Camping — How To Wash Dishes

How to wash dishes while out on camping adventures?  What is the best or proper way to clean up dishes and pots after your camping meals? I did a Google search to see how other folks cleaned up after their meals, and I found several different ideas on the subject.

How do you clean up after cooking and enjoying your outdoor meals? Post your process in the comments section that comes after my post here.

I can tell you the process that I use when we are camping. I was a Girl Scout from 1st grade all of the way through my first year of junior high. In Girl Scouts, we did learn a certain procedure for washing dishes and cleaning up with sanitation in mind. I’ve always remembered what I was taught, and I basically follow the same process. Here is what I remember from when I was a young girl:

A lot went into planning so that we had easy meals, using a minimum of pans and utensils. This sure helped with ease of cleanup.

    • For pots and pans, I was taught to rub the bottoms lightly with liquid dish soap. Any grime, grit or black soot that can accumulate from propane stoves or from campfire cooking can be wiped of easily with a paper towel. They can then be washed up.
    • As soon as we were finished eating, we put two pots of water on the stove to heat up. If you will be heating your water on the campfire, go ahead and put the pots of water on to heat while you are preparing your meal, as this method of heating the water will take longer than on your propane stove.
    • Clean up your food preparation area as you go along with your meal preparation.
    • After eating, have everyone scrape their dishes off into the trash. Start washing the least dirty dishes first, moving onto the dirtiest dishes last. Be sure to pack a scrubbie for pans that are especially dirty with cook-on foods.
    • We used three dishpans of water. The first dishpan contained hot soapy water. Biodegradable soap (Campsuds) is a good choice), would be the best choice, and remember that it doesn’t take much dish soap. Start with a small amount, as more can always be added if needed. The second dishpan contained very hot water for rinsing. Bring tongs to use, as this water should be very hot! And the items were placed to soak for a bit in the third dishpan, which contained cool water with a bit of bleach (1 tsp per gallon). Bleach may not be the best choice, especially if camping with kids. In place of bleach, you may want to purchase sanitation tablets. I don’t always follow this and instead just use the first dishpan of hot soapy water, and then the second dishpan of very, very hot water for rinsing.<a

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  • I worked as a cook in an elementary school for several years. I did learn that it’s most sanitary to allow dishes to air dry. The use of dish towels for hand drying is a source for germs. I also learned that the use of sponges for washing dishes is a no-no. Germs like to sit and produce in those dirty wet sponges!! yikes! Another pointer: Did you know that a can opener is often the #1 source of germs in a person’s kitchen??  It’s TRUE!! Keep those can openers clean folks!!
  • After you are finished washing the dishes, strain all of the particles from your dish water and put them in the trash. Walk at least 75 steps away from your campsite, lakes, streams, trails. Give the water a good fling with a long sweeping throw to spread it over a large area. Try to pick a sunny location so that the water can evaporate quickly.

2 thoughts on “Camping — How To Wash Dishes

  1. Like you, I am a two-dishpan washer. Scrape, wipe, hot-soapy water, super-hot rinse… One benefit from the super-hot rinse is that the dishes very quickly air dry as they cool!
    Great article… Thank you!

    I’ll have to check out your CampSuds soap. 🙂


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