The American Cleaning Institute (ACI)

The Great Outdoors: Cleaning for Picnics and Camping

With a little preparation, you can be ready to enjoy a stress-free picnic.
picnic basket

When preparing or serving food in the great outdoors, there are a few extra steps and considerations that you may not have at home or even in your backyard. Food needs to be stored properly to be safely consumed during your al fresco meal. Spills and stains have more time to set before they can get to the laundry. And you need to be prepared to clean up thoroughly to leave things better than you found them.

Storing Picnic and Camping Food

The same food storage and preparation safety rules that apply at home apply when eating outside, but it can be harder to adhere to them. Plan meals carefully to make this easier, whether that means bringing along a cooler or packing things that do not require refrigeration. If you’re not sure what to pack and how, the CDC has some picnic food safety reminders that can help.

Easy Ways to Treat Common Picnic Stains

Whether it’s because we’re simply more relaxed outdoors or because the summer menu fosters more hands-on eating, food stains proliferate.

To minimize the damage, keep hand wipes close by even when dining al fresco at home. For away-from-home picnics, pack stain-removal wipes or a stain-removal pen. Come laundry time, here’s how to treat some of the most common stains.

Baked beans: Working from the back of the stain, flush it with cold water. Next, pretreat it with a liquid laundry detergent, using an up-and-down motion with a soft brush to break up the stain. Rinse well. Then sponge with white vinegar and rinse again. Repeat, treating the stain with liquid detergent, then with white vinegar until you’ve removed as much stain as possible. Pretreat with a prewash stain remover and launder with bleach that’s safe for the fabric.

Barbeque sauce: Treat the same as for baked beans. If the stain remains after laundering with bleach, rub in liquid laundry detergent and soak in warm water for up to 30 minutes. Launder again.

Butter: What good is corn-on-the-cob unless it’s slathered with butter? For stains that make their way off your fingers and onto your clothes, pretreat with a prewash stain remover and launder, using the hottest water that’s safe for the fabric.

Chocolate: Deliciously gooey s’mores are a favorite campfire treat, as well as a prime source of chocolate stains. When the stain strikes, gently scrape off any excess chocolate. Once you get the item home, soak it in cool water. Then pretreat with a prewash stain remover and launder in the hottest water that’s safe for the fabric. If the stain remains, launder again, using the type of bleach that’s safe for the fabric.

Ice cream: Pretreat or soak stains using a product containing enzymes. Soak for at least 30 minutes – longer if the stains are old. Launder, using the warmest water that’s safe for the fabric.

Mayonnaise: Pretreat with a prewash stain remover and then launder, using the hottest water that’s safe for the fabric.

Mustard: Flush under cold water to loosen the stain, and then pretreat with a prewash stain remover. Launder, using the hottest water that’s safe for the fabric. Add bleach to the wash also – preferably chlorine bleach. (Check the care label to see if it is safe for the fabric.)

Soft drinks: Sponge the stain with cool water or soak it in cool water for about 30 minutes. Pretreat with a prewash stain remover. Launder; if safe for the fabric, add chlorine bleach to the wash.

Watermelon: These stains fall into that mysterious category of "invisible stains." The drips dry up and the stain seems to disappear. But if left over time, the stains will oxidize into pale yellow or brown stains. To keep this from happening, launder the item in the hottest water that’s safe for the fabric.

Wine: Sponge the stain with cool water or soak it in cool water for about 30 minutes. Pretreat with a prewash stain remover. Launder; if safe for the fabric, add chlorine bleach to the wash.

Picnic Site Stewardship

A picnic in the park is a true summer pleasure...provided you're not trying to locate a site that's free of someone else's trash. Good stewardship of our parks is everyone's responsibility.

Good picnic protocol means leaving the site in pristine condition. All that's required is a little preplanning. And the supplies you bring for post-picnic cleanup will help insure that you have a clean pre-picnic site, even if those who used it before didn't leave it in good condition. Here are some suggestions:
Disinfectant cleaning wipes or a spray cleaner and paper towels. Even if the previous picnickers cleaned the benches and tables, nature adds her own debris. Spend a few minutes cleaning the area before you unpack your picnic fixings. Then, when you pack up to go home, repeat the process to clean up food spills. Otherwise, sticky food residue will attract insects.
A small wire brush. If the grate looks less than appetizing, use the wire brush to remove as much of the grilling debris as possible. Then fire up the grill and let the remaining residue burn off before cooking your food.
Disposable latex or vinyl gloves. Although they're generally sold in home improvement centers to protect hands and minimize cleanup during household projects, a few pairs in your picnic basket will be welcomed if you encounter a particularly yucky picnic table or grubby grill.
Hand wipes or hand sanitizer. Whether you're cooking, handling, preparing or eating food, clean hands are essential to avoid the spread of germs and bacteria. 
Food containers with lids. These are generally preferable to open containers covered with foil or plastic wrap. Either of these covers can easily blow away, adding trash to the environment. In addition, with lids, the danger of spilling is minimized, both during transport and at the table, plus the lids discourage ants, flies, bees and similar unwelcome guests.
Trash bags. If the on-site trash cans are full, don't add to the overflow. After you're gone, curious animals or a sudden storm can disperse it all over the picnic grounds. Bag up your trash and take it home for proper disposal. As you bag it up, be sure to separate the recyclables from the general trash. Use heavy-duty trash bags so there's no danger of them ripping open during the trip home.
Be wary about taking home leftover food unless you've been very careful not to let it sit out in warm temperatures for very long. The safest system is to serve the food and then promptly return it to an insulated cooler that's kept in the shade. Be sure there is sufficient ice or ice packs in the cooler to keep the food at 40º F during the picnic and on the journey home. If there's any doubt, throw it out!

Camping Preparation

Camping often brings more time to spend in nature than a picnic, but also more challenges. Food may need to be stored longer before consuming and cleaning facilities may be even more basic if they’re available. Laundry will sit for longer and may smell smoky. But you’ve got this! Enjoy camping, just don’t forget to bring these important things to keep things clean:

  • Bar or liquid hand soap because it may be in short supply in the woods.
  • Dishwashing wipes to easily clean utensils, dishes and pots.
  • Fabric softener sheets to keep with laundry to make it smell better until you get home!