How To Wash Dishes While Camping? Easy Tips!

Washing dishes shouldn’t be complex. But life can make things more complicated! Even when you’re camping, you still need to wash dishes. I researched what resources are for washing dishes, and I put together this post with these different methods and the pros and cons of each one.

So how do I wash dishes easily and safely when I go car camping? To wash your dishes safely while car camping, you need a disinfectant like hot water and soap.

Simple dishwashing is another story. There are many ways to do this, and we will go through each and discuss its pros and cons.

How To Wash Your Dishes?

Just like in your own kitchen, you need a disinfectant and soap to get rid of germs.

Sterilizing Agent: Hot Water

Use very hot water, about 170 degrees Fahrenheit, to wash your dishes safely and effectively. This heat is too hot to handle with your bare hands, so if you wash your hands the right way, you’ll need sturdy gloves.


Soap is a fantastic substance that works by binding to water and causing water to break its own bonds. Soap also helps the water break down food particles. Standard dish soap doesn’t kill germs on your dishes as much as it pulls food and germs off the dishes.


To clean and sanitize your dishes, you need both (very) hot water and soap. I know this seems like a no-brainer, but there are so many complicated ways to wash dishes that it helps me to remember the basics.

What Methods Are Used For Washing Dishes While Camping?

Soap and warm water, right? How difficult can it be? Well, it’s much harder to do when camping because you don’t have a dishwasher. An automatic dishwasher has hot water and detergent (which often has antimicrobial properties) that you can’t get out in nature to sterilize your dishes.

It’s hard to find hot water when you’re camping or even car camping. So, here are a few ways that dishes are washed while camping:

3 Tub Dishwashing

3 Dish Washing The dishes are washed in tubs.

  • Tub #1 is full of hot soapy water that is used to clean food off of dishes.
  • Tub #2 contains cold water with a disinfectant, like a bleach tablet.
  • Tub No. 3 has hot water in it to rinse.


  • This could be the safest way to wash dishes.


  • Large amounts of gear on top
  • Lots of water is used
  • May be too much for most meals (no pun intended)

Antimicrobial Wipes

You can also use wipes made for washing dishes that are made to kill germs. In this case, the disinfectant is already in the wipe, so all you need is the wipe and water to rinse.


  • Convenient 
  • Minimal gear needed


  • Not as well-tested as hot water
  • If food is stuck on there, you may still need to scrub it.
  • Water is still required to rinse.
  • Paper waste is produced.
  • Another thing to bring if you are backpacking or packing (if car camping)

1 Tub Dishwashing

Finally, for dishwashing, you can get by with just one tub. You can get the same sterilizing effect of hot water without having to lug three tubs around if you use one tub with warm water and soap to get off your food, then empty the tub and pour boiling water on your dishes.


  • Not too complicated
  • You need some gear, but not a lot.


  • Probably won’t clean your dishes as well as the three-tub method.
  • Still needs some packing to make a tub just for washing dishes.

How To Wash Dishes Without Water

Washing Within The Dish

Another common way to clean dishes is to get wet paper towels and wipe them down directly. When antibacterial soap is used, some germs can be killed.


  • Convenient
  • Minimal gear needed


  • If you don’t use a sterilizing agent, it won’t clean your dishes.
  • If your food is stuck to it, a paper towel won’t be enough to get it off.
  • Not as tried and true as hot water
  • Still, you need water to rinse.
  • Makes a lot of paper waste
  • If you are going backpacking, you should also bring this (if car camping)

The benefits of using a sterilizing agent along with the paper towel are the same as those of antimicrobial wipes.

Dirt Washing

Backpackers and car campers in desert areas trying to save water will sometimes use grass, dirt, and other natural materials as a scrub brush to remove food from the dish instead of water. They will then use as little water as possible to rinse out the dirt. The dish can be rinsed with boiling water.


  • Save water
  • Minimal gear needed


  • If you don’t use boiling water, this method won’t work to clean dishes.
  • You can wash your dishes with dirt and a brush, but it’s not very convenient.

Do You Need To Sterilize Your Dishes?

This is a hard question, and I’m not an expert on dish germs, so I can only tell you what I think from my camping experience. I don’t think it’s necessary to sterilize something. I can only say that because most people don’t bother to clean their dishes well enough, and most don’t get too sick.

A study on dangerous pathogens in food and how long they live on dishes showed that dangerous bacteria could be spread to dishes through dirty dishwater, dirty kitchen surfaces, and dirty drying towels. In the study, the dangerous pathogens were always spread to the dish by the dirty drying towels. But it was rare for the dangerous pathogens to spread back from the dish to the food.

If you do your best to wash your dishes, it will take a lot of rare things happening at once for a pathogen to spread.

The discussion also assumes that there are dangerous pathogens on your dishes. Some germs are bad, but not all of them. It takes a lot of work and is almost impossible to eliminate all germs, especially when camping.

I can’t give professional advice on the matter because it involves public health and I’m not qualified to do so. The only advice I can give is to keep your dishes as clean as you can.

Tips For Making The Job Easier

Do the dishes right away.

The most important thing you can do to make dishwashing easier is clean your dishes as soon as you’re done eating. If you clean your food right away with a brush, you won’t have to scrub, which is much harder to do well when you’re camping and don’t have your kitchen tools.

Water that boils saves the day

If you’re having trouble cleaning a dish, like if food is stuck on your cast-iron pan, boil a small amount of water and spread it on the dish. This will do wonders to get the food off.

Don’t cook raw meat.

Many types of meat can be cooked ahead of time so that you can grill them or heat them up while camping without worrying about getting them dirty. Even cooked bacon is sold at Costco. We just ate this today. We ate it this morning while we were camping.

This makes your life easier because you don’t have to deal with as much bacon grease, but it also makes your dishes and utensils safer because you’re not touching raw meat.

Final Thoughts

Dishes shouldn’t be hard to wash, but life can make things more complicated. To wash dishes safely while car camping, you need a disinfectant like hot water and soap. Even if you are camping, you need to ensure that every utensil you use is clean. So never neglect washing the dishes, even while camping. 

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