Controlling Odors During an Extended Crisis

An outhouse might be an effective way to deal with human waste during a long-term disaster.
An outhouse might be an effective way to deal with human waste during a long-term disaster.

Our family loves to go camping. I don’t mind the dirt, cold, lack of hot water, or even the bugs. However, I absolutely hate the outhouse! The concept is okay, but the smell is nauseating. The campground uses chemicals and empties it periodically. It still stinks! We have to pack out all of our garbage and by the end of the trip it is pretty nasty too. Camping with no electricity, no running water, no sewer, and limited resources is a great way to understand how to prepare for emergency situations.

In the event of a long-term emergency situation, you may have to create and manage primitive facilities similar to our annual camping tip. Plan ahead to control insects, animals, germs, and odors.

Let’s explore some ways to control odors and make it a more tolerable experience for everyone:

  • Do not allow family members to defecate in the open, otherwise known as “free-ranging”. Make sure that appropriate facilities are provided and used.
  • Human feces spread disease quickly and should be handled with care. Urine is fairly safe. Use a little creativity to keep the substances separated and you will not have as much smelly contaminated waste to deal with.
  • Plan for storage and disposal of human waste in healthy ways. That may require storing in sealed buckets or burying in the ground. Keep all waste away from water supplies and living areas.
  • Dispose of gray water (dirty dish water, washing water) away from the home as it will attract flies and smells.
  • Encourage family members to bath regularly, even if bathing consists only of wiping down with a damp cloth or baby wipes. Use deodorant. Brush your teeth.
  • Plan for a way to clean laundry using minimal water. “Airing out” clothing and bedding by hanging on a clothesline is helpful. It is more important to remove sweat and oils than dirt.
  • Separate trash and rubbish from wet garbage. Save space by crushing cans and plastic containers. If permissible, burn all burnable trash. Put all kitchen scraps in compost pile away from the home. Carefully store wet garbage in tightly-covered cans safe from animals and insects. Wet garbage is a breeding ground for germs and odors.
  • Store products that help reduce germs and odors. Practice using them. Discover what really works for you and your family.

Consider adding the following items to your storage:

Lime – is inexpensive, safe, and good for odor control. Available in 50 lb bags at hardware stores.

Ash – (from a fireplace, campfire, etc.) may be used in an outhouse to help control both germs and odors.

Kitty Litter – is designed to absorb moisture and reduce odors.

OdoBan, Odor Eliminator (or similar product) – an industrial liquid that cleans, disinfects, sanitizes, and deodorizes all pre-cleaned hard, nonporous household surfaces. OdoBan eliminates unpleasant odors on washable surfaces such as upholstery, carpets, bedding, showers, bathrooms, garbage areas, walls and floors while leaving a fresh scent. May be used in a bucket toilet in place of bleach (do not mix with bleach or any other chemical!). Dilute according to package directions. Do not allow to come in contact with skin. It has an indefinite shelf life.

Disinfectants – clean and neutralize germs which cause odors and spread germs. Alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, chlorine bleach, and vinegar are common forms of disinfectants which might be used to create a cleaning solution. Good old soap and water is highly effective in producing a clean smelling environment. Mix equal parts of hot water and vinegar for an inexpensive disinfectant. Our favorite homemade general cleaner is a mixture of a few drops of Dawn dish washing liquid, 1/2-1 cup of vinegar and water in a quart spray bottle. It does make the house smell like a salad for awhile, but that means the germs are dead.

Gloves – store gloves for personal protection while working with any chemicals or infectious substances.

Remember: it is common for more people to die after an initial event due to contaminated drinking water and inadequate sanitation than from the actual event. Take responsibility and plan ahead to keep those you love healthy.

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