Though we haven’t lived in our camper van that long just yet, we do have to say that doing the dishes is certainly not the most fun part. After cleaning our dirty plates and cutlery, we were actually left with a question.

We were always used to doing the dishes with hot water. Growing up, everybody around us always did their dishes in warm water and we naturally assumed that that was how its supposed to be done. Living in a camper van now, this leaves us with a problem. We no longer have running hot water available to do so. Now we can boil water each time we do our dishes, but that certainly is not practical and costs quite some gas.

So we started to ask ourselves, is warm water really necessary to do the dishes? We probably aren’t the only vanlifers that have asked themselves this question. Well, we’ve researched it for you!

The first thing we immediately noticed, is that it is quite a controversial topic. Not everyone seems to be on the same line on this topic, but we will try our best to come to a verdict.

So let’s dig into it.

sink in a selfbuilt campervan


Four factors

One of the first things we read was a short text on an English website called Which. It was mentioned that there are four factors that influence cleaning. These are, not ordered by importance:

  1. Water temperature
  2. Chemistry of the washing-up liquid
  3. Your scrubbing action
  4. Time spent washing each dish

Afterwards, they mention that when either of them changes, another has to change with it. If you hence were to use colder water, you would have to spend more time scrubbing.

Most people can probably attest to that. The classic example that most of you can relate to is that of a dirty baking tray. The hotter the water, the easier it is to get all the dirt off of that nasty thing. But an easier cleaning process of course doesn’t mean that the dish actually ends up cleaner than if it were to be washed with cold water.

After reading on, we noticed that most arguments go back to the four factors that we mentioned previously. It also became clear that the use of warm water certainly does come with its advantages.

doing dishes in the sink in our campervan


Heat kills bacteria and pathogens

Many note that heat kills bacteria. One can boil water to disinfect it and use it as drinking water. Heat certainly kills bacteria, there is no doubt about that.

Our hands can however only tolerate heat until a certain extent. For most bacteria and pathogens to die, you’ll need a water temperature that is intolerable for your skin. Even with washing gloves on, at the least you would end up scalding your hands.


Advantages of warm water

After spending quite some time reading, we did notice some recurring advantages of the use of warm over cold water, that most people seem to agree upon. These are:

  • Warm water will cause your clean dishes to dry quicker
  • Fats dissolve better in warm water
  • Tolerable warm water can cause for some bacteria to die

What all of these have in common though is that warm water makes cleaning the dishes easier, which we certainly do believe to be true. It does not make them cleaner in the end though. Linking back to the four factors: If we decrease temperature, more work has to be done to get your dishes clean.

saucepan with tomatosauce in our campervan


The main purpose of doing dishes

Many people seem to refer to the fact that hot water can kill bacteria and et cetera. But what is actually the purpose of doing your dishes?

As others have mentioned: The main purpose of cleaning your dishes is not to kill all bacteria and pathogens, but to remove most of them from your dishes. This seems quite plausible to us. Most of your dishes are only dirty due to the food we’ve eaten from them. If we can eat this food, why would we think that the microorganisms in it would be harmful?

Sure, leave them there long enough and the bacteria can build up and become harmful. But that’s why we clean our dishes and not leave these bacteria on them to multiply.

We’ve often read that the most infectious parts of our kitchens are not our (cleaned) dishes, but the old rag you have left hanging, or the sponge you’ve been using for weeks. That is where bacteria get the chance to build up.

One last subject we’d like to touch upon is that of the dishwasher. We’ve seen many people refer to dishwashers as a reason to why we should use hot water. Dishwashers generally use hot water to clean the dishes. But if we look back at the four factors we started with, a dishwasher can not scrub. To compensate for this, it has to increase the temperature to reach the same result.

doing the dishes in our sink in our campervan


Our verdict

After reading several articles, we conclude that using cold water to do your dishes is fine. It will cost a bit more effort, which we have certainly experienced already, but it does get the job done in the end. It is more important to use a clean cloth to dry your dishes, and not to leave it hanging in a corner for too long.

What do you think? What are your cleaning habits? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Hi, little trick for this, wipe your plates , cutlery and pots clean asap after use with some toiletpaper or something similar, this will save you a lot of time! Ok you have some extra trash but well choices… For coffeecups or teacups use a bit of your boiling water which you have anyway, trow it in 1 cup, splash it around and after that use that water for your other cup, this wil remove the layer in your cups. If you have an oven use bakingpaper, cold water is more then enough to clean the rest then. Have fun!

    1. Hi Jolanda!
      Thanks for the additional tips. It is indeed clever to wipe/rinse your dirty dishes asap, to ease the cleaning process!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Close Menu
Close Panel