How to Wash Dishes While Camping?

You may not enjoy doing dishes at home but cleaning dishes while camping can actually become a fun activity if three or four people get involved in the task. Setting up a cleaning station and assigning one step each to different family members can make the job a matter of minutes. But, apart from having a shared moment of joy, cleaning dishes while camping is important for other reasons too.

How to Wash Dishes While Camping

Not only can the germs from the wild get you sick via unclean utensils, but you are also more likely to encounter wild animals due to the scent of food wafting from your unclean plates. Therefore, we are sharing with you a short guide on how to wash dishes while camping to ensure both your safety and health.

What You’ll Need to Wash Dishes While Camping

Here is a list of items you should pack with you when planning to have meals in proper dishes and your trip extends an overnight stay.

How to Wash Dishes While Camping


Biodegradable dishwashing soap

Sanitizing tablets

Paper towels

Cleaning rags

10 Steps to Wash Dishes While Camping

Step 1: Boil water in the largest pot.

Preparing beforehand is the best strategy for almost everything. Therefore, start boiling water in your largest pot while you are still having your food. This will save time, and the water will be sufficiently hot to wash the dishes by the time you get done eating. You do not want to wait several minutes for the water to heat up. Hot water always makes cleaning dishes way faster and easier.

Step 2: Divide the water into three buckets.

Once the water is heated and boiled, wait a few seconds for it to become less dangerous. You can use any big containers you may have for this purpose, but we recommend buckets to perfect the job. Once the water is slightly easier to handle, very carefully divide it into three buckets. This way, you will be creating a washing station to clean dishes while camping.

Step 3: Add biodegradable dishwashing soap to one bucket.

Of the three buckets, one will be your wash tank containing soapy water, the other will be your rinsing tank which you will use to wash any soapy residue off, and the third will be your sanitizing tank to get rid of any lingering bacteria. So, to clean your dishes while camping, the first thing you will do is to add biodegradable dishwashing soap to one of the buckets.

Step 4: Put sanitizing tablets in the third bucket.

In one of the other two buckets, add some sanitizing tablets. Make sure to read the instructions on their label to decide on the number of tablets you will be using. Usually, the ratio is one tablet per one gallon of water, but it can vary with brands. As there is wider exposure to all kinds of bacteria in the wild, this is important to clean dishes while camping.

Step 5: Use a paper towel to clean food residue off of dishes.

You do not want any solid waste or leftovers on your plates to be dunked in the soapy water tank. Just the sound of it makes us feel gross! So, wipe and scrape off any food residue with a paper towel. You do not want to do this on the ground to attract wild animals, so the best idea is to scrap dishes off in the fire. Any food crumbles will just burn leaving you safe!

Step 6: Wash and scrub in the wash tank.

Once you have wiped off any food residue from the plates and utensils, it is now time to scrub and lather. You could use a scrub or small piece of cloth to rub the soap in after you dunk your dishes in the wash tank. Put one item in the wash tank at a time, starting from the cleanest dish then moving toward the dirtiest. After the item is clean, shake off any suds before transferring it to the rinsing tank.

Step 7: Rinse in plain water.

This is a fairly easy step to clean dishes while camping. All you have to do is dunk each item from the wash tank to wash off any soapy residue. Swish it around to remove excess water. Once you pull the dish out, you will be able to see whether it needs to go back to the wash tank or it has passed the test and can be promoted to the sanitization stage.

Step 8: Sanitize.

Briefly dip each dish in the sanitizing bucket and let it soak in there for a few seconds – this will remove any lingering bacteria from the dish and is especially important for items like knives and cutting boards as scents of food stick to them for a long time.

Step 9: Dry dishes with a cleaning rag.

Finally, you must dry all your dishes with a cleaning rag or towel – do not leave them wet outdoors as dirt and debris can easily get stuck to wet dishes. Once dried, you can then store your clean dishes for the next meal.

Step 10: Dispose of dirty water.

You’re not done cleaning dishes while camping even though you have put the dishes away. There are still three buckets of dirty water to take care of. You must never dump this water in a nearby waterbody. Consolidate water from all the buckets into one container. Ideally, pass it through a filter if you have one to separate any solids – and then dump it 200ft away from any water source to avoid contamination. DO NOT dump it all in one spot, as that is an environmental hazard.

Our Final Thoughts

Washing dishes is a chore many like to avoid yet have to deal with sooner or later – without the facility of a dishwasher or even sink, performing the task can appear daunting out in the wild, but cleaning dishes while camping becomes fairly easy if you have a plan and preparation in place. We hope that our step-to-step guide on how to clean dishes while camping makes your camping journey hassle and worry-free!

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