Keeping Clean on Family Camping Trips

Keeping dirty hands and faces clean can be a camping challenge

Keeping dirty hands and faces clean can be a camping challenge

A big concern that we have, when we are on a family camping trip, is keeping the kids clean throughout several days in the backcountry. We’re not clean-freaks, but our kids love to play with worms, slugs, salamanders, and whatever else they can find. And we all know that kids aren’t nearly as careful as adults, when it comes to keeping dirty hands off of food or away from mouths, noses, and eyes. Fortunately, there are some good products on the market that can help families keep little hands and faces clean.

Hand wipes work great for cleaning the entire body

Hand wipes work great for cleaning the entire body

Hand Wipes

If your kids are older than two, be careful not to refer to these as baby wipes, lest you garner their instant scorn, but that is what they really are. Hand wipes come in a lot of different packages, including these plastic dispensers that are very convenient for campsite use. These wipes are great for washing the whole body, not just hands, and they create less trash-volume than paper towels.

These plastic containers are small enough to carry on hikes

These plastic containers are small enough to carry on hikes

Waterless Hand Sanitizer

Waterless hand sanitizer is also great for camping, particularly in dispersed areas that don’t have potable water sources nearby. Waterless hand sanitizer evaporates dry as you rub your hands together, so it has the added benefit of not requiring towels. Unlike wipes, waterless hand sanitizer works best for the hands, only.

One thing that camping teaches us is to conserve our resources, since we have a finite amount of food and water that must last for the entire trip. Products like these help us to conserve our water, while still allowing us to practice a certain level of sanitation. With all of these types of products, be sure to look for an alcohol content between 60% and 90%, as lower percentages of alcohol have been shown to be inadequate for killing germs.

See also…

14 thoughts on “Keeping Clean on Family Camping Trips

  1. Purell is a perfect product to take camping: if you need a propellant to start a camp fire. Otherwise, anyone that thinks alcohol-based hand sanitizers are appropriate for camping are terribly misguided.. As pointed out by Walter, alcohol-based rubs have absolutely no effectiveness if hands are dirty/soiled.
    Exactly why many experts are recommending alcohol-free, rinse free hand sanitizers that use benzalkonium chloride as the active..Its antispetic and hypoallergenic. Popular brands include “Soapopular” (available at 3000 retail locations, including WalMart SuperCenters, and online at….excellent blog on the topic is

  2. I was working from a page about hygiene after a hurricane or other disaster. That page is for the average citizen, not health or emergency personnel.

    Three highlights listed at the top of that CDC page:

    It is best to wash your hands with soap and warm water for 20 seconds.

    When water is not available, use alcohol-based hand products (sanitizers).

    Wash hands before preparing or eating food and after going to the bathroom.

    Growing up, I lived in Baton Rouge when Hurricane Betsy came through, and it was a lot like camping for about a week afterwards. Same thing after the Loma Prieta earthquake. These recommendations seem directly applicable to outdoors living, whether voluntary or not.

    Walter Underwood’s last blog post..Query Box as Confessional Box

  3. That’s a good point about the flammability, Walter. I believe you are taking the CDC guidelines out of context, however. Those guidelines are for healthcare workers (see Under the same guidelines, the CDC specifically prohibits the use of standard soap and water. They have a much easier to read FAQ on the subject here:

    VE – is that where you got the name “The Cellophane Kid”? lol

    Adam – used properly (e.g. packed-out) wipes are a better LNT solution than even biodegradable soaps, since you are not adding your dirty water to the ecosystem. Yep, 9 months here, too (first Gulf War) – got to love it!

  4. Aaah yes, the Baby Wipe Bath. While in Bosnia for 9 months, living in our hummers, not 1 shower. Believe me, you learn how to stretch the lifespan of a baby wipe.

    The thing to remember about any type of wipe though, is to L.N.T. (Leave No Trace for those who are not familiar with the term)

    There are also a few good biodegradable soaps on the market, and one is called “camp suds”, but like your article mentioned, these require water.

    Great article, thanks


    Adam Shake’s last blog post..Good News Monday – Good Green News for Dec. 1st, 2008

  5. I wrap their whole bodies in several layers of cellophane, one for each day camping. At the end of the day they can take off the outer dirty layer…works good except for that breathing need…

    VE’s last blog post..VE goes GEOcaching

  6. Hand sanitizer does not replace washing hands. The CDC says it is only effective if there is no visible dirt. It strips oils from skin, so it can cause cracks and chapping. Plus, it is a flammable liquid, so don’t use it around the stove or campfire.

    Non-alcohol sanitizers use benzalkonium chloride, the sanitizing agent in Bactine.

    Walter Underwood’s last blog post..Query Box as Confessional Box