10 Tips To Wash Dishes While Camping

10 Tips To Wash Dishes While Camping

Camp cookouts and feasts are two of the most memorable experiences while camping. There is a certain charm to enjoying both food and nature at the same time, and camping lets you bask in the simple joys of life. However, what comes after is the dreaded part to any camper—doing dishes. You do not have the basic amenities normally found in the kitchen such as the sink, running water, soap and sponge… you don’t have these at hand outdoors. The question is, how do you improvise?

The first thing you might think is that dishwashing while camping should require water—lots and lots of water; but what do you do when water is scarce, or simply nonexistent in the area?

Using instant and disposable stuff might be your next go-to, simply because you can just dine and throw out after. The only issue to that is the amount of trash you would be taking back home, or worse, leaving at the campsite to rot (after many years). It’s practically discouraged to do so while camping, especially if you care about nature.

If you have a dishwashing facility near the campsite, you are in luck. Just simply enjoy the relaxing time of doing dishes outdoors. However, a sink and running water is considered a luxury for outdoor camps, and you most likely won’t have access to it. Worry not, though—there are other options to take to ensure that you do not miss the aftercare of cooking and dining utensils.

Here 10 tips you can use while dishwashing in the backwoods:

1. Follow ‘Leave No Trace’ Principle

It doesn’t matter what terrain you are camping in; a good camper would know not to leave anything. Camping lets you enjoy nature, and also teach you that this beauty shouldn’t be marred by waste. As they say, you can only take memories and also the waste you have brought with you, of course. Do a thorough check of the utensils and equipment you brought, and account for each one as soon as you leave.

When it comes to dishes, clean them properly by following the simple rule of food disposal. Once you are done washing, check again for dirty dishes and cookware you missed. As for leftovers, you can try making another meal out of it, or simply pack them properly to bring back. Don’t dump it outside, especially if you are staying overnight because it might attract animals and disturb your sleep.

2. Cook realistically eatable food

Speaking of leftovers, you might want to check out camping recipes that are enough to serve for the number of people camping with you. If you are alone, prepare the amount of food you can finish completely to avoid leftovers. It’s true that you can cook anything outdoors, but to be on the safe side, prepare food that are easy to pick and eat. It’s hard to keep dishes spoil-free when camping especially when temperatures are too high. You can try bringing a cooler to preserve food, but lugging one might be a challenge if you are on a hike.

Some campers also opt to pack and cook vegetables instead of meat, since meats are more aromatic and therefore attract animals. Meats also tend to be greasy when cooked, making it harder to clean.

Also, to avoid spoiled plates, bowls and pots (these are much harder to clean), scrape them clean and be thorough in doing so. If leftovers cannot be helped, double bag them and tie loose ends to bring back without spilling.

3. Dispose graywater properly

If you are able to wash dishes using a water source, you will be left with graywater that should not be poured back into the source, seeing that it could be dirty. The best tip would be to strain the dishwater before disposing or reusing to ensure that the food particles would be removed. You can use the strained graywater to clean soiled gear or footwear, just as long as the water is not too greasy that it leaves stains on the fabric or material.

4. Wash dishes away from water sources

You might automatically assume that washing next to the water source, or even on it is the best way to clean your dishes. This is actually discouraged since dirty dishwater is a potential pollutant of lakes and streams, no matter how carefully you handle it. Do not dispose graywater on the water source as well. If your camp has a designated area for disposing graywater, all the better; if not, just make sure you rid of strained dishwater at least around 200 feet away from water sources, roads, trails and camps.

5. Use biodegradable materials

To further protect nature and its inhabitants, make use of biodegradable equipment and materials when dishwashing, particularly the dishwashing soap you bring to the camp. There are biodegradable soaps available in the market that are specially formulated for camping. Stay away from soaps containing sulfites, because these can stock up on discarded water and pollute the environment.

6. Bring a trusty washcloth and towel

Bring an absorbent washcloth or towel to pat dry dishes and cookware you have just washed. Air drying plates might be easy, but you consequently expose them to microbes in the air or animals and insects, so it’s better to dry them off and store them quickly after using. If no water source is available, you can directly wipe off your utensils with towels to prevent scraps and food particles from getting spoiled on the dishware.

7. Prepare your sponges

If washing with water and soap, don’t forget to bring a sponge. You can store it inside your cookware and store after squeezing it to dry. The dual sponge and scouring pad work best for outdoor dishwashing. You can cut them up into perfect squares so as not to take up so much space, but remember to clean them up nicely after using to prevent odor and bacterial growth.

8. What to do when water isn’t available

Washing dishes is not recommended in areas teeming with wildlife. If you are camping in rough terrain, you might also find water to be scarce, making dishwashing with water an impossible thing to do. It would also depend on the season—if you are in a rocky mountain on a snowy day, washing is unnecessary. Clean residual food and wipe clean before stowing the plates and cookware away. Alternatively, you can:

  1. Put a tablespoon of oil while cooking or boiling water. This prevents food from sticking on the pot or pan, making it easier to clean and dry before storing.
  2. If you’re cooking with sauces, you can dip bread or a tortilla on the leftover sauce to wipe the pan clean, creating an instant dip for your consumption.
  3. Boil some water on the pot after cooking your meal, and you’ll be able to create an instant soup that can warm you up in no time. This is especially good practice for when you are low on water, and need to ration water wisely.
  4. If you are making a campfire, the wood ash can actually be a good replacement for commercial soap. Ash mixed with a bit of water becomes mild alkali paste, which can then mix with leftover fat and makes cleaning a breeze.
  5. No sponge? No problem; you can use what is readily available on the surroundings to clean the dishes. For example, grass works really well, as well as leaves, pine cones or needles. If sand is available (if you are camping by the beach), sand can be an abrasive to scrape dishes clean.
  6. Dry pots and pans thoroughly before storing, even if you don’t have soap to wash them with. Drying prevents bacteria to grow on the surface of cookware, since these microorganisms thrive in moisture-rich environment.
  7. We do not recommend this, but if you absolutely need a clean pot but have no access to washing water, you can bring a pot liner to cover the inside of the pot, preventing food from sticking on it. However, this can cause more waste than necessary, so only use this option if you need to reuse pots or cookware for longer camping trips.

9. Disinfecting (even without soap)

In the olden days, what people do to keep their utensils clean is to boil water. They use it for drinking water, cleaning and cooking. If you are camping and have no access to a washing facility, or if you didn’t bring soap, you can use boiled to water to disinfect your cookware. Common diarrhea-causing microbes like Cryptosporidium and Giardia are heat-sensitive. Dip your utensils, plates and cookware into a pot of boiling water for sanitary purposes. Remember to dry them after, too!

10. Strain out the food scraps

Prevent food residue from being left on the cookware and plates, because this can be breeding ground for harmful microorganisms that cause illnesses such as diarrhea, influenza, or even pneumonia. Pack a small strainer and pour the dishwater over it to capture the food particles left during washing.

If you have a ready garbage on the camping site for biodegradable waste, you can dump the strained food particles on it. Otherwise, scatter the residue all over the washing area 200 meters away from camping grounds or water source. This will ensure that you do not pollute the flora and fauna on the site, and also reduces traces that can attract wild animals.


Here is a simple guide to washing used dishes and cookware while outdoors:

  1. After preparing your camp meal, pour water on the cooking pot you used and place it over the campfire while you are eating. This ensures that your dishwater is considerably warm and sanitary. This also prevents food from sticking to the surface.
  2. Prepare one bucket for rinsing. You can use cold water for this, and set it aside. Remember to cover with a lid to prevent insects or dirt from getting into the water.
  3. On a second bucket, add a bottle cap of soap and pour in cold water halfway. Then, fill with the hot water from the pot.
  4. Add the utensils first, followed by the cleanest dishes to the dirtiest ones. Lastly, put in the pots and pans and scrub with a scouring pad if necessary.
  5. After washing in soap water carefully, move the wares to the next bucket for rinsing.
  6. Dry them on a separate container or stack them on a clean surface to air dry for a little while.
  7. Using a towel or washcloth, dry each utensil and dishes and store them immediately to keep them clean until the next use.
  8. Strain the dishwater and set aside the food scraps for proper disposal. Check if the dishwater is relatively clean for other uses. If not, disperse it all over the washing area 200 meters away from camping grounds or water source.


Don’t let the task of washing dishes outdoors spoil your camping mood; it only takes a few tries and you will surely get the system that works for you. You can set up a fancy dishwashing station if you are up to carry buckets and a makeshift sink, or you can just use the dry-cleaning methods using nature’s readily available resources. Keeping dishes clean while camping is necessary, and any good camper knows this. You do not want to go home carrying dirty dishes, or worse, harmful microorganisms that might get you sick.

If you are gearing up for days up a mountain or a relaxing few days at the beach, remember to bring the essentials for dishwashing and use only easy-to-clean cookware, utensils and plates. You’ll thank us once you try Barbeqa’s line of Cooking and Dinnerware sets, because these are made from high-quality materials. They are also guaranteed safe to use, and 100% eco-friendly. Plus, they are absolutely lightweight and easy to carry! Get your set now and make dishwashing the next best enjoyable experience after camping food and nature.

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