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 Chemical compounds begin to break down and degrade in outdated products, rendering them useless, even rancid.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.



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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  • Or rather than all of those less useful substitutes for soap; you could just learn how to make lye from wood ash, and make soap from it. Simple.
    There is a reason people abandoned them in favor of soap; Because it was much more effective.

    • What if you don’t have access to that? What if you don’t have a stationary location where you can collect this and spend the time needed to make soap? What if you are in an area where there’s no wood to burn?

      Instead of dismissing these fantastic ideas for “there’s only one right way to do it,” perhaps you should consider that versatility and adaptability are the keys to survival.

    • My father was born shortly after Oklahoma’s statehood and his family lived a pioneer/cowboy lifestyle. He told me many times about his mother making soap with no store bought ingredients. She used lard from their pigs and made her own lye. I wish I had those skills (except for the butchering part).

      Our main issue is going to be having a water source. We live in Texas, and not near water. We don’t get a lot of rain.

    • During WW2, Hungary, Klara Zsindelyne Tudos (savior of children during war in Budapest) wrote that “soap is a treasury during war”. Seems “well, duh”, but in reality, store as many soaps as needed for a prepper, in a big city where homemade soap is not always an option. Nor the most of these otherwise very good ideas. Like sand.
      Gabor Molnar (Hungarian hunter in Brazil) wrote that he used sand to clean his body – right beside a lot of water, infested with piranhas.

  • For those of us who have skin sensitivities like Psoriasis or eczema and do not use products with lye or other types of additives, these are fantastic ideas. I can’t imagine any of us will be able to hold on to our injections, creams or other said treatments we use for our skin ailments for very long. Great article Blackbird Thank You!

    • Lye is not an additive, it is the chemical that turns oils into soap. There is no lye left in the finished product. I use lye (sodium hydroxide) to make a wonderful comfrey/aloe vera soap that people with skin issues have told me they love.

  • Excellent article. I have wondered what I could do once my soap supplies run out. Also, I didn’t know why our hair felt greasy after using our homemade lye soap, now I do. I wonder how long it would take for our bodies to stop making so much oil? (We stopped using the lye soap and went to homemade glycerin soap.)
    Thanks for the suggestions.

    • There are a lot of articles and YouTube vids out there about this. Some of them call it the “No Poo” method (no SHAMpoo). These folks mostly just use plain water for hairwashing and they say it takes about three weeks to a month to full adapt.

  • There are some related issues worth mentioning. I’m seeing email ads for portable bidets that might be handy for either travel or for toilet paper shortages (whether real or jokingly created as Johnny Carson did back in 1973).

    It might also be useful to learn about the third world bucket bath which does an excellent job of conserving water in times of scarcity.

    How to take a bucket bath – water shortage solutions

    per this 10:45 minute video, from Writer in Rwanda on Jun 12, 2022


    Besides saving on water there is much less water to heat and therefore less energy needed to heat it. If you had a little notice of a coming disaster and had enough time to fill up a 100-gallon capable WaterBOB storage bag (in your bathtub), you might want to take a sit-down bucket bath in a large plastic rectangular storage box since there would be no room left for you in that bathtub.


    A few weeks ago a commenter here on TOP remarked that he could take a bucket bath with just one gallon of water. That would take a little practice (with a sponge with a scrubby surface on one side) to achieve that. [BTW, Hospitals often given sit-down baths to patients they suspect might be slip-and-fall risks.]


    • My dad was in the Army and they are called “spit baths”. Basically, you get a small amount of water (often it was cold or room temperature, not hot!), a rag or sponge: you wet down your body, then scrub with a wet rag, only parts that tend to sweat: Head, arm pits, groin area, feet. For women, I’d also add under your breasts. Usually no soap, but if you did you’d need more water for rinsing.

  • You made no mention of the value of using rainwater for bathing and doing laundry. Cleaners work better when you use soft rainwater rather than water from wells and streams.

  • Vinegar, we prefer apple cider vinegar, is our go to solution for hygiene when at sea. Water conservation is our priority so we mix about one teaspoon of vinegar to one cup of water and starting with our hair and face we use a wash cloth to give a complete body wash. No rinsing off as the vinegar is also anti-bacterial. Our hair has never felt cleaner.

  • Baking soda is all you need to keep your hair clean, and also your body. And it doesn’t expire. I know several people who have replaced soap and shampoo with plain baking soda, and it works better than commercial body cleansers

  • I would suggest the Foxfire Books to everyone. They staeted when a group of students began interviewing and collecting lost arts of Peolle of the Applachia Mountains. ( spelling?) I think it is 11 books + some extras i have the first 11.

  • We camp quite a bit and have used 1 or 2 gallon pump sprayers for along time. Use a new one obviously! Don’t discount a little pressure behind your water. Heat it to your liking. Saves water when washing hands for sure. Also 1 gallon will give a decent shower.

    • That’s a great idea! I have several of those ‘camp showers’, the black bags that you put in the sun with a tube…but a sprayer! Nice!!!

  • Nice article BB and I’m sure will be helpful to many who haven’t taken or had the time to focus on the personal hygiene aspect of prepping.

    I’ve been making bath and body care products for 20 years so I am familiar with what you shared. Just last weekend I made 96 bars of soaps – in basically handmade wooden molds I had made myself, lined with freezer paper. Poured the soap into the mold, let it set for 24 hours and then cut and is now currently curing.

    Part of the problem with soap making in the olden days, especially if homemade lye was used, was there was no way to calculate the strength of the lye. Consequently, many batches would be ‘lye heavy’, and I’ve heard many old timers in my rural area talk about their mother’s or grandmother’s soap and the unpleasant experiences they had when young.

    Modern soapmaking, however, is much more controlled with ingredients that have been standardized. For the record, when lye has been added to water and dissolved, and then added to oils, a chemical reaction occurs which is called saponification, which is the process the batch goes to from lye water mixed with oils, and turns into soap. Once the saponification is complete, there is no lye left in the soap. The end result is a natural 2/3 composition of soap, 1/3 composition of glycerin, a natural by product of soap making that the commercial companies strip from their soap bars and market in a variety of ways.

    You can read the labels on the body care products, and even if the ingredients do not say “lye” (which they never really do because the lye disappears in the formulation process), they will state things like “Sodium Tallowate” or “Sodium Cocoate”. Seeing those types of words will trigger the knowledge that lye was used in the making of that soap. Dial, Dove and many other bar soaps will reveal those ingredients.

    Not all ‘soap’, however, contains lye though. I guess for clarity sake, the word “soap” would infer it included lye in the formulation process. But “liquid” body washes and shampoos do not contain lye at all. They are made from detergents and surfactants that are formulated, keeping in mind the unique ph levels that our hair needs, which is different from what the skin needs.

    Herbal infusions, whether they be in oils, teas, tinctures, etc have a huge benefit on a variety of levels. I have Jewelweed that grows wild around our pond and creek, that is an almost instantaneous cure for poison oak/ivy. The herbal world is massive and I would never be able to learn it all but I have learned much over the years, and you’re right, it really does prevent, work and heal, many issues we can potentially face.

    At the risk of writing an even longer tome than I already have, I’ll end here, but handcrafted soap is not a bad thing. In the batch I made last weekend, I added buttermilk and used oils that are highly conditioning to the skin without stripping it, and that cleans and moisturizes in the process. Handcrafted soap does not eventually turn into a hazardous substance over time, but the oils used in it can potentially become rancid, which affects the aroma more than being a danger to use. That would take several years, but I am using soaps I made 3-4 years ago that are perfectly fine.

    I actually think it would be very helpful and beneficial if Daisy would have one of her writers break this down even further into specific targeted areas (mouth care, hair care, body care, wound care, etc, with ingredients commonly found at home or easily available (for now).

  • I have been in a few situations where there was no daily showering.
    Field exercises, water shortages.
    Daily sponge bath works.

  • Do bars of plain old fashioned soap really expire? It must take quite a while, because my bars of castille are pretty ancient and look like new.
    Vinegar is the best! I already ditched shampoo in favor or a bar of castille soap and I condition with a squirt of AVC. My hair is every bit as good if not better than it was with expensive products.

    • Winterleaf, my experience with Castile soaps especially (100% olive oil soaps) tend to get better with time. We standardly suggest people wait a year because the lather deepens and gets more creamy and is a very special soap!

      • When moving, we came across a package of Lever 2000 in our preps that was at least 15 years old. The outside 1/8-inch was a bit dry, but it still worked just fine, and we used up all four bars. If it had been stored in a plastic bag or other container with little or no air flow, I expect it would have looked brand new. I have also used very old lava soap.

  • This is a great article!

    But regarding expiration dates– I think it depends on what you’re using. We found a large box of homemade soap bars in our cellar that the children of the previous owners told me were at least 10 years old. This was almost ten years ago. . . using the last of the bars now, twenty years after the fact, and they’re still amazing. But these were made from lye and lard and nothing else. It wouldn’t surprise me if a lot of the newer soaps and shampoos broke down and expired.

  • This was helpful as I am putting together some caches and need to be thoughtful and not just put food in each one. Thank you.

  • I wish I had known about this video back when the above article was published:

    My Toilet Makes Compost – No Water, No Chemicals, No Smell

    per this 3:04 minute video, from Morag Gamble : Our Permaculture Life on Oct 16, 2016


    My Toilet Makes Compost – No Water, No Chemicals, No Smell. Film #15 by Morag Gamble, Our Permaculture Life (www.our-permaculture-life.blogspot.com)

    My toilet is a dry compost toilet. It simply and effectively turns our waste into usable compost that can be buried in the (non-vegetable) garden.

    This little introductory video shows you what it looks like and how it works.

    The reasons I love it:

    – We save over 50,000 litres of water a year because it has no flush (that’s comparing to an ultra-low-flow toilet flush. We’d save 100,000 in comparison to full flush toilets).

    – It uses almost no electricity – just a tiny fan inserted into the air vent which uses 5watts/hour (in our house this is solar powered).

    – It does not smell – because of the small extractor fan.

    – It is a sealed system so insects and rodents cannot get in.

    – Because it does not smell and it is sealed, we have in our house – not as an outdoor toilet, like many compost toilets are.

    – It has no moving parts – very low-tech and easy to maintain.

    – It does not export our waste to be dealt with elsewhere.

    – It reduces the organic material by 90% – massively diminishing the volume of waste to deal with.

    – It requires no chemicals to process the waste.

    – It is a continuous composting system, as opposed to a batch system where you need to physically swap chambers. This reduces handling and heavy lifting.

    – It is approved by our local government plumbing department.

    Every few weeks we add a little extra high carbon material, like sawdust, to maintain the carbon-nitrogen balance.

    We have thrown a few handfuls of composting worms into the system to add extra composting power.

    To make your own, you can find plans for a similar DIY version on:

    Check out my blog http://www.our-permaculture-life.blogspot.com for some extra images and diagrams

    Plus 63 Comments.


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