How to Wash Dishes While Camping

Camping in the wilderness comes with unique challenges for cleaning dishes, so they are safe to use again. Limited amounts of water and exposure to toxins from the outdoors make it necessary to conserve resources while sanitizing dishes, utensils, and dining surfaces. This guide for how to wash dishes while camping tells you everything you need to know.

How To Wash Dishes While Camping (Step-By-Step)

Washing dishes while camping can be fast and easy if you have the right equipment and follow a few simple steps. It starts with planning. Camp dishes are different than washing dishes with the conveniences of home, but there is no need for it to be hard. Here, I cover every aspect of the job, with steps that make it easier and safer for you and the environment.

Step 1: Set Up An Awesome Camping Wash Station

Choose an area that is flat to set up your camping wash station. Use a folding table large enough to accommodate three wash buckets and the other necessary supplies.

The Three Bucket System

The Three Bucket System is the most efficient method. It includes a wash sink, a rinse sink, and a sanitizing sink. You may use any type of plastic wash bucket large enough to hold the biggest item you need to wash. Just make sure you have three of them. Here is a checklist of all of the supplies you need for an awesome camping wash station

  • Wash Sink
  • Rinse Sink
  • Sanitize Sink 
  • Pot to boil water
  • Biodegradable soap
  • Paper Towels
  • Table to set up the wash station
  • Sponge and scrubber 
  • Drying rack
  • Dish Towels for drying
  • Metal strainer for removing food from gray water
  • Sanitizer (bleach or steremine)

Step 2: Boiling Water

This step could take a little longer if you're camping in high altitudes. Heat water to the point of boiling to make sure it is sanitary. Boiling water may cool down quickly if the temperatures outside are cold. You may want to leave some simmering on low after it reaches the boiling stage.

Step 3: Prep The Dishes

Remove all leftover food from plates, pots, pans, and utensils. It's easiest with a paper towel. Wipe them off as soon as the meal is done while it is easiest to get most of the leftover food off with a paper towel. It's easier to wash dishes while camping when you prep them first. It's a good habit to develop to make washing dishes easier. Try to prepare food in amounts that will be eaten for each meal to cut down on the number of leftovers in the pans.

Step 4: Fill wash buckets with water

Set up your three-wash bucket system. The first wash bucket is for washing dishes, the second for rinsing dishes, and the third is for sanitizing dishes. Cut the boiling water with cold water, but make sure it is still hot. Boiling water can melt the plastic, so it needs to be cooled, but don't use too much because cold water doesn't work as well when you're trying to get the cleanest dishes when camping. A hot water wash is best. Fill the buckets to half-full to accommodate the water displacement from the dishes.

Use biodegradable soap in the first bucket. Some kinds of dish soap high in phosphates are unhealthy for the environment. This is why biodegradable soap is the best option for other kinds of dish soap. Add just enough dish soap to the water in the first bucket, and go sparingly so you can get all the soap off the dishes during the rinse.

Add one capful of bleach or another sanitizer to the third bucket for sanitizing. This water should be a little hotter than the wash water for the cleanest dishes.

Step 5: Wash Dishes

Start with the cleanest dishes first. This helps to keep the water cleaner. Save the really dirty dishes and the pots and pans for last. It's best, to begin with, the utensils, plates, bowls, and cups. Wash dishes and utensils one at a time, moving them to the rinse water, then the sanitizing sink. Let them sit for a few minutes in the sanitizing water. By the time the dishes reach the third sink they should be clean and free of debris. Remove from the sanitizing sink to a drying rack while you return your attention to the other dirty dishes. Sometimes camping dishes will dry in the air during the process. If not, use a dish towel or paper towels to thoroughly dry them and put them away.

Step 6: How to wash pots and pans

Pots and pans are the largest and often the hardest camping dishes to wash. Remove all leftover food from them before you begin. Scrape the insides first and wipe them down with a paper towel. A hot water wash is needed for washing these kinds of dishes while camping. You can a little boiling water to cut the grease, if necessary, or even set them over the fire to remove all of the small food particles or stubborn cooked-on foods. You can also let them soak with hot water inside while doing the other dishes. Then go through the process to wash dishes, rinse, and sanitize. Place them on the drying rack and allow them to air dry. You can speed up the drying process by wiping them down with a paper towel or dishtowel.

Step 7 & 8: Clean Sponges and Scrubbers through the wash water, rinse water, and sanitizer. Wring them out and set them in a place where they can dry out.

Dry towels : Hang the dish towels on the drying rack and allow them to air dry.

Step 9: Consolidate Graywater

Graywater is the water that is left in your wash bucket after you wash dishes when camping. Before you complete this task take a look round to make sure there are no more camping dishes that need to be washed. It's one of the final steps and it's no fun to discover that you overlooked a few nasty dishes that were set aside. Washing dishes when camping isn't as easy to do without the modern conveniences of a kitchen sink and hot running water, so be vigilant and get them all.

To consolidate the gray water, dump the sanitize sink into the rinse sink. Next, dump the rinse sink into the wash sink. At this stage, the buckets will no longer contain as much water from washing dishes. This puts all the dirty dishwater you've created into one bucket. There are just two more steps in the process to complete.

Step 10: Strain Out Food Scraps

At this point, you're almost done with the process, but before you throw out the gray water, it's important to strain out the food scraps. Small particles collect in the dishwater. This is where the metal strainer comes in handy. You will need two buckets to complete this process. Place the metal strainer inside one of the buckets you've emptied. Lift the bucket that contains the gray water and gently pour the water into the strainer to catch any leftover food particles. As the bucket begins to fill with strained water, you will see why this step is important. The particles that you strain out of the greywater should be thrown away in a garbage back once they're removed from the water. If there are still particles in the water, strain it one more time to remove all of them. Tiny food particles can attract wildlife and insects. These are pests that you don't want to lure into your camp with traces of leftovers from dinner. It's best to secure the solid waste in your camp garbage to keep the campsite clean and free of the old food.

Step 11: Dispose of Dirty Dishwater When Camping

When you wash dishes while camping, the leftover water needs to be disposed of properly to protect the environment, wildlife, and the campers. It should not be dumped near your campsite because it still contains traces of the food scent and it can attract insects and wild animals. After you wash dishes, consolidate the gray water, and strain it, you can dump the dirty water on the ground in a location away that is at least 100 feet from any water source such as a creek, river, or lake. This helps to prevent contamination of the water. Find a spot where the water can absorb into the ground and evaporate. It's best to distribute it as evenly as possible as opposed to just dumping it all in one spot. This will speed the drying process and you won't have a muddy spot.

Camp Dishwashing Gear

Learning how to wash dishes while camping isn't difficult, but using a few easy steps can make it more effortless and save a lot of hassle along with way. It's also important to use the best possible camp dishwashing gear to streamline the processes and make it go even faster. We've chosen a few of the best pieces of camp dishwashing gear that are out on the market to make it easier to wash dishes while camping.

The Sea to Summit Kitchen Sink is a collapsible bucket that holds up to 10-liters of water to wash dishes while camping. It's ideal for campsites because it folds down into a compact size and requires little storage space when it's not in use. It's made of durable materials that hold up well during outdoor use.

Sea-to-Summit-Kitchen-Sink

Image from Amazon.com

This handy sink holds u to 16 liters of water. It comes with a soft shell frame that collapses down to a small size that doesn't take up much storage space when camping. It has a double handle that makes it easy to carry. It's ideal for any amazing camp wash station.

UST-FlexWare-Collapsible-Sink

Image From Amazon.com

This highly concentrated soap is great for multiple uses. It's perfect for washing camp dishes. It's also gentle enough to use on the human body. It only takes a few drops so a little goes a long way. The formulation is biodegradable and will not harm the environment.

CONCENTRATED-CAMPSUDS

Image From Amazon.com

This is a travel-size version of Dr. Bronner's biodegradable soap that is made from all-natural ingredients. It's gentle on the environment and the skin. It's super concentrated and only takes a few drops for washing dishes or washing your body when camping.

Dr.-Bronner's-Organic-Liquid-Soap

Image from Amazon.com


This is a highly absorbent camp towel that can absorb up to eight times its weight in moisture. It's easy to wring out and dries quickly. It comes with an attached loop for hanging out to dry after use. It's the ideal towel for drying dishes at camp.

Wise-Owl-Outfitters-Camping-Travel-Towel

Image from Amazon.com


The GSI Outdoors Gourmet Kitchen Set streamlines the operation of your camp kitchen with containers for condiments, a scrubber, a scraper, a cutting board, a spoon, spatula, a camp towel, and more. It also comes with a durable carrying case to keep all of these items organized and handy when you need them. It's an all-in-one kit.

GSI-Outdoors-Gourmet-Kitchen-Set

Image from Amazon.com


This is a set of four plates, bowls, and mugs that come with convenient sip lids to keep insects out of your beverages and prevent accidental spills. It's ideal for a family of four for camping. It also comes with a 2-liter pot, a 3-liter pot, a frying pan, and a pot gripper to prevent burns when you're taking things off of the stove or the fire.

Snow-Peak-Multi-Compact-Cookset

Image from Amazon.com


The Lodge Cast Iron Skillet makes food taste better when you're camping. It doesn't require washing. It's a camping essential that cust down on the amount of dishwashing you do in camp. Just make sure to oil it on the inside after cleaning to keep it in top condition.

Lodge-Pre-Seasoned-Cast-Deep-Skillet

Conclusion

You spend a lot less time working when you know how to wash dishes while camping. Setting up an amazing wash station with all of the right gear can prepare you for a quick in and out at the wash station with dishes that are clean and sanitized and ready to go for the next round. Use the steps in our guide to make washing camp dishes a breeze, and check out the useful products that can help.

Sources

1. https://www.freshoffthegrid.com/washing-dishes-while-camping/

2. https://simplebites.net/how-to-wash-dishes-when-camping/

3. https://hammockliving.co/how-to-wash-dishes-camping/

Michael Ethan
 

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