15 September 2011

Prep30: Store Less, Accomplish More, part 1: Bleach

As we reach the halfway point in National Preparedness Month, I'm sure you're realizing that part of preparedness is having the right tools and supplies on hand when you need them. Of course, trying to stock up on "everything" is a losing proposition.

First, space becomes a concern as you acquire more supplies. In addition, some supplies expire. So buying extra of them can make it difficult to use them within their useful life, possibly leading to waste.

Preparedness (i.e., self-reliance) should be more about simplifying and streamlining your needs than about buying and storing a bunch of things, or wasting money or resources.

Having said that, we'll be presenting the Store Less, Accomplish More (SLAM) sub-set of posts within the Prep30 series. Each post in the SLAM "mini-series" will focus on a single preparedness item that you can stock and use in many different ways. Whenever possible, we've selected items that store very well, either lasting indefinitely or at least several years.

You can use your 30-minutes prep time today to become familiar with our first SLAM item, which is bleach.

Most people think of bleach as just that stuff you put in the laundry to keep your white clothes looking white. But bleach can actually be used for a lot more. You can find 12 Smart Ways to Use Bleach on the Reader's Digest website, which describes how to use bleach to:
  1. Clean mold or mildew out of washable fabrics; bathroom tile grout; shower curtains; rubber shower mats; unpainted cement, patio stones, or stucco; or painted surfaces and siding
  2. Sterilize secondhand items
  3. Clean butcher block cutting boards and countertops
  4. Brighten up glass dishware
  5. Shine white (not colored) porcelain
  6. Make a household disinfectant spray
  7. Disinfect trash cans
  8. Increase cut flowers’ longevity
  9. Clean plastic lawn furniture
  10. Kill weeds in walkways
  11. Get rid of moss and algae
  12. Sanitize garden tools

While not all of those tasks will be critical in an emergency, some of them (e.g., numbers 2, 3, 6, 7, and 12) will be highly useful then.

Of course, one of the most useful reasons to have bleach on hand in an emergency is its ability to disinfect water for safe use and consumption. You can find recommended procedures for doing this on the EPA's Emergency Disinfection of Drinking Water page (or you can download a PDF file of the same information for offline use).

The downside of storing liquid bleach is that it has a very short shelf life of less than a year... perhaps as little as 3 months. That means counting on extra liquid bleach you've stored for a year is dangerous, since it may not be effective.

Happily, there is an easy solution to this. As noted in the EPA's information above, it is possible to use granulated calcium hypochlorite to make your own bleach as you need it. Here's the basic procedure from the above page:
  1. Add and dissolve one heaping teaspoon of high-test granular calcium hypochlorite (approximately ¼ ounce) for each two gallons of water. In metric measurements, this is 5 milliliters (approximately 7 grams) per 7.5 liters of water.
  2. The mixture will produce a stock chlorine solution of approximately 500 milligrams per liter. That's because the calcium hypochlorite has available chlorine equal to 70 percent of its weight.
  3. To disinfect water, add the chlorine solution in the ratio of one part of chlorine solution to each 100 parts of water to be treated. This is roughly equal to adding 1 pint (16 ounces) of stock chlorine to each 12.5 gallons of water (or approximately ½ liter to 50 liters of water) to be disinfected.
  4. To remove any objectionable chlorine odor, aerate the disinfected water by pouring it back and forth from one clean container to another.
Calcium hypochlorite granules are commonly used to treat swimming pools, so it's readily available. Just be certain that you get calcium hypochlorite, not a sodium-based type.

I've also observed that some brands of pool treatment don't have the 70-percent available chlorine mentioned in step #2 above. The Hit Hard Shock Treatment found on Amazon.com actually lists its available chlorine as 68 percent, which is the closest I've found so far.

These calcium hypochlorite granules qualify as a SLAM item, since they last far longer than liquid bleach (they should last several years, if not indefinitely). Plus, they take up far less space.

Consider the Hit Hard Shock Treatment. This one-pound bag takes up little space, but will make 128 gallons of bleach. If you used that bleach only for emergency water treatment, it would disinfect 12,800 gallons of water!

Clearly, this is cost-effective and space-friendly item to include in your preparedness.

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