That magic moment when you go to wash your hands….and nothing comes out of the tap.
Late on Friday evening – you know, too late to reach the local repair guy – that was the scenario at our rented farm. Nary a drop was coming from our faucets.
For the past couple of months, I had believed there was an impending issue with our well. However, it was one of those intermittent problems that was impossible to diagnose before it actually fell apart completely. So, there we were after dinner on a Friday night, with laundry half way through a wash cycle, a sink mounded with dirty dishes, and the debris of a canning session all over the counters. And no running water.
Of course, having lived up North through a well going dry, numerous power outages, and frozen lines, this wasn’t our first rodeo. The nice thing about prepping is that we always plan for the worst-case scenario.
We immediately shifted to Plan B mode and tapped into our stored water.
While cleaning is certainly less than fun in these conditions, it can be done. Here are 8 tips for cleaning without running water. (These and many more can be found in my book, The Prepper’s Water Survival Guide.)
1.) Break into the supply of disposable products.
Obviously in a long-term scenario, disposable products won’t be what you turn to for cleaning. However, during a short-term power outage, they can be very helpful in getting your food prep areas cleaned.
Before washing extra dirty dishes in soapy water, wipe them to get most of the crud off. You can use a cleaning wipe for this, since it will hold up better than paper towels.
2.) Use a container of rinse water instead of pouring water over dishes.
You can go through quite a lot of water running it over soapy dishes. Use a basin of water and rinse your dishes by dipping them into it. The bonus is, you can reuse the rinse water when you’re done.
3.) Use dishpans, not a plugged sink, for washing and rinsing dishes.
Dishpans have the benefit of not letting that precious water run down the drain. When you don’t know how long your shortage of water is going to last, it’s important to make every drop stretch as far as possible. All of this water can be safely reused for specific purposes.
4.) Reuse your cleaning water.
The water that you’ve collected in your basins can be used yet again if you choose safely where to reuse it. For example, dishwater or cleaning water can be used for flushing the toilet. Rinse water can be used for mopping the floor, then used one more time for flushing.
5.) Clean counters with disposable wipes.
If you have no water and you’re pretty sure this is not going to be a long-term situation, don’t dirty up kitchen linens by scrubbing the counters with them. They’ll just have to be washed, using up even more of your stored water supply. (And depending on what you are scrubbing off the counters, they may need to be washed right away to keep from being smelly.) Instead, use disposable cleaning wipes. When our brief disaster struck, I’d been canning tomatoes, always a messy endeavor that requires a great deal of clean-up afterward.
First, scrape off anything stuck to the counters. If your mess is dry, use a dry paper towel to get the crumbs off, then follow up with the wet cleaning wipes. If your mess is a wet mess (like a spill) absorb as much of it as possible with paper towels. If you absorb with regular towels, hang them outside to dry so that you don’t end up with smelly, souring towels in your laundry room while you’re waiting for a chance to wash them. Once the major part of the mess on the counters is cleaned up, scrub with disposable wipes. If it is a food prep area, I usually then give it a quick spray with a vinegar cleaner and a wipe with a paper towel, because I don’t want chemical cleaner where I prepare the things we eat.
6.) Alternatively, use a basin and rag for cleaning counters.
If you don’t want to use disposable wipes, you can use a rag for cleaning the counters. Use a basin for rinsing out the rag while you clean. Before dipping it in the basin, squeeze out the rag over the drain to get rid of some of the detritus from your counter. (Not that your counter will always be as messy as mine was after making marinara sauce.)
7.) Cleaning up after you clean up.
If you haven’t used disposable cleaning products, you will need to clean up after you clean up. Rinse all rags well in soapy water to get the chunks off. Then, wash the rag carefully, rinsing and wringing it out several times. Dip it in some of your dish rinse water to get the soap out. Hang it to dry so that it doesn’t begin to smell sour. If you did use disposable products and you had a big mess on your hands, take the garbage out so your home smells fresh and clean.
8.) Have a bathroom basin.
You can keep a dishpan full of water in the bathroom for handwashing too. Dip your hands into the water, then soap them up well. Scrub like you’re a doctor getting ready for surgery, getting into the nooks and crannies. Then dip your hands in the basin to rinse them well. Be sure to get all of the soap off or your hands will be itchy. After using this, you can dump the water into the toilet tank for flushing.
Wait…this stuff isn’t very organic!
If you’re reading over this and clicking your tongue over my use of commercial cleaning products, you’re absolutely right. These store-bought products are loaded with chemicals that I don’t want to make part of our every day lifestyle. But emergencies often call for measures you wouldn’t take on a daily basis. If you are running your household on stored water, you’re going to have to make some choices in order to make it last through the crisis.
For this reason, we turn to harsher products than we’d normally use. Most of our homemade products are very gentle on our skin, our lungs, and the environment. I would never revert to using these things regularly but I can make exceptions when I need to extend my water supply.
The key to cleaning in the midst of a water disaster
When you are cleaning up in a power outage situation, the key to success is not to end up with a bigger mess that requires even more water. I rarely use disposable products, but I do keep them on hand for those times during which we must rely on our water storage.
Here are the items I recommend that you keep on hand for water emergencies:
- Disposable disinfecting wipes
- Super absorbent paper towels
- Basins (This is a great deal on a 12-pack of dishpans. You’ll find a million uses for them!)
- Baby wipes (These can be used for hand washing and personal hygiene. We usethis brand because it is free from many of the toxic additives of regular baby wipes.)
- Your regular spray cleaner (Ours is vinegar and orange essential oil)
- Kitty litter. This soaks up messes, and helps to absorb odor. (If your toilet won’t flush because you’re on a city sewer system, it can also be used as a makeshift toilet. This serious concern is discussed here.)
What are your no-running-water cleaning tips?
Luckily, our emergency was short-lived. Our well pump had burned out and the repair person made it to our place fairly quickly. (We also learned that there isn’t a whole lot of water left in the well, so we’re being very thrifty with the water until the rainy season arrives.)