How To Wash Dishes While Camping

One of the most exciting and sociable things about camping is participating in campfire BBQs and other communal meals. Camping is a wonderful way to take in life’s simple pleasures, such as eating delicious food and taking in the sounds and scenery of nature. Every camper’s biggest dread is the inevitable aftermath: washing up. Luckily, there are various ways to make this experience more tolerable.

Here’s How To Wash Dishes While Camping:

  1. Setup A 3-Bucket Dish Washing Station
  2. Use The Bread Clean-Up Method
  3. Scrape Off Leftover Any Food On The Dishes
  4. Boil Water & Pour It Into 2 Buckets (Washing & Rinsing)
  5. Wash The Dishes
  6. Let The Dishes Drip-Dry Or Dry Them With A Dry Cloth
  7. And more…

You’ve found the ideal place if you’re looking for information on how to clean dishes while camping. You have a few options, and we’ll discuss them with you. This article will cover some of the most effective strategies for washing dishes in a camp setting.

1. Setup A 3-Bucket Dish Washing Station

Dirty dishes left lying around or stacking up around your campsite are an open invitation for animals to make an appearance and turn a peaceful camping holiday into a possible fight for survival. However, washing dishes when camping is an entirely different ballgame than at home.

For the sake of the campers’ well-being and beautiful view, and the preservation of, and respect for nature, washing dishes at camp is unfortunately inevitable. When camping, washing dishes with the 3-bucket method is the most efficient and well-organized option. To successfully wash dirty dishes at camp, you’ll need;

  • A sturdy table or washup surface
  • Water
  • 3 x Plastic basins (one each for dirty dishes, soapy dishwater, and rinsing water)
  • A drying rack
  • Sponges
  • A pot scourer 
  • Biodegradable dish soap
  • Drying dish towels

2. Use The Bread Clean-Up Method

If you have never heard of the bread trick, we are here to introduce you to it! After eating all the other food on your plate, have a piece of bread on hand. Using the bread, you can clean your dish and silverware of any remaining sauce or food remnants. 

If the empty food pot, you can also use another slice of bread to “bread up” the leftover sauce and bit of food. Finally, put the saucy bread into your mouth and enjoy the flavors for the last time. Many campers will agree that the bread method greatly simplifies cleanup.

3. Scrape Off Leftover Any Food On The Dishes

Cleaning dishes more quickly and efficiently can be achieved by scraping them as soon as feasible. Leftovers should be scraped off dishes and thrown away using a rubber spatula. With a sponge or scrub brush, clean the cutlery, glasses, and cups multiple times, as rubbing is a fantastic sanitizer.

You can clean dirty pots and pans with newspaper sprayed with full-strength vinegar, and then a good scrubbing and rinsing in hot water. Combine vinegar and baking soda to clean more effectively while having a small ecological footprint.

For your large pots, after giving them a good scraping and wipe down, pour some hot water containing baking soda and vinegar about a third of the way and allow it to soak overnight or while you are washing the smaller dishes.

4. Boil Water

Boil some water in a large pot over the fire or a gas stove, and pour it into two of the buckets. Add fresh tepid water to each bucket to prevent the water from burning your hands. You can use cold water if you do not want to boil it first; however, hot water cleans grimy dishes more effectively.

5. Wash The Dishes

Since you have limited space (unlike your conveniently spacious kitchen counters back home), you should consider washing your camp dishes as if you were playing Tetris.

  • Wash all the plates first and slot them into the dish rack.
  • Next, wash all your cutlery and pack them into the designated cutlery and utensils area on the dish rack with the handles pointing downwards. This way, you can fit much more cutlery than you would if you packed them with the handles facing up.
  • Then, wash all the mugs, cups, and glasses and fit them neatly upside down onto the drying rack.
  • Wash your pots and pans last, starting with the smallest and working your way up to the largest ones. Place some small and medium-sized pots upside down on top of the other dishes (fit them securely, so they don’t slide off).
  • Finally, clean your large pots and pans that have been soaking. If they are too tough to clean, let them soak for a few more hours and use boiling water, biodegradable dish soap, and a scourer to clean the pots thoroughly. Dry these big pots immediately and pack them away.

6. Let The Dishes Drip-Dry Or Dry Them With A Drying Cloth

You can choose whether to leave the dishes to drip-dry, or if you want to pack them away, you can use a clean, dry drying cloth to dry them and store them. Don’t forget to hang the wet drying cloth out to dry to prevent it from smelling.

Pack the clean dishes for the next meal and clean your washing-up station to keep things neat and organized. Make sure to pick up any food that may have fallen on the floor while washing the dishes.

7. Safely Discard The Dirty Dish Water

The conveniences at your campground will significantly impact the dirty dishwater disposal option you choose. Modern campgrounds often simplify things by offering a sink or a dedicated drainage basin for discarding dishwater.

If you are camping somewhere with such a spot, a lot of the hard work has already been done for you. But hypothetically, let’s pretend there isn’t a sink or drainage area nearby, and you must find another way to discard the dirty water from the dishes.

A colander or sieve of some kind is the primary tool of the trade when it comes to discarding filthy dishwater at a campsite. When disposing of dishwater, it’s important to strain it to remove any large pieces of food or other debris that could attract vermin or other pests.

It would be best if you dumped your dirty dishwater should be dumped at least 200 ft. away from the campsite after you’ve strained it thoroughly to remove any remaining debris. Also, you should not dump your dishwater closer than 200 ft. to any hiking paths, water sources, or campsite routes.

Frequently Asked Questions

If you are an inexperienced camper, you probably have many questions about what to do (or not do) on your camping trip. Below are some frequently asked questions about washing dishes while camping;

How Do You Wash Dishes Without Water While Camping?

There are various ways to wash camp dishes, even without water! Learning this tip can be a lifesaver if you are camping at a place where water is unsafe to use or scarce.

All you require are unscented wet wipes and alcohol wipes available in your kit for the most common, the simplest way to wash camping dishes without using any water.

Clean the dishes with wet wipes, carefully clear all food remnants, and bundle them up for safe disposal. Next, wipe the dishes thoroughly with alcohol wipes to further clean them and kill the germs. This will eliminate leftover food and sufficiently clean the plates for the next camp meal.

Can You Use Disposable Dinnerware & Cutlery While Camping?

The Environmental Protection Agency of the United States (US EPA) estimates that in 2017 approximately 50 million tons of disposables were disposed of in urban disposal systems. Dependent on how much time they spend in the sun and moisture, disposable paper plates have a decomposition time of roughly 5 years at a dump (landfill).

Plastic cutlery can persist in the environment for up to a millennium after its use. In 2016, the United States used 40 billion plastic cutlery items, and to make matters worse, the plastic cutlery market expanded at a pace of roughly 5 percent annually.

Everyone must keep camping sites clean and free of rubbish. If you love the outdoors, please remember that we must treat our cherished mother nature with the utmost respect if we want it to last for future generations.

This means avoiding the production of extra garbage that can harm the planet. If you care about the environment, remember to bring your recyclable dishes, glasses, silverware, and napkins (not serviettes).

Do You Need A Camping Dish Wash Station?

No law says you need a dish wash station while camping; however, it does make cleaning up much more convenient. If you do not have a dish wash station, where will you store all your dirty dishes, and where will you clean them?

Therefore, even though the answer is no, you don’t need a camping dish wash station, we recommend that you rather set one up for your own sanity.

How To Make DIY Biodegradable Dish Soap?

Please avoid using synthetic dyes or fragrances when making dish soap for your camping trip. Since essential oils are made of natural ingredients and degrade over time, their use is acceptable.

Although you could add natural coloring agents, there is no reason for it. We recommend using organic soap; however, don’t be too concerned if you don’t have any organic oils on hand. Try this soap nuts and water recipe if you want to make your own biodegradable dish soap.

Author at Wilderness Redefined camping website

James has been escaping to the outdoors for as long as he can remember. This first started in family camping trips but soon turned into adventure camps and hiking through the Scottish Hebrides. Now he has turned towards trying to make camping more comfortable and accessible.