Why Prepare? Part 2-Hygiene

In our article Why prepare? we talked about the importance of having and testing a survival plan. In part 2 of our series we will talk about how hygiene plays a very important part in your survival plan and how you can deal with the issue of hygiene in a SHTF scenario.


Human waste is perhaps one of the foulest things you will ever come across. Aside from the obvious odors that emanate from human waste it is full of nasty little bugs that can, and often do cause diseases such as:

  • Hepatitis A
  • Cholera
  • Typhoid
  • Giardiasis
  • E Coli
  • UTI (Urinary Tract Infections)
  • Rotavirus
  • Among others

During the “Occupy” protests of 2011-2012, Zuccotti Park, in New York City became the home to thousands of people. It was not designed or equipped to handle the number of people who took up residence there. Even with local businesses allowing protesters the use of their bathroom facilities hundreds and even thousands of people both urinated and defecated whenever and wherever they could. This posed several health related problems that according to the CDC caused an increase in Hepatitis A and Giardiasis in the days and weeks after the protests. The point is when the SHTF if you don’t have a plan for disposing of your waste you run the risk of becoming seriously ill and dying as a result.

 Human Waste Disposal

Unless you have a natural spring and gravity fed water system that supplies your house or enough water storage when TSHTF you are going to have to find some way of getting rid of human waste. You can’t flush the toilet without water in the tank and the health issues that will arise from just going in the bathroom regardless are too many to mention. And yes, there are people out there that will do just that, unfortunately I have seen it first hand when I was working as a Paramedic/Police Officer.

There are a couple of ways you can deal with this issue. You can crap in a bag and get rid of it when it is full, during operations where stealth was essential we used to use “shit bags” and carried them out of the operational area for disposal so we wouldn’t give our presence away.

A major issue with that is if TSHTF there isn’t going to be anyone to collect the trash and it won’t take long for the stench of the bags contents to become overwhelming. If you live in an apartment that maybe your only option, if it is make sure you dump the bags as far from your home as you safely can. Aside from the obvious health reasons there are security concerns as well. If there are people out there looking for food and such it won’t take long before someone figures out the bags stacking up outside of your house are literally full of crap which means someone in there has at least some food.

Another option, especially if you live in a house and your neighborhood has emptied out, is to dig a straddle trench in either your backyard or preferably one of your neighbors yards. You should dig the trench approx. 3’ in length and 1’ – 2’ in depth for each person who will be using it as a general guideline for about 3-4 weeks ‘worth of use. So if you have 4 people in your family you would want to dig a trench 12’ long and 4’-6’ deep placing the dirt to one side. After each use you use a shovel full or two of that dirt to cover your waste.

Example of a Straddle Trench Latrine.

Example of a Straddle Trench Latrine.

You should compact the soil in the trench for every 6”-8” of back fill. Once the waste is within 1’ of the top of the trench you should fill it in completely, compacting the soil and then add an additional 3” of compacted soil over the top to form a mound.

By compacting and “mounding” the soil you can prevent fly larva from hatching and getting out of the hole and prevent the health issue that come from fly infestation. If you need to dig another trench it should be at least 5’ from the previous one. For a bit of privacy and overhead cover in case of bad weather you can string tarps around the trench or build a portable plywood wall system that can be moved when you dig the next trench.

While a straddle trench can be an effective way to discard human waste, if the end of the world as we know it has come to pass a straddle trench is not going to be the best solution. You will need to build some other form of latrine. One long-term solution is a deep pit latrine, also known as an outhouse. Even until the 1930’s a good number of rural homes still used a deep pit or outhouse latrine, so the idea is not as primitive as you might think. In a SHTF scenario digging the deep pit latrine is going to be labor intensive and require at least some basic carpentry skills to make the outhouse usable.

Example of a Deep Pit Latrine.

Example of a Deep Pit Latrine.

Before you start digging the pit, make sure you are not going to contaminate your fresh water source. In most cases plan for the waste to penetrate the soil around the pit 6’-8’ all the way around and 3’-4’ above the level of waste in the pit. If you have a well you want to dig your pit at least 200’ away from and downhill from your well. Similarly, if you live somewhere with a very high water table (New Orleans for example) you will want to be very careful with the placement and depth of your pit.

Next you are going to build your “toilet box”. The box can be as complex or as simple as you like, it is all a matter of personal style and your comfort with carpentry. Take a look at the sample toilet box plan I made for a deep pit latrine at a friend’s bug out retreat. With fairly basic carpentry skills and some lumber you can build this toilet box.

Sample plans for a Toilet box.

Sample plans for a Toilet box.

The dimensions of your toilet box will be determined by the dimensions of your pit, a hole 12’-15’ deep and about 2’‐3’ wide and 3’6” long for the pit will be good for a family of four. You will want your toilet box to be able to “straddle” the pit with 3”‐4” all the way around so the box doesn’t fall in the pit while you are on it.

Once you have decided your dimensions cut all the lumber to size and build the frame. Once the frame is built “skin” the sides with the plywood. You can use ¼” plywood for the sides if you want to save on cost, the reason the plan calls for ½” plywood is because that is what my buddy already had on hand. Place the ¾” plywood on top (¾” plywood was used for strength). Position your toilet seat so it is centered on the top of the box from side to side and about 2”‐3” from the front of the box.

Flip the lid of the toilet seat open and using the opening as a template, mark the ¾” piece of plywood for cutting. Drill a pilot hole big enough to get a keyhole saw or jig saw blade through and cut out the opening you marked. Using the bolts on the seat, mark and drill holes in the top of the box that will be used to mount the toilet seat, set the seat aside for now. Once the box is complete you can paint it if you want if not, you should at the least give it a couple of good coats of Spar Varnish or other similar water‐proof coating both inside and out to extend its life. Once the varnish is completely dry, mount the toilet seat and place the whole box over the pit you dug. Then enclose the whole thing with an “outhouse” for privacy.

I would suggest you invest in some Rid‐X ™ to help speed the breakdown of the waste in the pit and some RV deodorizers to help keep the smell down. A deep pit latrine is a great option if TSHTF unless you have a really large supply of fuel and the security situation will allow you to burn your waste.

Example of a Burn Latrine.

Example of a Burn Latrine.

If you are planning on burning your waste you can use the toilet box plans for the deep pit latrine with a couple of simple changes. Build the box as indicated in the plans except for the rear of the box. Instead of running the lower frame piece all the way across the back cut out the center part between the two upright braces. When you “skin” the rear of the box, cut the “skin” to create a door or hatch that you attach to the box with a pair of hinges. You will need a sturdy metal container that will fit under the box through the door or hatch in the back. Cut down 55 gallon drums are perfect for this purpose.

When the waste is within 3” of the top the barrel is full. To dispose of the waste simply pull the barrel out from under the toilet box and move it to a location where flames won’t be able to cause any damage and downwind of your location. Carefully pour gasoline or a 30/70 mix of diesel and gasoline into the barrel, stand back, and toss in a match. Using heavy work gloves and a metal paddle stir the waste/fuel mixture until nothing is left but ash. This will take a couple of hours and it will stink to high hell but it will get rid of your waste. If you do not have a 110% secure area I would not recommend using a burn toilet.

Washing Up

While having a place to take a dump will greatly help your morale if TSHTF being able to wash up with some semblance normalcy is an even greater morale booster. Using baby wipes for personal hygiene will work if TSHTF but nothing beats a nice hot shower or bath to make you feel better especially in a survival situation.

You can go about taking a bath or shower in a number of ways provided you have enough water supplies. The first is to simply heat water on your cook stove (which you should have with a good supply of fuel) or over a fire and pour the heated water into the tub just like the old west.

Another method that is probably the easiest if a bit time-consuming is a solar shower. You can get a solar shower at your local Wal‐Mart for around $9‐$10. You simply fill the solar shower with water (usually 5‐7 gallons) and place it colored side up in sun for a few hours. Depending on how long you leave it in the sun and where you live you can have a nice hot shower at the end of the day.


Solar Shower

Solar Shower

When we go camping we use a solar shower for washing up, in the areas we camp high in the Rockies leaving the solar shower in the sun for 3‐4 hours (longer during the winter) gets the water to about 110‐120 degrees and feels great especially on a cold day.

If you live some place that the sun shines more often than not, you have the money to spare, and plenty of water storage you can build a solar shower system using black flexible PVC tubing, a shower head, a water supply, and a battery-powered pump.

The illustration below shows a fairly simply solar show system I have seen used a couple of different times with very good results.

Sample plan for building a house mounted solar s

Sample plan for building a house mounted solar s

To construct the solar shower in the illustration you take a piece of ½”‐ ¾” flexible PVC tubing and cut it long enough to reach to the bottom of a 35‐55 gallon plastic water barrel with enough sticking out the top to attach a battery-powered water pump. A 12v RV pump attached to a deep cycle battery with a small solar trickle charger works great for this application.

Attach another short piece of the PVC tubing to the top of the pump and attach a ball valve to the other end. Being very careful, take the remaining PVC tubing and attach to the wall of your house or shed and on to the roof. Coil the tubing on your roof making sure it is secure and not going to “pop up” off the roof and that you have enough tubing to run back off the roof and down the wall to about 6’ off the ground. Attach another ball valve to the end of the tubing and a shower head to the valve. Secure all the tubing to the wall and add a sturdy metal or wooden rod to the handle on the ball valve so short folks can use it too.

Wire the pump according to the instructions provided with the pump making sure to add a water proof switch between the pump and battery so you can turn it on and off without disconnecting the battery. Attach the solar charger to the battery according to the instructions provided with the charger. To get the shower ready for use open both valves and turn on the pump. Once water is running freely out of the shower head close the valve to the shower head then turn off the pump and close the pump valve quickly. The sun will heat the water in the tubing and when you are ready to take your shower simply open the valve on the shower head and you have a hot shower thanks to the sun and gravity!

Depending on the size of the tubing you use and how large your coil is you can get 20‐25 gallons of hot water in a short amount of time.

In our next article we will continue looking at ways you can keep up your personal hygiene when TSHTF.

I look forward to seeing your comments and as always, Train to Survive!


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