Importance of Sanitation after SHTF

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In thinking about preparing your family for survival after a disaster or emergency situation you can’t forget to consider their health. Your family’s health is affected by so much more than having adequate stores of food. Having the best gun for self-defense is great and important, but what if someone in your group comes down with an illness that was easily prevented?  What if the killer that attacks you is a sinister little microorganism you never saw coming?

Of course, the health impacts vary with the event that caused the disaster. Flooding and Hurricanes would produce different health issues than a winter storm that knocked out the power. The subject of health though is always one that should be in your short-term plans for SHTF. After you have your Beans Bullets and Band-Aids squared away, your focus should be on health fairly soon. For the purposes of this article I will focus on two major disciplines of Sanitation and Hygiene. The first post will be on Sanitation and I will cover Hygiene in an upcoming post.


What is sanitation? Let’s just make this simple and say that the importance of sanitation is everything to do with getting rid of waste. In a grid-up scenario, most of us have access to a lot of systems to take care of sanitation for us. We have running water, toilets and garbage pick-up or landfills. If you don’t have any of those, you probably wouldn’t be on the internet reading this. Those systems do a pretty nice job of getting trash and our waste far away from us and that is important. Without Sanitation, diseases quickly spread.

For example, after the 2010 earthquake in Hati, More than half a million people became ill with Cholera. That disease quickly spread into neighboring countries it was so bad. Cholera is a water-borne disease. In Haiti, where most people lacked public sewage systems or sanitary latrines after the disaster, people often drink from the same water source they use to bathe and defecate. People ill with cholera develop severe diarrhea and, without immediate treatment, can become dehydrated. The rapid dehydration can cause shock, which can lead to death.

How can we prevent that? Several ways, but one primary concern is to make sure our waste isn’t contaminating our drinking water. To do that, we have to have a plan for taking care of good old number 2.

Bathroom Facilities

The average human produces two to three pints of urine and one pound of feces every day. If you have a family of four, or a group of twenty, that adds up quickly. Whatever the solution for removing waste we have to ensure that it will not contaminate any water supplies. A good rule of thumb is to bury waste at least 150 away from the nearest water source.

Here are a few different options for getting that waste safely out-of-the-way.


As long as the septic lines aren’t clogged or backed up, you can still use your toilet. Actually, if you have a septic tank, you could conceivable use this in a grid-down scenario forever. Your toilet just needs water to flush everything down and that is a major reason people fill up bathtubs before a hurricane. The water isn’t so much for drinking, although you could since it came out of the tap (I know what is in my tub so I wouldn’t without a good filter) but you can easily use this to flush your toilet. Simply take a gallon bucket filled with water and pour it into the bowl when you are done. Gravity will do the rest. Assuming there is radio after the disaster you can listen and see if the sewer lines are still functioning and this is only an option if water is not an issue.

Five Gallon Bucket


5-Gallon bucket toilet

If you have ever been camping in the woods and used the bathroom by squatting you will appreciate that even having a bucket to sit on can make a world of difference. Sure, squatting will work in a pinch (no pun intended) but I am used to sitting on the throne and the next best thing would be sitting on something, anything as opposed to squatting. That’s just me. A five gallon bucket only needs a proper toilet seat and you are in business. You can take the seat off your existing toilet and there are even kits pre-made with the lid that fits perfectly on your bucket without slipping. While this makes the act seem more like the good old days of your trusty porcelain friend, they do need to be cleaned out. Having dirt or sawdust to cover over the feces will reduce smell and flies and make it so you don’t have to clean as often.


Cat Hole

Cat Hole - No frills

Cat Hole – No frills

Another camping favorite when we have a bigger group and a chair. The cat hole is most easily dug with a post-hole digger and you want to make it as deep as possible without getting into your water table. The process would be to dig the hole and fill it in with dirt after it becomes about 1/2 full with waste. Once the hole is dug, you can set a chair with a hole in it over the hole, hence the post hole digger since this will make a hole just big enough to drop the important stuff down, but your chair will still fit over it. This process would be repeated often if you had a large group. Don’t have a chair, just take one that you have and cut a hole in it or put your wood working skills to use and make a box with a hole and mount your toilet seat over the hole.

Slit Trench

This would be for larger groups who plan to cover the trench with more permanent toilet facilities. If you are ready for this option, you seem to have sanitation or at least a crew to dig a large trench covered.

No Toilet Paper?

Ah, the subject of so many blog posts and forum threads. Do you have enough toilet paper stored? What will you do when you run out of paper? It will happen eventually and you will be forced to get back to nature… Some items I have thought of are old phone books or catalogs. We’d be covered for a year on just the holiday junk mail catalogs alone. Some other preppers recommend a water sprayer which might work, but I haven’t tried that.


What trash will you have after the SHTF? I can think of lots of trash accumulating in the near term after a disaster and most people will fill up the large hefty bags and sit them on the corner or by the street. If the garbage services are no longer running , burning your trash would be suitable. I would be careful to salvage items that may come in use later which if you think about it could be almost anything. Glass or plastic containers that could be used to store water wouldn’t go into the recycling bin anymore. Tin or aluminum cans could also be re-purposed. I can see paper getting burned in the fire, but that may be something to save for the bathroom…

If you have other ideas or tips on sanitation, let us know in the comments. I look forward to hearing from you.

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