Access Special Backpacker.com Features, Register Now!

What’s the Best Way to Wash Camp Dishes?

I don't want to haul a lot of extra gear or waste water. Plus, what about dish soap, germs, and disposal?

Question:

Stupid question time, what is the best way to wash camp dishes without hauling extra gear and wasting water? Do you have to boil/filter the water used for cleaning? Are dishes detergents bad for the environment? How do you dispose of dirty dish water?

Submitted by - Aaron, North Berwick, ME

Answer:

Actually, Aaron, it’s not a stupid question at all. I’ve seen people do atrocious things to wild rivers and lakes—like jump in with a bottle of shampoo. And soap labels are often confusing…does biodegradable mean I can wash my dishes in the river? Here are the highlights of proper dishwashing (Got to lnt.org for lots more details.)

>All dishwashing (and body washing) should be done 200 feet away from any water source, because we need to keep even biodegradable soap out of rivers, streams, and lakes. (Fish don’t groove on peppermint scented suds.)

>Only use soap if you need to (for really greasy pots or on long trips, when serious grime buildup is inevitable). For the most part, hot water and a scrubby sponge will do the trick. Boiling dishwater before doing dishes would be the safest way to make sure you’re not scrubbing your pots with Giardia. But as for me, 99% of the time, I’m content with just getting it hot enough to cut the grease. Your call.

> After scrubbing, strain your dishwater through a fine mesh strainer (or a bandana) and broadcast the wastewater. In other words, fling it far and wide. Then pack out the food remnants in your garbage bag.

Check out our photo slideshow of the step-by-step process.

1 Comment

  1. Laurence Phillips

    I often let the pot dry and scrape it almost clean with a nylon pot scraper (a stick works almost as well). Doesn’t work quite as well with greasy food, in which case I wipe the pan out with pine needles or duff. The food debris goes in your trash bag (or the fire, if availabe). After either of these approaches, swish & wipe with a teaspoon of water if there’s residue. Almost 100% hygenic (I’m of the opinion that a bit of camp dust won’t kill you), and the next boil will kill everything that may be left. If worried, you can boil a little water right then, which you might be doing anyway to make hot beverage — with trail flavor! The main point for me is it uses very little water and only takes a minute once the pot is dry.

Leave a Reply