Whether last night’s delicious market meal ended up on your t-shirt instead of in your mouth…
or that hike left you a lot more sweaty and dusty than you expected…
or you just lost track of how many pairs of clean underwear you had left…
there will undoubtedly be times during long stretches of travel where you just really need to wash some of your clothes…like right now. After several long trips, I’ve developed a foolproof guide to follow so you’ll be prepared to quickly and efficiently do laundry while traveling.
While most countries do have very affordable laundry services that charge by weight, and you can always drop off your clothes there, I don’t really think it’s necessary unless everything you have is dirty all at once. Also, be aware that if they use industrial dryers, it can damage or drastically shrink some materials (looking at you merino wool).
Since our travel wardrobe is composed primarily of the aforementioned trouble child, along with linen and polyester, this option just won’t work for us. To limit our clothing waste, and our long-term spending, we make an effort to purchase high quality clothes with longevity.
So, if you’re as “high maintenance” as we are, read on for laundry tips that make it easier to pack lighter and smarter, and so you’ll never have to worry about running out of clean clothes again.
The Only Materials You Need
- Travel towel
- Universal sink stopper
- Dry detergent
- Travel clothesline
- …well and obviously a sink, or bathtub, or bucket…
Click here for tried and true product recommendations that make doing laundry while backpacking a piece of cake.
I recommend dry detergent strips or pods over liquid because they are concentrated, very lightweight, and easier to rinse out of the clothing. They’ll last much longer than a 3.4 oz bottle of liquid detergent, and you won’t be losing valuable toiletry bag real estate.
The sink stopper doesn’t need to be fancy. A flat silicone stopper is very inexpensive and will work in the majority of situations.
If you can’t find a sink, tub, bucket, wastebasket, etc., a large Ziploc bag or a dry bag can also work.
Doing Laundry While Traveling: Step-by-Step Instructions
- Find your sink, place the stopper, and fill with water. While the water is running, add a detergent strip and watch it rapidly dissolve. Don’t expect lots of bubbles, that’s a good thing. You don’t want to be rinsing and repeating for the whole night.
- Add your clothes. Don’t be too ambitious with the amount of clothing you wash at once. Washing only a few items at a time will ensure they truly get clean.
- Swish the clothing around with your hands for a few minutes and gently rub the areas that need cleaned the most (i.e. armpits of shirts). Then, let it all soak for 15-30 min.
- Drain the dirty water out and refill with clean water. Swish the clothes around a bit more, and then drain again.
- Now comes the slightly annoying part. You’ll want to wring out each article of clothing as much as you can. Your hands and wrists will get a workout, but the more water you get out now, the faster the drying process will be.
- Lay the clothing flat on your travel towel and roll the towel while squeezing out any excess moisture as you go.
- Finally, rig up that travel clothesline. If you have access to an outdoor area, definitely hang everything outside because it will dry so much faster.
Make sure you allow plenty of drying time before you head off to your next location, especially in humid or cold locations where things take a long time to dry.
- Stop and fill sink.
- Dissolve detergent.
- Add clothes and agitate.
- Soak for 15-30 minutes.
- Drain water and then refill to rinse.
- Wring out each item.
- Lay flat on towel and then roll.
- Hang to dry.
Living on the road, and especially out of a backpack, can be tiring and uncomfortable. In my experience, keeping up with your laundry is a simple way to look, feel, and let’s be honest, smell better. With a combination of packing the right types of clothing, and bringing just a few extra lightweight items, you’ll be prepared to do the occasional load of laundry from just about anywhere!
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