Basic Survival Series: Personal Hygiene From Smoke And Ash

  • Posted on: 29 October 2016
  • By: Jim jones
camp fire

We understand that we can do a lot of different things with fire. We can cook food and disinfect water. Fire keeps us warm and helps control our body's core temperature. We can signal for rescue, preserve meat and we can even sterilize metal tools that we may need for medical applications.

But something less understood are the hygiene applications of a fire. In this article we are going to discuss the many uses a fire provides for hygiene.

  • Smoke: The smoke from a fire is antibacterial, so if you let it saturate your clothes and permeate around your skin, it will help to kill the odor-causing bacteria that build up on a daily basis.

    Smoke also repels biting insects, masks your human scent for hunting or eluding predators and deters animals that may wander into camp. 

  • Ash: Once the fire burns down you will be left with ashes and coals. Charcoal and hardwood ashes are the main components of many personal hygiene products such as soap and toothpaste. A mixture of 3 parts water to one part ash makes for a suitable wash for your skin and hair. This washing liquid has abrasive qualities that will help exfoliate skin. 

    Ash, by itself makes a very good powder to use as a deodorant or in your hair to help absorb some of the oils that accumulate over time. You can also use the ash as a toothpaste. Mix with water to a paste consistency and use a toothbrush or even a cotton bandana wrapped around a finger to scrub teeth.

    Ash also makes a nice absorbent powder you can use on your feet to help absorb sweat and eliminate foot odor, as well as kill foot fungus.

  • Charcoal: Charcoal can be uses for the same applications as ash, you will just need to process it down a bit finer. In addition you can use the coals to scrub cooking pots, canteens and utensils. Charcoal is the woodsman's copper scrubby.
    These coals are also useful for water purification as well.

Important note: There are a lot of references on the internet and many books, to using a branch as a toothbrush. Your mouth can give you some of the biggest problems in a wilderness emergency or longer-term situation and needs to be kept fairly clean. But you don't want to add problems by using a stick with splinters hanging off of it to scrub your gums!

Imagine getting a splinter stuck in your gums from that stick and having to live with that for several days when it would have been more effective and easier to take your bandana or other cotton material, wrapped around your finger and dipped into a paste of hardwood ash to scrub your teeth. Or even better, carry a toothbrush! 

A toothbrush weighs nothing, takes up no space in your kit and can be used for lots of other things if need be.


Ashes from your fire are a very good resource for hygiene. Just because you are in a survival situation or long term wilderness excursion, you do not need to sacrifice your personal hygiene.

Make a point to have a dedicated hygiene kit with a cotton bandana for washing and a toothbrush. I also recommend a mirror of some sort for those hard to see areas of the body like the face and rear end.

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