Sanitized for Your Protection: 4 Cleaning Agents for Prepper Medicine Plus 1 To Avoid!

The world is chock full of germs that would love to live in your warm, food-rich interior.  If allowed, they’d move in, eat your food, change your TV channels, poop on your carpet, and generally trash the place. I use the term ‘germs’ in the widest possible way, to encompass all of those microbes that can make a person sick: bacteria, viruses, protists, fungi.  This piece is about methods for protecting you and yours; and like players at Fantasy GermWarfare we’ll sort out which matchups are favorable and which hopeless.

Kinds of sanitizers/sterilizers/cleaners:

My mother would never forgive me if I didn’t start with soap and water.  The bad news:  It doesn’t kill a danged thing.  The good news: That’s not how it’s supposed to work.  It’s supposed to separate you from the germs; allow them to wash off.  The soap does a good job if you do a good job with the washing, no matter what type of germ.  A downside or two from the prepping perspective is that it works best with warm water (to help fats and oils wash off) and it takes a lot of clean water.  There’s not a lot of point in washing germs off of your hands using water that brings in reinforcements.

Good advice… but raccoons wash their hands and food in rivers and ponds … and raccoons would be happy to some nasty germs they often carry.

The next line of defense is often the alcohol gels.  These can be just alcohol (usually isopropanol, so no one’s tempted to ingest it), or alcohol with an additional toxic-to-germs additive such as chlorhexidine.  Alcohol at 70% kills everything but spores, which are bacteria that have gone inactive to ride out bad conditions.  Killing everything but spores is quite useful, but obviously imperfect.  Chlorhexidine by itself is very good against most kinds of germs, but spores, mycobacteria (such as the ones that cause tuberculosis) and some viruses are unharmed.  Put the chlorhexidine in the alcohol and you have a good answer with one important caveat:  Neither one of these works well if there’s a lot of organic matter (read, dirt) still on the skin or other surface being treated.

Alcohol/chlorhexidine gels are a strong second best to hand washing; but rub off as much dirt as you can first.

You can also use an alcohol wipe or rinse and it’s pretty effective; just use enough that it has a chance to work before it evaporates off.

Bleach is highly effective, working against almost everything.  High concentrations are needed to kill spores.  It’s often used at 1 part commercially available bleach (a 3 – 8% solution of sodium hypochlorite) to 9 parts water as a wipe solution where biological contamination needs to be eliminated.  It’s wonderful stuff in some ways, but some people find it very irritating and it is not very shelf-stable.

Bleach is a good choice for sanitizing tools, surfaces and laundry, so long as no one in the house is sensitive to it.

Iodine, such as in the solution they wipe your arms down with before you donate blood, is highly effective against a wide range of organisms.  It does stain; and more centrally it doesn’t have a nice long shelf life unless you buy the commercial preparations that include stabilizers.  Nice for skin decontamination.

Povidone is a stabilizer; iodine does much better on the shelf with its addition. Good for sanitizing skin prior to surgical incisions.

Hydrogen peroxide works against everything, but is only so-so against Gram negative bacteria.  Those germs include E. coli and other varieties often responsible for diarrhea, respiratory infections, and urinary tract infections, so that’s a rather important soft spot in hydrogen peroxide’s game.  It also decomposes fairly easily.  It is good against the Gram positive bacteria such as the Staph infections that often cause skin trouble.

Hydrogen peroxide is not my personal favorite, for its short shelf life. It is good on skin against Staph infections I read.

Triclosan is the extra active ingredient in ‘antibacterial’ soaps.  It’s best against Gram positive bacteria.  There never was evidence I could find that soaps with the triclosan actually  prevent illness any better than soaps without it; and the FDA just banned it for toxicity.  ‘Nuf said?

Not in my house, not triclosan.

Which should you use to wash out wounds?

There’s some disagreement on this point, so let’s sort it out a bit.

First, every source I looked at agreed that rinsing wounds with something was vital; and that clean water was an acceptable choice.

Every source I’ve looked at that’s not twenty years old or more agrees that harsh cleaners are counterproductive, as they damage the exposed, live cells of the host just as much as any invaders.  I’ve never seen bleach recommended by a reputable source, for example.

In between it’s fuzzier.  As I attempt to draw some sort of consensus out of it, I concluded that for pretty clean wounds I’d stick to water, but upgrade to a gentle soap/warm water for a dirtier wound.  Going with hydrogen peroxide (normal pharmacy grade, 3%) for a really dirty wound wouldn’t be unreasonable, but I wouldn’t do it.

So, which of these would succeed in making a wound nice and sterile?

None of them.  Anything harsh enough to kill every germ is too harsh to put on live tissue.  Getting and maintaining a true sterile field in a home probably just isn’t happening.  The realistic goal is to be hygienic enough that the victim’s immune system can deal with whatever’s left.

Anything potent enough to kill all germs kills these beauties too, so don’t expect sterility in your home-brew medical care. Immune systems = good.



  1. Your article said no to bleach, so maybe that is why you did not mention Dakins Solution (water, bleach, baking soda). From what I can tell, it is still being used and prescribed by doctors. Any reason you did not include it?

  2. I don’t include Dakin’s solution because I wasn’t sure what to say. In the research literature, they’re still arguing whether the risks outweigh the benefits. On one hand, it is effective as an antimicrobial. On the other, it can do damage to healthy cells, not so much on the skin but deeper tissues such as muscle if one is using it to debride a grievous wound; some people react badly to such chlorine compounds; and it’s thought to interfere with the healing aspects of normal wound fluids. I might use it as an initial debridement solution in a really dirty wound, but I wouldn’t use it regularly — that’s just where my personal interpretation of the arguments lands me; your mileage may differ. It shares bleach’s biggest downfall as a prep in that you’d know what you had for the first year or so, but it would be hard to know concentrations after that as the bleach degraded.

  3. Tea Tree Oil is good for many things. It doesn’t irritate my skin and has action against bacteria and fungus. In a pinch there is good old Honey.

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