Off-Grid sanitation - Dishwashing.

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GeekTech's picture
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Off-Grid sanitation - Dishwashing.

 What are my qualifications to talk about this?

Being chief cook and bottle washer for a group of  6 in wilderness conditions for 5 days might convince a few people as no one got sick. Fresh water was limited to  1 gallon per person per day. During a severe thunderstorm, my family experienced total loss of power for 10 days due to tornados. Again everyone was fine. Another instance was the aftermath of a hurricane. My family plus three neighbors experienced the loss of power for 7 days I did dishes for all meals.  Again no illnesses..


Everybody knows how to do dishes, right?

[Put them in the dishwasher and turn it on.]

What if there is no power for the dishwasher, and no hot water?

That is the purpose of the post. There is no faster way of getting digestive disorders than from contaminated eating utensils and dishes. Not only will you be out of action, but extras resources will be required to take care of you, if everyone is sick, then your entire group is at risk. Hate to say it, but the type of dishwashing I use requires hot water. Wood, gas, oil, or solar, just as long as you can get the water hot. Detergent or soap. Detergent is preferred. Dishwashing liquid, laundry detergent, plain shampoo, bar soap, as long as it can cut grease. A dishrag. A scrubber - plastic, copper or stainless steel. No sponges. Sponges trap food particles and bacteria.

Heat the washwater. In a stockpot or waterbath canner, or even the large stewpot (well scraped) you used for dinner. The washwater can be brackish, or from a pond or steam. If the water is contaminated.or questionable, bring the water to a boil. Take extra precautions against scalding injuries if you have to boil the water.[Suggest tongs or heavy rubber gloves]

Soap is of limited use with hard water. So if you are washing dishes on the coast, you may wash with seawater and detergent, since soap is almost useless in salt or hard water and you will need a LOT of soap before it can clean effectively.

Now pour the water into a dishpan or large skillet, or anything shallow enough to use as a dishpan. When the water is cool enough to work with, add soap or detergent to the water, put your dishes into the soapy solution and start scrubbing. Feel for hardened food particles with your fingers and rub with a dishrag or plastic scrubber, inside and out of every bowl, plate, cup or saucer.  Be thorough with the washing and set the washed dishes aside. Also carefully rub every surface of every utensil, swish and rinse is NOT an option.If grease is floating on the water, it's time to change the dishwater. Don't just add more soap. If water is really tight you may consider watering plants  with cool discarded washwater (provided it was freshwater) or flushing toilets - but when it's greasy, it's no longer safe for dishes. Inpect the dishes for cracks and chips. If the dishes are glazed porcelin, a crack or chip is a place where bacteria can grow, They should be discarded or may be put to alternative use. A chipped glass can cut a lip or tongue, rough edges on eating utensils are a similar hazard.

Next is the rinse. I recommend water that is at or close to boiling. You can have the rinsewater heating while scrubbing the dishes, you can also use the water from the same large pot, if it is fresh and clean. Alternatively, you will have to heat the rinsewater separately.  Utensils can be placed directly into the hot rinsewater, I recommend tongs to fish out utensils to prevent yourself from being scalded. Empty the dishpan of washwater and place the washed but still soapy dishes in it.

With a soup ladle, pour HOT rinse water over the dishes, and carefully using tongs or rubber gloves set them to dry on a clean towel or  dishrack. The heat from the rinsewater will cause the dishes to dry in minutes. Scald the dishrack prior to putting clean dishes on it.

Large pots and pans are a little different. If you are dealing with cast iron, follow the manufacturer's recommendations. Do not scour non-stick pans, avoid caustic chemicals with aluminum. Soot from a wood fire can be left on a pot without ill effect, but my personal preference is to clean to top half of a sooty pot or pan.

Generally,  pour wash water with detergent  into the pot or pan. Work around inside with a scrubber until it is clean then pour out the washwater. Repeat with more wash water if necessary. Make sure to get the lip of the pot or pan clean. You may wish to wash the cover for the pot or pan if one was used at this time. Pour rinsewater into the pot or pan and  roll it pot until all interior surfaces are rinsed  with clean hot water. To get the edge, put some rinsewater into a dishpan and place the side of the pot or pan into the dishpan and rotate it until the entire lip of the pot or pan is rinsed.







Wendy S. Delmater's picture
Wendy S. Delmater
Status: Diamond Member (Offline)
Joined: Dec 13 2009
Posts: 1988
I suppose you could use pool

I suppose you could use pool shock to purify the water, too, but this sounds like ti would work with swamp water. And it was a good idea to post this. Thanks for sharing.

efarmer.ny's picture
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Joined: Jan 7 2012
Posts: 63
Be Careful

We hand wash dishes for a family of 13 every day. That's a fair number of dishes. We would never think of using water that is close to boiling for rinse water, and we are pretty healthy. If you insist on using water that hot, be VERY careful!

If sanitation is a huge concern for you, another practical and safer alternative is to use 1 tablespoon of chlorine per gallon of water for a disinfectant rinse. It saves the fuel used in heating water and no one in your group will need to be treated for a scauld or bad burn.

Amanda Witman's picture
Amanda Witman
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Joined: Mar 17 2008
Posts: 409
Soaking the dishes helps save water, IMO

Regarding grease and particles contaminating the water, I find that I actually save water by letting the dishes sit in "soak water" prior to washing them in the wash water (because then the wash water stays cleaner longer).  If water is in short supply, I use the previous washing session's saved dirty "wash water" for soaking, scrub as much of the grease and particles off in that water once the dirty dishes have soaked, and then wash them clean in the new wash water, and rinse in clear water, and air-dry (or hand-dry).

I have not felt the need to use boiling water for rinsing (cold works fine for me, and I like to use warm for washing if I can), but if someone was ill and sanitation was challenging I would consider a hot rinse.


GeekTech's picture
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Joined: Mar 30 2010
Posts: 2
Chemical Rinse

I was thinking of a SHTF scenario and not being able to trust the water. A chemical rinse would be fine and would drastically reduce the energy consumption necessary to maintain sanitary dishes , but only as long as bleach or similar sanitizing agent was available.

Coleman Alderson's picture
Coleman Alderson
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Joined: Jul 28 2011
Posts: 2
Potassium permangate (KMnO4)

While training in disaster relief in India, we used potassium permangate cystals in a shallow tub as a pre-soak disinfectant for our dishes. The purple crystals of this oxidant dissolve readily and packets are often included in survival kits as a fire starter, water sterilizer, and creating distress signals in the snow. 

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