Interested to know people's dishwashing routine and products to use in the backcountry. Want to follow leave no trace obviously, and specifically how to go about it in bear country. 

I was going to ask the same question. in the service they taught us to use dirt to get the cooked on stuff then just rinse the dirt out with water...


two things I have always done is taken an old tooth brush and also some hand wipes. I usually have some hot water spare from the fire that I will pour on there and then finish off with the wipe. The wipe goes into a dodge poop bag and back into my pack to ensure nothing is left behind. This also prevents having to take soap on trips which can be harmful.

Texas Wanderer

Back many years ago, when I was in the bou scouts, we would use a pine cone as a scrubber to scrub put the cooked on food. We would generally use a little bit of drinking water or extra water left to put the fire out with.

As far as where to wash, I have read some posts or information from various backpacking sites that said to walk about 50 feet or 50 yards, can’t remember which, and wash your dishes there so bears and other wild animals won’t pick up on the scent at your camp site.


My cleaning method has always been to:

  • use my fingers/tongue to get any food out
  • swish some water around to grab the remaining bits
  • drink it

I also almost always find myself wiping the plate or pot clean with whatever absorbent fabric is nearby. My crew always thought this method was 'perfect' because it didn't require extra tools or leave any odors floating around, but now that I'm reading these suggestions it seems like those nasty gulps might not be necessary! 

There's always something new to learn. Thanks for posting this great question, @Nathan1!

At REI, we believe time outside is fundamental to a life well lived.

Don't use soap for dishes. The only reason for soap in the backcountry is for hand hygiene or first aid and it should never be used near or in a water source. If you need to use soap, used collected water well away from water and ideally bury the effluent.

In active bear country choose meals that only require boiling water and eat out of the bag. Then there is no pot to clean.

Keep your pots in your bear can or bear hang. If your pots won't fit in your bear can, place you cleaned pots on top of it as an alarm bell if something disturbs the can. The can is supposed to be at least 50 feet away from your camp in a location that makes it as difficult for critters to to roll it away.

If you actually cook and need to clean a pot, don't let it sit and congeal. Clean out the pot as best you with your spoon...why I prefer a spoon to a spork. Immediately heat up a little water in it swish it around to dissolve the food stuck to the pot and drink need the hydration and calories because backpacking is not for weaklings and wussies.

But seriously if drinking the dish water that is too gross, walk at least as far away from your camp, the trail or a water source as you would to poop and toss the dish water in a broad spread. If you have left over food from a meal that you will not eat, it is best to pack it out. If for some reason that is not possible bury it using the same rules as poop...consider putting it in the same hole.