How to Wash Dishes When Camping (with Pictures)

Washing dishes is one of those camp chores which can go horribly wrong.   Imagine dirty dish water splashed over your clothes, insects feeding on food particles, or even bears getting attracted to your campsite. Here are the step-by-step instructions on how to do dishes when car camping or group camping so you can be a pro on your next trip.


How to Wash Dishes when Car Camping  or Family Camping

If you are car camping with several people or will eat more complex meals, then you will need to use this method for washing dishes.

1. Make sure dishes are as clean as possible

It’s okay to lick your dishes when camping.  It makes cleanup a lot easier.  Otherwise, scrape all food bits into the trash.

2. Set up the sink station

Elevate the sinks so you don’t have to hunch over. A picnic table works well for this.  Or maybe you want a folding camp kitchen with a built-in sink.

Use the campground dish washing station if there is one. You don’t want to lug basins of water across camp if you don’t have to!

Put the following items on your dishwashing station:

  • Washing sink: Put hot water and soap in this sink. You only need a tiny bit of soap.
  • Rinse sink: Put hot water (no soap) in this sink.
  • Drying rack or basin
  • Biodegradable soap
  • Sponge 

NOT a good setup. This dishwashing station is too low, full of clutter and there is nowhere to put the clean dishes.


washing dishes at camp

This is a very efficient camp dishwashing setup!

4. Wash in first sink

  • Dunk the dirty dish in the first sink which has hot, soapy water.
  • Use sponge to wash the dish clean.
  • Dunk in sink once again to get food scraps off.

5. Rinse in second sink

Dunk washed dishes in second sink to rinse off remaining food particles and soap.

6. Dry dishes

Put the clean dishes somewhere they can drip dry or enlist someone to dry the dishes with a cloth.  There are also collapsible dish drying racks (like this one) which are perfect for camping.

Collapsible dish drying rack


How to Wash Dishes when Camping with Large Groups

When camping with large groups, you’ll need a more organized dishwashing setup.  You’ll need a good workstation and at least three sinks. Here’s how to set it up and do the dishes.

1. Set up dishwashing station

Put the following items on your dishwashing station:

  1. Washing sink: Fill with hot, soapy water
  2. Rinsing sink: Fill with hot water (no soap)
  3. Second rinse sink: Fill cold water and (optional) bleach for disinfecting.
  4. Drying rack or basin

*You don’t have to use hot water but it will make it a lot easier to get oily residue off of dishes.

This is a perfect setup for washing camp dishes for a group. The last basin is for drying clean dishes.

2. Get help

Washing dishes for a large camping group will go easier if multiple people help out. Clearly establish what each person’s job will be (washing, rinsing or drying).

3. Make a plan for draining the water

Camp sinks are very heavy when full.  It is almost impossible to carry them without splashing water all over yourself (which is particularly disgusting when its dirty dish water).  You’ll also probably splash yourself when dumping the heavy sink.

The best solution is to use camp sinks which have a drain.  This allows you to drain the water into a bucket for easier carrying or drain directly onto the ground.

creativeware sink with drain spigot

This sturdy camp sink has a built-in drain. It comes in two sizes: 4.4 gallons and 8.5 gallons.  Get it here.

4. Scrape off food

Make sure you scrape off as much food from the dishes as possible. Properly dispose of the food in the trash or according to campsite rules.  Leaving food scraps on the ground can cause critters to come to your campsite.

5. Wash dishes in the first sink

  • Dunk dish in sink #1
  • Remove dish from water and scrub with sponge
  • Dunk again to remove bits of food

6. Rinse in second sink

Dunk the dish in the rinse sink to remove particles of food and dsoap.

7. Second rinse and disinfect

Now dunk the dish in the third sink which contains cold water.  You can put bleach into this water to disinfect the dishes.

Bleach to water ratio for disinfecting dishes: 1 tablespoon of bleach per 1 gallon of water (Source)

7. Dry dishes

A plastic clothes hamper works great as a drying rack because water can drain from the sides.  Get creative so your campsite stays organized!

Image credits:
“Breakfast Dishes” (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) by Anne Bennett,
“ ” (CC BY-SA 2.0) by ezola,
“Matt doing dishes” (CC BY 2.0) by lsiegert,
“KP” (CC BY-NC 2.0) by heraldpost

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