I have been trying to get my weight down on longer backpacking trips. I have already taken to buying very strong soap and using very little, but I was wondering is there something I can replace the dish soap with that will still clean whatever I cooked in that can be made/scavenged in the wilderness?
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What I do is carry a small microfiber cloth. First I rinse my dishes, then I swish with a small amount of boiling water (usually left from our post dinner coffee), and wipe with the cloth. Voila, clean dishes.
Sorry I missed the part about "found in the wilderness". Given that just skip the cloth and use the water ;)
Another note. If the above method will not clean your dishes, then you should first look to changing other things in your efforts to hike light. Cooking when backpacking light should not involve any methods which require significant "elbow" grease when cleaning up. The same goes for dishes. We carry super light silicone bowls because they are the easiest for us to clean.
Yes you can. And more to the point, you should (save weight, and leave no trace).
I have not found a backpacking cooking mess that could not be cleaned with a combination of (in this order):
Granted, the last 3 might not be the best idea on your fancy teflon-coated pots (but why are you using those anyway? Meet my old friend stainless steel)
Note: the omission of 'soap' is not accidental.
Bonus tip: Coffee grounds do a mean number on bacon grease.
An addendum regarding soap: NEVER use directly in a body of water / creek. Even "biodegradable" soap needs the enzymes found in soil to break down. Wash dishes (and you) well away from any water source. (Unless on a major river where 'dilution is the solution to pollution')
I use "Wet Ones" instead of soap (if there's no convenient place to bathe). There's not a lot of weight advantage, but they're good for washing yourself in the tent. Since they are antibiotic, they're also handy to clean cuts, scrapes, and spoons.
A long time ago, before people had consistent access to Lye or any of the oils we use in soap now, they made it out of what they had on hand. A common one would be wood ash and rendered animal fat ( tallow ).
There's guide on eHow on making said soap, but it appears to not only be time intensive ( rest time of over two months total ), but also involves hauling around a quart of tallow and your simple lye that the process generates.
There are likely simpler ways to do this that wouldn't take as long given the majority of the process is about waiting for the soap to cure in the mold into your desired shape. The recipe could also likely be greatly scaled down to reduce the needed materials to enough for your trip instead of a quantity of soap bars for home use.
The main problem I see here is that you would still need to bring your lye mixture with you even if you made use of camp fire ashes to bind it together, plus any environmental side effects of this soap.
You alternate to this is likely going to be elbow grease and steel wool.
Use Campsuds or something similar, don't bring household soap into the wilderness. The surfactants and phosphates in household soaps will cause more damage to the water supply than the biodegradable soaps like Campsuds.