There have been many good articles on items that are needed for an emergency kit. In this article I will discuss two easy to purchase chemicals that have multiple practical uses. These two chemicals are glycerin and potassium permanganate. Many of you have probably seen the videos on how to use these chemicals to start a fire, which will be discussed later for those who have not seen the videos.
Glycerin is a simple colorless, odorless, somewhat viscous organic compound and is a byproduct of soap making and the production of biodiesel. The big industrial soap makers take out glycerin from their soaps and sell if for other purposes and this is why most brand name soaps actually dry out your skin. There are soaps out there that either add the glycerin back during production or do not remove them for initial process to make soap for people with sensitive skin. Those of us familiar with cold process soap making know this is why these homemade soaps are so much better for our skin since the glycerin is not removed and they use a more natural fat source like milk fat or natural oils like olive oil, these soaps leave our hands feeling softer.
Glycerin is not harmed by direct sunlight, but should be stored in a break resistant container with a good seal. If glycerin is left exposed to air it will absorb moisture from the air and be diluted to an 80% glycerin solution, which is still usable but will change the amount needed.
Glycerin has several medical uses besides being used in soaps. It is a hydroscopic compound, which means that it likes water and will readily absorb surrounding water. It is this property that makes it so useful. If a small amount is inserted into the rectum it will absorb water from the surrounding tissue and soften the stool. It is this dehydrating effect on the rectal tissues irritates it as well and will help void the stool. This is how the glycerin suppositories work because the gelatin capsule dissolves in the rectum exposing the glycerin to the rectal tissue.
The use of undiluted glycerin can be used as a treatment for insect bites, burns, rashes and as a disinfectant for cuts. Since glycerin will draw the water out of whatever it contacts it is excellent for killing bacteria, yeast, or fungal infections. I have read that a 1 tablespoon to 1 cup dilution of glycerin can be used as a mouthwash to kill the bacteria that causes bad breath.
If you dilute glycerin with cider vinegar until it has the consistency of hand lotion, a few drops to a teaspoon, you will get an effective wart remover. Apply enough each day to cover the wart and in time the virus that causes the wart will be killed and the skin will repair itself once the dead skin peels away.
Glycerin is also used as a sweetener and a teaspoon of glycerin has about the same amount of calories as table sugar, 27, but it does not raise blood sugar levels. It can be added to bake goods as a sweetener and it has the side benefit of adding moisture, similar to adding honey or molasses. Warning, do not put undiluted glycerin in your mouth due to its hydroscopic nature it can leave a blister to sensitive oral tissue.
For those making their own biodiesel glycerin is not safe to be used medically or in any other form that may come in contact with living organisms because it does contain harmful chemicals like methanol. There are ways to distill biodiesel glycerin and make it safe for use, but that is not my area of expertise.
Potassium permanganate is an inorganic chemical that is a strong oxidizing compound that easily dissolves in water. It is used primarily as a disinfectant and can be easily purchased at fish supply stores for the treatment of outdoor fish ponds. DO NOT ingest undiluted potassium permanganate powder it will make you sick and can be harmful. Potassium permanganate is a reactive oxidizer, so sunlight will break it down over time, it should be stored in a non-clear, break resistant container that has a good seal
Potassium permanganate can be used for the treatment of fungal infections like athletes foot. Take 2 teaspoons of potassium permanganate and dilute it in 1 liter of water and use this solution to clean the infected area. You should soak your feet for about 15 minutes twice a day for 2 to 3 weeks to make sure that the fungal infection has been completely taken care of. Also, when diluted potassium permanganate will turn the water purple and may stain your feet.
Another good use is to wash your food, since it effectively kills the bacteria that cause cholera and some parasites, a very handy thing to know once grid goes down. In third world countries potassium permanganate is used to help control disease outbreaks. A 0.001 percent solution should be used for this purpose, which is 1/3 a teaspoon to 2 liters of water. Remember that a solution of greater than 1 percent potassium permanganate can be harmful if ingested so be thorough with your measurements.
If you take 1 tablespoon of that 0.001 solution and dilute it in 1 cup of water you have an effective treatment for many skin infections like eczema, canker sores, dermatitis and vaginal thrush. This can also be used in the treatment of blisters and abscesses and the anti-microbial properties of the solution will help prevent secondary infections.
NOTE: do not use potassium permanganate on dry skin since it may cause irritation.
Now for the fun part, how to use these two compounds to make a fire. Note this reaction produces a good amount of heat and can even start a fire with damp kindling. Arrange your kindling and create a small depression and in the depression place ½ to ¼ teaspoon of potassium permanganate powder. The amount is dependant on how damp is the kindling you are using. Next add an equal amount of glycerin to the powder, DO NOT use the same spoon that you measured the potassium permanganate. Personally I do not use a spoon for either one I just eyeball the measurement of each since a little over or under will not be detrimental to the reaction. Also, I try to store these apart in my pack as an added precaution.