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How To Wash Dishes While Camping Off Grid

dishes piled up in front of an RV - feature image for how to wash dishes while camping
Learn how to wash dishes while camping with little to no water. Photo: Shutterstock

Save Water While You’re Washing Dishes Off-The-Grid

Camping off grid can be a lot of fun because you can relax in nature and disconnect from the hustle and bustle of life. However, this type of camping comes with its own limitations and drawbacks. Washing dishes in the traditional way requires a lot of water, and that might be hard to come by at your campsite. That’s why it’s good to know how to wash dishes while camping off grid!

There are several ways to keep your plates, cups, bowls, and utensils clean when you’re away from running water. Some methods are more sanitary than others, but something is always better than nothing when it comes to cleaning dishes. You can use everyday items like baking soda, baby wipes, vinegar, and small amounts of water to perform this task. 

A good general guideline is to always scrape away as much food as possible before performing any sort of cleaning. If food has time to dry and stick to the dishes, it will require much more effort to remove it. We’ll cover a few cleaning methods below so you have options to choose from when you need to know how to wash dishes while camping. 

How to wash dishes while camping

Spray method

You’d be surprised at how clean your dishes can get with just a tiny amount of water and soap. The spray method helps you maximize cleanliness while conserving water. To do this, you’ll need two spray bottles and an enclosed dish rack (or a sealable container of any sort).

Fill one bottle with a wash mixture of 20% vinegar and 80% water. Instead of vinegar, you can also use a dash of biodegradable dish soap. Dawn is a great choice, but there are other environmentally-friendly options as well. Shake it up so it’s well blended. In the second bottle, use a mix of 10% lemon juice and 90% water. 

Thoroughly spray all your dishes with the wash mixture. Place them in the sealed container for about 5 minutes to let the soap and water do their job, then remove them and spray with the wash mixture one more time. Wipe them down with a clean cloth and rinse/spray them with the lemon and water juice mixture.

This will help remove the soapy taste and the citric acid can kill any remaining bacteria. If the dishes won’t dry naturally, wipe them down one final time after the lemon mixture has had a chance to sit for 10 minutes. 

2-Bin Method

If you do have access to some water, the 2-bin method is a great choice for those who need to know how to wash dishes while camping. This tactic is close to traditional handwashing, but it requires less water.

As the name implies, you’ll need 2 bins for this method. Collapsible sink basins are perfect because they’re easy to set up and put away and they don’t take up much space. You can use any container that’s clean and leak-proof though! Buckets are another option to consider. 

Fill one basin with water and your dish soap of choice. Once again, Dawn is a good option, but there are also concentrate camp soaps that are perfect for this purpose. A little goes a long way! Mix the soap and water together until you form bubbles. Use a sponge to scrub the dishes.

Fill the second bin about halfway full of water. Once the dishes are clean, dip them in the second bin and swirl them around until all the soap is gone. Then you can dry them off with a rag or lay them out to air-dry. This method does require access to water, but it’s efficient and simple. 

Boiled Water Method

Heat is a surefire way to kill bacteria, so using boiling water is an effective way to wash dishes while camping. You can even use this method with rainwater or stream water because the harmful bacteria will be killed during the cleaning process. 

Scrape as much food residue off of your dishes as possible and place all of your dirty dishes inside a large pot or pan. Then you just need to fill it with water. After that, you can build a fire or use a camp stove to heat the water until it’s boiling. 

Remove the dishes from the water once they’re cool enough to handle and wipe them off. You can also let them air dry if they are still fairly warm. 

Baking Soda and Vinegar Method

No list of cleaning tips would be complete without baking soda and vinegar! This is the ultimate combination to turn to when you need to cut through grime and sanitize. 

This method is similar to the 2-bin method. The main difference is the additives you’ll use to clean. In the first bin, use a mixture of water and baking soda to wash the dishes. You can also sprinkle some extra baking soda on your sponge to make it extra effective. 

Then when you need to rinse the dishes, do it in a second bin that contains a mixture of water and vinegar. The combination of baking soda, vinegar, and water will result in a clean and sanitized dish. 

Waterless Cleaning Method(s)

If you need to know how to wash dishes while camping off grid, it’s important to know a few waterless methods. If water is limited but you still need to clean your dishes, you still have options available to you. These tactics might not be the most sanitary ones in the world, but they’re better than nothing and will kill the majority of bacteria on your dishes. 

In fact, sometimes waterless methods can help prevent bacteria growth because they don’t introduce any moisture to the dishes or utensils. When things are dry, it’s harder for them to grow mold or other living things. 

Baby wipes

Baby wipes are a super simple solution to dishwashing! They were designed to sanitize in a gentle and non-abrasive way. You may need to use multiple wipes during your cleaning process, but they are simple and effective. Keep a couple of packs in your supplies. They’re also useful for washing your hands and sanitizing other items around the campsite. 

Dry towels

Even dry towels or washcloths can help clean your dishes. They won’t be as effective as soap and water treatments, but the friction and heat that comes from rubbing the surface helps to kill off most harmful bacteria. This method is the last resort for most campers, but it’s better than nothing. 

Wood ash

You can also use wood ash to wash dishes while camping. You can combine wood ash and a tiny bit of water to form a paste. Scrub this over the surface of your dishes, then wipe it off with a towel. This might leave a bit of a residue on the plates if you don’t have water to rinse it off, but at least they’ll be clean.


Learn how to wash dishes while camping with little or no water

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