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14 Ways to Make Your Coronavirus Stockpile Last Longer

Running low on supplies? Don’t panic. These smart strategies can make all the difference when waiting out the pandemic at home.

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Efficiency is key

In preparation for coronavirus self-quarantine, many Americans stocked up on essentials like toilet paper, hand sanitizer, tuna, peanut butter, pasta, and more. Some even went on a panic-buying frenzy, which isn’t actually helpful for a number of reasons, and certain items are still scarce. To make sure you don’t run out of the essentials, you need to strategize. “It’s important to be efficient and smart about how to ration the supplies you have on hand,” explains Vicky Nguyen, an investigative and consumer correspondent for NBC News. Historically, rationing has been practiced during wartime, when demand exceeds supply. Today, you may want to do some rationing of your own because of the supply issue (we’re looking at you, toilet paper), because you want to limit your trips to the grocery store, or because money is tight. Here’s how to make the most of what you have and find some clever substitutions for the items you just can’t get.

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Shop strategically

The CDC is urging everyone to stay home as much as possible to avoid unnecessary exposure to the virus, so you want to make the most of your shopping trips. Nguyen suggests buying about two weeks’ worth of groceries at a time. To do that right, you’ll need to plan ahead. First, she says, take inventory of what you have, and then figure out how many people you need to feed. “Try to make a meal plan for the week so you’re not impulse-eating,” she adds. And you might want to save recipes that require exotic ingredients until after the pandemic. “Consider keeping recipes basic so you don’t need to buy specialty ingredients that may be hard to reuse in other dishes,” she says. Once you have a shopping list in hand, you’re ready to hit the store.

Diane Vukovic, lead writer at the prepping website Primal Survivor and author of the book Disaster Preparedness for Women, also suggests making a spreadsheet. “Organize the spreadsheet by type of food (carbohydrates, proteins, fruits, veggies, oil/fats, sides, and snacks),” she advises. “Make a column next to the food with its total calories. The average adult needs around 1,800 to 2,500 calories per day, so the calorie tally on your spreadsheet will give you an idea of how long your food should last. It will also give you a better sense of what foods you have and how to distribute them properly over the upcoming period.” Every few days, update your spreadsheet. “This will help you see how much food you are really eating, which, for many of us, may be more than necessary,” she adds. “Seeing it in numbers can help curb boredom-snacking.” Here’s more on how to stock up wisely, emergency or not.

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Use beans to make other foods last longer

Vukovic points out that beans are one of the most popular “disaster foods” for a reason—they have a long shelf life. They can also help make other products in your stash, like meat, last longer, as well as make meals more filling and ultimately help you eat less. “I’ll often blend beans up with tomato sauce to serve over pasta. I even hide black beans in brownies for my family to sneak in a bit of protein,” Vukovic says. Plus, using beans in that way makes one can last a lot longer than when you simply serve it as a side.

This concept also applies to other overstocked foods in your pantry that you’re not sure what to do with. For example, if you have 10 cans of peas, you could put them into pasta sauce, blend them into a dip for crackers, or make soup. Similarly, you can use a pantry staple like bullion cubes to add a meaty flavor to your dishes without using your meat.

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Prioritize your perishables

Most of us are used to eating what we want, when we want it. However, if you want your food to last as long as possible, you need to have a plan. “Prioritize your perishable items, and eat those first so you don’t have excess food waste,” Nguyen advises. For example, if you have milk, plan breakfasts that involve cereal before switching to eggs or oatmeal, which can last longer in the fridge or pantry, she says. Got leftovers? Don’t forget about them—and make sure you’re storing them correctly so they’re viable for as long as possible.

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Freeze fresh foods

If you have a large freezer, now is the time to use it. “When you are able to go grocery shopping, stock up on fresh foods and put them in the freezer for a later day,” Vukovic says. “You can also dehydrate many fresh foods, so they won’t go bad. It’s not the same as eating fresh produce, but dried fruits make a great snack and you’ll still be getting your nutrients.” By the way, here’s how long you can really freeze food.

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Dilute certain liquids

Diluting some items with water can definitely help to stretch your stockpile, says Alan Scheller-Wolf, PhD, professor of operations management at Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business. Orange juice and soy sauce, for example, can be easily diluted without an issue. But a word of caution: You can’t do this for all items. “You should not stretch items that need a certain regularity, or concentration, to be effective,” Scheller-Wolf explains. Baby formula is one of these; diluting it can result in an infant’s failure to thrive and even death. However, you can opt for the powdered form instead of the liquid to get more bang for your buck.

Other items not to dilute or stretch? Prescription medication and hand sanitizer. With the latter, adds Scheller-Wolf, “they say you need 70 percent alcohol to kill COVID, so you should not stretch this.” If you can’t find it anywhere, here’s how to make a quick and simple hand sanitizer.

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Make substitutions

The best way to make supplies last longer is to substitute, suggests Scheller-Wolf. “Find items that are not in short supply that you can use in place of those that are in short supply,” he says. No rice? See if you have barley. No Italian pasta? Use rice noodles or soba instead. No canned beans? Get dry. You can also use frozen, dried, or canned items instead of fresh. You’re still stocking up, just diversifying. “Use items you are not used to using, and maybe check out some different recipes to use these ingredients,” he continues. “From an operations perspective, the key is often flexibility. The more ways you have of meeting your needs, the better, so if one (or more) are cut off, you have alternatives.” The better the quality of your alternative, he adds, the better your result. Don’t miss these 11 creative substitutes to buy when pantry staples are out of stock.

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Repurpose cleaning supplies you already have

Don’t panic if you can’t find wipes and disinfectants online or in stores. Instead, take inventory of what you already have—in unexpected areas of your home. For example, just because a cleaning product is intended for your bathroom, it doesn’t mean that it won’t work in the kitchen. “Check your bathroom cleaners that you use on the shower or sink,” Nguyen says. “Some are EPA approved to kill 99.9 percent of bacteria and viruses.” If the label isn’t clear, look for the EPA registration number on the product and search it on the EPA’s website. For example, Comet, usually used in the bathroom, is approved to kill COVID-19. So is Scrubbing Bubbles. And remember, adds Nguyen, “good old-fashioned soap and water can also be used to kill COVID-19.”

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Maximize your masks

The government is currently urging people to wear masks whenever they go out in public. They’re hard to come by, but there’s a good chance that you might already have one somewhere in your home. “Check your garage,” says Nguyen. “You may have a construction mask that you haven’t used. It doesn’t need to be hospital grade, but it works as a face covering when you’re out.” If you happen to find any N95 masks, however, she encourages you to donate them to health care workers. Here’s what the N95 stands for, by the way, and why these masks are so essential to those on the front lines.

You can also improvise with other items you have at home. “You can make your own cloth mask from a bandanna and two elastics,” says Nguyen. Alternatively, she suggests using a scarf to cover your nose and mouth when making essential trips outside. The CDC’s website is a great resource for everything mask-related. In addition to offering tutorials on how to make both sew and non-sew masks, it also provides instructions on how to use and care for your mask—including how and when to use it, wash it, and take it off. The great thing about cloth masks is that you can reuse them after tossing them in the washing machine.

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Only use hand sanitizer when you really need it

Most stores have been sold out of hand sanitizer for weeks. However, according to Nguyen, you shouldn’t panic if you can’t get your hands on a bottle. “Hand sanitizer is fairly new. It wasn’t a product we had to have before,” she says. “Save what you have for when you’re on the go.” Soap and water does the trick when you’re at home and is actually more effective. In fact, you can help prevent coronavirus and a number of other diseases just by washing your hands.

Midsection Of Man Holding Toilet Papers Against Wall At HomeLucia Romero Herranz / EyeEm/Getty Images

Cut down your toilet paper usage

Most of us don’t give a lot of thought to how many sheets we’re using, but a little conservation can go a long way. Think about it: If you use half the toilet paper you usually use for a wipe, then your roll will last twice as long. For a more scientific approach, check out this toilet paper calculator; it will give you an idea of how long you can make your current supply last by cutting down the number of squares you use. To get an accurate estimation, you’ll need to figure out how many times you go to the bathroom every day, how many squares you use, and how many rolls you have. Do the same for the other people in your household to figure out approximately how long your stash will last.

Another way to ration your toilet paper? Vukovic suggests using cloth wipes for pee only and saving your TP for poop. “Use cloths to wipe yourself, and then put these cloths in a bin next to the toilet for washing later,” she explains. “If you run out, use dampened paper towels or baby wipes, but don’t flush them down the toilet.” Ever wonder what people used before toilet paper existed? We found out!

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Invest in a bidet

Before your toilet paper stash runs low, you might want to consider switching tactics altogether. “There are lots of places in the world that use water instead of paper for this hygienic need,” says Scheller-Wolf. One solution is buying a bidet, such as the highly-rated Luxe Bidet attachment on Amazon or the TUSHY Classic. In fact, here’s why one woman who tried a bidet says she’ll never go back to toilet paper again.

You can even DIY an option yourself with an 8-ounce plastic bottle. “Just poke holes in the lid so it sprays water instead of pours,” Vukovic advises. “Fill the bottle with water, and keep it next to the toilet. Use it to spray water down your backside after going #2, and then dry yourself with a cloth, which you should then promptly put in a container next to the toilet.”

Covid-19 Wiping down surfacesfiladendron/Getty Images

Conserve cleaning products

You don’t need to sterilize everything repeatedly, says Nguyen. “Save your cleaning supplies for high-touch surfaces in your home,” she says. According to the CDC, these include tables, doorknobs, light switches, countertops, handles, desks, phones, keyboards, toilets, faucets, and sinks. Also, don’t use your precious disinfectant to clean up simple messes; soap and water can take care of that. Since it’s hard to get your go-to cleaning supplies these days, you might want to stock up on these 4 household products that kill coronavirus, according to Consumer Reports.

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Wipe down groceries without wasting supplies

The FDA currently says there’s “no evidence of food, food containers, or food packaging being associated with transmission of COVID-19.” However, health experts maintain that while the risk is very low, it is possible that if a sick person handled those packages before delivering them to you and you touch them and then touch your eyes, nose, or mouth, you may get sick. Research indicates that SARS-CoV-2 remains active on plastic and stainless steel surfaces for two to three days, on cardboard for up to 24 hours, on copper for four hours, and in the air for up to three hours. “To take maximum precautions, wipe down the packaging,” says Nguyen.

But keep in mind that a little bit of disinfectant goes a long way. Use one wipe, a spray of disinfectant, or even soap and water if the product is waterproof. Or, if you’re really short on supplies, leave your package untouched for at least 24 hours. Next, find out if you should be disinfecting your mail.

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Make your own disinfectants

Anything with the word “disinfectant” on the bottle is in high demand right now, and most of the aisles that once housed these sprays and wipes are totally, well, wiped out. But don’t panic if you can’t find the brand-name sprays or wipes, says Nguyen. “You may have some basic household products that will also do the trick to sanitize your home.” According to the CDC, a diluted bleach solution will work as a disinfectant—and that will help your cleaning stock last a whole lot longer. To make it, mix 5 tablespoons (1/3 cup) bleach per gallon of water, or 4 teaspoons bleach per quart of water. “Just remember to leave it on the surface for at least one minute,” she says.

According to the CDC and EPA, alcohol solutions with at least 70 percent alcohol in a spray bottle can also be used to sanitize surfaces. “If you’re running low on supplies, consider 3 percent hydrogen peroxide,” Nguyen suggests. While the CDC hasn’t approved it yet to kill COVID-19, she points out that experts say it can kill heartier viruses like rhinovirus, “so it will likely be effective as long as you let it sit on the cleaning surface for a minute before wiping away.” Not letting a product sit long enough to work its magic is actually one of the 15 common ways people use disinfectants wrong.