Camping Dishwashing Hacks

Dishwashing out in the wild can take some of the shine off camping. Without running water and proper equipment, it can quickly become much more of a chore than it needs to be. That’s why we put together this list of 7 camping dishwashing hacks to get your dishes clean with less hassle.

Camping Dishwashing Hack #7. Make Your Own Dish Soap

This hack is perfect for when you run out of dish soap halfway through your thru-hike, miles away from the nearest town. It’s also good if you’re traveling light and want to minimize the number of things in your pack.

Take wood ash from your campfire and gradually mix it with cold, clean water until it becomes a paste. Ash from oak trees is best, but any ash will do. Wood ash is a natural alkali and will dissolve and remove dirt effectively. 

Spread the paste you have made over your used dishes and leave them to stand for a few minutes. Then scrub the plates and rinse them with clean water. Remember to wash your hands afterwards, and use gloves if at all possible. Because it is a natural alkali, wood ash can cause mild irritation if you have sensitive skin.

If you have some spare time, you can also use wood ash to make a bar of soap for re-use later. You will also need fat or lard for this. The folks over at PrimalSurvivor have written a great guide on how to do this, which you can find here.

Among the most useful camping dishwashing hacks to know is using wood ash, as displayed in this photo, to make your own dish soap.

Camping Dishwashing Hack #6. Use Sand If You Have No Sponge

Remember this hack if you forget your sponge or want to save space in your pack by not taking one. Sand is a natural abrasive—hence its use in sandpaper. It will scrub your pots and plates as clean as any scouring pad. 

Take a handful of sand, if there is any nearby (it’s helpful if you are near a riverbank or beach). Gently rub it against the surface of your dishes. Be careful not to press too hard, or you may leave scratch marks. Apply some of your wood-ash dish soap when washing up and your equipment will be clean in no time. 

Finally, rinse everything carefully with clean water. Then boil some water in your pots and submerge your cutlery in it before putting everything away. This will kill any remaining bacteria, leaving your kit spotless for next time.

Camping Dishwashing Hack #5. Use Space-Efficient Dishwashing Tools

Achieving maximum space efficiency is a good rule of thumb for camping in general. When dishwashing, one way to do this is by cutting up a normal kitchen sponge into thirds and taking one with you. This smaller sponge will take up less room in your pack. It will also allow you to get more use out of the same sponge.

Another way of saving space is by using the same soap for multiple purposes. Before a camping trip, do some experimentation with soaps in your house to see if they will wash your hair (or even your dishes) as well as your skin.

Another alternative is buying an all-purpose soap online. Various all-purpose soaps can be found on the market. These can be used on hair, skin, dishes, clothes and even some foods. 

A good choice is this one from Lifeventure. It’s biodegradable, so it won’t damage the environment. It’s also pH balanced, so it won’t hurt your skin.

For more tips on saving space in your pack while camping, read our detailed guide on how to pack minimally.

Camping Dishwashing Hack #4. Pick the Right Location

Remember to do your dishes a good distance away from both your campsite and your water source. It’s also a good idea to find a place that’s downhill from them as well, so that the water doesn’t flow towards you. 

Detergent in your water supply can pose a health risk. Similarly, dirty dishwater inundating your camp can create mud and potentially soak your possessions. Avoid these problems by finding a good spot a fair way from your tent and water source!

Camping Dishwashing Hack #3. Use Water Strategically

Clean water can be a precious commodity, especially in arid terrains. Even in wet climates, filtering or boiling water to disinfect it takes time and resources. Effective dishwashing should therefore be planned out beforehand.

A good technique is to bring two buckets with you and use one for soapy water and the other for clean water. Scrub your dirty equipment clean in the first one, and then rinse it off in the second one. Finish by cleaning off any remaining soap suds with a splash of clean water from a water bottle. It’s a good idea to disinfect them by holding them in the fire when you’re done (or before you next use them).

If you’re carrying your camping equipment around on your back, you can pick up convenient easy-to-carry collapsible buckets on Amazon. A good option is this 5 liter twin set from Tiawudi. They expand easily, hold water well and shrink down to an easily manageable size.

Hygiene is essential for all camping dishwashing hacks, so use filtered water like the person in this photo.

Camping Dishwashing Hack #2. Minimize Your Dishwashing Workload

When preparing food, there are multiple ways to minimize the amount of washing you’ll need to do afterwards. One simple approach is to use cooking oil. By generously drizzling this into your cooking pans before cooking your dinner, you will help to prevent food from sticking to it. This means less scrubbing when it comes to washing them later.

Another option is to use potliners. Place them in the bottom of your pan and cook your dinner on top of them. This prevents your pans getting dirty and, if you eat straight from the pan, you’ll have very little to clean up. 

These potliners from KOOC are a reliable and affordable option for your next camping trip. Just remember that potliners are generally made of plastic and are not biodegradable. This means that you will need to take them out of the wild with you, which can be a bit of an inconvenience.

Make sure to boil water in your pots after using some camping dishwashing hacks to ensure that they are disinfected.

Camping Dishwashing Hack #1. Don’t Use Your Cooking Pans 

What better way to make dishwashing easy than by not having anything to wash in the first place! Many of the canned and tinned foods that campers often carry can be fried up without even being taken out of their containers. 

For this hack, you’ll need to pick up some roasting sticks, like these simple ones made for marshmallows. Open the tin and take the lid off. Then stab the roasting sticks through the metal (being careful not to injure yourself). 

Make sure they’re attached securely and, voila, you have a home-made cooking pan ready to dispose of after use. No dishwashing required! Just remember to take it out of the wild and dispose of it when you leave. 

This is a great tip for any trip on a tight budget, saving you money on expensive camping equipment. For more ways to save money while camping, check out the handy tips in our article on car camping on a budget.


Follow these 7 camping dishwashing hacks and you’ll be on your way to a simple and hassle-free cooking experience. For more great camping hacks like these, have a read through our other articles. You can reach them from our homepage, here.

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