Our homes, cars, offices and even dustbins are full of stuff that we barely give a second glance to. Many of those items are multi-purpose and can be used for prepping and/or in situations where our survival is challenged. Being able to adapt and use regular everyday items that you have around you is an important skill and can make a real difference to you chances of survival.
When we think of these situations our minds often imagine us stuck in the wilderness in a snow storm…or freezing to death stuck on the M25. It all depends on where you live as to the situation you could find yourself in.
Although it’s a fact that large cities will be far more dangerous than a rural retreat should the SHTF, many people will not leave. Some just have nowhere else to go, others couldn’t leave other relatives undefended and some make a conscious decision to stay put. Those that are left behind will have a massive amount of materials at their disposal if they are able to access it.
We also know that just because you have made the decision to leave it may in real life not work out like that. In that light, it’s worthwhile to have a look at some everyday household items that can be adapted to uses their inventors never even considered.
Here are some items that you may not have thought of as multi-purpose. I won’t bother listing the regular use for items…I think that’s pretty obvious.
Bra: Cut at the center front, a bra makes two reasonable particulate matter facemasks. Not as good as an N95 but far, far better than nothing.
Tampons/sanitary napkins: Fluffed up a tampon can make pretty good tinder and left whole they are excellent for plugging penetrating wounds. Make sure that you remove them from the wound carefully to avoid dislodging any clot that has formed in the depth of the wound. Sanitary napkins are great as pressure dressings and both tampons and napkins make good water filters. Fluffed up both items will take a spark and are useful as tinder. The string on a tampon can be used as a wick in any oil type candle/light. Allow the string to soak up the oil or fat and then light.
Shoelaces: There are several uses for shoelaces. Use as cordage where length is not an issue such as holding a splint in place. They can be used as a small snare and even as an emergency tourniquet.
Empty soda bottle: Another item that has many uses. With the top and bottom cut off and a cut up the side you get a sheet of plastic that can be re-rolled and used as a funnel of many sizes depending on how tight you roll it. Unfurling the same sheet of plastic and placing it around a wounded arm will hold the dressing in place very effectively. Applying it to a broken arm will provide some measure of support if taped in place. Strips but off the sheet will take a flame even when wet and it’s therefore useful as a fire-starter when every other form of tinder is sodden. Soda bottles make excellent mini solar stills. Now I don’t know how thick the plastic is in the U.S., but here there is little chance of rolling the plastic to make a lip inside the bottle, it’s just too stiff for that. A different approach is needed. Cut the top off a couple of inches below the shoulder of the bottle. Make three slits from the cut edge towards the top, this allows the plastic to overlap when you put it back together. Gather whatever it is that you intend to evaporate, plant material chopped up small, manure, urine, muddy water, it can be anything as long as its wet. Put it in some kind of container. This can be anything from the lid off a deodorant can to a ‘bowl’ made of tinfoil, as long as it’s smaller than the diameter of the bottle it matters not. Place it in the bottom of the bottle and then fix the top section back on, the slits you made will make this simple. Then sit back and wait. As the sun heats up the air inside the bottle the material dries out, evaporation will run down the sides of the bottle into the base. This water is pure and ready to drink. Washed and dried they are excellent for storing dried supplies such as rice and they are brilliant as slug traps to save your precious veggies.To make the trap cut the bottle just below the shoulder. take the top off and invert so that the upside down top is now inside the bottom of the bottle. Slugs love the smell of fermenting yeast so either mix a little yeast with warm water and sugar and pour it into the trap or pour in a couple of inches of beer. Leave half an inch sticking out of the ground to stop good bugs falling in. This can be adapted to a wasp trap and fly trap by altering the contents of the bottle. For flying insects, replace the top and make a hole in it so its far more difficult for the flies/wasps to escape.
Garbage bags: You really do get what you pay for with bin bags, go for thick good quality ones. They have tons of uses. You can pull one over you if you’re stuck in an exposed situation. Staying dry is a prerequisite of staying warm. Ditto for turning one into an over ‘jacket’. Cut holes for your head and arms and away you go. Split the side and the bottom seam for an instant groundsheet. Cut into strips and braided they makes a strong cord, you can even crochet doormats with unbraided strips…not that you often need doormats to survive, but I just thought I’d mention it. Rolled down to form a rim they make excellent rain catchers or temporary water carriers. I know people recommend condoms for this but have you ever tried to fill a condom with water that isn’t coming out of a tap? Try it, you’ll see what I mean. Fill with leaves and moss for a pillow or mattress or split along the bottom and sides and tie between branches to form a sunshade…or static umbrella. Most rubbish bags are black, and if filled with snow they will absorb heat from a fire from a considerable distance, providing you with drinking/washing water. To avoid the possibility of leaks double them up if you bring them into the house. In dire circumstances, they can be used as a floatation aid. Open them up and turn around a full circle to entrap air. It’s not something I would take a chance on unless my life truly depended on it. Before the invention of patient movement systems, we used bin bags to move patients from a gurney or trolley onto a bed. The make excellent sliders. cut the bottom off the bag so you have a large, double plastic sheet. Gently roll the casualty to one side and stuff the bag under them, kind od rough concertina style. Ease them down then roll them the other way. You will see the bag around the midline of their body. Unfurl the bag so it’s a sheet again and ease the patient back down onto their back. All you do now, is push them at the shoulder and hip, and the bag will roll on itself taking them to the new position. For particularly large people, someone can assist by gently pulling on their clothing, guiding them across to the bed. Using the eyelets to turn a tarp into a large version of the bag allows you to move heavy objects quite easily.
Condoms: Even stretching the neck of the condom filling it with water from a pond or river is time-consuming and you usually end up wet. Well, I do, and that’s something to be avoided in survival situations. Condoms are good for keeping things dry though, they act as mini dry-packs. Matches, tinder and spare batteries all fit very nicely with room to knot the ensuring the contents stay totally dry until you need them. Cut off the tip and you can use them as a tourniquet.
Pantyhose: Excellent stretch means you can use them as a support for a poncho shelter. They are good to use as a sling and can be used to tie splints in place. The fine mesh makes them useful as a water filter. Again they can be used as a tourniquet and I am told you can make a pretty good sling shot with them though I have never tried this.
Bank cards: Use as a scraper to remove stings or as a flutter valve for a sucking chest wound. Used whole they can help inflate a deflated lung caused by a sucking chest wound. Put over the hole and tape on three sides only. The card acts as a flutter valve, preventing air from entering the wound but allowing air outside of the lung, but inside the chest cavity to escape as the lung inflates.Cut into strips they ate excellent finger splints.
Duct tape: This needs an article all to itself…and there are many of those out there. Use for everything from splinting a broken leg to fixing a window and everything in between. Remember that by putting strips sticky sides together you can make a sheet of incredible strong ‘fabric’ that has dozens of applications.
Clear plastic bags: These can also be used as a flutter valve in a pinch. Stick on three sides only to allow air in the chest cavity to escape and to prevent more air from entering. excellent for covering burns as the bag doesn’t stick to the defect. Good for carrying snow to melt for water later.
Cling film/plastic food wrap: Another item that’s good for covering burns. Gathered together and twisted it makes a very strong material that has dozens of uses…I just haven’t thought of them yet!
Long socks: Stretch over full soda bottles and leave for a few days then roll then down to form ‘donuts’. This allows you to roll them easily over wound dressings on the limbs and to use them as a sling. Roll onto the arm and once positioned pin to clothes at the shoulder. Stuffed with sand, grit and grass, in that order from the bottom up they make a simple debris filter for water filtration. Fill them with pebbles to make a weapon.
Petroleum jelly: An old favourite. Used with cotton wool balls or leaves, you get decent fire starters. It prevents chafing and is good for waterproofing boots. Used on manual and garden tools it prevents rusting.
Spectacles/eyeglasses: An old pair of glasses has several uses. The lens can be used as a magnifying glass for close work or as a fire lens. The frames could possibly be fashioned into various hooks…or so I am told.
Paper clips: Improvised fishing hooks. you can also open an iPhone with one if you lose the little pokey lock pick thing hey give you. when replacements are hard or impossible to come by they make excellent zipper tabs.
Bandanas: It may just be easier to list a few of these because bandanas have literally dozens of uses:
- wind/dust mask
- debris water filter
- soak in water and use as a neckband to keep cool
- use dry as a neckband to keep the chill out
- secure a splint
- rip up as cordage
- rip up and use as trail markers
- towel or washcloth
- improvised weapon…filled with stones and tied up
The uses for a bandana could occupy an article all on its own so I’m leaving it at that.
Coffee filters: Not as many uses as a bandana but they are as self-explanatory:
- paper towel substitute
- debris filter for water
- toilet paper
Activated Charcoal: Activated charcoal is simply the charcoal resulting from a wood fire. It’s not as effective as charcoal produced from exceptionally high temperatures such as in a wood fired kiln, but it’s still valuable to have around. Activated charcoal can bind heavy metals and toxins that may be present in water. Adding a couple of crushed lumps to water and leaving it for 15 minutes before you drink it will reduce the amount of toxins in the water. It doesn’t remove bacteria or viruses so boiling or other filtration methods are still needed. It can be used as camo paint when crushed and mixed with water and removes odours when crushed and mixed with the offending material. It can be crushed up and eaten in cases of chemical poisoning and although no substitute for medical assistance if help isn’t available you have nothing to lose in trying to bind the toxins with charcoal. the charcoal can be digested by the body without incident, but it should not be used by anyone with intestinal blockage/constipation unless their life depends on it.
Upholstery needles: These are often curved and make wound stitching much easier. See here for an article on suturing wounds.
Mylar blankets: You can find almost two dozen uses for them here and plenty more in the comments that follow the article.
Preppers are the most adaptable group of people you could wish to meet, anything you guys add to the list will be collated and listed in a future article.
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Contributed by Lizzie Bennett of Underground Medic.
Lizzie Bennett retired from her job as a senior operating department practitioner in the UK earlier this year. Her field was trauma and accident and emergency and she has served on major catastrophe teams around the UK. Lizzie publishes Underground Medic on the topic of preparedness.