How to Clean Dishes While Camping (step-by-step guide)

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While cleaning dishes isn’t the most enjoyable activity, I’m here to show you exactly how to clean dishes while camping quickly and easily!

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There are few things I love more than cooking delicious meals and desserts while camping.

However, followed by camp cooking is of course some camp cleaning.

How to Clean Dishes While Camping (video tutorial):

Watch the video below for step-by-step instructions:

Dish Washing Supplies You’ll Need

Collapsible camping sinks for doing dishes

Collapsible Camping Sink

I use a two-sink system to wash my dishes while camping. You’ll need a wash sink and a rinse sink.

I really like these camping sinks. They’re collapsible, durable, easy to carry, the perfect size, and affordable. They also stack easily which is nice for storage.

scrub daddy sponge for camp cleaning

Anti-Microbial Sponge

I like to use the Scrub Daddy sponge while camping. It’s anti-microbial and designed to be firmer in cold water and softer in warm water.

It also has a small loop that makes it easy to hang it up to dry when I’m done cleaning.

Microfiber towel for drying dishes

Microfiber Towel

Air drying is going to be the most sanitary option, but I usually don’t have time to wait around for that, so I use a clean microfiber towel to dry my dishes.

If you prefer, you can bring a large mesh bag to put the wet dishes in and hang that from a tree branch to dry. Microfiber towels are great because they’re super absorbent and they dry really quickly.

Biodegradable camping soap

Biodegradable Camp Soap

Lastly, we’ll also need biodegradable camp soap. This is what we’ll use to clean!

Pot scrapper for easy cleaning while camping

Pot Scraper

I use a pot scraper to scrape off any food bits into the trash before I start washing.

I find this prevents food from building up in my wash bucket and makes disposing of the water after cleaning easier because then I don’t need to strain out the food bits.

How to Wash Dishes While Camping

Amanda washing dishes at camp in utah
Soapy dishes being cleaned while camping

Step 1: Eat all your food

The first step is to eat all your food!

Store any leftovers and use a pot scraper or a piece of paper towel to scrape any food scraps into the trash.

We don’t want a bunch of food scraps floating in our wash bucket, so try to get as much of that off and into the trash first.

Step 2: Fill the sinks

Filling the rinse bucket with clean water
Filling the wash bucket with clean water

Fill your wash sink with cold or warm water. It’s generally easier to clean with warm water and it’s a lot more comfortable.

To make warm water, I fill my bucket with some clean cold water, then I use my camp stove to boil water. I add the hot water to the cold water to create a comfortable warm water sink for cleaning.

Next, fill your rinse bucket with clean water.

Step 3: Wash

Adding biodegradable camp soap to wash sink

Add a little soap to your wash sink, mix it around, and then add your dishes. Use the sponge to wash like you would at home.

You can even leave the dishes in there to soak while you clean up other things from dinner. At this point, look around camp and make sure you have everything that needs to be washed.

It sucks finding a dirty pot later when you’re done cleaning!

Step 4: Rinse & Dry

Rinsing dishes in a camping sink while camping
Drying camping dishes with a microfiber towel

After you’ve washed the item, move it to the rinse bucket to rinse off any soap. Then you can air dry or towel dry everything.

That’s it – dishes are clean!

Step 5: Cleanup

Now we need to clean up the sinks and dispose of the water properly.

Pour the water from the rinse bucket into the wash bucket.

Emptying camping sinks after cleaning dishes
Hanging the sponge and towel to dry after cleaning

Make sure there are no large food bits in the water. Try your best to move them to the trash. Now dispose of the grey water in your wash sink according to the local regulations for your area.

A lot of campgrounds have a specific place to dispose of the grey water which makes it really easy.

If you’re dispersed camping you can “broadcast” it at least 200 feet away from your camp and away from water sources.

If you’re in bear country, again, just check with the local forest department. In bear country, you might have to dig a hole and bury the water instead.

The wash water will have a food scent and can attract local wildlife, so you want to make sure you’re not leaving any food rewards for animals or attracting animals to your camp.

Once you’ve disposed of the water properly, let the camping sinks dry in the sun. Hang your towel and sponge to dry completely before storing.

What about cleaning cast iron?

Washing dishes while camping in the desert

Note about bleach or other sanitizing chemicals:

I also don’t use harsh chemicals for cleaning at home, so I don’t use them while car camping either.

You may have heard or seen the 3-sink cleaning system where the third sink contains diluted bleach or other disinfecting chemicals.

I don’t do this step, but it’s something you can add on if desired.

More Car Camping Resources:

That’s it for how I clean my dishes while camping! It really is a simple system and I hope this tutorial is helpful.

Before you go, check out even more camping resources from the blog:

Let me know if you have any questions in the comments below!

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3 Comments

  1. Another idea: The camp dish-washing set up we have used for years since we camped when our kids were little is to scrape the dishes as much as possible as you suggest. Instead of a bucket system, we pour a small amount of very hot water into a cup and add a generous amount of camp safe dish soap. All the dirty dishes are placed in the biggest pot or plate. We use a dish brush to dip in this soap solution and scrub each dish. Then hand the dish to our camp partner to rinse each dish or utensil using a spouted water jug placed to drain over a bucket. Doesn’t take too much water and each dish is washed and rinsed with clean water. This is also how we hand wash dishes at home, but using a foam dish soap pump instead.

    1. Great idea to put the soapy water in the cup! Thank you for sharing Nancy! I love hearing about the systems that other campers use.

  2. Great article and tips I learned the hard way. Definitely important to eat all the food. I tell my kids not a scrap left! I feed tiny bits to the dog, who appreciates even cold morsels. If there is anything on the dishes you are more likely to need a water change halfway through, which is only a little better than finding that unwashed dish after dumping everything!

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