Many cleaning compounds can seriously upset the ecosystem. Phosphates, which are in some dish detergents, cause freshwater plants to grow. Too much phosphate can cause algae blooms that choke a waterway by absorbing the oxygen needed to support other life. The Environmental Health Association of Nova Scotia identifies other chemicals in cleaning products that can have toxic effects on human beings and wildlife, including parabens used for preservatives, the lathering agent sodium lauryl sulfate and bleach and chemical fragrances. Check the labels and use products that are biodegradable, phosphate-free and contain as few additives as possible.
Do No Harm
The Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics promotes practices for responsible outdoor recreation. To reduce your impact when cleaning, according to Leave No Trace principles, dispose of waste properly by packing out all your food scraps and trash; wash dishes and bathe at least 200 feet from a water source or campsite; and disperse used dishwater over the ground so it doesn't run directly into a waterway.
Try castile soap, made from vegetable oil and available in stores or online, with a little water to clean dishes or just about anything in your campsite. MSR Packsoap also works well to wash dishes, clothes, hair and skin. To loosen food stuck onto pans, put a few teaspoons of baking soda with some water in the pan and heat it on the camp stove for 20 or 30 minutes--no need for Teflon. Camping stores sell foldable, dual-basin washstands, like the Byer TriLite Wash Station, or use separate buckets for washing and rinsing dishes.
Bath and Shampoo
Castile soap also makes a nondrying shampoo and body wash and it's available in liquid or bars. Other organic all-in-one soaps include Dr. Bronner's soaps and MSR Packsoap. If you must use a separate shampoo, skip the plastic bottle and try a biodegradable bar shampoo like those made by Vermont Soap, Burt's Bees or J.R. Liggett's. Use a washcloth to scrub dirt off your body without lots of soap. Avoid the temptation to wash in a stream as even biodegradable soap can harm fish.
Article Written By Susan Spencer
Since 2000, Susan Spencer has contributed to the "Worcester Telegram & Gazette," "Cape Cod Life," "Worcester Living," "Sister 2 Sister," CapeCodToday.com and other publications. She specializes in health, education, culture and lifestyle, the outdoors/environment, and regional travel. She has a B.A. from Dartmouth College and an M.S. from Harvard School of Public Health.