Doing laundry while traveling is one of the fabulous parts of traveling but it is part of everyday life on the road.
It does not matter if you’re staying at a five-star resort on a two-week vacation or a budget option accommodation during a long-term trip, dealing with laundry while traveling is something you will have to address.
Living out of a bag while traveling is hard. In my backpack, I travel with 2 pairs of pants, 2 pairs of shorts, 1 pair of swimming trunks, 2 t-shirts, 3 collared shirts, 1 sweater, 4 pairs of underwear and 3 pairs of socks.
Anyone who knows me knows that I have to be clean and this goes for my clothing while traveling. I’m not that stinky backpacker and I refuse to be.
While it took Lina and I a while to get into a groove and figure out what kind of laundry options would work best for us, we’ve certainly tried everything and can speak from experience.
Doing laundry while traveling has now come second nature to us and is not something we worry about anymore.
How To Wash Laundry While Traveling
Below are different ways to wash your laundry while traveling. We have used all the listed methods while living full time on the road and living out of backpacks.
Heck, we even implement some of these methods on shorter trips so we don’t have to carry as much clothing with us.
Each method has it advantages and disadvantages, which I will highlight below. It’s actually surprisingly easy to keep your clothing nice and clean while you are traveling.
There’s no need to be a stinky traveler or that person on the bus no one wants to sit next to.
Sink Wash: Washing Your Clothes in a Sink
The sink wash method has worked for years and is one of our top picks. Plug the drain of the sink, add soap, fill up with hot water and hand wash your clothing.
Let everything soak for a while before using your hands to massage and work the material.
When you’re done washing, rinse your clothing with clean water. This is the most popular way to clean clothing for travelers. I will admit, it can take forever if you have put off your laundry and have a lot to do, but it still works great.
Wash Time: 10-20 minutes including the soak
Soak Bag: Washing Your Clothes in a Bag
This method uses a plastic, waterproof bag to act as your own personal washing machine.
There are official products available, such as the Scrubba Bag, that have been designed specifically for washing your clothes while traveling.
However, we have also found that any decent waterproof bag will work just as good. You can purchase a variety of bag sizes and I would recommend something that can fit at least half of the clothing you plan to carry with you when traveling.
Throw your clothing into the bag, add a pinch of laundry detergent, fill with hot water and seal the bag.
Shake or mix everything up for a few minutes and then let soak. Once cleaned dump the clothing into the sink and rinse in the bag or in the sink.
Wash Time: up to 30 minutes with a soak.
Shower Wash: Washing Your Clothes in the Shower
This method is your practice for when you’re going to be crushing grapes in France. Plug your shower drain, run hot water, strip off your clothing or place your clothing into the shower.
Then move your feet over the clothing like your crushing grapes and rinse each garment under the showerhead until the water runs clear. This works well if you do it daily or even if you have a large amount of clothing to wash. I use this method all the time.
Wash Time: Takes a few minutes
Things you need to Shower Wash while traveling: universal drain stopper
Wash Bin: Washing Your Clothes in a Bucket
For this method, you will need one or two wash bins or even trash cans will work, anything that will hold water. Fill up the bin with soap and hot water, use your hands to wash the clothing by squeezing and ringing them like a washing machine.
If you have two bins fill the other bin up as your rinse bin and rinse your clothing until the water runs clear.
This method is very similar to the sink method except it allows you to choose a bigger bin for washing. We used this method weekly while traveling through Africa.
Wash Time: 10-15 minutes
Visit a Local Laundromat
Coin-operated laundromats can be found all around the world, even in the smallest of towns. Many hostels and hotels will also have coin-operated machines to use.
This is a great option if you have something nasty that needs a good deep clean or you just don’t feel up to washing them yourself.
Many are safe to use and to leave your clothing until they are done without fear of your items being stolen. If you’re lucky, some even offer WiFi.
Wash Time: Takes about half a day. Good for a rainy day.
Send It Out: When You Have Money to Spare
Have a pile of laundry to deal with but having a bad day? No worries, send it out and stop worrying about it. Regardless of the accommodation class you choose, there is always an option to send your laundry out.
In some countries, this can be an affordable option but no matter where you are, this is the most expensive way of dealing with your laundry while traveling.
It always takes 24 hours and most places will charge you per item or based on your weight of clothing. It is important to clarify how they will be washing your clothes for you.
While many times you will have a standard option of machine washing and drying, don’t assume this.
In many parts of the world, sending out the laundry will still result in hand washing and line drying. Just something to keep in mind.
Wash Time: 24 Hours but is quick and easy for you to deal with.
Cost: $4-$20, varies on items and weight, also which country you are in
Wear Them Till They Walk: If You Can Stand It!
Honestly, I’ve never met a traveler that doesn’t do this and we are certainly guilty of it as well. Wear your clothes multiple times until they become dirty or start to smell.
This method helps reduce the amount of laundry you will do while traveling and also save wear on your clothes. This might sound odd, but washing your clothes can be hard on the fabrics and it can be better to wash them less.
How does it work? Re-wear everything until they start to get a smell. It’s that easy. Some times you can make the same shirt last 2 to 3 years and sometimes you only can get 1 wear out of them before they need to be washed.
This depends on what you are doing and where you are in the world. Astronauts use this method while up in space as there’s no way to wash their clothing.
They wear there clothing until it falls apart. Just think of what that smells like. Puts the smelly backpacker to shame.
FAQ: Laundry While Traveling
Is Hot Water An Issue While Traveling?
It never fails that when it’s laundry day on the road, we do not have access to hot water.
There have been many times we’ve been stuck cold washing our clothes and while it is better than nothing, it is not ideal when you’re in hot climates and need to kill the bacteria on your clothing.
You will find at times you need to improvise and can use a kettle or pot of water on a stove or over a fire to get hot water.
The plugin water kettles also work well if you can’t get hot water from the tap. Something to note, if you are having trouble getting hot water to wash, sending it out won’t guarantee that you will get a hot wash.
So make sure you tell them you want hot water used.
How To Dry Your Clothes While Traveling?
Drying your clothes on the road can be tricky. There have been times I’ve had to pack up my freshly washed clothing after it’s been sitting out for days because we have to move and they are still not dry.
To be honest, it is very rare that you will come across dryer machines while traveling and will find yourself in a line dry situation.
There are a couple of things to take into consideration on laundry day before you commit to washing all your available clothing.
- Weather: What is the weather doing? Is the day humid, overcast, sunny or dry? Do you have only a fan in your room or an A/C unit? All of this plays a factor in the success of laundry day. You don’t need to be a meteorologist, but you do need to pay attention. If the day is humid and you don’t have an A/C unit, your clothes are going to take days to dry, this is not ideal. Even a fan on a humid day does not dry items quickly.
- Indoor Drying: Sometimes drying clothes indoors works faster than outside. If you have an A/C unit or fan that will also help the process of drying clothes indoors. We have hung up many clothing lines indoor before and it’s method always works for us. No matter what the weather is doing outside, an A/C unit will always get the job done. Fans, on the other hand, pay attention to the humidity outside.
- Outdoor Drying: Drying your clothes outside while traveling can be hard, you need a nice sunny day and a great place to hang your clothes outside. At most guesthouses or hostels the best spot can be found on the roof. While traveling in Africa the best spot for us was from the tent to the tree. You just have to make sure you hang them up in a sunny spot without shade. Keep in mind too that you shouldn’t leave clothes out drying if you are not around. Clothesline theft happens and you’d hate to lose your favorite shirt, especially if you’re only carrying one or two. Another consideration is animals, it is not unheard of for monkeys to steal clothing. Just saying.
- Pre-Dry with Towel: To speed up the drying process, use a dry towel, lay it out, place the clothing on the towel, and roll it up as tight as you can get it. The dry towel will pull much of the excess water from washing out of the clothing, allowing your clothes to dry faster for outside or inside drying.
What Laundry Soaps to Use While Traveling?
Make sure you buy laundry soap that does not require hot water. Hot water can be hard to get. You can buy laundry soap all around the world and it varies in price and quality.
This may sound strange, but we like to carry our own soap from the states when we travel. When we run out, we replace with whatever we can find locally, but we’ve found that having good laundry soap goes a long way towards clean clothing.
- Powder laundry soap: Carrying a bag of laundry powder has worked the best for us. Yes, it looks funny flying with a bag filled with white power but we’ve never had issues or even had it looked at. This does mean space and weight commitment, but for us, it is worth it.
- Laundry powder sheets: It is good and bad with laundry powder sheets. They are lightweight but you do not get as many washings out of them as you would with other forms of soap. This is a great option for shorter trips or if you are concerned about weight and space.
- Laundry pods: Laundry pods work well but they take up lots of room, for us we need the room for other gear but the pods can be a great option for shorter trips.
- Liquid laundry soap: Liquid laundry soap is the best for washing clothing, that’s why if you go to a store that’s all you will find. It’s not economic to travel with though. You can easily fill a small bottle with liquid laundry soap for those shorter trips but this is not a great option for long term travel.
Make sure while traveling with any type of soap that you keep it away from other items in your bags, such as food or plastics. Pack it as far away from other items as you can.
I ruined a new Camelbak hydration bag because I had it stored in the lip of my backpack with our laundry soap. The Camelbak now tastes like laundry soap and we can’t get the taste out.
We pack our laundry soap in a plastic Ziploc bag, then that bag goes into a drawstring laundry bag for extra protection.
This doesn’t stop the smells from coming out, but it does stop it from leaking on other things. We also carry a small plastic SOS pad to scrub hard to get out stains.
Keeping Clean Clothes Fresh While Traveling
All of our washed clothing goes back into our packing cubes. To keep our clothing fresh, we like to fill small plastic bags with potent smelling dryer sheets and then pack them between the clothing.
This helps absorb any smells off of clothes you are wearing more than once, keeps any strange smells you may encounter with your bags while traveling off and also keep you freshly laundered clothing fresh longer.
This is a great trick to keeping your clothes and bags smelling good and we recommend it for every traveler.
Every few weeks we open and remove the dryer sheets on the top and bottom to release the new scent and it works really well.
Items We Can’t Live Without for Doing Laundry While Traveling
Since we are professionals when it comes to on the road laundry, there are certain items we have learned we can’t live without.
They make laundry days easier and faster and every single one of these items is carried with us when we travel.
- Universal Drain Stopper – Makes it possible to plug a wide variety of drain sizes
- Travel Clothes Line – Packs away to almost nothing and makes it possible to hang clothes anywhere
- Fabric Bungy with Hooks – We’ve used these a lot to create fast clothes lines indoors and outdoors
- Quick Dry Towel – comes in handy for pre-drying on laundry day
- Waterproof Bag – To soak those really nasty clothes
- SOS No-Scratch Pads – For aggressive stains and for cleaning shoes
- Tide Stain Pen – We don’t use it often, but when we do, we need it.
So there you have it, all the wisdom we have from spending years on the road and dealing with laundry.
Hopefully, all of our tips, hints, and tricks will serve you well the next time you find yourself dealing with laundry on the road.
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