How to Wash your Dishes Properly in the Backcountry

While I love to cook out in the backcountry, I really hate to do the dishes and the days of washing in a simple stream are over.  Today, to follow the “Leave No Trace” principle, one must wash their dishes in pans and use biodegradable dish soap.  Below are the steps by which you should follow to properly wash your dishes. 

The first step in this process is to select the largest pot you have and place water inside.  Put the pot on a grilling rack and heat he water to boiling.  Once that is done, remove the pot from the fire.  Place half the water in another pot.  Pick one pot to be your dish water and the other pot is your rinse water.  Add your biodegradable dish soap to the pot you have picked to be your washing container.  Leave the other pot alone.  Now, you need the water to cool a bit before you begin washing.


Once the water has cooled to the point that you can put your hands into it, you are now ready to wash.  Scrub you dishes in the soapy water and then rinse in the clear water.  After you are finished, do not simply dump out the water on the ground.  You will first need to filter out any food particles that may be left in the bottom of the washing pot.  These food particles should be placed in your carry out bag, which follows with the “Leave No Trace” code.  While you may be tempted to just dump these food particles, do not.  It can attract animals, which can cause you and/or future campers problems.

At this point, you may also be tempted to simply dump the water in the stream.  Well, this should not be done.  The change in water temperature in the local area can be harmful to the wildlife.  To protect the area, one should disperse the water 200 feet away from any water source.

Finally, there is always the question as to whether one should dry or not.  If you are camping in a warm environment, you will probably not need to dry.  On the other hand, if you are camping in the winter, you will need to dry your dishes.  Having said that though, the true key is to make sure that your towel is clean and that you pack up your dishes as soon as they have been cleaned and dried.  Doing this will keep you from leaving something and reduce the chances of contamination.