When spending time outdoors, there are many and various ways to soil your hands. Whether on a day trip to a state park or on an extended foray to the woods, you could find yourself in need of a cleaning which cannot be provided by a keychain hand sanitizer. Perhaps you have been handling some wood or digging around in the ground, even just making a delicious meal—you can get some actual dirt or grease or grime on you, not just a sneeze or cough.
At times like this it I like to wash with water and soap. However, when there is not a public restroom around, this is not such an easy task—unless you brought a hand washing station along with you! These are easy to make and cheap in materials, but add a whole lot to quality of life.
How to Build a Camping Handwashing Station
Step 1: The Container
For most outings and campouts, a smallish container is all you will need. I recommend a 3-liter juice container or a gallon milk jug. For just one or two people a half gallon milk jug would also work. The key is to have a handle incorporated, that makes everything easier. Slip a length of string through the handle and then tie it into a loop. A three foot section should be good. This will allow you to hang the handwashing station from a limb or a nail.
Step 2: The Soap Holder
The challenge for washing with bar soap in the woods or at a picnic site is to keep the soap at-hand but out of the dirt. The solution is to use an old onion bag. Usually they are red mesh and they have a bit of texture to them. This texture helps with the washing as well, serving as a sort of scrub loofah. Simply put whatever kind of bar soap you want into the bag. Then tie a small string around the bag (making sure the hole is up near where you tied, so the soap won’t fall out) and then tie it to the handle of your container as well.
Step 3: The Plug
So far, you may be asking, “How do I wash my hands with just a jug full of water hanging from a tree?” Or, “How can I open the lid and handle the jug with soap-slick hands?” Fear not, this step really nails the whole thing together. To make the plug, carve a point onto a smallish twig [a golf tee works great also] and then tie about a foot of string to the dull end. Tie this to the handle of your jug or to the rope holding your soap bag.
Now, CAREFULLY poke a hole in your jug. The hole can be poked with an awl, or a knife, or the plug itself if it is sturdy and sharp enough. Just make sure the hole is not bigger than the plug. The plug can stretch the hole a little, but poke a too-big hole and you will end up with a leaky washer. Position the hole on the opposite side from the handle, near to the bottom. This way it is pointing down while your jug is hanging, and you get maximum usage between fill-ups.
Step 4: Wash, Rinse, Repeat
Now you just fill the jug up with water, find a convenient spot for it, and you are good to go. Pull the plug out to get your hands and the soap wet, then put it back while you lather. Pull it out to rinse and put it back when you are done. With this method, a gallon of water will last a long time, even with young kids involved.
This basic camping handwashing station is easy to make and works great when in a pinch or if you need something portable. However, it is a short term solution and won’t last long. For a more permanent solution read on in our advanced class.
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