Backcountry Dish Washing

How to Wash Dishes

How do we wash our dishes when we’re on the road?

If you’re in outdoor recreation, you likely know the three-bucket or four-bucket system. From washing dishes around a campsite to our using it right in our own home, it keeps dishes clean while using a minimal amount of water. It works for campers, road trippers, van lifers, back-to-landers.

At it’s most basic, it’s 3 or 4 mixing bowls, plastic bins (like those hospital ones), or larger pet food bowls.

First, is knocking off all the food particles. When we clear, we dump all the leftover food into a compost container. At home, we keep this in the refrigerator so it doesn’t smell and attract critters. Outdoors, we keep this in an airtight container within an animal proof box or the car. Or we scrape food right into a cat hole like your pit latrine, or even right into the pit latrine. Dig six to eight inches deep and across. Don’t forget to cover it up.

The first bucket is a pre-rinse in soapy water. We use Dr. Bronner’s because it’s biodegradable and hippie-ish. At home, we don’t usually have a dedicated bucket for that. So I use whatever the largest container is that’s dirty. That’s for getting off all the remaining food residue that’s left on there.

The second bucket is the sanitizing wash. We use a half-cup of vinegar in water that’s good for killing most household bacteria.

The third bucket is just the final water rinse. It’s important that these last two are pretty warm, even hot, though you don’t want to burn yourself.

I hope on some level this three bucket system is helpful to you. This system makes it easy for our kids to do their part, limits our water usage, as well as our energy consumption (as opposed to the dishwasher).

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