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A Northeast Illinois Canoe and Kayak Club

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4 Bucket Dish Washing - Something to Try :)

2017-04-13 9:13 PM | Dave Watts

Leave No Trace Skill: Dishwashing for Frontcountry

Midpines, CA: Dirty dishwater and soaps can pollute our rivers, lakes, and streams, which is why Leave No Trace always recommends doing your dishes away from water sources. In the Skills Series video below, we’ll teach you the 4-Bucket dish system that helps you protect your favorite outdoor places.

Begin your dishes by ensuring that you are 200 feet (70 big steps) away from all water sources. To start, you'll need four buckets, a scraper, a sponge, minimal biodegradable soap, bleach, a strainer, a trash bag, and a towel/drying rack. 

Bucket #1: Cold Rinse (Funk Bucket)- This is the bucket where the majority of your food scraps will end up. Scrape your dishes free of food scraps before rinsing them in cold water. 

Bucket #2: Hot Wash - Pour half hot water and half boiling water in this bucket, where you'll use minimal amounts of soap to scrub clean your dishes.

Bucket #3: Hot Rinse - Again combine half hot water and half cold water to rinse your dishes free of all soap residue. 

Bucket #4: Cold Bleach - Bleach is essential in sanitizing your dishes, especially when your dish water comes from a questionable source like rivers, lakes, or streams. Use 6-7 drops of bleach per gallon of water in cold water for sanitation.

Dry your dishes with a towel or on a drying rack. Dispose of your wastewater by walking 200 feet (70 big steps) away from any water sources and strain the dishwater to remove any food scraps. Dispose of food scraps in your trash bag. 

The 4-Bucket system is a great way to wash your dishes when you’re in camp. If you’re backpacking, check out our simple system for dishwashing in our upcoming video. Thanks for practicing Leave No Trace!

Enjoy Your World. Leave No Trace. 

Leave No Trace's Donielle Stevens and Aaron Hussmann are part of the 2017 Subaru/Leave No Trace Traveling Trainer Program that provides free, mobile education to communities across the country. Proud partners of this program include Subaru of America, REI, Fjallraven, Eno, Deuter, Thule, Smartwool, and Taxa Outdoors. 


  • 2017-06-18 11:06 PM | Deleted user
    We do this in our Boy Scout troop and it works well. However, one trick is to use bleach tablets instead of fluid bleach because tablets are safer and easier to store.
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