30+ Ways To Use Everyday Items For Survival

Image via Joe Haupt / CC BY-SA 2.0

As a homesteader, you strive to be prepared for emergencies. You have an extended food supply, a well-stocked first-aid kit, and back-up plans for loss of power.

However, when a disaster strikes, even the best-laid plans can go awry. You may be in a place where those supplies are not accessible, for example. However, by keeping a level head and using a combination of what you have and what you know, you can survive under many life-threatening circumstances.

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Here is a list of ordinary items that could save your life in an emergency.

Start a Fire

Whether it’s because of a car that is stuck or won’t start or a dire change in the weather, getting caught outside in the elements without warmth can quickly turn ugly. Here are some ordinary items that can help you start a fire.

  • Did you know that you can ignite a fire with a 9-volt battery and steel wool? Watch this video for instructions
  • You can also use a chewing gum wrapper and an AA battery to start a fire. Cut a thin strip of a foil gum wrapper. Next, fold the strip in half and cut or tear diagonally across the fold. When you unfold the strip, you should notice a narrow spot in the middle. Touch the metallic sides of the ends of the strip to the positive and negative ends of a AA battery. The current should spark enough of a flame to light a candle or some tinder.
  • Tampons work well as tinder. First, remove the cotton tampon from its wrapper and applicator. Then pull it apart to expose its individual fibers. Just a spark will cause these fibers to burst into flame.
  • You can also use the metallic interior side of a potato chip or other snack bag to help start a signal fire.
  • Did you know hand sanitizer is flammable? You can use it along with a bit of cotton to get a fire started.

Put Out a Fire

  • Flames are not always a good thing. Baking soda is an effective flame retardant, especially for oil and grease fires that should not be extinguished with water.
  • Baking soda releases carbon dioxide that smothers the fire, but if it is a large fire, you may need bucketful rather than the small boxes you have in your fridge or pantry. Salt will also put out fires efficiently, and it absorbs more heat relative to its volume than baking soda.

Emergency Lighting

  • A can of tuna that is packed in oil can work as an emergency candle. Here’s how. Open a hole in the top of the can. Then insert a piece of rolled newspaper in the hold to serve as a wick. When the oil has soaked the wick, light the wick. There should be sufficient oil in the can to burn for about two hours. (And, yes, you can eat the tuna afterward.)

  • You also can create a makeshift candle with lip balm and a tampon. Remove the cotton string from a tampon and clip it into a tube of lip balm with a paper clip. After you light the string, you should have a small candle that will burn for about two hours and offer a small degree of light and warmth. (Prevent the plastic tube from burning by slowly and carefully twisting out the lip balm as the wick burns away.)

First Aid

  • Another everyday item that can be a lifesaver is super glue. You can use this strong adhesive to close small wounds when you do not have bandages available. Just place a small amount of glue over the cleaned wound and spread it evenly before it solidifies. The glue will seal the area and will keep it closed and clean as new skin forms.
  • You can also use feminine sanitary pads as absorbent wound dressings, compresses, and bandages in an emergency. Place the absorbent side next to the wound, using the adhesive side to help secure a wrapping.
  • Plastic kitchen wrap can help protect and heal minor burns. It is clean, and it will not stick to the wound. Wrap a single layer around thermal burns. Do not use on chemical or acid burns.
  • Breathing mask. You will look a bit funny, but in a disaster situation, who cares? You can use the cup of a bra as a make-shift face mask when the air is clogged with toxic substances such as ash, dust, fine particles, and pulverized concrete. Most ladies’ bras are the right size to cover the nose and mouth. You can use the straps to secure the mask around the head.
  • If you are experiencing the warning signs of a stroke or a heart attack, taking aspirin can save your life. Aspirin works as a blood thinner and can give you time to get medical help.
  • Broom handles or yardsticks can serve as emergency splints and make-shift crutches in a disaster situation.
  • Many antiseptic types of mouthwash can be used as an improvised wound disinfectant to prevent infection.
  • High-percentage rubbing alcohol can be used as a disinfectant for wounds and surfaces. (It also is useful as a fire starter.)
  • You can use an ordinary t-shirt or pillowcase as a make-shift tourniquet in an emergency situation.

Self-Defense

  • You can use many everyday items as weapons when you need to defend yourself from a wild animal or an intruder. Pens, pencils, keys, and forks are a few examples. The trick is to either extend your index finger over the pointed object or hold it between your index and middle fingers as you defend yourself with your fists.
  • Another common item you can use for self-defense is your belt. If you need to secure a door from opening, such as in an active shooter scenario, tie the belt through a door arm. Here is a video that shows how.
  • Rope or makeshift rope can work for self-defense or as a way to lower yourself from a building or to climb up a surface. Don’t have any rope? Use other everyday objects such as phone chargers, extension cords, belts, even dental floss for the same purpose. Dental floss also can be used to secure your gear and to trap intruders.

Food and Water

  • Common items you can use as make-shift water filters are coffee filters, pantyhose, and cotton clothing.
  • You can use tabs from soda, vegetable, or soup cans as makeshift fishing hooks. Here’s a way to use the entire can as a fishing rod. Use a knife or pliers to pry off the tab. Break apart one of the small rings to use as a hook. Tie a piece of string or dental floss to the “hook” and wrap the rest around the can itself. You can store worms or other bait in the can and use the entire apparatus to catch small fish in an emergency food situation.
  • Need to carry water from a stream, but you have no containers? A clean, unused condom can expand to carry up to a gallon of water.
  • Household bleach can work to disinfect water in a survival situation. Here are the steps to follow.
    1. If the water is clear, stir 1/8 teaspoon of bleach into a gallon of water.
    2. If water is cloudy, mix in a ¼ teaspoon into a gallon of water.
    3. Allow mixture to stand for 30 minutes.

Please note that if the sodium hypochlorite in bleach is older than six months, it will break down and not be effective for purifying water.

Shelter

Here are some of the everyday items you can use to fashion a temporary emergency shelter from the elements.

  • Duct tape can secure tarps and repair furniture and boats. You also can fashion it into arrow spines and use it for many other survival purposes.
  • By wrapping yourself in aluminum foil, you are able to use your own body heat to keep you warm.
  • Heavy-duty trash bags can work as a waterproof layer for a tent or sleeping bag, or as a poncho, and they can aid in the building an emergency shelter. You also can use them to store water and food supplies.
  • Plastic sheeting and tarps can form the roof and walls of your temporary shelter. Secure them with other everyday items such as clothespins and duct tape.
  • Sheets, blankets, and boxes also can be used to create temporary shelters.

In a crisis situation, it takes clear thinking to survive. Knowing more about how you can use items you are likely to have on hand no matter where you are can help offer peace of mind. But what is the most important factor in surviving a disaster?

Allen Aldrich, a political scientist at Purdue University in Indiana who has studied preparedness, thinks that earthquake drills and building bunkers can go only so far. His research into communities devasted by floods, hurricanes, tsunamis, and other disasters, reveals that people who maintained relationships with friends, co-workers and neighbors had the best chance of survival.

“Really, at the end of the day, the people who will save you, and the people who will help you,” Aldrich said in an interview with National Public Radio, “they’re usually neighbors.”

He suggests getting to know your neighbors and getting involved in clubs, homeowners’ associations, and athletic groups “to build up these stocks of trust and reciprocity.”

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