Monday, May 14, 2012

Reader Question: SHTF Hygiene and Clothes Washing

Hi,
I have an idea for a blog article-or several- that I think you may be uniquely qualified to expound on. There are a vast majority of us that have never, or are unable to, serve in the military.
You're active duty military; what I and many others would like to know, is how you do your day to day maintenance while out in the field, away from all the comforts of home.
I think it would make a good read if you could tell us the necessities of our life if TSHTF and we are suddenly without water, electricity or heat. We know much about sponge bathing, washing in tubs with a wash board and making our own soap, but how do you do it while trying to stay out of the field of fire/ being discovered?
How do you wash your personal clothing(skivvies, socks, BDU's, etc.) when out in the field?
If you do these things, what do you use to wash them in and what do you use for detergent? How do you clean yourself, and with what?
So please give this some thought and see if it is an idea you would be willing to tackle.
Thanks,
Iron Tom Flint
TOR here, I wrote a couple posts that give us a place to start. This post on field hygiene covers part of the topic pretty decently. Also this post on Dysentery, while a bit light hearted is worth checking out. Also here is one on primative laundry.  Now onto the specific questions.
Q: We know much about sponge bathing, washing in tubs with a wash board and making our own soap, but how do you do it while trying to stay out of the field of fire/ being discovered?
A: Staying out of the field of fire is easy, if people are shooting at you or immenently going to shoot at you it is not the time to do laundry. Sorry if that was a bit short, from here forth I will try to answer the questions as I believe they are intended, not word for word.
For short term stuff I would use my field hygiene advice from above. Typically military operations are short enough in duration that laundry isn't a huge issue; though that is a relative term as I have worn a single uniform for a month without washing it. Another option is that things are so crazy that you have bigger stuff to worry about. Delaying washing is easier when weather is relatively cold. You would be pretty nasty after wearing the same clothes in the South or Middle East in the summer.
As to avoiding being discovered. If I was really worried about someone discovering me I wouldn't be doing laundry. I definitely wouldn't do laundry in some sort of escape and evasion situation, a hide or a patrol base.  That being said a really small fire made of dry wood (especially in the woods or down in some micro terrain) is pretty hard to see from beyond 50-100 meters. All you would really need is enough to heat up some water which doesn't take a bonfire.
However to make it easier lets say you are in a fairly quiet but non permissive enviornment. Maybe you and the spouse are trying to get somewhere on foot or using forest service roads and obviously don't want any attention. Maybe you are some sort of G and folks are sort of passively patroling your area, doing recon patrols to check out movement, signs of people like fires, etc. Whatever, it really doesn't matter. The point is that you aren't imminently worried about people trying to kill you but do want to keep a low profile.
One simple and old school option is to take a bar of soap and your clothes into a body of water and wash them. This has the benefit of washing your body. Obviously your situation would have to be reasonably secure and this is a lot more fun in 80 degree sunshine than 30 degree snow. I have seen socks washed in canteen cups, I suppose the same could be done with underoos. Also the good old bucket or a dedicated water jug (the military ones have pretty big mouths) works.
Q:How do you wash your personal clothing(skivvies, socks, BDU's, etc.) when out in the field?
A: Often the answer is to stash the dirty stuff and wash in after the operation is over. Other times we scrounge up some big tubs or whatnot. I have seen organizations where leaders bought some old school type laundry stuff to fill urgent needs.
Q: If you do these things, what do you use to wash them in and what do you use for detergent?
A: I have seen and used normal commercial detergent and plain old bar soap.
Q:How do you clean yourself, and with what?
A: Baby wipes are a great way to go. If heating up water is practical a washcloth and a bar of soap is nice and makes you feel a bit more human. As to how it is pretty much laid out here.
Anyway I hope that is helpful. Please let me know if you have any questions. If you remember one thing take care of your feet.
-Ryan

5 comments:

Commander_Zero said...

I recall reading that two buckets of water (one for rinse, one for soapy) and a toilet plunger did a fairly admirable job of improptu Maytaggery. I also read about simply putting your duds in a 5-gallon bucket of soapy water, sealing it up, and rolling it down a hill a few times. It seems to me that you might be able to get the same effect with any relatively small, watertight container if you just wanna wash small stuff like your sucks, shorts and t-shirts.

Max said...

If you are lucky enough to be in the Cav or a 'lesser' unit with large vehicles you can have a buddy get up on one and pour water over you from a 5 gallon water jug. Regular people can set a jug up high and unscrew the nozzle just enough to get a trickle out and you have yourself a shower. Similar to a camp shower from Walmart.

I second the baby wipes, but don't use scented, especially if you haven't tested it in the neither regions before field use. That and smelling like a hooker isn't needed, it's ll about the clean.

As mentioned feet are important, they take most of the abuse and the little dust particles in your socks can turn into abrasive material (like fine sandpaper) on your feet really fast. Taking your socks off to air dry for a bit, beating the dust out of them, etc. will really help keep you on the go.
On my 4+ hour runs I always have spare socks, this damn Colorado sandstone will give you more than a pedicure fast.

Ryan said...

Max, I don't know how I forgot to mention ghetto rigged showers! Thanks for helping us out.

Chris said...

I've done a lot of backpacking and this is how I handle it.

On trips <72 hours you can get away with a lot hygiene wise. Other than cleaning wounds and such, really all I worry about is hand sanitizer before meal time and after the rest room... If things are really gross then it is important to dry out feet and chafing areas. Gold Bond works well, but a quick sponge bath or wet wipe on the irritated area also works. I also suggest a tooth brush and toothpaste (little travel size kit is fine).

For longer trips you need to get more elaborate. For clothes: one on your back or feet, one on your pack you washed earlier in the air/sun drying, and one in your pack in a waterproof bag is a good plan for critical under-layers (socks, underwear). You just rotate the clothes around every 1-2 days (depending on weather and your ability to dry). Yes, that requires three pairs of socks and underwear. Yes, the weight is worth it. For other clothes I usually stick to 1-2 sets but socks and underwear are key. I will also bring as many sock liners as I can, and wash them regularly (they dry fast).

To clean such clothes all you need is some water and universal soap. Camping stores sell super-concentrated all purpose soap that works for both dishes and clothes. You can use your cooking pot for laundering small items when backpacking to save weight. Put them in the pot, mush them around, shake it up, then rinse them out. Done.

For the person in the field, I suggest either a sponge bath or wet wipes. Wet wipes are simpler but heavier. A sponge bath works pretty well. You start with a pot of warmish soapy water. You can either heat it with your stove or just let the sun do the work for you. Wipe down with your micro camp towel, starting with the cleanest areas (face) then going to the dirtiest nastiest areas. Then rinse down. I've done this procedure in arctic camping; because you are sponge bathing one small part of the body at a time it is doable. It is more pleasant in moderate conditions or if you can get inside a tent/shelter for a few mins to cut the wind and cold though.

Spot treat with gold bond or other such body powder if you discover rashes/chafing during your sponge bath.

Cheers,
Chris from AK

Anonymous said...

Be a squid, they carry a laundry (and galley) wherever they go, usually.

Actually, as a week 1 - day 5 "maytag washer" in bootcamp (circa 1986), I feel uniquely qualified to help answer this question... the toilet plunger method works well, and is probably less tiring if not forced to scream a stupid limerick while doing it. Damn, thanks for the unpleasant reminder TOR.

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