How to do dishes in the bush

Over the past few years, I’ve learned a few tricks for cleaning up dirty cookware in the bush. If you don’t have a scrub brush and dish soap with you, but you do have some water, an axe and a fire, you’re not out of luck.

Improvised brush from spruce sprigs: If you need a quick scrub brush, grab a few spruce (or similar) sprigs and tie them together. This isn’t the most comfortable method, but it does effectively scrub gunk off your pots and pans.

Improvised brush from birch branch: For a much more comfortable tool capable of heavy scrubbing, cut off a birch (or similar) branch about 0.5” – 0.75” in diameter and pound the end with the poll of your axe, using a rock or piece of wood as a base. Be sure to rotate the branch from time to time as you are pounding so that you break up the wood fibers all the way around. This creates a very effective and resilient brush. I cooked bacon and eggs in the pot shown here, and there was a lot of stuck-on gunk. The branch brush made it like new! (OK, maybe not like new, but it certainly worked.)

Improvised soap: Traditionally, soap was made by mixing rendered animal fat with lye. You can do something similar on a smaller scale in the bush, by adding a few spoonfuls of ashes from your fire and a little warm or hot water to your dirty pots and pans. Most foods we cook contain some kind of fat, and there will be some left in your dirty cookware, plates etc., so adding the ashes and water in essence creates a crude form of soap. It won’t look like the dish soap (I should say, “detergent”, as it is no longer real soap) which you use at home, but it works surprisingly well.

I have to admit that I didn’t come up with these ideas myself. I picked them up while out in the bush with friends (the spruce brush from Finnman at the Scandic Woodsman and the birch brush from OZme at Bush n’ Blade). The ash soap idea is from good, ole’ Nessmuk.

Now that you know how to get your pots and pans clean, I’ll have to show you how to get them dirty by making a really tasty meal in the bush using simple ingredients.


EDIT: A few commenters have contributed some more great ideas: Scrubbing with sand can help to remove food residue from cookware, since it’s abrasive. Also, heating a pot after putting water in it can help to break up stuck-on food. I guess I should have entitled this post “How to make what you need to clean dishes in the bush”, as that’s what it was originally about. 😉 I’m happy to add additional information to make the post more complete. Thanks guys!


9 comments on “How to do dishes in the bush

  1. Finnman says:

    If your pot is really dirty you can clean it even better by dropping a little bit fine sand on it while brushing. Sand is great abrasive and can clean very efectively.

    – Finnman

  2. Very true! Thanks for the tip, Finnman.

    Luckily, I didn’t have to use sand with the birch brush, but for stubborn stuck-on gunk, I imagine it would really help.

  3. Hog says:

    Howzit Bru, great to see the Blog.

  4. Great to see you here, Hog. 🙂

  5. Ron says:

    What I allways do, is heat some water in the pots/pans and while that is heating, scrub it with a birchbrush. This loosens the food that’s really stuck quite easily, after which you can clean it properly. Washing it with hot water also removes a large part of fatty residue, too.

  6. Good idea, Ron. I usually do this as well. Putting hot water into the pots also has the same effect. The heat certainly helps to remove the stuck-on food.

  7. OZme says:

    The ash soap is also used in many different traditional crafts as good fat remover.
    Especially the white ash made from poaceae plants are known to work excelent on this function.

  8. BluMntCeltic says:

    The American Pioneers used to grab a handful of the plant Equisetum spp. which they called ‘scouring rush’ to help with the dishes. It’s cells contains bits of SiO2 which is the principle component in quartz sand. The plant has an alternating life cycle and it’s the low growing ‘bushy’ gametophyte rather than the tall spindly Sporophyte that’s most useful. If you don’t know what the plant looks like you can find a pic here: (

  9. Very interesting. Thanks for the tip!

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