Keeping up your personal hygiene is a must while camping, but simple tasks like brushing your teeth are a lot harder when you don’t have access to running water.
You might find yourself asking:
- What water do I use to wet my toothbrush?
- Should I use special toothpaste?
- Where do I spit the toothpaste when I’m done brushing?
- How do I rinse my toothbrush after using it?
Who would’ve thought brushing your teeth could get so complicated?
Don’t worry—we’ve got you covered.
Here’s everything you need to know about how to brush your teeth while camping.
Gather your teeth brushing supplies
Your teeth brushing supplies for camping might look a little different than they do at home.
A small, travel-sized toothbrush. I like these ones because they come with a toothbrush cover that also serves as a long handle for brushing.
A travel-sized tube of toothpaste. I recommend getting one made with eco-friendly/natural ingredients like Tom’s of Maine toothpaste so that it’s less harsh on the environment.
A small cup or container to hold water. This could be something as simple as the top part of a thermos. I also bring a small bottle of water to use for rinsing my mouth and toothbrush.
Filtered or boiled water from wherever you choose to get it—whether that’s a gravity filter, a Katadyn BeFree water bottle, or a pot of boiled water.
A headlamp. Chances are it will be dark if you’re brushing your teeth at night or very early in the morning, and you’ll need to see what you’re doing.
Additional items you can bring that are optional include:
- Dental floss
- A compact mirror with ring light (I have this one)
- A facecloth for wiping your mouth and toothbrush after use
Find a spot to brush your teeth
When camping, finding the right spot to brush your teeth is important to avoid contaminating nearby water sources and avoid attracting animals.
You should brush your teeth at least 200 feet or about 70 steps away from your campsite and any water source (such as a lake, river, or stream).
Here’s the technique I use for brushing my teeth while camping.
Step 1: Pour filtered/boiled water in the cup or container
This is what you’ll use to wet your toothbrush, rinse your mouth if necessary, and rinse your toothbrush.
Depending on where you get your filtered or boiled water from, you may need to fill your cup or container up at your campsite and carefully make your way over to the spot where you plan on brushing your teeth.
Step 2: Wet your toothbrush
Dunk your toothbrush in the water a couple of times, or alternatively, pour a little bit of water onto the bristles and then shake off the excess water.
Place the cup or container down somewhere you can see, but don’t knock it over.
Step 3: Apply toothpaste
Try to use a small amount of toothpaste rather than a big glob.
You don’t need much anyway, and using a small amount will help minimize its impact on the environment when you go to spit it out.
Step 4: Brush for 2 minutes
If you’re used to using an electronic toothbrush at home that does all the work for you and has a built-in timer, you might have trouble getting in all the nooks and crannies—and brushing for long enough.
First, make sure not to brush too hard, which can wear down your tooth enamel and cause gum sensitivity.
Start by brushing the outer surfaces of your teeth, using circular motions.
Then, move on to the inner surfaces of my teeth, making sure to brush your tongue as well.
To ensure you’re brushing for two minutes, count slowly to 120 while brushing or use your watch or smartphone to set a timer.
Step 5: Spit and rinse
Here’s the fun part.
Instead of spitting out your toothpaste and saliva in one spot, it’s important to “spray-spit” so that it’s spread out as much as possible.
You can spray-spit by keeping your lips slightly closed while spitting and moving your head from one side to the the other.
Spreading it out like this will help to minimize the environmental impacts and is less likely to attract wildlife.
Take a drink of water, rinse, and spray-spit again.
If you’re not going to drink the water again, you can dunk your brush right in it to rinse it, or alternatively pour a small amount over it.
At this point, as long as my hands are clean, I like to gently run my fingers over the bristles to remove excess toothpaste and water.
Lastly, you can use a facecloth to wipe your mouth your brush before packing it away.
Note: If you like to use mouthwash after brushing, be sure to choose a natural one and use the spit-spray technique when it’s time to rinse.
Again, Tom’s of Maine makes a good one.
Store your teeth brushing supplies properly
Never bring your toothbrush, toothpaste, mouthwash, or any other teeth brushing supplies into your tent with you.
There’s always a possibility that bears or other animals could smell them and try to make their way into your tent.
Instead, store them the same way you store your food—in a bear locker, hung up in a tree, or inside your locked vehicle.
Brush your teeth with the “leave no trace” rule in mind
The “leave no trace” principles are guidelines for minimizing your impact on the environment while camping.
These principles include things like packing out all trash, minimizing campfire impact, and respecting wildlife.
It also includes proper disposal of grey water, which is the water you used for cooking, cleaning, and washing.
As a reminder, you need to spray or scatter all grey water at least 200 feet away from any water source, trail, or campsite.
Remember, proper waste disposal is essential for maintaining the beauty and health of our natural environment.
By following these tips, you can help ensure that you leave the environment as you found it and help protect it for future generations.
Brushing your teeth while camping FAQ
Do you brush your teeth when camping?
Just because you’re roughing it outdoors doesn’t mean you can get away without brushing your teeth.
You should brush your teeth twice a day (morning and night) while camping to keep up your oral hygiene.
This may be especially important while camping if you’re treating yourself to sugary snacks or drinks as part of your vacation.
What kind of toothpaste do you use when camping?
The toothpaste to use camping is one that doesn’t contain any harsh chemicals or artificial fragrances.
Look for a natural toothpaste with ingredients like baking soda, tea tree oil, and coconut oil.
Again, I can’t recommend Tom’s of Maine toothpaste enough.
Is it okay to spit toothpaste outside?
Yes, but you need to spit it 200 feet (70 steps) away from any campsite or water source, and there’s a technique to it.
The “spit-spray” technique involves spraying the contents of your mouth over as large of a surface area as possible.
This will help to minimize the environmental impacts of your spit and is less likely to attract wildlife.
Can animals smell toothpaste?
Yes, animals can smell toothpaste—even a small amount from several miles away.
Because the smell is unnatural, it can attract animals who may be curious and hungry.
That’s why it’s important to store your toothbrush and other teeth brushing supplies the same way you store your food—outside your tent and out of reach.
Keeping these items away from wildlife will help protect you (and them) from harm.
Elise is an experienced backcountry canoe tripper and winter camper from Ontario, Canada. She loves cooking up a storm over the campfire, taking in all the backcountry views, and enjoying a piña colada or two while relaxing at camp. She’s also certified in Whitewater Rescue (WWR) I & II and Wilderness First Aid (WFA).