As much as I love to cook, I hate washing dishes while I’m backpacking. It’s a real pain to do dishes in the wilderness, especially on those days when the weather leaves much to be desired. Nevertheless, it has to be done.
There are some tips that help me and I hope will help you to make cleaning up while backpacking minimally annoying:
Properly plan your meals. Cooking the right amount of food makes the food disposal and dishwashing process much easier.
Join the “clean plate club”. Try to leave as little food as possible on the plate. Lick off your plate or use a piece of bread (or tortilla) to collect the remains of food scraps from the pot. If you do not have bread, just wipe your dishes with a sheet of toilet paper, then burn it or put it into your garbage bag to carry out.
You can also add some water to the pot, swish it around and drink. This method works fine in emergency situations or when you are hiking in areas where there are no nearby water sources. Thank God I haven’t had to do this.
Start the cleaning process shortly after finishing your meal. After a hearty meal, you probably want to just get into your sleeping bag. However, if you do not wash your dishes immediately, you can have a lot of problems later – dirty dishes can attract insects, small rodents and other animals, plus dried food scraps will be harder to clean off.
Wash dishes with hot water – not only because in hot water fat dissolves faster and dishes are cleaned better, but also because it simply makes the entire process more enjoyable.
How to wash:
Pour some water into the pot. Place on the stove and heat to desired temperature.
Add a splash of hot water from the pot to each dish you are going to wash.
Add one drop of concentrated biodegradable soap such as SeaTo Summit or Campsuds to a small sponge and gently clean each item. If you do not have soap and/or sponge, use what is available on the ground. Pine needles, leaves, sand or a handful of grass works well.
Rinse the dishes. For this I use a portable kitchen sink filled with clean water.
Dispose the greywater. The best way to get rid of greywater is to dig a hole (6-8 inches deep) and pour your waste water in it. This helps to minimize the impact on the environment and allows bacteria to break down soap in the soil. Remember to toss away all graywater at least 200 feet away from any natural water sources.
Wipe dishes thoroughly with a bandana or kitchen towel and allow to air dry before packing them up.
Equipment I Use
SeaToSummit Portable Kitchen Sink
I use this folding, self-supporting and waterproof container not just for washing dishes, but it is also great for carrying water from the source to camp, personal bathing or washing clothes.
A sponge is optional, but it is handy and takes up little space. It’s easy to make yourself by cutting the usual kitchen sponge in half. Store sponge and bottle of soap in small zip lock bag inside the pot.
Sea To Summit Biodegradable Wilderness Wash
I like this multi-purpose, concentrated biodegradable soap. I use it as bodywash, shampoo, and as dish&clothes detergent.
It’s just a small piece of water absorbent cloth to speed up the drying process.