IMG_6540Meals cooked in the great outdoors are truly a delight; however, washing the dishes are often considered a chore. Washing dishes does not have to hard or time-consuming. Below are some quick and easy time-tested methods to help with washing dishes at the campsite.

Check the Facilities

Many campgrounds provide a central sink or designated wash area. If not, you will have to wash the dishes at your campsite. This is not as hard as it sounds, but it does require some added responsibility.

Personal Responsibility

You are responsible for providing a safe and clean camp for others in your group, as well as for other campers. If you have a water spigot close by, use it for gathering water, not for washing dishes. Also, keep the campground clean by disposing of any food scraps in the trash, not by burying or burning scraps in the fire pit, as it might attract unwanted visits from animals.

Family Time

A family of four can have their dishes, utensils, and cookware washed in ten to fifteen minutes. The process works like clockwork after the family has done this several times and members know their individual roles (washing, drying, getting water ready etc). Remember to have everyone help.


You only need a few items:

  • Two dishpans, pots or buckets (In my family we prefer a dishpan and bucket)
  • Paper Towels
  • Drying Towels
  • Hot water
  • Soap

I suggest having a small dishpan (for washing), and a bucket (for rinsing or carrying the dishes to a designated sink). When these are not being used the two can easily sit inside each other and hold your towels and soap. As a bonus, this minimalist approach to equipment is easy on the wallet and reduces the amount of packing space needed in the vehicle.

Washing the Dishes in Seven Easy Steps

Step 1. Gather the washing pans while a 2-quart pan/pot of water is heating.
Step 2. Pre-wipe dishes, utensils, and pans with a paper towel to remove any food scraps. Add the soiled paper towels to your trash; do not burn them in the campfire. (This step keeps the wash water cleaner and prevents food residue from luring animals to your site).
Step 3. In one dishpan, pour in just enough hot water to cover the bottom (about a half an inch to three-quarters of an inch deep). Add the soap. Adjust the water temperature by adding cold water.
Step 4. Wash with a sponge, dishcloth, or brush.
Step 5. In the second dishpan, or bucket, rinse the dish with warm or hot water.
Step 6. Set the dishes on a clean towel to air dry, or dry them with a separate towel.
Step 7. When the washing is finished, pour the gray water from the first dishpan into the second. Rinse the first dishpan. Dispose of the gray water.

Disposing of Gray Water

If you can dispose of gray water at a central sink or specified area, do so. If this is not an option then carry your container of gray water away from campsites, streams, and neighbors, then broadcast the water (spread it over a wide area). Some guidebooks suggest straining the gray water to remove large food bits, but this is not really necessary if you effectively wiped the dishes with the paper towels early in the process and removed any food prior to washing.

Washing dishes at the campsite can be intimidating at first, but with some careful planning and some basic equipment, it can be thorough and completed quickly.

Next, how to choose the best soap.