The idea of being on dish duty is probably somewhat unappealing. However, if you don't do them, you run the risk of attracting bugs and animals. Plus, it's a health hazard to eat off dirty plates. Here are some tips on how to wash dishes while camping to make things a little easier.
If You Have Access to Hot Running Water
Gather Your Materials
You'll need a pot, water, soap, a scrubber, and something to rinse your dishes with. Not all campsites have camping sinks, and if you are out on the trail you will need to be flexible about that. If you don't have access to running water, you will also need a container to collect water in.
Fill Up Your Wash Sink With Hot Water
If you have hot water taps available just go ahead and fill your wash sink or basin.
If you have no hot water, you will have to heat some yourself. Collect water in your pot or pan. Place your pot or pan over the fire and heat the water until it is boiling.
Soak Dishes for a Short While
Add soap to the hot water and stir until it is mixed in well. Once your basin is full of warm water, collect together the dishes making sure they are free of food waste by scraping off the leftovers or wiping them off with a paper towel. Submerge your dishes in the soapy water and let them soak for a few minutes. Do not leave them too long as you will be faced with cold water and congealed oils all over your dishes which is unpleasant when you are hand washing your dishes.
Scrub Your Dishes
Take each dish out of the soapy water and scrub it with your dishcloth or scrubber until it is clean. If you're having trouble getting the grease off of your pots and pans, try using a little bit of baking soda.
Rinse Your Dishes
Once your dishes are clean, rinse them off with clean water. If you're using a basin, empty it out and refill it with clean water for this step.
Dry Your Dishes (optional)
If you want, you can dry your dishes with a towel or let them air dry. However, if you're in a hurry, it's perfectly fine to leave them wet as long as they're not going to be sitting in dirty water overnight. Place each dish upside down on a towel or rack to dry overnight.
Very Little Water
Clear the Dishes Of Food Debris
Give your camping dishes a good wipe or scrape. This will help loosen any food bits and make washing easier. If you can spare a bit of water it may be a good idea to heat some over the fire for an initial rinse. Use sparingly and if you don't have enough, just skip the pre-rinse stage.
Make a Paste
All you need to make a cleaning paste is some baking soda and a tiny bit of water. Mix these together until you have a thick paste, then use this paste to scrub them clean. The baking soda will act as a gentle abrasive, helping to remove anything that's still clinging on.
Rinse Again & You're Done!
Once you've scrubbed away all the grime, give your dishes another rinse with a little water. And that's it! Your dishes should now be clean as a whistle, ready for next time.
No Water At All
If you find yourself without water to waste on washing dishes, there are still options available for you:
It is best not to use scrubbers or dishcloths if you have no way to wash them out afterwards. A much better idea is to use an abrasive paste (as above), salt or sand to scrub the dishes clean. Just remember to be aware of your impact on the local eco-system and strive to leave no trace.
Heating oil until its warm (not hot, as you could burn yourself badly) in the pan or pot you have used, is a nifty way to clean without adding water. You can wipe the food debris away a lot easier if the surface is oily. Just remember to dispose of the waste responsibly.
One thing you can do if you have scrubbed your metal utensils clean, is to sterilize them with fire. You can do this with the flame of a candle or in the campfire but please be very careful as the metal will get very hot.
When we were writing our article on camp kitchens we found a camp kitchen with an integrated sink! Now that you have some ideas about how to wash dishes while camping, if that interests you check out our article on the best camp kitchens too.