In 2003, Aron Ralston got pinned under a boulder. He was stuck there for 127 hours before severing his own arm to escape. He drank his own urine to avoid dehydration. He’s not the first – or the last – to do so.
It’s unclear whether these survivors made it because they drank their own urine or in spite of it.
There are a number of ways your pee can help you survive. Here’s what you should and shouldn’t do.
Do: Distill Water From Urine
Urine is about 95 percent water. The remaining 5 percent is not very good for you. You can distill your urine into clean drinking water by using a solar still or some other type of distiller to separate the good stuff from the bad stuff. Pee wouldn’t be my first choice for a water source, but if your options are limited, then it could save your life.
If that all sounds too gross for you, consider this. To survive in space, NASA is recycling urine and sweat into clean drinking water for astronauts. Bill Gates drank water pulled from sewer sludge and wrote, “I would happily drink it every day. It’s that safe.”
Do: Use Urine to Keep Cool/Warm
When it’s hot, wrapping a wet towel around the back of your neck can help keep you cool. The evaporating liquid will draw heat away. If you don’t have any water, you can pee on the towel to wet it.
In extreme cold, some people suggest not urinating so that you don’t lose body heat. That’s not a good idea. It takes a fair amount of effort to hold your pee, draining your energy and distracting you from more important tasks. It also slows down kidney function when your bladder is full.
Go ahead and urinate when you need to. And if you have an empty bottle, you can pee in the bottle and slip it under your jacket to use as a personal warmer. That’s a smarter way to save some of that body heat.
Do: Fertilize Plants With Urine
The main nutrients in plant fertilizer are nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. It just so happens that those are the same nutrients in urine. In general, for garden plants dilute it using ten parts water to one part urine – a ratio of 10:1. For seedlings and new transplants dilute if further to around 20:1.
Another good use for urine in the garden is to add it to your compost pile as an accelerator. This is helpful when your compost is low on nitrogen or moisture. You’ll know that’s the case when the compost is cold. Heat is a good indicator that everything is going well.
Do: Use Urine to Make Gunpowder
Gunpowder is a mixture of three substances: potassium nitrate, charcoal, and sulfur. You can make charcoal by burning wood. Sulfur can be extracted from certain rocks. You can also find elemental sulfur around volcanoes and hot springs. Potassium nitrate is harder to come by, but you can manufacture it using – you guessed it – urine.
On his popular YouTube channel, Cody Reeder used his pee to make gunpowder. In that first experiment, the gunpowder pushes a lead ball out of a pipe. Impressive, but not all that effective.
In his second attempt, he uses his urine gunpowder to shoot through a car door. He also makes a cannon that shoots through a truck fender and a sheet of plywood before burying the cannonball a few inches into the dirt backdrop.
Don’t: Drink Urine Itself
How long can you survive in the desert by drinking your own pee? Generally not as long as if you didn’t.
Urinating is your body’s way of getting rid of excess salts, minerals, and toxins. As you become dehydrated, you pee becomes more concentrated with these pollutants.
Some point out that you could “recycle” your pee two or three times before the toxins get to a dangerous level. But the real problem is that drinking urine will actually dehydrate you the same way drinking salt water will: the salt draws water out of your cells.
It’s for that reason that the U.S. Army Survival Handbook lists urine on its “do not drink” list.
Don’t: Rinse a Wound With Urine
In the absence of clean water, it’s often said that rinsing a wound with urine is the next best thing. The suggestion comes from the old belief that a healthy person’s urine is sterile.
We now know that’s not the case. Urine is not sterile – and that’s normal.
If there’s no clean water around, don’t pee on your wound and get all that bacteria in there. Instead, let the blood flow flush the wound, bathing it in infection-fighting white blood cells.
For the same reason, don’t rinse your eyes with pee.
Don’t: Pee on a Jellyfish Sting
The reason jellyfish stings hurt so much is that little bits of tentacle, called nematocysts, attach to your skin and release a painful venom. Showering the affected area with urine will actually cause those nematocysts to release more venom – which means more pain.
A better way to treat a jellyfish sting is to rinse it with salt water (urine is not salty enough), which deactivates the nematocysts. And then scrape the nematocysts away with a razor or a credit card.
Peeing on a stingray sting does absolutely nothing.
- Don’t drink your pee. Distill drinking water from it.
- Soak a towel in pee. Use it to keep cool.
- Pee in a bottle. Use it to keep warm.
- Fertilize plants with 10 parts water and 1 part pee.
- Fertilize using 20:1 ratio for seedlings and new transplants.
- Use pee to make gunpowder.
- Don’t pee on an open wound.
- Don’t rinse your eye with pee.
- Don’t pee on a jellyfish or stingray sting.