How to Wash Your Dishes While Camping

Washing Dishes While Camping

Camping involves several activities and tasks, not only sleeping and sightseeing. One of the activities is washing the dishes, which is as we all know required after eating. It’s recommended to not leave your dishes dirty until the next day.

There are several methods to do so while camping, which include the 3 or 1-sink dishwashing, dirt wash, using antibacterial wipes, and paper towels.

Washing dishes in a camp shouldn’t be a difficult task. The first thing you’d want to do is remove the food waste, then wash the dishes with water and soap, use cold water to rinse them, and dry and wipe them with a cloth. It’s also important for you to drain the used water the proper way, and make sure everything is secured.

There are still numerous steps and techniques that we’ll be including in this article. We will cover the items needed, the methods, tips, and some of the most asked questions. The recommended dishwashing soaps are also included in the topics.


Cooking outdoors and away from the comfort of your kitchen can be intimidating. But, who says you can’t bring your kitchen to the wilderness? Check out this article about our top recommendations for the best camping cookware for all budget and sizes.


Items you’ll need for a complete dishwashing station

The materials needed are a sponge, a scrub or brush, soap, a cloth, a strainer, and water. Bleach and hot water can also be used as disinfectant or sterilizing substances.

We advise you to use a strainer to separate solid materials from your wastewater.

  • Sponge, scrub, or brush

    Stains are sometimes hard to remove without using a scrub or brush. This is like the main driver of washing dishes. Be careful when using hard materials on your cookware, as it can damage the coatings.

  • Soap

    We suggest you use biodegradable soap to avoid effects on the surroundings. However, these kinds of soaps can only be broken down by bacteria present in the soil. As much as possible, clean your dishes away from nearby water sources, and stay at least 200 feet away.

  • Strainer

    A strainer can be used to separate the solid materials from the wastewater. With such, you can properly dispose of the garbage. This is one of the fundamentals of the Leave No Trace principle, which is practiced by campers and hikers for environmental preservation.

  • Cloth

    There are several types of cloth, specific for certain cookware. Not all of them can handle all kinds of fabrics, and that can damage them. You better double-check the resistance of your cookware before using a cleaning material. We also recommend a cloth, which is quick to dry.

  • Bleach

    For full cleaning purposes, bleach can be your best friend. This can be your medium substance to remove bacteria existing on your dishes. Beware also that this is a strong cleaning material, so don’t use it on all of your cookware. A few drops will do.

  • Water

    Apart from the water used to rinse your dishes, hot water is also advisable. Heat can kill the presence of bacteria, and hot water can act as your sterilizing means. After you wash the suds, immerse them in boiled water. Be careful though, as it can burn your skin.

  • Sink

    You can’t bring the sink you have in your house, so look for some alternative sinks. When camping in an RV, sinks are usually available. In terms of camping in isolated places, you can use portable tables with basins or water buckets. We also found out that you can preserve your water with these, because if you don’t have a sink, you can drain a huge amount of water.


Different methods to wash dishes while camping

Camping requires you to save water, so there are several alternative methods you can follow. These are the 3- or 1-sink dishwashing, dirt wash, the use of antibacterial wipes, and paper towels. Although some of these techniques consume minimal water, it is still best to guarantee you sterilize the dishes.

1. 3- or 1-sink dishwashing

Before we enumerate the steps of this method, we would like to stress that this comprises two types of sinks: 3 sinks and 1 sink.

If you have 3 sinks, then you can just proceed to fill up each basin with substances mentioned below.

For one basin, you just need to drain the wastewater after following each step, then re-use it.

Now, let’s proceed.

  • The first step for this method is to fill your sink with hot water mixed with soap. If you don’t have a portable sink, use a portable basin or water bucket.
  • Your next step requires you to fill the sink with cold water, again with disinfectant agents, like bleach. Again, be cautious while using this. A few drops is enough.
  • Lastly, the rinsing step. Wash all of the dishes on a sink filled with hot water.


  • Ensures a complete cleaning process
  • Can probably remove all the bacteria


  • Can waste a large amount of water
  • May damage some cookware if you wash them simultaneously with other dishes
  • Requires several materials

2. Dirt wash

This method is applicable for water preservation, or if you are traveling in a desert area that lacks water sources. Instead of a sponge or scrub, the technique requires the use of grass, or even soil to remove the food stains on the dishes.

There is actually no step-by-step process for this. All you have to do is brush off the dirt, and then rinse. However, we prefer to use hot water to rinse to eliminate the bacteria.


  • Best way to save water
  • Lesser cleaning materials required


  • You should rinse it properly, as you use dirt to clean the dishes
  • Requires hot or boiling water to fully wash or disinfect the dishes

3. Antibacterial wipes

Before we continue, we would like to clarify that you should use antibacterial wipes that are specifically made for dishes.

  • Don’t use standard wipes to clean the dishes if it is not included in the product’s specifications.
  • These wipes are armed with disinfecting substances, so all you have to do is wipe the dishes first.
  • Lastly, thoroughly rinse using water.


  • Saves water
  • Fewer materials required
  • Easy


  • Cannot ensure total cleaning
  • Not all of the stains can be removed by wipes
  • Requires water
  • Wipes can be added to your waste materials

4. Paper towels

This is an alternative way to the antibacterial wipes method. If you are unable to pack wipes with you, a paper towel is another choice. Damp the paper towel, then wipe it on your dishes. For better results, use water with soap while wiping.


  • Easy
  • Less water needed
  • Few materials required


  • Not capable of removing all kinds of food stains
  • You have to rinse it with water
  • Cannot properly disinfect your dishes
  • Again, the paper is an added waste


Aside from your dishes, you also need to wash your cookware. How you clean your cooking utensils will depend on the material that it is made out of. If you want to preserve your cookware so that you can continue to use them in the future, it’s important to know how to properly clean your camping cookware.


Step-by-step guide on how to wash dishes while camping

Before you start washing the dishes, remove food crumbs first. Prepare warm water in your sink, then drop a bit of biodegradable soap. Scrub them until the stains are gone, then rinse them with cold water. Let the dishes dry in the open air, and wipe the excess water. Drain the water with a strainer.

When washing the dishes, don’t forget to observe the rules of the Leave No Trace Principle. This practice is for environmental preservation and to avoid damages to natural resources.

Step #1: Remove food waste

Removing food waste that is left on the plates can make the washing process easier. By following this, you won’t be mixing everything in the water with drips of sauces. Some people just place their plates directly in the water, which can impure the water in your sink quickly. To ensure fast cleaning, take out those food crumbs first.

Step #2: Prepare your sink with warm water

Prepare hot water in your pot. Fill up your basins or bucket with warm water as it acts as your sterilizing agent throughout the process. According to other campers, hot water helps them remove the stains easily and prevents them from sticking.

Step #3: Use soap while washing

We recommend you use Dr. Bronner’s biodegradable soap. Add a few drops to the water, then start scrubbing the dishes. Begin with the less messy utensils up to the dirtiest one.

Step #4: Rinse with cold water

After you’ve cleaned the dishes and removed the stains, it’s time to rinse them. Use cold water for this. Surely clear the soap suds, then take it off from the sink.

Step #5: Dry up

After taking out all of the dishes from the sink, place them in clean storage. You can also dry them by leaving them in an open dish holder, or just pile them up if you don’t have this type of equipment.

Step #6: Wipe the dishes with a cloth

Leaving the dishes in the open air cannot fully dry them. You have to wipe the excess water or dampness. Place the dishes in clean storage, so that you can use them again.

Step #7: Drain the water

Drain the water while straining the food waste material. You should obey the Leave No Trace principle to avoid harming your surroundings. One of the methods to do so is to dispose of the garbage properly. Since you used a biodegradable soap, you should throw your water 200 feet away from the water source.

Step #8: Guarantee everything is secured

Don’t leave your plates open in your storage. Always enclose them to prevent insects or any other external factors from accessing them. Also, keep your storage clean before and after you use it.


Tips to wash dishes easier while camping

If you go camping, we advise you to wash the dishes immediately. Disinfect them, and wipe them with a cloth to dry them. Observe the Leave No Trace principle by practicing proper waste disposal, and avoid being near any natural water sources when cleaning.

1. Wash the dishes after using them

It is a good practice to wash the dishes immediately after using them. Stains of food are easier to remove if you don’t leave your dishes there for longer than necessary, because if you do, they become dry and hard to scrub. Even at home, we prefer to clean the dishes right away.

2. Leave No Trace

Most people are not aware that the products they are using in their daily lives can harm the environment. This is similar to what happens when you throw your garbage carelessly when camping. Learn about the Leave No Trace principle, so that you can enjoy your activities without harming your surroundings.

3. Disinfect the dishes

If you aren’t able to pack any disinfecting substances, boiling water can help you do that. Don’t be complacent with the water and soap combination as sometimes, there are still bacteria that are hard to remove. Use heat to eliminate them. Plus, it can guarantee cleanliness.

4. Practice proper waste disposal

Like we previously discussed, it is really substantial to throw your waste properly. Remove the food residues by using strainers, and ensure that you are draining them away from water sources. Soaps cannot be broken down just by leaving them around. This is why we highly recommend you to use biodegradable soap, as your dishes can be decayed with bacteria in the soil.

5. Distance yourself from water sources

When washing the dishes, ensure that you are also far away from natural water sources. Aside from being careful in draining the wastewater, be careful that you won’t be affecting the source, even a bit of it. If you are near one, there’s an immense possibility of leaving toxic substances.

6. Don’t forget your dishwashing materials

Bring all of the items needed to wash the dishes. It is indeed hard to clean them without these important materials. A sponge can be squeezed in your luggage, and you can just insert it somewhere with your cookware.

7. A cloth is important

Air drying can be an option, but it exposes your dishes to external elements, among which are dirt and bacteria. Another way to avoid this is to dry them using a cloth or towel.

8. Food residues

Throw them properly after straining them from the wastewater. Campgrounds have a dumping area where you can throw these. But if you are camping in far places without this, we advise you to pack them, and throw them to the nearest dumping area when you go home.

9. Bring preheated food

Especially meat. They tend to produce oils that are sometimes hard to remove. Other food options don’t generate this kind of materials, which is a good alternative for camping.


Frequently Asked Questions:

How to wash the dishes while camping without water?

Cooking using the boiling method or using oil can intercept the sticking effect of food from your camping cookware. Without them sticking on the surface of your pan, it will be easier to clean. That won’t push you to scrub it.

Sauce can be clean by dunking bread in it. You’ll be hitting two birds in one stone this way. With such, you are going to reduce the sauce, and it adds up to your food consumption.

Another technique is to boil water from your cookware to remove the residues and stains. If your food can be an ideal ingredient for a soup, then make a soup out of it.

When using the dirt washing method, you can use ashes as your scrub, by mixing it with the substances of the food left. It is easier for you to clean it up this way. In case you forgot your sponge, grass and soil can be used for stain removal. You just need to rinse it off properly afterward.

How to dispose of your food waste when camping?

If you are on a campground, for sure, there will be a dumpster available. When camping in isolated places however, pack your waste using resealable plastic bags. If you pack your food with this, you can reuse it to lessen the usage of plastics. Dispose of this when you go home, or if you can find a dumpster on the way.

What do you do with dishwater when camping?

Beware that dishwater is contaminated and contains chemicals from soap or bleach. For disposal, strain the residue when you drain it, and just ensure that you are 200 feet away from any natural water sources. So far, based on our research and surveys, we haven’t found any other ways to get rid of the dishwater.

Is Dawn Dish soap safe for camping?

Dawn Dish soap is safe if used when camping. You just have to be careful of how to dispose of the water that is mixed with it. Similarly to biodegradable soaps, they can be dangerous to the environment, especially to any natural water sources if drained inappropriately.

Is Dr. Bronner’s safe for camping?

This soap is actually one of the most recommended soap for camping. Why? Because it’s biodegradable. Just be wary when you utilize it, and also of how you dispose the waste.



The first thing you should remember is to pack dishwashing materials. Follow the steps carefully, and save water if you can. Water is the most important material in this aspect. In case you haven’t noticed, all of the cleaning methods still require you to rinse your dishes with water.

No matter where you’ll be camping or what kind of activity you’ll be engaging in outdoors, when it comes to washing your dishes, just be vigilant of the waste. They can definitely impair the environment and natural resources. We sometimes say that we only do it once, but the effects can be intense over a period of time.

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