How should I do dishes without making a mess and dirtying the environment?

Finally! A blog post about doing dishes! This is what you’ve all been waiting for all these long months!!

Adding soap to an outdoor environment can be a big problem. It gets into the water and can be damaging to wildlife, as well as the water supply of future visitors to the site. It also ruins beautiful landscapes by adding suds to the shoreline.

Doing dishes after each meal is necessary, but there are ways to limit the impact on the environment.

1 – Use Campsuds or another biodegradable soap product.

These detergents are better able to biodegrade, meaning they are not as dangerous to the environment.

2 – Use very little detergent

At home, we use a lot of detergent. In the woods, we should limit the amount to only what is necessary. You would be surprised at how much cleaning can be done with a drop or two of soap.

3 – Create a system that limits your water and soap usage

There are a number of dish washing systems that people use, and some use more water and soap than others. Here we look at my own favorite system, and how it helps to reduce your consumption, saving you valuable filtered water, and reducing the impact on the environment.

First, scrape off as much food waste as possible from the dishes and utensils that you’ve used. You can buy special scrapers that are cheap and compact, and go a long way in helping clean dishes when on a trip. Second, get a small amount of lake water. This water doesn’t need to be filtered, because you’ll be rinsing the dishes in filtered water later, but it should be as clean as possible. Use this water to wet your sponge, and apply a very small amount of biodegradable dish soap. Squish the sponge a few times to lather up the soap.

Next, with the wet sponge, scrub the dishes. The water and suds from the sponge should be enough to clean a small amount of dishes, but if the sponge is running dry, pour a bit more lake water onto it (do not dip the sponge in the lake water, as this only creates more wastewater). You should end up with a sudsy stack of clean dishes.

Finally, you’re ready to rinse the dishes off. Here you need to use filtered water, but can get by with very little if you’re careful. The dishes are already clean, so you’re just washing off the suds. The wastewater from this step should be collected in a container to be disposed of later on.

Dump the clean lake water (as long as you didn’t dip the dirty sponge in it), Remove the clean dishes for drying, and take the sudsy, dirty, water out into the woods for disposal. Do not dump this water into the lake. Go about 100 meters from your site, dig a small hole, and pour the water into the hole before burying it again.  

In this method, a stack of dishes can be cleaned with only a small amount of filtered water, and a very small amount of suds. Wastewater is kept to a minimum and the impact on the environment is negligible. It may feel awkward doing dishes with this little water or soap, but if it’s done right the dishes will be clean, and you’ll save yourself a large mess.

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