The three-pot method: This is how to wash dishes at a campsite

Wash, sanitize, rinse.

With the three-step dishwashing system, you can finish camp dishes in no time. That means you’re back to having fun faster.

Here’s how to wash dishes at a campsite, courtesy of the BSA Fieldbook (pages 91-92) and the 13th edition of the Boy Scout Handbook (page 308).

What you’ll need

  • A dishwashing spot that’s at least 200 feet from any sources of water
  • Hot water (Pro tip: start heating your wash water before you sit down to eat)
  • Three plastic tubs
  • Biodegradable dish soap
  • A dish brush/scrubber or two
  • Hot tongs for dipping plates and spoons into the hot rinse
  • Bleach or sanitizing tablets
  • Ground cloth, towel, mesh bag or lightweight hammock for air-drying

Before you begin

Get your dishes as clean as you can before placing them into the wash pot. That way you won’t overwhelm Pot 1 with food particles.

Note: This may involve scraping and literally licking your plate clean. At Scout camp, this is perfectly acceptable behavior.

Pot 1: Wash pot

Add a few drops of biodegradable soap to hot water. Your instinct will be to use more soap than you actually need, so use sparingly.

Pot 2: Cold-rinse pot

Place a few drops of bleach or a sanitizing tablet (like Steramine) into cold water.

Pot 3: Hot-rinse pot

Fill the final pot with clear, hot water.

After you’re done

  1. Hang or place utensils and dishes to dry
  2. Dispose of soapy wash water 200 feet from any water sources. Filter out food particles, and put those in a plastic bag to throw away. Then spread the water over a wide area.

Also worth noting

  • Though the Fieldbook recommends the three-pot order above, other Scouters (and, indeed, my own Troop 1776 growing up) believe in a different order:
    • Pot 1: Soapy wash pot
    • Pot 2: Hot-rinse pot
    • Pot 3: Cold-rinse sanitizing pot
  • Minimizing dishwashing time starts with menu planning. Meals that use one pot and few food-prep utensils will leave less mess afterward.
  • Scouts should use as few dishes and utensils as possible. One bowl, one mug and one spork will be all you’ll need for most meals.
  • Here’s a look at the Boy Scout Handbook guidance on the subject:

Now it’s your turn

So that’s how to wash dishes at a campsite. What tips or advice can you offer for campsite dishwashing?


Photo via this site, where you can learn to make a holder for your dish tubs.