Modern conveniences in the modern world makes personal hygiene a daily routine with little thought or inconvenience. So, what do you do in less convenient situations such as in a third world country, camping trip, or a situational emergency with no municipal water?
My mother had a saying, “There is a big difference between new dirt and old dirt.” We often get dirty playing and working but we do not need to live filthy.
Our standards of cleanliness may be more from our conveniences than reality. In earlier generations people did not have a full bath every day and they did not wash their clothes after one wear. We can stretch our cleanliness level a little further than we may be used to doing. Most of us will not be stinking at two or three days without a full bath. Clothes can be worn for three days before they began to be wretched depending on the weather and your activity. In difficult situations we must get comfortable being uncomfortable.
If you have only water, you can rinse your mouth. If you only have a toothbrush, you can do a proper job of brushing your teeth. Toothpaste is mainly a carrier for the fluoride.
When brushing your teeth, use only water clean enough to drink. Many people have gotten sick by brushing their teeth with tap water in a foreign country. Put just a pea-size amount of toothpaste on your toothbrush when you have limited clean water.
There are several degrees of bathing when you are in a pinch. If you have only water with no soap, you can clean yourself more than you think. It is better than nothing for sure. It will clean you and it will refresh you after a sweaty day. The following are some types of baths you may need to utilize depending on your situation.
Basin Bath: You can take a bath by using a small vessel like a basin or small pot. Many people in our “civilized” world took basin baths in previous generations. The older generation of southern folks called a basin a “wash pan”. You simply fill a basin with water (hopefully warm) and lightly soap up a washcloth and wash your body beginning at your head and working down. You use the same water for soaping and rinsing—so do not soap up too much. If you are a little picky, you could refill the basin and rinse with clear water, but it is not necessary.
Bucket Bath: I have taken hundreds if not thousand of baths in third world countries with a 5-gallon bucket of water and a small bowl or cup for a dipper. Fill a clean bucket with water. If you have easy access to heated water, fill the bucket about ¾ full of cold water and pour about 3 quarts of warm water into your bucket. Even in hot climates, the water can be very cool, so the heated water will help but it is not necessary. The heated water is a luxury and I have filled a bucket and set it in the sun for a couple of hours to warm it up.
Again, work from your head down. Use the cup to splash water on your body, soap up, and rinse with clear water using the cup. It is easy and effective.
Creek/River Bath: Same principles as above, just get wet, soap up, and rinse off. In mixed company or if you are modest, wear a bathing suit or shorts. Hopefully, the river will be cleaner than your dirty body! Even a short swim without soap and a scrub will clean you more than you may think. Soap only makes water more wet.
Rag Wipe: In certain situations, a simple wipe off with a wet washcloth may be your only option. It is better than nothing. This method can be done even if you are mostly clothed. I have heard this called an “airplane bath”—nose, wings, tail, and landing gear—no explanation needed!
Just a note about towels. In our modern world, most people probably dry off with a towel and throw it into the dirty laundry after one use. Why? After taking a bath, aren’t you clean? When I travel abroad, I always take a medium sized towel. I use it for a week hanging it up after every use to dry.
Our feet are nearest to the water, dirt, and germs. They are often covered with socks and shoes that hold in the moisture, dirt, and sweat making them a breeding ground for bacteria and fungus. Always dry your feet well before putting on socks and shoes.
Make sure you have at least one change of socks when you venture out or take a day trip. Keep your feet as dry as possible. Depending on your time away from your base, having three pairs of socks will insure one pair as a spare dry set while you wear one and wash and air dry the third set.
At the end of the day in a primitive situation, at least rinse your feet with water. Wash them with soap if you can, especially if you are wearing sandals in a third world location. Some people also give their feet a wipe with alcohol before going to bed.
One of my big toes got infected in a third world country. It took about three rounds of antibiotics and two in-office minor surgeries to get it under control. Take good care of your feet and you will go places.
Flip-flops or slides are great for leisure downtime, so your feet can “air-out” and cool. They are also good for protecting your feet for bathing times.
People had to go long before there were toilets, so it is natural to go natural. In primitive locations from jungles to woods, digging a little hole for your poop and putting dirt over it, is proper trail courtesy. Backpackers carry a little titanium trowel made for that purpose. Real nature lovers use leaves instead of toilet paper. Make sure you know which leaves to use; avoid poison ivy and other caustic plants.
Outhouses are sometimes the only facility available. Always have a little toilet paper with you even if it is one of those little purse packets of tissue. If people are poor enough for an outhouse, they may be too poor for toilet paper.
Some Eastern countries have eastern latrines. They are basically appliances at floor level, and it is necessary to use the natural squat position. They usually have a bucket for a “pour-flush”. In these same countries, many do not use toilet paper and their septic systems are not designed for toilet paper. What do you do? You use a furnished bathroom mug to pour water on yourself with your right hand while cleaning with your left hand. Wash your hands well when finished.
Many of these simple techniques can be related to you because I was raised by older parents, been in the woods, have a little road dust on me, and enjoy a good splash of water.
Now, go wash up because company is coming!
Enjoy your Journey!