How do you wash dishes while camping? Times have changed a lot since I was a Girl Scout and had my own set of dishes with a dunk bag! With the Leave No Trace principle that we are all working on, the last thing we really want to do is to dribble chemicals over our dishes and shake them around in a river, lake, or stream.
Not only is that harmful to the environment and local critters, but you are also risking illness yourself with potential water bacteria. Now, if you HAVE those dunk bags – hang on to them! We will show you how to still use them without hurting the environment or endangering yourself.
Easiest Way to Wash Dishes While Camping
What do you need?
First of all, a camping wash basin. Actually, three of them. Check out your local Dollar Store – I found just the perfect size – for a buck each. You will also need hot water, clean water for rinsing, biodegradable dish soap, and a Tablespoon of bleach.
Is Dawn dish soap safe to wash dishes while camping?
Yes. According to the International Bird Rescue Research Center, Dawn effectively removes grease but does not cause harm to the skin of the birds. It’s also biodegradable and contains no phosphates.
That being said, even biodegradable dish soaps can cause environmental problems if not disposed of properly. With camping up about 800% in 2020, there are a lot of people who could be damaging the river life. Water is precious to all life. Simple, easy-to-follow advice helps ensure that rivers, lakes, and oceans receive high levels of protection.
How to dispose of dishwater when camping
The Leave No Trace website gives you all the info on how to dump that greywater safely. Just a few simple steps and the knowledge of how far away to be from a water source will keep your campsite safe from both critters and illness.
How can I dry my dishes without a dish rack?
Unless you plan to bring EVERYTHING but the kitchen sink with you camping, this is good to know. Not everyone has the latest model RV so they are forced to pack a little bit lighter. For us? We have a pop-up so too much weight can be an issue.
You have a few options if you don’t want a collapsible dish rack. The dollar stores have dish drying mats. You need to make sure to take it in the house and wash / dry it between camping trips. Some trips find you in more humid conditions so your mat may not ever really dry during your trip.
If you suspect that mold has started to grow, pop it in a tub and add white vinegar or lemon juice to the water to act as a mold remover. as you scrub it, inspect it for mold and other remaining stains. Then just toss it into your washer with the rest of your laundry.
The other option is a lot easier, and takes less space up in your portable camp kitchen: dunk bags. After your dishes have been washed, they go in the dunk bags and are hung up to air dry!
Why can’t you dry dishes with a towel?
HomeSteady says it well:
The towels can pick up bacteria on peoples’ hands and on unclean dishes. When left wet, the towel becomes a breeding ground for bacteria, and the next time you use it to dry dishes, it transfers the bacteria to your dishes.
I certainly don’t want to get sick while out in nature – do you? I mean, that is the reason most of us have been camping over the last year – to avoid getting sick by avoiding large crowds.
Can you use bleach to wash dishes?
A lot of people ask this and the answer: yes. It’s part of the 3-step process for safe cleaning of your kitchen ware. If you have ever worked in a restaurant that had a low temp dish machine or the machine was down for a bit, you have this ingrained in your head. You wash, rinse, then disinfect.
Bleach is a strong and effective disinfectant. Its active ingredient, sodium hypochlorite, denatures protein in micro-organisms and is therefore effective in killing bacteria, fungus and viruses. Household bleach works quickly and is widely available at a low cost – as I said, you can even find it at the local dollar store.
Your DIY camping dishwashing station
There is no need to get a fancy dishwashing station from a camping store or Amazon. Unless you really want to drop $140 or so, then feel free. I already mentioned what you need: 3 bins from the dollar store, some biodegradable dish soap, and a little bleach. If you choose to use Dawn, both that and bleach area available a the local dollar store too – for a whopping total of five bucks.
Here is the technique for properly washing dishes using three pans. The first pan contains hot, biodegradable soapy water; the second contains clean water for rinsing; and the third contains a sanitizing solution: one tablespoon of bleach per gallon of water.
Start by scraping left-over food off the dishes into the trash. Then wash the dishes in the first pan, rinses them in the second, and places the dishes in dunk bags for the final, two-minute sterilizing rinse. The dunk bags are then hung by clothespins on the clothesline to air dry.
How to clean dishes while camping without water
Simply Van Life did the homework for us on this one:
Another method to wash dishes without running water is dish washing wipes. The wipes work well for scrubbing and cleaning dishes but the dishes still need to be rinsed. A handy way to rinse the dishes is with a spray bottle filled with plain water.
We found dish washing wipes HERE. They also talk about using a weed sprayer on your dishes – but PLEASE make sure you use one that is ONLY for your camping needs. The last thing you want to do is to add harmful chemicals to your dishes that make your family sick. Ekk!
We also found this great video showing how to wash dishes with VERY little water:
That should have you covered with ideas for how to Wash Dishes While Camping. You don’t need expensive stations or fancy items! With a little planning and just five or six bucks at your local dollar store, you should be all set.