TEOTWAWKI Cleaning

If things fall apart and your regular routine is greatly compromised, how are you going to keep things clean and sanitary?

We had a great conversation in the last article about different ways to cook our food in a collapse situation, and one comment took the conversation a little farther along the planning process. I really enjoyed this comment because I have been thinking along the same lines. Your comments on the last article has given us more to ponder and learn, and I’m hoping this article will do the same.

The comment I referred to is this:  “Fern, after commenting this morning, I was out picking apples and got to thinking about this some more. Besides cooking itself, what about clean up like washing pots and pans as well as dishes and utensils? Heating water will be a similar challenge. For me, I have a couple of large pots designated for this. One of the many things I learned in Boy Scouts back in the 60’s was how to set up a sanitation station by heating water over a wood fire in pretty large quantities.. Just thinking the whole thing through. Carl in the UP” I really appreciate Carl’s comment, the added dimension to the discussion, and the fact that he lives in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan where it gets much colder than it does here.

I have given this situation thought many times. When Frank and I lived in Alaska back in 1990, we were in an Inupiat village without running water. There was a washeteria that provided water to the village, people would bring 30 gallon trash cans to fill and haul home. Frank carried two 5 gallon

collapsible water jugs to school and back many days, keeping our 30 gallon trash can supplied with water. Any water we used for washing dishes and such had to be heated on the stove first. The ease of heating water at the time came with an electric stove. Since there are many times throughout the day that something needs to be wiped down, cleaned off or hands washed, we began keeping a bowl of water in the sink that had a little soap in it. Granted, throughout the day, the water would be cold, but it was better than using up the water Frank hauled in. We learned to be very frugal with our water usage during this time. It was a very, very good learning experience for us.

When I think of cleaning, or having water on hand for washing, winter time seems easier than summer. If we have the woodstove in the house fired up for heat, it only seems logical to keep a kettle or large pot of water on it heating. This way it would be available as needed for washing dishes, clothes, or cleaning up after a meal or project. 

Summertime hot water may be a different issue. If I fire up the rocket stove to fix coffee and breakfast, a pot of water can be put on the stove to utilize the remaining heat until the fuel is expended. The size of the pot will be limited by the size of the stove. If more hot water is needed for washing clothes, another heat source will have to be utilized.

Both of the options I’ve outlined depend upon a source of fuel for the fire. There are other options, like a solar shower bag or water tanks in dark colors meant to harvest the heat of the sun. They may not get as hot, but it is a way to heat water without consuming a fuel source.

What are other ways to provide heated water for cleaning and sanitation? And like Carl said, in large quantities?

While we’re at it, what about toileting needs? What will you do when you can no longer flush your toilet? Haul water just for that purpose? That may work for some, but if you’re dependent on a city sewage system, it probably won’t work then. Where are you going to go to ‘use’ the bathroom? Or, how are you going to dispose of your waste? What other options do you have plans for that will safely, take care of your needs and not cause unwanted health issues? And while we’re talking about it, what happens when you run out of toilet paper?

There are many, many things we take for granted each and every day. I know we sure do. What happens when the power goes off for

a while? You walk in a room and turn on the light switch, even though you know it won’t work, you still do it because most of the time it works just fine. What happens when the water goes out? You walk over to the sink and turn the faucet on, because it usually works. Then you go to the bathroom thinking all the time, don’t flush it, don’t flush it. But then you flush it anyway! These are just a few of the basic things we take for granted that will require more planning and work when we have to depend upon ourselves for everything. Everything.

This discussion didn’t even touch on things we’ve come to depend on for cleaning. Things like soap, Pinesol, Mr. Clean, 409, dish cloths, towels, mops, brooms and 101 other things we use all the time. Doing without, or finding good substitutions will require a change of attitude and more work on our part. Again, this is one of those things it would be easier to practice now, than try to figure out later when the chips are down and many other needed tasks are vying for our attention.


Frank and I think about many different options for a number of situations like food, water, power, communications, or security. Some we keep and some we discard, which is what everyone needs to do. Evaluate information for usefulness in your situation. Some will be good, some will not, but the main thing is evaluate it. Think about it, just like Carl did. That is one of the things that struck me about his comment. He took a conversation farther by thinking about it and applying it to more areas of need along with cooking. Once again, we look forward to your thoughts, experiences and ideas. We’re all in this together and the more we can learn now, the better prepared we will be when the time comes.

Until next time – Fern

22 thoughts on “TEOTWAWKI Cleaning

  1. Sure do wish more folks understood what we are facing and would use this time of relative plenty to prepare for what is coming. So many seem to think if they prep at all they are betting on an apocalypse, but in the now it is valuable insurance against everyday life's little bumps in the road…unemployment, illness, disability, the need for a new well, etc. And it is just so darn handy! My husband has started calling me the Quartermaster (hehe). He doesn't even ask anymore if we have more of something, he just asks where it is. It is so nice when you finish a box/can/jar of something and just walk to the storeroom (former master bedroom) or barn and get more…rather than hoping that weeks budget will cover the purchase, if it is even in stock, without waiting if its something you have to order. Once you get a certain amount of stuff stocked, then you can really start saving money by only restocking when there is a good sale and you have coupons. The savings add up faster than you could even hope, allowing you to stock even more needed things. Plus, prices always increase over time, so the more of anything you can stock now will save you even more in the long run. For instance, the peanut butter I stocked two years ago cost $3.48…now the same brand/amount is $5.48. That makes me smile every time I grab one of those $3.48 jars! And it also allows me to help others and sort of gently teach an important lesson – when local family and friends run out of something, I have them trained to come here rather than drive 15 miles one way to town if they only need the one thing – saves time and gas, and builds goodwill. I just have them replace whatever they needed the next time they have to go to town. And last week our furnace died, on the coldest day so far this fall…and it wasn't an OMG moment because I had a spare thermocouple on hand. Didn't matter that the stores weren't open or that they might not have one in stock or I might not have enough money on hand at that moment. Being prepared for whatever life throws at you to make things interesting can give you such peace of mind. Anything that can lower your daily stress level is priceless!And while mankind has survived and thrived for tens of thousands of years without all our modern conveniences, that doesn't mean I plan on going into the Darker Ages without a Kitchen Queen wood cookstove or a Country Living grain mill and extra grinding plates…or the ability to grow, gather and preserve the food my family will need. Sure, you could cook over an open fire, grind grain with rocks, break sod for a garden with a shovel and try to learn as you go…but why, when you don't have to? We have been given the gift of intelligence, sure do wish more would avail themselves of it!PlantLady

  2. Carl, thank you for commenting and sharing your ideas. There are reasons why some of us live where we do. I swore after I left Alaska that I would never shovel snow again, now I use a push broom instead of a shovel. Again, thank you for sharing.Frank

  3. Hi, Pete. Thank you for sharing your knowledge and information. I'm sure there are many out there that will benefit from what you have shared, myself included. We have lots of work coming, hard work, and some will do better than others. Your ideas and details are greatly appreciated. Thank you again for sharing.Frank

  4. Hi, Grammy. Your feeling of desperation is shared by many, but it's just a feeling, put it aside and get on with life. I'm scared about the future, if I'm still around, it's going to be a different world. If I'm not around, then it doesn't make any difference, either way, we've got serious changes coming. I'm trying to keep my head straight, and that may be more and more difficult to do as the seasons change. Thank you for your comment. Frank

  5. Lots of people find this hard to understand, but one winter we had a snowless season in Alaska. No snow machines buzzing by, no skiing, but it happens. Now we had other winters that certainly made up for it. It's wise to study about our ancestors. For the most part they lived a very hard life. Where I live right now, many folks I go to church with my age, didn't have running water in their houses when they were kids. They seemed to live through it okay. They had outhouses, pumped their water from a well and bathed in a washtub. That's why they're called washtubs. That's the way it was.None of us want to go back to those days, but we're going to, whether we want to or not. Even back then there was a steady supply of materials, kerosene, different types of oils which are no longer available. It will be more difficult going back than most people imagine because the supply lines are not there any longer. Who is going to make all those hickory ax handles? What about the leather tack for horses and wagons? Who do you know has an anvil and knows how to use it, besides it being a yard ornament? Most of those old skills are gone. It's going to be an interesting ride. I would say buckle up, but there won't be any leather straps to do it with. Better stock up now while times are good.Frank

  6. Thank you, PlantLady. Life is a cycle, like the seasons of the year. The tides ebb and flow, and you are very correct, mankind has survived for thousands of years. We have a little time right now to get ourselves in better shape mentally, physically and temporally. What we do with this time we've been given is up to us. I hope we all use it wisely. Thank you for your words of wisdom. I hope everyone reads your comment. Thank you again.Frank

  7. Hi PlantLady. Look forward to reading part 2, but part 1 is some serious good advice. We have acorns falling right now that will soon be going into the pig diet. The excess pears we harvested recently went to the pigs. Look forward to part 2.Frank

  8. Thank you for reading and thank you for the comment. The ideas you share are useful and beneficial. It also helps others to think of alternative type ideas. There are lots of different ways to get this job done. Thank you for sharing yours.Frank

  9. Hi, Bellen, thank you for the thought provoking ideas. Sometimes we use black plastic to cover up areas, and on occasion we will use a tarp, but use whatever works for you. We have never used cardboard, but we have used the brown paper that comes as padding in some packaging. It breaks down and you can turn it into the soil. Old newspaper works too, it breaks down quickly. Thank you for the ideas.Frank

  10. Thank you for your recommendations. I will try the tape idea. I have never used a reusable toilet napkin, but we are prepared to do so. I guess it would be very similar to the procedure used for changing baby diapers. Maybe now would be a good time to start eating less, you know, less in, less out. Sorry, I couldn't resist that one. But it is something we do need to prepare for, and hygiene is a very serious issue, especially dealing with fecal matter. Thank you for the information.Frank

  11. Pete, you are a man after my own heart. Over the winter, when my two 300 gallon rain water collection tubs are empty ( for the obvious reason) I plan to work on a little bit different design to compliment the gravity fed system I have now to heat water. Although it will only be useful when temps are suitable in the warmer temps of spring thru early fall, that's the risk of living in the great white north. What I plan to do is find an old C band satillight dish that is unused in someones yard and buy or hopefully get it for free. Once I have it home my plan is wrap 3/4 inch black plastic tubing around the entire inside of the dish. Then feeding it off the retention system either by gravity or 12 volt RV pump. When facing the suns arch the water will be heated. I plan to guage the system with a tempature guage and pressure guage to insure some safety. The I want to set in place some directional feed plumbing on the water tanks so I can divert the flow either to the garden, a filter system for potable water or the heater dish. Just the other day I passed a discarded water heater at a house being remodeled, By the time I came back later that day It was gone. It struck me that I could have used it to store hot water in my garage. Oh well..Carl In the UP

  12. Looking at the roof line in the picture of your summer kitchen site, the first thing that came to my engineer mind was that this would be a perfect location for a gravity fed thermosyphoning solar heater. This would consist of a 55 gallon drum or surplus but not corroded water heater, a heat collector formed from a roll of black ¾ inch poly tubing arranged so that it has a horizontal header at the bottom and top formed of Tee fittings and vertical running tubing sections running from the bottom header up the roof to the top header. The top header is connected to the storage drum near the top of the drum. The bottom header is connected to the storage drum near the bottom of the drum. A fill mechanism consists of a five gallon pail with a toilet fill valve mounted in the bottom. This is piped to your domestic water supply (or a hand pump of low DC voltage Shureflow RV water pump taking suction from a ground level water source). The pail is mounted such that the water level in the pail controls the water level in the storage drum which should cover the inlet piping from the top header at all times. The discharge line at the bottom of the pail is piped to the one end of the bottom header. The water piping to the tap located in your summer kitchen is connected to the middle of the storage drum. A drain line is connected to the bottom header and run to grade with a faucet valve such that the entire system can be drained during freezing weather. Water flow to the kitchen tap is by gravity flow – no pump required. It could also be piped to provide a cross connection to the hot water piping inside the house to allow warm showers, and water for other tasks such as laundry.I would mount the storage drum on a trestle placed near the antenna tower rather than apply that load to the roof trusses of the main building. This would allow access to the drum and fill pail from the roof while making no penetrations of the roofing that could cause problems. All piping could be run externally and could utilize the same ¾ inch black poly tubing and bayonette style fittings readily available at most hardware stores. I would use hose clamps on all bayonet connectors that have line pressure applied. The 55 gallon drum could be painted black to assist heat capture. The use of an old water heater would provide the additional benefit of having an insulated storage which would retain the heat through the night for warm water first thing in the morning before the sun rises.Pete in Texas

  13. I've often thought about how we will stay clean and have drinking water in a grid down scenario. I have a small pond and a natural spring on my property, and a creek about a quarter mile one direction and 3/4 mile another direction from my house. I have gutters on my house and pole barn. I need to get water barrels, and some way of getting the water from the spring. I have a water filtering system to remove contaminants from water, and plan on using bleach or boiling water as another method of purifying it. Everything that will need to be done can be overwhelming. I have an increased sense of desperation in my preps.

  14. I think in a modern collapse scenario water will be more important than heat and cooking in most places. Just my opinion. People are going to have to use grey water in creative ways and limit water use in general. Where laws exist now governing grey water, they will have to go out the window. The modern idea of \”clean water\” and the EPA controlling it are going to be defunct. I remember when people only took a bath once or twice a week and settled for little sponge baths in between. And that was before all the frou-frou products to cover up body odor! 😉 My Oklahoma grandparents lived on the edge of town but still within town limits, and they watered my grandmother's roses and some of the orchard with grey water that drained directly from the bathtub under the house. This was all through the Depression and afterward until a plumber needed to repair a line in 1971! Stealth watering for almost 4 decades -and beautiful roses and peaches, I might add!We have a well but not deep enough and no money to deepen it. We have reasonable access to a river and our own land access to a mountain creek that runs only in the late spring and early summer. Usually in winter we have snow we can melt, but we were snowless in AK last year and may be again this year. Most summers we have ample rain, so we can use catchment techniques to accumulate some water. Bottom line is that those who live through nightmare scenarios are going to eat less, drink less, be colder in winter and hotter in summer, and are going to bath a whole lot less often. Not pleasant to think about at all. For those of us who are blessed to live on pieces of land away from the maddening crowds and towns, we have the advantages of the possibility of outhouses and digging little ponds and other water catchment methods. As Plant Lady commented above, we do have to spend time learning about how people lived for thousands of years before us without electricity and easy access to water, etc. However, it is harder to employ those ideas for those who live in towns and cities. Come, Lord Jesus!

  15. PART TWO:The further we go in our efforts to prepare for the worst, the more I realize that everything is a cycle…and most everything you currently think of as \”waste\” is a raw material to make your life easier in the coming Darker Ages. You use the extra or leftover heat from cooking to heat your water for cleaning and bathing. You grow a garden/orchard to feed yourselves and can use the extra, culls and processing \”waste\” to feed animals – which will provide you with a more nutritious, more varied diet including meats, eggs, milk, cheese, etc. They will also provide you with \”waste\” from meat or food processing…which is wool, pelts, leather, feathers, whey from cheese production, etc. The animals' \”waste\” (manure) will enrich the gardens/orchards, allowing you to keep your ground fertile and grow higher nutrient foods. The animals themselves can also work for you while they feed themselves – put the goats out where you want ground cleared of brush and trees, either for expanding growing areas or to suppress fire danger or to clear lines of sight for security. Follow the goats with pigs to root up the ground while searching for food (think rototiller), then follow with chickens to fine till the ground with their scratching while removing insects and weed seeds. If you don't need ground cleared, rotate them through the garden areas. This way they are spreading their manure right where you need it while cleaning up garden leftovers, insects and weed seeds. And many animals are useful for pulling carts, sleds or wheelhoes, providing another benefit to you.A sustainable homestead is sustainable because everything works in a cycle…our job is to read history and think things through. No need to reinvent the wheel, people survived and thrived for tens of thousands of years without all our modern conveniences. Find out how they did things, then you can wisely stock the durable equipment and plant and animal stock you will need to make best use of your resources.PlantLady

  16. PART ONE:This is one of the main reasons we chose the large Kitchen Queen wood cookstove with the 27 gallon stainless steel hot water reservoir. Here in our northern tier state, will be using the stove at least Sept. til June, so 8 months of copious hot water without any extra fuel consumption is covered. In the warmer months, will use the outdoor kitchen setup with the 8 gallon brew or cheese kettles to heat water. In that case, will heat the water while cooking meals (to save fuel) then put it in a good cooler/thermos to keep it hot/warm for use through the day. As an aside, my sister told me about folks who cook their sweet corn this way for picnics/gatherings…place corn in a cooler, heat water to boiling and pour over corn. Close cooler and off you go…by the time you get to the picnic, the corn will be cooked and you will have warm water left to wash your hands and dishes. My grandma and great grandma told me they would put their big meal of the day (lunch) on to cook while preparing breakfast…the roast or stew or soup would cook with the heat remaining from breakfast production…getting two meals for one in terms of heat, food prep and cleanup. Then they would fire up the stove in the eve to reheat leftovers from the large midday meal for supper, heat water for cleanup and personal washing, heat the home for evening activities and pleasant sleeping. Just before bedtime, they would set bread to rise in the warming oven or near the stove, so the residual warmth as the fire dies out would allow the bread to rise slowly overnight and be ready for morning baking.Vinegar is an excellent cleaner and apple cider vinegar is so easy to make using some of the pomace \”waste\” remaining when making cider. Often it even happens when you wish it wouldn't – when trying to make hard cider. At first thought, pomace is a waste product…but its not. You can put it on worked ground and the seeds contained will start new fruit trees. You can feed it to livestock. And make apple cider vinegar for cleaning, pickling and salad dressings. If you should have some left, it makes great deer and other wild animal feed…bringing meat to a convenient location for harvest. Soap is easy to make, if somewhat dangerous. This is one of those situations that invariably leads you to further efforts. All you need to make soap is lye, fat, suitable containers and utensils. Once you run out of store-bought lye, you will need to make your own by leaching the lye out of \”waste\” wood ashes with water. So, you need to burn wood for ashes and have a container that will contain caustic lye. You also need fat, which in most cases will come from pigs. So, then you need pigs, housing, feed, etc. But wait, the pigs can eat the overflow and \”waste\” from the garden/orchard food production and forest foods (acorn and beech mast – which is what flavours prosciutto), act as rototiller replacements, provide copious amounts of manure to enrich your garden soils…while providing luscious bacon, ham and sausage, along with leather. And all animals will gleefully reproduce to replace themselves or expand the herd, as long as you were clever enough to think ahead and get breeding stock.Part two follows…this turned out too long!PlantLady

  17. We have a house and cabin on our farm – both hooked up to separate septic systems. We plan to keep them both cleaned out annually (overkill, but just in case). If/When the shtf, we will limit toilet use to #2 only. No TP or chemicals in the toilet. A hand pump bidet would be useful when tp is limited or gone. I think we can make it for many years this way. We have county water at our house and a deep well with hand pump at our cabin. We are building a portable solar system on a trailer that will run the pump at the cabin or lights and a refrigerator elsewhere. If things get totally desperate and all of that breaks down, we've got a couple of ponds for water. That was an absolute requirement for any retreat property we looked at (it took us 2 years to find it!)For washing pots, laundry, etc. we mounted an old cast iron sink outside & covered. It is hooked up to our well water. It drains grey water underground. It has a sink basin and a washboard type shelf – kind of like this. We figured it would be useful in many ways. http://www.ebay.com/itm/Refinished-42-Standard-1927-Drainboard-Apron-High-Back-Cast-Iron-Porcelain-Farm-/262095788099?hash=item3d06205843:g:I9cAAOSwhcJWIBbDThanks for getting us thinking about everything! Always a pleasure to read your posts.

  18. I think evaluating and experimenting will help anyone make decisions on what they can do without or change the way they are doing something, either temporarily or permanently.This past month, in an effort to save on our public water, we started taking sponge baths instead of showers daily, scraped off all food remnants instead of rinsing them off, and other simple things like that. We did reduce our water use from 3 units to 2. Unfortunately it resulted in a $5. increase in our bill. However, these simple steps showed us that we could use a whole lot less water if we had to resort to using, say rain water.For the month of Nov. I'm going to double check everything we throw in the garbage. We have a separate container for recyclables (garbage, recyclables, yard waste and bulky items are picked up by the county and are part of our taxes) but sometimes things get thru. I'm also checking for items that can be reused for something not originally intended. For instance, to gain more garden space at the back property line I've mowed the area as short as possible, laid flattened cardboard boxes and covered it with grass clippngs from the vacant lot next door and the public green space (water overflow ditch) beyond our property line. It's a no cost solution that will hopefully kill off the grass by next March so I can get in a late spring planting. I just can't afford the cost of the heavy duty professional weed barrier for such a large area, about 8' x 100', so this seems viable. If this doesn't work, I'll take it up, recycle it and the grass will fill in quickly as soon as the rains come.

  19. I do the same thing right away when our power goes out – tape up the handles on the toilets so we don't absent-mindedly waste a flush. Can't tell you how many times I've reached for the taped handle only to be reminded — \”Oh yeah, we don't have any power right now…\”The solar oven for keeping water warm is a great idea! Just Me

  20. You can heat water in your solar oven using mason jars or plastic juice bottles. When we can t flush we place a piece of duct tape over the commode handle to remind us not to accidentally flush. I have made several cloth reusable wipes that can be washed and reused in emergency situation if you run out of toilet paper. I think bleach, baking soda, and good soap are some of the best cleaners in an emergency situation.

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