Laundry is a tiresome chore no matter where you do it, but especially on the road. Travel for more than a week or so and you’ll likely start running out of clean clothes… and that’s where the problems start.
Should you pay a small fortune for hotel laundry service? Hunt down a laundromat? Only stay in vacation rentals with a washing machine? On a long trip, you just can’t rely on these options being available (or affordable) every time you need them.
Trust me, there’ll still be times when you’re out of clean underwear or have a bunch of wet, smelly beach clothes in your bag on a travel day, and need to sort things out yourself.
After years on the road, we’ve come up with a bunch of helpful tips for doing laundry on the go, along with some useful gear that will get you looking forward to laundry day. Okay, that’s going a bit too far, but they’ll at least make cleaning your clothes a whole lot easier!
Be Careful What You Pack
Before you even start packing for your trip, think carefully about what you plan to take and how easy it will be to wash. Anything that needs to be washed on a delicate cycle or has a long list of care instructions probably isn’t a great option.
Hand-washing can be very hard on your clothes, and it’s not unusual to find your favorite t-shirt stretched beyond recognition after a few washes. Laundromats and other commercial washing machines also tend to beat your clothes up, and the dryers even more so.
Synthetic (or a blend of natural and synthetic) fabrics tend to withstand rough treatment a little better, and also dry more quickly. A few minutes reading labels at home makes a big difference at laundry time!
Check for Color Bleeding
While you’re packing, also ensure none of the clothes you choose will bleed color when they get wet. This is especially important if you’re taking clothes you’ve just purchased.
One pesky red shirt could turn everything else in your luggage pink. Rinse new clothes separately beforehand to ensure they don’t bleed, and if they do, choose a different garment.
If you buy new clothing as you travel, do the same. Bright fabrics have a tendency to spread their vibrant colors around, especially if they’re handmade. They’ll end up sharing their color with the rest of your clothes the minute they get wet.
Separate Wet, Dirty, and Clean Clothes
Clean clothes packed in the same bag as dirty clothes are all dirty clothes. As you accumulate dirty items, it’s important to keep them separated from whatever you haven’t managed to soil yet.
The same thing goes for clothes that have got wet in the rain or at the beach, or haven’t fully dried in time for a travel day. If you don’t want everything else in your luggage to end up damp and smelly, a sealable waterproof bag is a must.
Compact Travel Laundry Bag
Look for a bag that’s large enough to hold most of your clothes, but doesn’t weigh a lot and won’t take up much room in your backpack or suitcase.
One like this Miamica bag that zips up into a small package, then folds out into a much larger size, is ideal. The microfiber material helps keep smells and dirt away from the rest of your clothes.
Having plenty of space lets you lay the bag flat over top of everything else in your suitcase, making it easier to pack. A bag that fits all of your dirty clothes also comes in handy if you do decide to head to the nearest laundromat.
Originally designed with diapers in mind, wet/dry bags have two zippered compartments to keep wet articles separated from dry. The wet section is sewn and sealed, so it won’t leak and dampen things you’re hoping to keep dry, or stink up your clean clothes.
Use a bag like this to keep wet laundry away from the rest of your clothes if you need to pack it away before it’s dry. It’s also good for other damp, smelly situations like visiting the beach, hiking, or spending a few sweaty hours walking around in the tropics.
If it can deal with soiled diapers, it’ll easily handle your damp travel clothes. Bags like these come in various sizes, so grab one appropriate for the clothing and trip you’re taking.
Handwashing Laundry Travel Tips
All of above applies no matter how you plan to wash your clothes while traveling. This section, however, is dedicated to the boring-but-inevitable task of doing your laundry by hand.
The Sink Is a Laundry Basin. So’s the Bathtub
When you’re traveling, any sink can become a laundry machine. A bathtub will work too, if you have a lot of clothes to wash at once.
Make sure you thoroughly wash the sink or bathtub before you start washing. Cleaning products may leave bleach and other chemical residues behind, which can mark or stain fabrics. It’s also important to get rid of toothpaste, hairs, or anything else you don’t want on your clothes.
Since the stopper will inevitably be missing or ill-fitting, it’s worth carrying your own, especially if you know you’ll be doing a lot of laundry in the sink during your travels.
Travel-specific universal models are flat and lightweight, and take up minimal room in your bag. Inexpensive and able to plug any size sink opening, they’re a worthwhile investment.
Travel Size Laundry Detergent
Rather than carrying a box of laundry soap or having to buy it (and then leave most of it behind) every time, throw a few travel-size laundry detergent packs into your bag instead.
Designed for washing your clothes in the sink, SinkSuds Travel Laundry Detergent is sold online in packs of eight. You might also find similar products among the mini toothpaste and shampoo in the travel section of a department store.
These pre-measured packets are perfect for a large sinkful of laundry, but if the opportunity arises, you can also use three packages to wash a full load in a washing machine. The small soap packets meet TSA carry-on limits and are about the size of a condom wrapper. Just don’t mix them up.
Handwashing with normal laundry detergent may not be ideal for those with sensitive skin, so look for a brand that won’t be hard on your hands, or take lightweight rubber gloves with you.
No Sink? No Problem!
Scrubba Wash Bag
Rinsing and scrubbing everything by hand is fine when you don’t have another option, but it doesn’t do the best job of getting your clothes clean. You’ll have better luck with something like the Scrubba Wash Bag, which is essentially a portable washing machine designed with campers and long-term travelers in mind.
The Scrubba is particularly good for long trips that require frequent washing, or when you’re on camping trips or anywhere else without easy access to a sink. The bag has a flexible internal washboard, which makes it much easier to get the ingrained dirt and smell out of your clothes.
It’s easy to use: throw your clothes, water, and detergent into the bag, seal and deflate, then agitate the laundry by rubbing on the outside for a minute or two. Replace the dirty water with clean, rinse and wring everything out, then hang the clothes up to dry.
The Scrubba Wash Bag weighs under five ounces (145g) and folds to roughly the size of a wallet, so it’s not hard to find space for it in your luggage.
Allurette Wash Bag for Delicates
Traveling shouldn’t ruin your clothes. If you’re packing delicates like lingerie or swimsuits, the Allurette Wash Bag will help you keep them clean and intact.
Much like the Scrubba Wash Bag above, the Allurette has an internal washboard, but it’s designed for more delicate clothing. Aside from creating a more gentle wash, the features are the same: quick washing, dry hands, and a lightweight, compact design.
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Getting Everything Dry
Clean clothes aren’t much good to you if they’re wet. If there’s not a dryer or drying rack in sight and you can’t find anywhere else to easily hang things up, it’s time to take matters into your own hands.
A portable clothesline is a small and convenient addition to your laundry travel gear, especially for camping trips when clean surfaces can be tough to come by. This Hawatour model can stretch to 10 ft, but is only six feet long when there’s no tension on it, so doesn’t take up much space in your bag.
Don’t even have the space for a clothesline with integrated pegs? No problem: there’s an even smaller version that eliminates pegs altogether.
The braided weave of this travel clothesline only weighs a few ounces, and doesn’t require any pins or clips. Simply use the inbuilt clips or loops to secure each end on poles, hooks, tree branches, or anything else you can find, then pull the edges of your clothes through the weave to hold them in place.
Laundry day will never be the most exciting part of any trip, but at least with the right gear and a few useful tips, you’ll always have clean, dry clothes no matter where your travels take you.