Washing dishes and gray water, what do you do with it?

Unlike our big brothers and sisters with their vans, trailers, and RVs, what are other campers doing with gray water at their campsites?

What is gray water?
Water that use for bathing, washing hands, and washing dishes.

My current process (I’m not sure if it is correct or the best):

  • Only use environmentally friendly and biodegradable soaps (Dr. Bonner’s, wilderness wash, original Dove dish soap or Mrs. Mayer’s Dish soap
  • We typically dump our grey water in the fire pit to help put out any flames.
  • If there are no pits/fires then we will dump it away from the site, trees, water run off areas or any body of water.

Should I be packing it out with me? Should I try to create a gray water holding tank? What is your camping system?

Beth, I believe your processes are in line…and ordinarily when camping the soap is so diluted that it will not pose a problem. If you read gardening guides, most say ‘soapy water is better than no water.’ Several campgrounds I visited in June actually had a “dish wash station,” which takes the guesswork out.


@Beth_G I concur with everything said so far except we only bathe when there are shower facilities! When we do dishes in places without dishwashing sinks (love campgrounds that have them!), we rinse them with a spray bottle filled with water. This results in only an inch or two of water at most in the bottom of our bin when done. Since there is so little water left, if there are no sinks or other drains (many campgrounds that don’t have sinks do have places to dump water near/under the water spigots), we do dump usually under a tree or other grassy area. Thanks for being a conscious camper - there are not enough of them!

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No need to pack it out with you. You are basically following leave no trace guidelines already. :slight_smile:

The only other things you could add to your routine would just help it become more invisible to animals who might smell food or soap particles when you dump it outside of the fire ring.

Option 1 for (backcountry or soil rich environments): Sump it. Dig a hole (like a poop hole) and strain the water into it and bury it. Pack out the strained scraps of food particles. I know it sounds silly but if the water smells like food, animals will come try and find it. So burying it helps it get into the soil faster and prevents someone’s pet digging there or a wild animal coming into camp.

Option 2 (for desert environments and/or established campgrounds): Strain it over the road. Because the road is well used, there won’t be potential for vegetation there and the passing cars will dissipate it and help it quickly evaporate. Dumping water in desert plants can sometime shock their systems since they are not used to getting a lot of water so prolonged dumping of water can actually overwater and kill them (think succulent type survival). Fire pits are also a great spot but can’t handle too much water so it depends on how much you use to wash dishes.

Either way, the only thing I would add to a cleaning kit is a strainer. Helps keep even the smallest amount of human food away from the natural environment and keeps local animals safe.


Portable camping sink is basically used for camping at any place. It has a big tank on its bottom which provides enough water for camping. Basically it helps a lot in term of washing. You should visit this website visitpick.com which provides best portable camping sink.

I basically do the same thing you do with the environmentally safe soap and finding a place that is safe to dump it. I usual a portable sink with a drain that I filter into a gatorade bottle or larger bottle when I really am using a lot of water. I try to go sparingly as possible. When disposing of it I either take it away from my campsite and dispose of it in a safe location if it has a lot of food particles or I dump in my fire ring area if it does not. My main concern is to not attract animals to the site even after I have long since moved on so that I don’t change the way they perceive people and think that a campground or camping area is a place they can find food.

Some campgrounds have rules about dumping dishwater and/or graywater, supposed due to the food particles attracting animals and/or insects. That being said, we always adhere to campground rules and dump whatever dishwater we have down our gray tank. Yes, I know tent campers don’t have a gray tank and this creates an issue. We always wipe our dishes with paper towels before we wash to keep down gray tank smells. If I don’t see a rule against it I dump the water away from the campsite, usually spreading it out so not in a big puddle.

How to handle gray water all depends on location and requirements.

At a minimum, I pour the dishwater into one container, filtering it with a coffee filter to remove any food particles that can attract pests, and take the gray water to a tree and pour it out… Burn the used coffee filter in the camp fire, or pack it out…

SOME campgrounds provide a dish wash station every few campsites, OR provide a gray water drain at the water spigot riser. Discard there and you are fine.

No matter the discard method, try to use a biodegradeable soap like Camp Suds, or Dr. Bonners…

To get my wife happy with camping, I had to include a shower, and shower gray collection in a privy tent is a MUCH harder issue to deal with, but it IS possible…

A lot of it is going to depend on if where you are at requires gray water collection, from tent campers. Many that do require from RVs do not from tents. So double check…