How to Wash Camp Dishes in the Woods (Under the Stars)

Once you've made a three-course meal on your camping stove, it's time to do the dishes. Whether that happens before or after s'mores is up to you.

You'll want to bring the following with you on your trip:

To set up your campsite for washing dishes, turn your picnic table or one of its benches into a dishwashing station. Or use a second table, if you have one.

Once your station is set up:

1. Scrape food from plates.

A little advance work with a scraper or paper towel goes a long way to keeping dishwater clean.

More: How one persevering editor got the gunk off an enamel pan.

2. Organize a bucket system.

Two bins, nesting basins, or collapsible sinks are optimal: one for hot soapy water (heat it on the stove, and add only a small amount of biodegradable soap), and the second for rinsing (ideally with hot water).

If you don’t have bins or sinks, improvise by washing and then rinsing in a pasta pot. If you’re camping in an area without potable water, add a third basin for a sanitizing cold-water rinse with a capful of bleach. Fill bins only about halfway to avoid wasting water.

Photo by Camp Sunset

3. Set out dishes to dry.

Once dishes are clean, arrange them upside down on your picnic table to dry (preferably on a waterproof tablecloth), tipping them onto each other a bit to let air circulate.

4. Dispose of water.

Pour all the dishwater into one bucket. Strain food scraps from the water (they attract animals), and take them to the trash. Broadcast dishwater in your campsite, or in another area if directed to by the campground.

This helpful info comes from Camp Sunset: A Modern Camper's Guide to the Great Outdoors.

Tell us: What savvy tricks do you keep in your back pocket when camping?

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Elaine Johnson, Senior Food Editor at Sunset, first went camping at the tender age of 4 months. As co-editor of Camp Sunset (Oxmoor, May 2016) and Sunset's Great Outdoors Cookbook (Oxmoor, 2014) she's delved into everything from baking chocolate cake in a dutch oven to grilling the perfect carne asada.