How to Wash Dishes On the Road

There are always aspects of daily living that take on a new look while on the road. One of those aspects (no matter the joy or loathing it brings) is washing your dirty dishes. It must happen! But how?

Let’s say your camping situation includes a magical sink. Let’s say you eat out and have no dishes to clean. Let’s imagine (or let’s not) you only use disposable eating utensils! I get it, sometimes disposable utensils make an outing a bit easier, but we try to adopt the reusable lifestyle as much as possible.

What happens when your camper is winterized and you have no water in your tank? Dumping dirty dishwater, or “greywater”, can certainly attract animals and pollute a campsite. So what’s the deal? How do you navigate something that unfortunately follows you to the open road? Let’s tackle all those questions and provide you with some of the solutions we have adopted while living the nomad life.

What is Greywater?

I know that the definition of greywater can vary, but I generally think of it as any water that hasn’t been in a toilet. Greywater is wastewater that has come into contact with humans, food, or additional pollutants. When you wash your hands, the water used would then be considered greywater (it has bacteria from your hands as well as soap).

Where do I get my water?

We have a massive 8-gallon tank that we fill with potable (drinkable) water to refill water bottles, use to cook with and wash dishes. We also have a kitchenette in our camper that has a sink. We fill our tank with potable water from any campsite with a potable water hookup. When winter camping requires you to drain your water (like we just did camping in Indiana in January), then I steal water from the campsite sinks or our handy backup water from our 8-gallon water jug.

How do we wash our dishes?

Yes, it sounds super obvious, but as I mentioned earlier, there are certain things you take for granted when you’re living life in a 2,000 square foot house. Dishwashers, running water, drains, disposals… the list goes on. When you’re camping (especially while you’re boondocking) it isn’t always so self-explanatory.

Did you know that you’re not supposed to wash your dishes in campsite bathrooms? The reason is the drainage systems are typically incompatible with food waste.

We are spoiled, yes! We have a sink in our T@g teardrop trailer. We will plug the sink, soap up our scraped dishes then rinse the dishes (keeping all the water in the sink. Once we are finished, we place a bucket under our sink and drain the dirty water. Depending on where we are, we will either pour it down a disposal site (typically at most campsites), or we will scatter the water away from our campsite and at least 200 feet away from any body of water. We make sure to scrape our dishes very well before washing because you don’t want food scraps left behind. Those belong in the trash!

What Soap Should You Use?

When you think about it, it is absolutely necessary to be conscientious about the products you use when camping. We try to adopt the “Leave No Trace” principle and leave nature as untouched as possible. The products you use on your dishes get into the water you dump. Depending on the soaps used, chemicals can contaminate the environment when dumped with the wastewater. That is why Andrew and I use Redbudsuds!

This brand is made in the US (Ohio to be exact), has clean, local ingredients that eliminate preservatives, parabens, phthalates, plastic packaging, and more. We use this brand for our shampoo and conditioner and body wash as well! We trust it on our own bodies, so we are comfortable using it on our dishes and cautiously dumping it onto the ground as well.

Check them out:

Happy Dish Washing

There really are so many ways and techniques to use when washing your dishes, and I hope that the ones we provided help in your camping excursions. We found a flow once we got on the road and utilized the tools we had. It can be overwhelming, but the simple tools we try to live by are, 1) try to uphold campground rules and regulations, 2) be as respectful of our beautiful earth as we possibly can, 3) continue to learn as we go. Believe me, I never even thought of proper procedures for water disposal until we started living life on the road. Be patient with yourself and have fun! Better yet, if you have any suggestions for us, please let us know – we are always open to new and improved tips and tricks!