How to wash dishes when camping

June turned out to be our big camping month. We planned it that way because the days are cooler and there are fewer bugs than later in the season. This year, the weather was particularly gorgeous, and we happened to luck out on some pretty great sunshine, too.

Now if you’re not into camping, please know that this is probably the last post on the subject for the summer and we’ll soon be moving onto gardening and putting up food. If you are all about the great outdoors, though, then you’ll find this post handy for your next adventure.

We pack all reusable dishes when we go camping. Years ago we were gifted a Coleman Enamelware Dining Kit and it saves us having to buy paper and plastic each summer. I love how durable enamelware is and I’ve been building my collection now that it’s proven to be so useful both at home and away.

Using camping gear year round makes the investment more ‘green’; if you only camp once a year, I believe paper dishes would be a better environmental choice.

How to wash dishes when camping | Simple Bites #camping

How to clean camping dishes the easy way

I happen to like washing camp dishes. Give me a pretty view, dapple sunlight on the table and tune in the happy voices of children playing among the trees, and I am perfectly willing to clean up. Somehow it seems less of a chore then at home.

To pack:

Here’s what I bring for washing up on our campsite.

  • 1 large pot for hauling and boiling water
  • 1 large basin or plastic tub
  • Biodegradable camp soap
  • Sponge with a scratch pad or an old dishrag
  • Collapsable drying rack

Sometimes I’ll pack a dish towel, but I find I don’t use it enough to warrant the space. I like to keep my kitchen equipment pretty tight.

How to wash dishes when camping | Simple Bites #camping

The method:

  • Scrape. We encourage everyone to finish their meals, but there are always scraps like fish bones to dispose of responsibly. Scrape all excess food into a small garbage, which you should dispose of properly later. You don’t want to attract animals to your camp.
  • Soak. Unless you are cooking in foil, camping food often incurs really messy pots; food burns on the open fire or things bubble over and a good soak is needed. Rather than waste my time scrubbing, I leave the pots behind in a cold water soak while we hit the beach or the trail. When I get back, the food has had a chance to soften and the clean up goes much faster.
  • Hot Water Wash. Boil water in your largest pot and pour it into your wash basin together with plenty of biodegradable soap. Add enough cold water to make it cool enough to stand, then attack your dishes.
  • Drip-Dry. Dishes can air dry in mere minutes out in the breeze, so let them drain on the collapsable drying rack. A large mesh bag also works well (you can hang it from a tree limb) but I happened to have an old wooden rack from Ikea that needed a use.

And it’s as easy as that!

Now, who’s ready to go camping?

About Aimee

Cooking has always been Aimée's preferred recreational activity, creative outlet, and source of relaxation. After nearly ten years in the professional cooking industry, she went from restaurant to RSS by trading her tongs and clogs for cookie cutters and a laptop, serving as editor here at Simple Bites. Her first book, Brown Eggs and Jam Jars - Family Recipes from the Kitchen of Simple Bites, was published in February 2015.

Subscribe For Free!

Like reading this post?
Get more delivered to your email inbox.


  1. Love those enamelware dishes! They would be so pretty for porch meals all summer long.

  2. Elisabeth says

    We use paper plates (not plastic or waxed covered) when camping and then use the plates to kindle the fire at the next meal. We wrap the plates around twigs and light the paper on fire. The paper burns quickly, but the twigs take longer to catch fire. No lighter fluid is needed.

  3. Awesome! i was hoping there would be some new insite into washing dishes while camping and there it was. collapsable drying rack. genius! why didn’t i think of that!
    thank you.

  4. Me to Annie – the drying rack! Love the mesh bag hanging from a tree idea as well. We often find oursleves with a table covered with drying dishes that inevitably get knocked to the ground. Or, trying to recruit small hands to do the drying… which ends up with more dishes in the dirt. We don’t have a spare dying rack, but tucking a mesh bag into a camping bin would be so easy!

  5. There’s something about doing household chores in the great outdoors that makes them seem so much more enjoyable! I love that enamelware set – I think I need one of those.

  6. But if the plates aren’t getting rinsed, are you left with dry soap on the plates onced dried?

    • Meg, not really. At least, I’ve never noticed it being much of an issue. The bio soap isn’t very ‘sudsy’. That said, if I have an ample supply of water and don’t have to haul it far, I will do a cold water rinse for the dishes.

  7. Jennifer says

    This is great. We went camping for the first time this year and I did not plan how to wash dishes. I am sure people did not appreciate me washing them in the bathroom and the water was cold. I vote for more camping posts, I really appreciate the ideas for new campers.

  8. thanks for these great tips!

  9. We love to go camping but I don’t typically share your love for washing the dishes! Haha. I’m often washing dishes quickly before we want to go hike or after the kids are in bed/tent for the night and I have to wash by lantern light. Maybe in future camping trips I will just put the kids to work washing the dishes for me!

    I love the idea of the drying rack, though. I definitely think that we need to invest in one before our next trip. If nothing else, it will help everything to dry more quickly 🙂

    Thanks for sharing these tips!

  10. I have that same drying rack from early apartment days and it was just sitting in my basement. Went camping this weekend and it will now be in the camping bin to use each time we go. Thanks! I also appreciate the camping posts – really love them!

  11. I was searching for information about that for days! And here you are and your great post! Thank you for sharing!

  12. My wife uses these plastic round plates where you could just clip paper plates on. So you get to throw the paper plates to the fire, but the plastic plates stay with you. It’s much easier to use than plain paper plates since it can support better weight, but no need for dish washing, too!

  13. This is great advice. I have been hemming and hawing about what to add to my camp cook kit and have loaded up quite the bounty in my Amazon shopping cart. I think I can pare it down to the collapsible dish rack. As for boiling water in a pot, here is a trick that I figured out on my many camping excursions. I have a solar shower. If I fill it up in the morning and stick it on the picnic table, It’s usually scalding when I get back! No need to burn precious fuel! I’ll sign off now and go buy my dish rack. Thanks again!

  14. Loved the post! The dilemma my wife and I are having is what to do with the dishwater after doing dishes. Even using biodegradable soap I’ve heard don’t put it in a water source (stream, etc.) because it will still have an effect on the water. I was then told to dig a 6-8 inch deep hole for the water but then I was told by someone else that it still gets into the ground water. What do you do with the water after washing the dishes?

  15. I love camping, your post really help.
    Thank for share !

Speak Your Mind