The last thing that I want to be spending all my free time on a camping trip is washing dishes. If I had my way, I would have all my meals catered and hire people to do everything for me including washing the dishes. But then this would not be camping. We use a systematic method that keeps everything organized in Rubbermaid stacking plastic wash basins. These plastic basins are inexpensive and will last for years. Amazon and Walmart carries many versions of what I have pictured. The Sterilite brand does not have the same quality or feel as Rubbermaid and is usually less expensive. Amazon has more reviews about Rubbermaid products.
My 2 boys have taken on the task of washing dishes in order to “earn their keep”. They are not exactly thrilled as being the designated dish washers. My wife has never washed dishes on camping trips. Her only job is to relax and cook dinners. I set up and take down camp. I supervise and assist our 2 kids in washing the dishes. I can wash them faster myself in 15 minutes or less. It takes them 2 hours or more if left unsupervised. They are like two wild otters that jumped out of the water and spend more time splashing and throwing water on each other. It does not matter to them if it’s near freezing or in blazing heat. It’s all fun and games for them until they miss out on activities like fishing, canoeing, or playing with other kids. This is why I encourage them to use an method to get the job done.
While camping at Zion National Park in Utah, I copied a method of washing dishes from a bicycle touring group that seems to work very well for my two boys. I observed over 100 bicycle campers eating their meals leisurely prepared by a professional looking sag wagon . What I found most intriguing was the fact that the sag wagon personnel were not involved in the complete process of washing the dishes. The staff set up buckets filled with rinse and soapy water. the campers did most of the hard work like scraping the food and rinsing the dishes.
The system worked something like the following. Each camper first scraped all excess food from the plates into a food scrap bin. Flatware was placed in wash basins full of soapy water. Next, the campers dipped their dirty dishes in rinse water and scrubbed any remaining food particles with one of many scrubbing brushes. The scrubbed dishes were then moved to another basin filled with soapy water where a staff member scrubbed the dishes a second time and rinse them in clean water. Next, the dishes were left to air dry in drying racks.
The entire process took only a few minutes for each camper. This system worked well because not every camper finished at the same time. Additionally, there were multiple buckets of each type of water.
I copied the system by using 4 square wash basins. We first scrape all of our dishes and then place them in a dry wash basin. Next, I scrub the dishes in plain water and then scrub them again in a basin filled with soapy water and then rinse them again in a basin filled with clean water. I rinse and wash the first basin use it to store all the clean dishes before drying them
I dry the dishes with a synthetic Aqua Dry automotive chamois because it is more absorbent than a typical dish towel. You can purchase them online at Walmart or Amazon for $10 or less. I wash or rinse it after each use. We also use them as handy shower towels because they are extremely light weight and very convenient to pack on camping trips.
The system may not be perfect, but it sure works well for us as we can speed wash our dishes and spend time doing the things that we like to do while camping.
My wife makes her own dish washing detergent by combining Dr. Bronner’s Castille soap and baking soda in a spray bottle. We spray the dishes with the mixture and let them soak in the soapy basin bin. Some people want to buy detergents that are extra bubbly and foamy. The foam and bubbles do not wash the dishes or cut grease. Don’t be fooled into the suds. Dr. Bronner’s soap works great and it really smells good. It does not stick to your dishes, so you don’t have to be concerned about tasting lavender or eucalyptus with your morning coffee. Dr. Bronner’s Castille soap can be purchased at Vitamin Shoppe. We rarely use hot water to wash dishes as we try to be minimalists.