Selco: The Dirty Truth About Water and Sanitation When the SHTF

by | Mar 30, 2018 | Headline News | 35 comments

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    This article was originally published by Selco at The Organic Prepper

    Note from Daisy Luther: The biggest concerns in any long-term emergency are water and sanitation because the lack of these things can cause serious illness or even death. Because water and sanitation aren’t nearly as glamorous as guns and gadgets, they’re often overlooked in a preparedness plan. I asked Selco some questions about these important issues in this interview. The truth about it is dirty, unpleasant, and something for which you absolutely must plan.

    Once there was no more running water, how did you get drinking water?

    Just like most other things (especially when it comes to non-preppers) it was a matter of levels and layers.

    The tap water was going on and off for a few days before service went completely off, so people had a few bottles of drinking water stored. But of course, most of us thought everything going to be restored very soon so nobody had thought about storing big amounts of water.

    When it comes to lack of water and being unprepared, the levels and layers that I am mentioning meant that you first looked and asked for tap water (clean) for drinking. Then collecting water from rooftops sounded like a good idea. Then drinking directly from the river was good if there was no other source. And then, finally, when there was no other source. you simply drink dirty water even when you were sure it is quite dirty.

    It was a matter of low resources, desperation, and of course low skill levels.

    Our main sources were rain and the river.

    Can you tell us about your rainwater collection system?

    It was not anything smart, especially in the beginning.

    The gutter system normally took water from the roof through pipes into the underground collectors and sewers. When we concluded that the running water was not coming back, we simply sawed off a piece of gutter and pushed it inside the main gutter that led from the roof system (on the side of the house that looked inside the yard). Then we collected water inside a barrel.

    We just used the water collectment system that was existing there already, and just cut it off at a lower point, before the water was “lost” and redirected the water into a barrel.

    It is actually pretty amazing how much water you can collect from the roof during one summer storm. A lot.

    When it comes to that system of water collecting our main problem was lack of containers, because even if there is a huge amount of water to “catch” from the rain, we did not have enough adequate containers for that.

    Probably if we were prepared in a smart way for that, our water problems would have been easier.

    How did you purify/filter water for drinking and cooking?

    Two main ways: boiling and filtering.

    Filtering of the water was very rudimentary. We did not use any real filters, and people did not know how to make anything too complicated.

    The most complicated filter that I saw in those times was a slightly changed version of a “bottle ” filter with rocks and sand with added cloth inside.

    We used cloths for filtering, or gauze. If water was visibly contaminated (particles) we would repeat the procedure until the water looked satisfying for us.

    Boiling was a widespread method of making water drinkable, and often the quality of stoves and fuel for it were “measured” by the time needed for water to boil.

    Were the rivers and streams contaminated? If so, how quickly after things went bad?

    River and streams in cities were polluted (if we talk about drinking) before the war because poor care was taken of it, and it was mainly because of industry.

    When SHTF that kind of pollution went down because of obvious reasons (everything stopped working) but other kinds of pollutants were there. City services did not work and many people lived next to that river (upstream too). So it was polluted with everything, including bodies from time to time.

    We drink it, sometimes even without boiling and filtering. I survived it, but I was sick many times, probably because of that.

    How did you keep yourself clean?

    By the standards from before SHTF and standards today we were not clean most of the time, because most of the time we did not have enough water for that.

    By the standard of that time (SHTF) we managed to use very small amounts of water to keep ourselves as clean as possible.

    Most of the time it was something like sponge bathing with a bottle of water.

    It was a joke at that time. Often people would say, “I just had shower using wet napkin only(from MRE)”

    Years later I saw a similar scene in a movie, and it brought memories back.

    And actually it is a great thing to have a huge stash of those ready for SHTF.

    When it was safe, we used the river for that, or people sometimes simply get naked in their yard during the rain.

    What did you do for a toilet?

    Very close to our house, through the destroyed building, there was small piece of land, which was “hidden” from all sides. We used that as a simple “dig a hole” latrine. Later we built something like primitive field latrine.

    It was a simple hole in the ground covered with wooden boards, with channels leading away.

    It worked more or less, but we had the good luck of having that place with enough “ground” close to home where it was pretty safe for spending that time there.

    Folks use toilet everywhere that was available. Inside toilets were mostly out of use mainly because of the lack of water.

    Of course. it contrubituted greatly to the city being a very dirty place.

    Did you see an increase in sanitation-related illnesses like typhus, cholera? How did you treat those illnesses?

    Everybody was at least once really sick from diseases that probably were caused by lack of hygiene, bad water and bad food.

    Diarrhea, vomiting, exhaustion…

    A lot of people had a couple of times heavy episodes of that, because simply, the whole chain of hygiene was really bad and broken.

    Either you had problems with waste disposal, or bad water, or bad food, or simply you lacked personal hygiene.

    It was a constant problem.

    Sanitation problems were solved in a way that people would just throw away garbage from their own houses, as far as possible, or burn it when it was possible.

    Because the system was out (of taking out garbage from that point) the result was that city was suffocating in garbage.

    Diseases were inevitable.

    Just like any other diseases they treated depending on knowledge and resources. In essence, people would try to cover it with medicines if possible and available, and with natural remedies.

    Also, the sick person would be separated from other folks if possible.

    Often method (and pretty stupid in that time because other bad factors) was to just leave a sick man to clean on itself, without food or anything, just a really small amount of water.

    Do you have suggestions for some ways we can prepare for water and sanitation needs?

    People usually do not understand how much consideration they need to take into solving the problem of a working toilet.

    It is partly because it is maybe not a cool topic to discuss, but also it is something that we have taken for granted for many years.

    Forget about jokes like, “If the SHTF forget about the toilet, it will be all over the place.”

    If you are living together with 4 members of your family and one day the SHTF and your toilet is not working anymore it is quite a big topic to think about because you suddenly realize how often you need to go to the toilet and problems that it can bring. (However that may sound funny now).

    With improper toilet techniques you are at a high risk for diseases, and when the SHTF, any kind of disease or illness will cripple you because you might need to perform heavy tasks.

    Not to mention that “a small cut can kill you” because most probably, you are going to be your own physician, pharmacist, nurse etc.

    There is lots of advice about how to deal with human waste: portable camping toilets, digging a latrine, even using it as a fertilizer or using it as a fuel (drying it) etc.

    Some of this advice is clearly from people who do not have a clue about urban SHTF. Others are cool, but they are like more advanced solution (still the basic problem exists), and some of them work only in a wilderness situation.

    I like to start with a very basic solution that solves my number one problem: what to do if my toilet does not work in my house or my apartment in an urban area.

    A very cool and simple solution (and no, I did not “invent” it, it was there for quite some time) is having plastic buckets (the size that a toilet lid can be installed on it) and many plastic (heavy duty) bags that can be “installed” inside that bucket.

    You still need to get rid of those bags later, but it is doable.

    That is your immediate urban survival latrine. You can add some ash inside to make it more usable.

    Often people if you ask them “how will you use the toilet when SHTF.” they  talk about composting human waste, but your real problem is what do you do if SHTF and your toilet is not working, and you can not go out in woods (remember, you are in the city) or anywhere  because it is not safe.

    People often mention the fact that your toilet might work even when SHTF, you are just gonna need water to flush it.

    That is actually a problem and the reason why you need to look for alternate ways. Water is going to be a big problem, and it is gonna be hard to get for other even more important things not to mention toilet. (unless you are living right next to a river or similar).

    Just try to figure out today how much water you “spend” daily for flushing the toilet and you’ll get the point.

    And do not forget that there is a chance that your toilets might be flooded, depending of what kind of collapse it is and area where you live.

    So the “bucket toilet” technique is a start. Everything else is an upgrade if you have the means, space, and solutions.

    If you have close space to your home where it is possible to dig a hole and make outhouse it is a good solution. Again, it will work for some time.

    We are talking now about urban survival, and no matter how wrong or funny it looks to you, the point is to get it done in the fastest and cleanest and simplest possible way, and in a way that is the easiest possible to get rid of that waste.

    By that you are minimizing the risk of many diseases.

    Go with simplest solutions first and then upgrade on that.

    All of you can figure pretty easily how much water you spend every day for all of your needs.

    Then use that number when you plan how much of water you need to acquire per day when SHTF (through rain, river, wells, your already “stashed” tanks of water etc.) and you’ll see that there is probably scary difference between liters (or gallons) that you are using today and what you are going to be able to get when SHTF.

    That means few things.

    First and actually most important that you need to understand differences between necessity and comfort, in a way that for example having hot tub is great thing, but you won’t die if you do not have it, while not drinking enough water will get you killed.

    So using water when the SHTF gets a new dimension if you think in that way. Maybe you are not gonna be able to be clean all the time, but you’ll survive.

    Another thing is that you need to have a stash of water. Often people forget it and concentrate on food only (not to mention weapons only).

    It is really cheap and easy to store some amount of water in canisters or barrels and keep it fresh by “refreshing it”  on schedule.

    There are calculations of how much time a man can live without water, but usually, there are no calculations of how much time a man can “operate” in hard conditions. You need to be able to run, hide, fight, be scared, be under stress, work hard. So, you need to have a stash of water immediatelly ready when SHTF.

    Collecting water from your roof collection system and purifying it sounds cool maybe, but try being thirsty for a week looking at the sky while you are waiting for rain.

    I use 50-liter barrels and 20-liter canisters for water stash, on the balcony and in the basement. And I have small bottles of water everywhere. Nothing smart or spectacular but it will do the job, at least until rain falls.

    Pay attention to water containers, not only that they need to be usable for water, but also that you need to have them in big numbers and not only big barrels.

    Big stuff is hard to move, and once you fill it (for example from the roof system) you may find out it is not possible to move it.

    Also having too much “manipulation” with big containers means more chance that you are gonna pollute the water, so think about that too. For example, find a way how you are gonna fill your bottles from big containers and similar.

    One more thing that comes to mind when it come to water collecting is tarps.

    Tarps (nylon) are something that you absolutely need to have in order to help yourself during water collecting (collection and also for directing what you have collected).

    Tarps have many uses in survival so you should have decent amount of them anyway.

    It all comes to the levels and degree of SHTF that you might experience, but know that in some periods you’ll be forced to use a very low amount of water for hygiene.

    A good method is using a sprinkler watering can and sponge for a bath.

    Also, have other methods as a means of water-saving for hygiene for when times get really hard with water (like wet wipes, and hand sanitizers).

    Ways to disinfect water to make it usable for drinking are numerous and all around the web. Sometimes the discussion about best method is so fierce that remind me of “best caliber for SHTF” discussion.

    It is important to understand that some of the methods kill germs but do not make water completely safe for drinking.

    I personally prefer a few ways for making water safe (or safer) to drink: bleach, iodine tincture, boiling ,homemade filters (sand, stone, charcoal…).

    I did try few portable purifiers like steripen and hand pump filters during the physical survival courses) and they worked (I did not get sick). It would be interesting to test it in a long term situation, and yes, it is good to have them.

    In the end, your plan all comes to the availability of water. For example, if you live close to a creek or river it changes your perspective completely in the long run.

    About the Author

    Selco survived the Balkan war of the 90s in a city under siege, without electricity, running water, or food distribution. In his online works, he gives an inside view of the reality of survival under the harshest conditions. He reviews what works and what doesn’t, tells you the hard lessons he learned, and shares how he prepares today. He never stopped learning about survival and preparedness since the war. Regardless what happens, chances are you will never experience extreme situations like Selco did. But you have the chance to learn from him and how he faced death for months. Real survival is not romantic or idealistic. It is brutal, hard and unfair. Let Selco take you into that world. Read more of Selco’s articles here: And take advantage of a deep and profound insight into his knowledge and advice by signing up for the outstanding and unrivaled online course. More details here:


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      1. don’t forget that bleach has an expiration date. i just looked at mine, and it’s mostly over 4 years old. anyone KNOW what it could “DO TO ME” if i use it?

        • Use calcium hypochlorite (Shock Chlorine)- it will keep for a few years. Get instructions from the internet on how to make up a ‘mother’ concentrate to use for individual amounts of water purification.

          Liquid Bleach is a waste of space and as you noted, it has a very short shelf life.


          • There re numerous forms of chlorine and will do the job of killing micro organisms and other deliterious items in water. But all are also toxins themselves and carcinogenic and are easily removed after dosing. Just dosing water alone is a very bad idea and very harmful to your health ! None of this is at all complex and very easily accomplished and very economically as well. There is no need at all for the expensive high dollar filter systems that plug up very easily and are very slow to produce clean water. Again the prepper types have been sold a bill of goods. All anybody needs is source of water, some coconut charcoal and some chlorine to make their own large quantity of clean water very quickly and easily. Nothing new at all.

            As usual another article that is very old news, if any news at all.

          • yup, got a five gallon bucket of it. thanks to all that replied to my question! BTW, i also have heard a bottle of water(disposable type, like kirkland)left in the sun for 6 hours will kill all living things in it. i just wonder if glass will do a better job, and does it REALLY work. i would like to hear some opinions on that too. we DO have a bunch of experts here on shtfplan! and ditto on figgering out how they filter that water you get at the store dispenser.

            • Butt:
              First of all, if this appears three times, I apologize. SHTFplan seems to be discriminating against Tor users.
              Anyway, you want to use PET plastic bottles to kill bacteria using UV-A radiation exposure. Some glass bottles effectively block UV-A rays, and you can’t be positive about which are which. Use clear 2 liter bottles of plastic soda to purify water this way.
              Finally, exposure to the sun will kill bacteria, but it won’t affect chemicals found in the water. If you live in a suburban environment where lawn fertilizers are present, I don’t recommend using this method to purify your water. (Chemlawn is everywhere. Damn dandelions.)
              One last thing, UV-A radiation penetrates cloud cover. If it’s cloudy, add a day to your purification timetable. They say outdoor temperatures don’t matter, btw. But I live in the north, and I have to say personally that I would give this method some extra time during the winter.
              God bless,

              • thank you. mal. my recommendation to all is to try all this stuff on water before the shtf, so you can know for a fact these things “work”. drinking bad water AFTER the shtf will KILL you, with no medical help available. this is one reason i collect canned food with lots of water content, so i won’t HAVE to drink as much water that will likely be contaminated. you make a great point, mal, when you talk about CHEMICALS in that water. too many concentrate on killing of bacteria and other things in the water, yet don’t realizes there’s OTHER stuff in there that can kill you. one more thing. maybe we should be collecting things that make water taste better, so it’s more palative? koolaid, wylers, or countrytime, for example. i know there are those that will say there’s bad stuff in them, but if it allows us to drink more water, maybe it’s worth it. i know i hate drinking bad-tasting water.

                • I have a ton of Tang put away. Some other fruit drinks too.


        • Your question; The bleach turns to about 98% salt water with a few other things left over, one of which is sodium chlorate.

          This stuff is not great for you, but if you tried to use the bleach as a purifier at this point, you would dilute it greatly and a one off situation would not likely result in any harm.

          You would likely be in more trouble from the dirty water you were drinking while thinking it was being purified.

          Remember, I am an engineer, not a Doc or a bio type person.


          • Sodium Chlorate is a ground sterilizer. I use it to kill everything around my sheds and cabin. Not so sure I’d wanna ingest it.

            • It is all about concentration in these type discussions. For instance, arsenic occurs naturally in water in different parts of the US.

              At certain ppm concentrations, yeah, it becomes an active poison and can harm you.

              I’m guessing the kind of concentrations of sodium chlorate used as an herbicide is orders of magnitude higher than you would ever run into in expired bleach diluted 100:1. No?


        • Keep the US (6%) bleach in a cool dark place. As it ages it gets weaker so use an extra couple of drops per litre.
          Leave for a few days to reduce the taste and then in the direct sun for 2 days to kill it after it has done it’s job.
          Filter as well as possible first!


        • STFU Idiot! Go fly in an airplane and get smart! Your cult is over!

      3. When it was safe, we used the river for that, or people sometimes simply get naked in their yard during the rain.

        So if I get naked in the rain… I can always say I’m just practicing for SHTF situation??

      4. After ABOUT 6 months bleach degrades into salt water. Will not kill you but will not kill any thing else(bacteria etc) either.
        Get solid bleach ( pool chlorine, calcium hypochlorite) which lasts upward of 2-3 years. Find calculations of chems to bleach 65% stuff of course is different than the 77% stuff etc. and learn to make your own bleach for “survival”

        Personally I think a solar oven/distillation setup is the best way to kill germs as the fuel is forever, at least in my lifetime and with distillation you get rid of germs AND particulate mater. Cost and parts are the downside.

      5. Purifying water just to turn around and put it in plastic containers seems counterproductive to me.

        ht tps://

      6. If put in a clear bottle in the sun for 8 hours? The ultraviolet rays will kill most if not all bacteria ?

        • Traitor Hator , not even close to accurate. But there are very easy ways to get clean water in abundance and very fast !

      7. Water being heavy presents problems in storage, 8 pounds a gallon adds up. I know because I fill up about a dozen gallon jugs weekly at the water dispenser machine. I have lived in this area a long time and have never drank water from the tap. Now the city is pushing to inject untreated sewer water down deep into the fresh water aquifer. California also plans to do that. That is beyond retarded.

        • aljamo, go find out how that water you are buying is filtered ?

          • No I don’t actually know how the water is filtered. A multi-step process is listed. The water tate good with no aftertaste. Some of the water dispensing machines have bad water, one at Walmart a half mile from the gulf is bad, it leaves tiny white stuff in the water when you boil it.

      8. I just read over at NaturalNews about a new cheap paper water filter that removes lead, mercury, arsenic and bacteria by just pouring water through this paper filter called Mesopaper.

        • Aljamo:
          Meso paper? I never heard of it. But I order Miso Soup with Sushi.

          I like to have a lot of natural coffee filters. They are a way to filter water after you filter with a cloth. We have a great filter on our kitchen sink and one for the whole house.

          Soaking in a solution of baking soda is a good way to kill fungi that invade humans. Leaves skin soft. Ok for hair and scalp.


      9. This article struck home with me. When Irma came and me living in Florida in what was the original projected path, the first thing I did was fill 4 50 gallon drums with fresh water (I keep those same just for that reason) and get out the ‘homespun environmental filter gear I have. Also filled more (usually keep about 100 gallons in various refilled containers in closet) jugs and such with water as well. I was the only person in the neighborhood who took that step. To secure enough water for drinking, cooking, personal and dish washing; as well as a tub full of gallon jugs full to ‘flush’ the toilet with. No one else did it. If we’d lost power for days, if the system had broken down…… all those people (120 other homes in my neighborhood) would’ve been in dire straits. I remember wondering if I would share with any of them. I figured I would to a point. But…. like most of us know – those same people would not have understood that it took/takes planning and a regard for a limited resource – the work to do so as well – to properly conserve and respect it. Selco’s people learned all that. That it isn’t just the getting of the water, it’s the keeping it there for when you need it and not wasting it.

        • Selco said someone gave some food to a relative and told them to not tell anyone else. Of course word got out and mass of people came to raid him and I think beat him pretty badly. If you share with one better be ready to share with all. Feel bad for others but you can’t afford to help them out during shtf because that endangers you and immediate family by letting others know of your stash.

      10. For a portable toilet, I have a couple of 5 gal plastic buckets with lids (previously hydraulic fluid containers) plus lots of garbage bags, kitty litter for odor control and a spare toilet seat. Have a dump, cover it with kitty litter, replace cover and put the bucket outside until needed again.

        • An inexpensive and fairly comfortable and maintainable toilet is a marine one designed for a center console type of vessel. Small water tank and pump ‘flush’. Easy to clean, assemble…. even the ladies like it fairly well.

      11. Dudes need to hurry up and perfect MOF water harvesting!

      12. Statement made by Physicians for Social Responsibility: “Every effort must be taken to minimize radionuclide content in water and food.” Examples of radionuclides are Iodine-131 and Cesium-137; which have been found in the US in rain water samples, drinking water samples, and in milk in Vermont. These are cancer causing agents. Don’t depend on your local government to provide you with safe water.

      13. Posted links on how to make an earthen water filter and more. I still see where it has not posted on this site. They know I am not a robot. Perhaps they don’t like other survival blogs other than their own. There was no questionable info or personal opinions, so why haven’t they posted?

      14. With prepared food, the makers list all of the ingredients. Since it is not food, the bleach makers don’t list all of the ingredients. They usually list the percentage that is sodium hydrochlorite and group the other ingredients together. I prefer boiling and filtration.

      15. Saw a water collection technique on youtube which would work well along gulf coast where most mornings are dripping wet with humidity. Tie clean t-shirt or other large rag to end of broomstick or similar. Walk up and down dragging tshirt through wet grass until saturated. Wring out tshirt into container. Repeat. Doesn’t take long to collect a gallon. Filter if you want but not required – may be somewhat dirty but don’t have to worry about germs/parasites as from a body of water.

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