty dishes in soapy water, wipe them to get most of the crud off. You can use a cleaning wipe for this since it will hold up better than paper towels.

2.) Use a container of rinse water instead of pouring water over dishes.

You can go through quite a lot of water running it over soapy dishes. Use a basin of water and rinse your dishes by dipping them into it. The bonus is, you can reuse the rinse water when you’re done.

3.) Use dishpans, not a plugged sink,  for washing and rinsing dishes.

Dishpans have the benefit of not letting that precious water run down the drain. When you don’t know how long your shortage of water is going to last, it’s important to make every drop stretch as far as possible. All of this water can be safely reused for specific purposes.

4.) Reuse your cleaning water.

The water that you’ve collected in your basins can be used yet again if you choose where to safely reuse it. For example, dishwater or cleaning water can be used for flushing the toilet. Rinse water can be used for mopping the floor, then used one more time for flushing.

5.) Clean counters with disposable wipes.

If you have no water and you’re pretty sure this is not going to be a long-term situation, don’t dirty up kitchen linens by scrubbing the counters with them. They’ll just have to be washed, using up even more of your stored water supply. (And depending on what you are scrubbing off the counters, they may need to be washed right away to keep from being smelly.)  Instead, use disposable cleaning wipes. When our brief disaster struck, I’d been canning tomatoes, always a messy endeavor that requires a great deal of clean-up afterward.

First, scrape off anything stuck to the counters. If your mess is dry, use a dry paper towel to get the crumbs off, then follow up with the wet cleaning wipes.  If your mess is a wet mess (like a spill) absorb as much of it as possible with paper towels. If you absorb with regular towels, hang them outside to dry so that you don’t end up with smelly, souring towels in your laundry room while you’re waiting for a chance to wash them. Once the major part of the mess on the counters is cleaned up, scrub with disposable wipes. If it is a food prep area, I usually then give it a quick spray with a vinegar cleaner and a wipe with a paper towel, because I don’t want chemical cleaner where I prepare the things we eat.

6.) Alternatively, use a basin and rag for cleaning counters.

If you don’t want to use disposable wipes, you can use a rag for cleaning the counters. Use a basin for rinsing out the rag while you clean.  Before dipping it in the basin, squeeze out the rag over the drain to get rid of some of the detritus from your counter. (Not that your counter will always be as messy as mine was after making marinara sauce.)

7.) Cleaning up after you clean up.

If you haven’t used disposable cleaning products, you will need to clean up after you clean up. Rinse all rags well in soapy water to get the chunks off. Then, wash the rag carefully, rinsing and wringing it out several times. Dip it in some of your dish rinse water to get the soap out.  Hang it to dry so that it doesn’t begin to smell sour.  If you did use disposable products and you had a big mess on your hands, take the garbage out so your home smells fresh and clean.

8.) Have a bathroom basin.

You can keep a dishpan full of water in the bathroom for handwashing too. Dip your hands into the water, then soap them up well. Scrub like you’re a doctor getting ready for surgery, getting into the nooks and crannies. Then dip your hands in the basin to rinse them well. Be sure to get all of the soap off of your hands will be itchy. After using this, you can dump the water into the toilet tank for flushing.

Wait…this stuff isn’t very organic!

If you’re reading over this and clicking your tongue over my use of commercial cleaning products, you’re absolutely right. These store-bought products are loaded with chemicals that I don’t want to make part of our everyday lifestyle. But emergencies often call for measures you wouldn’t take on a daily basis. If you are running your household on stored water, you’re going to have to make some choices in order to make it last through the crisis.

For this reason, we turn to harsher products than we’d normally use. Most of our homemade products are very gentle on our skin, our lungs, and the environment. I would never revert to using these things regularly but I can make exceptions when I need to extend my water supply.

The key to cleaning in the midst of a water disaster

When you are cleaning up in a power outage situation, the key to success is not to end up with a bigger mess that requires even more water. I rarely use disposable products, but I do keep them on hand for those times during which we must rely on our water storage.

Here are the items I recommend that you keep on hand for water emergencies:

What are your no-running-water cleaning tips?

Luckily, our emergency was short-lived. Our well pump had burned out and the repair person made it to our place fairly quickly.

Have you ever had a situation in which you had no running water? How did you clean when that happened? Are there any products that you recommend adding to the list above? Please share in the comments below.


Daisy Luther

Daisy Luther

Daisy Luther is a coffee-swigging, globe-trotting blogger. She is the founder and publisher of three websites.  1) The Organic Prepper, which is about current events, preparedness, self-reliance, and the pursuit of liberty on her website, 2)  The Frugalite, a website with thrifty tips and solutions to help people get a handle on their personal finances without feeling deprived, and 3) PreppersDailyNews.com, an aggregate site where you can find links to all the most important news for those who wish to be prepared. She is widely republished across alternative media and  Daisy is the best-selling author of 5 traditionally published books and runs a small digital publishing company with PDF guides, printables, and courses. You can find her on FacebookPinterest, Gab, MeWe, Parler, Instagram, and Twitter.

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  • For tools such as masonry towels, move them around in a pile of sand. To make a disinfectant cleaner combine 1/2 cup needles with white vinegar in a jar and let sit for a few weeks. Possibly, pine needles as a body exfoliating scrub. Baking soda and salt have various uses.

  • I practice water conservation every day so that I am in practice for a SHTF scenario. Therefore, I use a bowl in my sink to catch water as I wash my hands and often save the dishwater as well and use them to flush my toilet. I have saved thousands of gallons of water each month compared to same periods last year.

  • Dish washing

    One of the water conserving methods that Bob Wells (of the CheapRVliving channel on YouTube) mentions is that he routinely cleans his dishes by first scrubbing out everything possible with a scrubber of some sort (for example, a spatula first, followed by a Tuffy-style nylon scrubber), and then he uses a spray bottle with white vinegar to loosen up any remaining residue, and sanitize — followed by paper towels — and that’s it!

    Under such circumstances there would be a great incentive to use cooking methods with extra-easy cleanup needs — such as steam cooking and double boiler cooking — instead of frying until the blackened residue has to be forcibly removed with a body shop’s wet or dry sandpaper, eg.

    Bob’s community of viewers includes people not only living in RVs but also in vans, SUVs, trucks and even cars where space is really at a premium.


  • We often lost power at our cottage. The well’s pump wud go out.

    With some experimentation we soon learned that the low-flush toilet wud give an adequate flush even for solids on just 2 litres of grey water if we dumped it quickly into the bowl, not the tank.
    We found a plastic 2 litre icecream container was just the perfect reservoir.

  • Dishrags and sponges really need to be scalded to prevent them from stinking, especially when there’s no way of washing and drying other than by hand. This was how our Grandparents and Greats managed back before running water became a common household must have. Basically boiling water is poured over and through the cloths and sponges, then allowing them to cool enough to wring out and then let dry. Without scalding in lieu of washing and drying, both will quickly begin to mildew and smell.

  • About 2 years ago, I was eating alot of citrus (Limes, oranges, lemons, grapefruit.) and adding the citrus juice to my green smoothies. I decided to dump all citrus waste into a gallon container of white vinegar. Two years later, it is still wonderful for cleaning. As the liquid level goes down from usage, I just add top off the original bottle with more white vinegar, making a continuous supply.

  • My grandmother was a private nurse and was remarkably clean. For stubborn stains or sticky residue she would cover the area with a soapy, wet cloth overnight and clean it first thing in the morning. She believed in keeping three body areas immaculate and to that end left washcloths in the bathrooms. That type of ‘bath’ requires only partial disrobing and is pleasant even if the power is out if one uses warm water. She had separate washcloths because she believed everyone should use soap and water after each bm. Those were carefully cleaned! Grammy washed her clients’ hair in bed over a basin by first wetting it with a sponge and then shampooing. She then rinsed by pouring warm water through their hair into a basin which was shaped just for that purpose. I tried it standing in the shower and dunking my tresses in a warm bucket to first wet then rinse and that worked… I needed two buckets since we also condition our hair…after conditioning I poured the second bucket over my hair. She was a firm believer in Clorox in the dishes’ rinse water if anyone were sick: she had two borders and two kids in a fairly small house but nobody ‘shared’. She believed cleanliness was a bedrock for health. She always had more work than time and took care of people who appreciated excellent care such as Mrs. Ford. To thank her Henry gave my father gifts such as a reading book which my grandkids still enjoy:)

  • You Need More Than Food to Survive

    In the event of a long-term disaster, there are non-food essentials that can be vital to your survival and well-being. Make certain you have these 50 non-food stockpile essentials. Sign up for your FREE report and get prepared.

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