Washing the Dishes

2:56 p.m. on January 9, 2008 (EST)
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Nobody likes to do it at home, and nobody like to do it when they're backpacking, but the dishes still need to be washed.

I suspect we all have our own unique coping mechanisms, so let's share: How do you deal with (or avoid) cleaning dirty dishes when you're on the trail? Do you live with a mess or keep everything spotless? Carry a full dishwashing kit or make due with what you have? Avoid dirtying dishes altogether?

2:58 p.m. on January 9, 2008 (EST)
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Lately I've been going the avoidance route, eating a lot of freeze-dried stuff, eating out of bags so I don' have much to clean up. Dishwashing usually amounts to licking off the utensils and rinsing out my mug if I've had a hot drink or oatmeal. For more stubborn messes -- if I've actually been cooking in a pot -- a bit of hot water and a finger usually does the trick. I used to carry a small scouring pad, but it always seemed to get more gross than the dishes it was supposed to be cleaning. Now I just use my fingers (washed with alcohol gel before starting) and sometimes I carry a small packtowel for drying.

3:12 p.m. on January 9, 2008 (EST)
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I use the scrape out method as well. If things start to get funky I'll put my cup and spork into my pot, fill with water and boil it for a couple minutes (then I tend to make coffee, using the boiled water, hey, I'm not gonna waste fuel - but I do filter it through a bandana to keep the chunky bits out!) - keeps the trots at bay -

5:51 p.m. on January 9, 2008 (EST)
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I pack soft flour tortillas in the food cache. They stay fresh on extended trips and they're great for getting into the corners of dishes and soaking up the last bit of gravy! Think of it as a sponge you can eat!

7:05 p.m. on January 9, 2008 (EST)
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We keep food prep as simple as possible. We eat it all and use a small amount of teapot water and a bit of tissue paper to clean our bowls or small pot. The tissue goes into our "pack it out"ziplock bag.

11:06 p.m. on January 9, 2008 (EST)
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I use several approaches. Like Dave, much of the time, I am using freeze-dry right out of the bag, so there is no cleanup (just pack it out). I did recently get a very long-handled spork to be able to get at the corners of the bags without getting the stuff all over my hands.

When I go on long backpacks, especially with groups (like Scout troops), we use an approach I learned some years ago at Philmont. Clean the dishes as best you can after the meal. Then, since the group will need a large amount of hot water for the next meal (no matter whether preparing stuff from scratch or rehydrating freeze-dry), you heat the water to boiling in a large pot and dip all the dishes, cups, and knife/fork/spoon into the boiling water for a few minutes to sterilize it just before using. This is sort of like Fred's approach, but hey Fred, you should eat those chunky bits. You sterilized them with boiling, and that's extra calories - don't waste any of the bits of food!

A couple of "scrubbers" - sand from the creekbed makes a good pot scrubber (like SOS or Brillo, only better) - be sure you do this well away from the stream or lake, just like it says in the LNT literature. The other is that in winter, snow makes a good scrubber. Then, once you get all the gunk out, do the boiling water just before eating bit to do the final sterilization (think of the coffee with meat and potato bits as "coffee soup").

One thing I was taught, then observed with other people - do NOT wash aluminum pots with soap. Aluminum is porous enough that the soap gets into the pores of the metal. When you heat or boil water in it for the next meal, you can see the soap bubbles forming as the soap comes back out - a sure way to upset the digestive system. You can use the soap on the aluminum at home, since you can do a hot rinse to open the pores and get the soap rinsed completely out. Doesn't work well on the trail.

11:23 p.m. on January 9, 2008 (EST)
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A little hot water if anything. Remaining bacteria is killed with heating during next meal. I've never taken any soap, & may have high tolerance for bits of last night's dinner.

12:19 p.m. on January 10, 2008 (EST)
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My dishes consist of one 6" dia plastic bowl and the Jetboil PCS cup.

I only use the bowl for my breakfast - instant buttery grits. I wipe the excess grits with the paper envelope and then pour in a little boiling water, swirl it around, toss the water. If a grit or two hangs on, I don't care.

I only use the jetboil cup for coffe, tea and holding a mountain house pro-pack. If I don't spill any mountain house, the cup never gets rinsed out. The next time I boil water for coffe or tea, the cup gets disinfected.

Oh, I also carry one lexan soup spoon and after cleaning it by sticking it in my mouth, I disinfect it by dunking it into my coffee.

Frequently on my trips, I end up taking my boots off and wading thru streams and swamps, so I always carry a nearly empty roll of paper towels to dry my feet. If necessary, I'll use a small sheet of that to clean what ever is needed.

3:18 p.m. on January 10, 2008 (EST)
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Gotta love that JetBoil, Ed! I do!

7:11 a.m. on January 11, 2008 (EST)
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In addition to washing dishes, or not, as the case may be, it's never a bad idea to hang them with your food. Bears and pesky mice can smell those leftover morsels from a long way away. I hang my JetBoil cup as well.

7:38 a.m. on January 11, 2008 (EST)
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yep. Even my full and empty water bottles get hung.

11:11 a.m. on January 11, 2008 (EST)
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Bill wrote, "One thing I was taught, then observed with other people - do NOT wash aluminum pots with soap. Aluminum is porous enough that the soap gets into the pores of the metal. When you heat or boil water in it for the next meal, you can see the soap bubbles forming as the soap comes back out - a sure way to upset the digestive system. You can use the soap on the aluminum at home, since you can do a hot rinse to open the pores and get the soap rinsed completely out. Doesn't work well on the trail."

If you're using bio-soap, the kind that you can use to wash clothes, take a shower, and brush your teeth with, you shouldn't have a problem with an upset digestive system if some remains in the pot after cleaning.

I usually take a small srubby pad and the bio-type soap along for KP duty. I have aluminum cookware, but I haven't had problems with "soapy soup."

3:14 p.m. on January 26, 2008 (EST)
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Sand, yes, I've used that for many years, but nobody mentioned coarse salt, as in sea salt or Kosher salt. I use that at home, too, for the iron skillet, once it's seasoned with oil and used, water never touches it.

12:25 p.m. on January 30, 2008 (EST)
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I guess I'm paranoid about bits of food causing intestinal or other disorders when I'm out in the back country, because even there I've always done a "real" washing. I bring one of those sponges with the scrubby side (I cut a regular size one in half), and a little bottle of "Campsuds".

As part of my meal prep, I heat some water, and then wash the utensils & dishes afterwards - well away from my campsite, and of course well away from any water supply - and disperse the resulting waste water. I just rinse them all using fresh (filtered) water from my Nalgene bottle. (as an aside I have wondered if I could wash & rinse with unfiltered water, since i'm not actually "consuming" it per se, but figured the little creepy crawlies would still get into me from being "on" the utensils).

Am I freaking you all out? :)

1:43 p.m. on January 30, 2008 (EST)
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You can wash and rinse your cookpots with unfiltered water, since the cooking will kill the critters. But cups, plates, and fork/spork/spoon/knife need either sterilization by a quick dip in boiling water or wash and rinse in filtered or otherwise purified water. Some of the critters live quite long on the surface of utensils.

OTOH, the number of giardia cysts, for example, that you need to get sick is large enough that "statistics show" (to quote someone) that the risk is small when using unfiltered water to rinse. Then again, it's like a car accident or any other risk which is statistically small - if you are the one drawing the short straw, you are going to be pretty miserable. It is easy to "buckle up" or use the filtered water or dip the utensils in the boiling water you will use for the food preparation (or coffe/tea/cocoa), lowering the risk to nearly zero.

10:32 p.m. on February 24, 2008 (EST)
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I use klock's tortilla method. And since I eat from my cookpot it always gets sterilized when I boil water for my next meal.

5:01 a.m. on May 13, 2008 (EDT)
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Titanium. Not the titanium cookware availabe from camping stores, but the "As Seen On TV" kitchen titanium pots and pans set. Literally, no matter what I've cooked/burned. No matter how long they've been sitting before being cleaned, they can be wiped spotless with a single piece of Kleenex. Really, I'm not kidding. Sterilization comes during the 30 seconds of heating the cookware without food just before cooking the next meal. The set came with a 1 liter and a 3 liter pot and 6 inch and 9 inch frying pans. Unless I'm cooking for more than 1 or 2 persons only the small stuff comes along for the trip. Quite possibly the only thing that "As Seen On TV" sells/sold that actually lived up to the hype. Except for the "Banjo Minnows". But, THAT'S a story for another thread. : )

August 30, 2014
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