It is important to carry a small dry bag for dirty clothes. Sweaty, smelly underwear in particular will contaminate your clean clothes if stored in the same bag. Think of your used underwear as a contamination source and sanitation issue.
When you do laundry during the desert section (first 700 miles) it's best to run your clothes through two complete wash cycles. The incredibly fine desert dust gets deep into clothes and one wash cycle does not remove all of it. And we found many of the aging commercial washers at motels and campgrounds had mud at the bottom of the drum after only one cycle. A second cycle was needed to remove all the dirt from the machine.
There are a half-dozen different brands that sell the same concentrated "biodegradable" green soap in the exact same bottle — Coghlan's, Sea to Summit, Campsuds, Outdoorx, et cetera. The bottles are everywhere and are so common we don't second guess them. When people think of "camp soap" they think of a little green bottle. Well, we'd like to change opinions about that. There are serious problems with the little green bottles.
1. They are incredibly expensive. A three to four ounce bottle costs between three and five dollars. That's a dollar an ounce — yikes!
2. We don't know what's in them. Invariably, the containers say the soap is biodegradable, but they do not list the ingredients. Just because something can be broken down by microorganisms doesn't mean it should be released into the environment. Soap is a pollutant — it does not exist in nature. And so we have to think about our use of soap in the backcountry as a form of pollution and take steps to minimize the consequences of that pollution.
Common household soaps are out of the question for backcountry use. Dishsoaps (like Dawn) and detergents are petroleum-based and contain phosphorus, which fuels algae blooms in our waterways and kills plants and animals. We would like to know whether the generic green campsoap is petroleum-derived or contains phosphorus, but the packaging keeps consumers in the dark.
3. They're certainly not organic. Whatever they are, these soaps are not all-natural plant derivatives. They have the look and feel of industrially produced soaps.
4. They Require Rinsing. Which creates greywater waste that must be poured out into the environment. Putting soap of any kind in a waterway is not only unethical but illegal in many places.
There is an expensive no-rinse soap on the market that boaters and campers call "astronaut soap" because the bottle claims astronauts use it to bathe in space.
However, Dr. Bronner's famous castille soap can also be used as a no-rinse soap and it's a lot cheaper. Dilute a small amount in water, spread that water on your body, and then wipe it away — no need to rinse.
Dr. Bronners makes an unscented version of its Castille soap, which we think is best for use in the backcountry since it attracts fewer critters during the night.
Never wash dishes in streams or ponds. Not only does it pollute them, but no matter how clean and clear the water appears, you don’t know if fecal coliform bacteria, giardia, et cetera is floating around in it. You are potentially contaminating your dishes and making them less clean.
We also do not recommend washing pots and utensils with soap while in the backcountry. Doing so creates greywater waste that must be poured out onto the ground and left in the environment. Even biodegradable soaps are still pollutants. Leaving them in the ground or in waterways is bad trail karma.
The best way to wash your cook pot is to pour drinking water into it, swirl it around, maybe use your finger to rub anything sticking to the sides, and then drink the water! There's no wasted drinking water and food particles don't go into the environment. For some people there is an ick factor to this, but that "dirty" water is what you were eating before, but watered down. Try it and you'll get used to it.