September 14, 2021

How to Wash Dishes While Backpacking

by Roger

For many backpackers, doing dishes is one of the less fun tasks of the trip. Cleaning can be challenging and involve more work. Depending on where you’re backpacking, you may also have limited water. 

There are options on how to wash dishes while backpacking, though. These are a few simple tips to help you learn how to wash dishes while backpacking. 

Table of Contents
How to Wash Dishes While Backpacking without Soup

Properly Plan Your Meals

When cooking a meal, focus on cooking the right amount of food. Having leftovers for later may seem like a good idea but makes food disposal and washing more challenging. 

Cook only what you plan on eating and have extra snack foods on hand if you get hungry later. Along with this, try to leave as little food as possible on the plates. 

Many backpackers recommend using a piece of bread or a tortilla to collect the remains of food scraps from your plate or the pot. You can even add some water to the pot and drink it, although this may be difficult for some. 

With Soap or Without?

Depending on your scenario, you may prefer to use soap or not. 

You may also not have much water to work with. We’ll review each scenario and how to clean with these conditions. 

Washing with water and soap

Pack a small scour and a soft sponge. Add a drop of a biodegradable soap that’s highly concentrated to the sponge. 

Washing Dishes While Backpacking

Bronner’s soap is recommended, although there are others. Wet the sponge and then clean each item with the dampened sponge. You can add a splash of water to each dish to rinse. 

Make sure to collect the water and then scatter it around the wash area. Dumping it in one area attracts animals. Instead, disperse the wash water and then dry everything with a cloth or air dry. Ensure that all items are dried before packing. 

Washing without soap

Washing may not be safe in areas that are known to attract wildlife. When possible, wipe the sides of all dishes with a tortilla, bread, or even your finger. You can also add water to the pot, swish it around, and then drink it. 

Think about this as a type of soup. It’s great if you’re low on water and not near a source of water. Why waste food calories or water when your body can use it? 

Wash Dishes While Backpacking

If you have a campfire, wood ash can be combined with any leftover fat present in food particles to make the basic component of soap. Save some ashes from the fire and add enough water to make a paste. 

Use the paste-like you would use soap to clean all of the pots and utensils. A small sponge or cloth can be used to wipe down the dishes. Not carrying a soup has another benefit – you will have to carry a lighter backpack. See how to pack light for your backpacking trip.

If possible, rinse them with some clean water. A sponge works well, but if you don’t have a sponge, a handful of grass or even pine needs works well. Even sand can be used as an abrasive to clean dishes. 

If you simply can’t use water to clean the dishes, a small amount of oil makes cleanup a breeze. A tablespoon of oil can be used to scrub down pans and wipe down dishes. You can use oil to remove any baked food particles and clean the dishes. 

They won’t be sanitized, but they’ll be cleaner than before. During the winter months, you may have limited options for washing dishes, so this is an option that should be available to you. 

Related Article: What Is the Relation between Rappelling and Backpacking?

Use Pot Liners

How to Wash Dishes While Backpacking with Soup

This is the last option available because it creates extra waste and can leak. However, they can be placed in cooking pots and then removed after cooking to ensure the pan doesn’t have any food residue. 

After eating, the liner will need to be stored. You’ll have to keep the liners with you throughout the backpacking trip and discard them later. This may not be a great option, so only use this when you’re out of other options. 

Disinfect When in Doubt

Regardless of which method you use, make sure that you sanitize dishes before or after using. Boiling water before cooking is a good way to ensure your dishes are clean. 

Use these options to clean pots, and you can also dip dishes into the boiling water to sanitize. While on the topic of backpacking, learn how to make coffee while backpacking.

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About the author 


Roger was born into a family of climbers. As the youngest of his siblings, he was also the most ardent climber of them. Small and agile, he practiced climbing all day. Today, Roger teaches children how to climb the large rock walls safely.

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