There are a lot of great tricks for cleaning your gear in the field. I have used quite a few, the more memorable ones are rather gimmicky, but work nonetheless. The 5 gallon bucket washing machine works pretty well, but is rather time consuming and quite the workout. A washboard works pretty well too. Those can be pretty time consuming though. The following is a list of ways to clean your gear without making a mess and wasting water. They are passive as well, requiring little to no effort.
1) Sleeping Bag: This item can get pretty smelly and dirty when you use it for a few weeks. And it’s not exactly something you can leave in the rain or stuff into a 5 gallon bucket. If you turn your sleeping bag inside out, and place it directly in the sun, you will sun bake the smell right out of it. Give it a few smacks and shakes to knock out the hair and dander and you are basically good to go. The UV light kills all the bacteria and dries out the dead skin cells and oils. You would be surprised how clean your bedroll can get using the old sunbaked trick. Works every time.
2) Uniform: The sun bake trick works with your uniform, socks, and underwear as well, but unlike your sleeping bag, you can leave these out in the rain and they will be pretty darn clean without weighing 40 pounds and taking a week to dry in cold weather. Everyone who has spent enough time in the field knows your uniform is bright and clean after a good rain. Wring the water out and hang to dry. Don’t forget to rise. You don’t want detergent or soap sitting on your skin. If you don’t have any spare water available, you should turn your pants and top inside out to sun bake them nasty portions of your uniform.
3) Socks and Underwear: Cleaning your socks and underwear is a little more difficult, I recommend putting them in a wet weather bag with a few drops of soap and some clean water. Shaking them is not nearly as effective as massaging the bag until your socks and underwear are clean. Spin dry or shake the extra water out. Again, sun baking works better than nothing.
4) Boots: Cleaning your boots is hard, they can get pretty foul and they don’t dry fast, I recommend using a sock on your hand and finding a piece of clear running water that isn’t near any stagnant pools or jetties. Use the sock to gently scrub out the inside of your boots. You don’t want to damage your socks by scrubbing too hard and you want to use just enough pressure to get that light layer of nasty out of your boots. This also cleans your socks pretty well too. Shake the extra water out by smacking your boots on a tree, or using a “Soft Ball” spin pitch to shake the water out.
5) Gloves: Put your gloves on and wash your hands in some water. Turn them inside out and sun bake them to dry them out and kill the bacteria. Don’t forget to scrub the inside as well, the outside is more dirty than the inside. Spin dry them or shake the water out.
It’s important to not wear your uniform, socks, and underwear too long. You can develop some really nasty skin infections. I have seen soldiers get EVAC’d one morning only to return later that day walking with a limp. They had a “staph” infection and had to have a significant chunk of their leg, back, or arm removed and flushed with antibiotics. It’s not a fashion statement to be the dirtiest guerrilla in the family. These methods work in cold and hot weather. Cold air is typically very dry, and your clothes will dry out surprisingly fast. The hardest part of cleaning your clothes is when the temp is below freezing. I recommend scheduling a cleaning during the final days of fall, or, during that one week of rare 50-70 degree weather we have all seen during the winter months.
Don’t be that guy. Guerrillas have terrible medical and dental plans…
It’s not a contest to see who dies of a staph infection first.
Staph infections are a very, very painful way to go…
DON”T SHARE UNIFORMS, SOCKS, GLOVES, UNDERWEAR, HELMETS, OR SLEEPING BAGS.