How to Clean Dishes While Camping Without Water

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People don’t exactly look forward to doing dishes at home, let alone when camping with an RV and a limited supply of water. Nevertheless, you have to keep your RV tidy and your dishes should be just as clean as they would be at home.

Here are some tips and tricks on how to clean your dishes if you don’t want or can’t depend on the RV sink.

Necessary Items

  • (3) Sinks, buckets, or plastic containers
  • Coarse sponge
  • Biodegradable dish soap
  • Metal strainer
  • Absorbent cloth
  • Paper towels
  • Sanitizer

Step-by-Step Guide

Clean plate club

This step is all about logic. The better you finish your food, the easier it is to clean the dishes. A dog bowl would be very easy to clean, for example.

Prep dishes

Clean the dishes before washing them. This means you have to scrape as much as you can of the leftovers, grease, and sauces. Use paper towels, kitchenware, or bread.

The dish line

The dish line or the three-bucket system requires you to use three separate plastic containers or buckets. Each one has a specific purpose. Arrange them in the following order: wash, rinse, bleach (optional).

Fill each container up to half full with water from a stream. Use the first one to wash the dishes, the second one to rinse them, and the third to sanitize the dishes (required if you’re not using water from the sink).

Towel drying

Use a paper towel or a highly absorbent cloth to quick-dry the dishes. There’s nothing wrong with air-drying, it just takes too long.

Look for all your dishes and kitchen utensils

After you’re done with the last plate or bowl, start looking for other things that need cleaning. Knives, forks, strainers, pots and all. This way you can save time and the limited supply of water available.

Consolidate gray water

Dump all the water from your sanitize and rinse sinks into the wash sink.

Strain food scraps

Use a large strainer to separate leftovers from the water when pouring the water from the wash sink into another sink.

Dispose of gray water

Dispose of the gray water in designated locations. If you’re not near any specially designated facilities with drain water basins, you’ll want to scarcely disperse the water over a large area. Also, make sure you’re at least 200 ft. away from freshwater sources.

Tips and Warnings

  • Consider a vegetarian menu as opposed to always cooking meats. This will minimize grease and leave you with easier to clean dishes.
  • Don’t cook too much food
  • Using a slice of bread to clean a plate of leftovers is always a good idea. It works even better on greasy plates
  • If you’re all about the outdoors then you might want to avoid using disposable plastic tableware to help protect the environment
  • If your RV doesn’t have enough water left to handle washing dishes, consider locating some nearby water sources and wash your dishes outside using the dish line method
  • When you are cooking your camp food, don't take your eyes off the pot. You know what they say about prevention. Be sure to stir the mixture frequently and to add more water than you think is necessary. There is nothing worse than a burnt pot when you're camping.
  • Avoid using the bathroom sink to wash dishes


Even though you now know how to clean dishes while camping, without water you can’t do a thorough job. Whenever your RV sink is unavailable, plan ahead and store some water in a free compartment or park your RV near a water source.

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