Mastering the Art of Washing Clothes While Travelling

Embarking on a journey is exhilarating, but let’s face it—keeping your clothes fresh on the road can be agitating.  Over the years, my travel style has spun around and around, and with it, my battle against the perpetual cycle of dirty laundry evolved. Whether I’m backpacking through unknown territories, cruising on a road trip, enjoying short-stay apartments or indulging in luxury escapes, the struggle to keep my clothes as pristine as my memories is real.

In this journey through the art of washing clothes while travelling, I’ve not just explored but I’ve tried and tested each of the following travel laundry options. From the convenience (and expense!) of hotel laundry services to the self-reliance of laundromats, and even the cost-effective charm of handwashing, I’ve been there, done that! Along the way, I’ve discovered that there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. It’s a dance influenced by the type of travel, the company you keep, and, of course, the notorious budget constraints.

So, come along as we unravel the secrets of how to do laundry while travelling, navigating through five unique options, discovering the art of handwashing, assembling a travel laundry kit, and finally, picking the perfect laundry strategy tailored just for you.

In this Article on How to Do Laundry While Travelling You Will Learn:

Laundry mat with washers and dryers to be used for washing clothes when travelling
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5. Options for Washing Clothes When Travelling

There are five different options for doing laundry while travelling.  Depending on your style of travel and your budget will determine which is the best travel laundry option for you.

Style of TravelWashing OptionPrice
HotelHotel laundry service
External laundry service
Hand washing
Short stay accommodationExternal laundry service
Washing machine
Hand washing
Hand washing
Hand washing
Matching travel style with travel washing

We are going to delve into examining the different types of travel washing for all budgets.

1. Hotel Laundry Service

This is the most expensive option for doing laundry while you travel.  In your hotel room (usually in the wardrobe) you will find a laundry bag and pricing schedule to complete for using the hotel laundry service.  To use the service, you must fill in the form that lists all items of clothing and how many of each that you are including to be washed.  Once you have completed the forms concierge will collect your washing and deliver it back to the room once cleaned.

I have to say I find filling in this form quite tedious.  As you locate each item of clothing you will notice each item has a set price to be laundered.  Nominate how many items of that article of clothing you have, then move on to the next item of clothing.  You will quickly discover that this results in this being the most expensive way to launder your clothes whilst you travel.

However, if you have a suit, business shirt or a dress that requires dry cleaning or pressing it may be the best option.

2. Laundry Service

Alternatively, you may find a laundry service nearby that will wash your entire bag of dirty clothes.  A laundry service operates by weighing your dirty washing and charging you by the kilo.  The laundry service includes washing, drying and folding of clothes.

Generally, I have found full laundry services are provided in developing countries.  It usually takes 24 hours before your clothing is ready to be collected.

3. Self Service Laundromat

The next cheapest option is a self-service laundromat.  Which has coin-operated washing machines and dryers.  Often you need to provide your own washing powder. 

The one thing I hated about visiting the laundromat when I was backpacking was sitting waiting for my clothes to wash for a couple of hours.  These days many laundromats have free WiFi or a café is located nearby.

Self-service laundromats are also often available at caravan/RV parks making it easier to wash clothes while camping.  You can put your clothes into the machine go back to your campsite and return an hour later when the washing is done.  Caravan parks usually provide washing lines to dry clothes in the sun – but you will need to bring pegs as well and your own washing powder.

Top Trip Tip: I’ve recently discovered laundry soap sheets*, you don’t need to pack the whole box.  Just take out as many sheets to match the loads of washing you plan to do and pop them in a zip lock bag to save space in your luggage.

4. Washing Machine at Your Vacation Rental or Holiday Cottage

If you’ve chosen to stay in a holiday apartment or chalet, sometimes a washing machine (and dryer) are provided.  If this is important to you when choosing your short-stay accommodation do your research.

To help you with how to choose the best accommodation for use the…

When we have stayed in accommodations with washing machines there is usually a sachet of laundry powder provided – but again double-check.

Top Trip Tip: Pack portioned washing powder in zip-lock bags or laundry liquid in travel containers*

5. Hand Washing

The cheapest way to wash clothes when you travel is to hand wash.  You can use a laundry soap bar, laundry soap sheets*(my now preferred way to pack laundry detergent for travel) or take a travel-size bottle of laundry detergent (the travel-size laundry detergent will not last very long so consider your length of trip).

This is how to hand wash clothes in the sink with a bar of soap or laundry soap sheets:

Steps on how to do handwashing while travelling

  1. Fill a basin with water or use a Scrubba Wash Bag*

  2. Add the clothes

  3. Rub the soiled or smelly parts of the clothes with soap or drop a laundry sheet

  4. Dip clothes back in the water

  5. Vigorously rub the fabric of clothes

  6. Give them a swirl in the water

    If you are using the Scrubba wash bag shake the bag over the shower pan or bathtub incase of leakage

  7. Empty the basin or Scrubba wash bag then refill it with clean water

  8. Rinse clothes

  9. Empty and refill the basin or Scrubba wash bag again

  10. Rinse clothes again

  11. Empty the water and wring out the clothes

  12. Hang the clothes over a rope or pegless clothesline to dry

    As the clothes are not spun dry with a machine they do take longer to dry – usually 24 hours

The benefits of handwashing are:

  • Saves money
  • Reduce the amount of luggage
    • Perfect when you are backpacking

To reduce how much luggage you pack use these…

7 Items in My Travel Laundry Kit

As mentioned I’ve used each of the five methods for washing clothes when travelling and as a result, there are must-have items to pack for travel washing. No matter whether I am staying in a hotel, have booked a self-contained chalet or am on a more adventurous flashpacking style of trip these are the items I pack in my travel laundry kit.

1        Dirty Laundry Bag

First of all, you need to separate your clean clothes from your dirty clothes.  Back in the day when I was backpacking I just used a plastic shopping bag – but we all know now that plastic is bad for the environment.  Now there are drawstring laundry bags included with sets of packing cubes*.  Personally, I don’t like mesh laundry bags as the smell and dirt can escape the bag and contaminate your clean clothes; I choose a solid fabric bag.

If we are travelling on a family road trip then I have everybody’s dirty washing to collect.  I like to use a collapsible laundry hamper*, I like this option as it has a drawstring top to contain the clothes and handles to make it easy to carry to the laundromat or you could use a collapsible laundry basket*.

2        Universal Basin Plug

If you are going to do hand washing you will be utilising a basin at your accommodation.  But more often than not the plug is missing.  Take a universal sink plug* to fill your basin with water to start hand washing.

3        Travel Size Detergent

When I first went backpacking, I took a bar of laundry soap, this was great as it lasted for ages.  

My now go-to best travel laundry soap is laundry sheets*, it’s compact, no mess and easy to use. However, I have also made up my own mini travel laundry detergent using travel bottles* filled with liquid laundry detergent.

Previously I have tried pre-made travel-size liquid detergent – but the lid has broken off on two separate occasions, so I don’t recommend buying this.

If you are planning on using a washing machine you will need to take more laundry powder.  You can buy a small 300ml/12floz bottle of laundry detergent, or if you prefer laundry powder measure some out and into a small zip lock bag.

small size travel laundry detergent
Travel laundry detergent

4        The Scrubba Wash Bag

The Scrubba Wash Bag is said to be like a portable washing machine.  Basically, you don’t use a basin for hand washing but instead put the water, soap and clothes into the bag (that has a textured lining recreating a washboard).  Then continue with these instructions:

  1. Add clothes detergent and water
  2. Seal bag
  3. Massage the bag for  a couple of minutes
    • I recommend doing this over a bath or shower as the bag can leak a little
  4. Rinse clothes twice in the bag
  5. Hang clothes on the line

The benefits of the Scrubba Wash Bag* are:

  • You don’t have to put your hands into the soapy liquid
  • You  don’t have to carry a separate container for laundry or use a communal sink
  • That the water is all contained within the bag and not spilling water about
  • The bag does the scrubbing with its washboard like material
  • It is compact to include with my handy things to pack when travelling
the Scrubba wash bag for doing laundry while traveling

Top Trip Tip: For a cheaper DIY Scrubba washbag alternative you could use a waterproof dry bag

5        The Pegless Clothesline

When I first went backpacking 30 years ago I was given two pegless clotheslines, and ever since I have been using them when I travel.  They are not only handy for hanging up the handwashing but also for hanging out wet bathers.

Scrubba also make one which is included in their Wash and Dry Kit*

pegless clothes line for drying hand wash clothes when traveling
Pegless clothesline

6        Sticky Lint Roller

Another item I was given when I headed off backpacking was a small sticky lint roller*.  This is a handy little gadget when clothes end up with lint all over them.

To clean the lint off you just rinse the roller in water.

compact lint roller
Small lint roller

7        Sewing Kit

The final item I have in my laundry travel kit is a sewing kit*.  Mine is quite compact with needles, thread, safety pins, buttons and scissors.  It is perfect for a quick fix.

small sewing kit for travel
Travel sewing kit

Top Trip Tip: Use a small packing cube to put all your laundry items together

Choosing the Best Way to Wash Clothes While Travelling for You

So far, we’ve looked at the options for doing laundry while travelling and what tools to include in your laundry travel kit.  Here is a reminder of the laundry options:

Laundry OptionProsCons
Hotel Laundry ServiceGood if items need dry cleaningAvailability varies
May not include a dryer
Laundry serviceComplete wash, dry and folding serviceTakes 24 hours before clothes returned
Get clean clothes within hours
Have to stay and wait for clothes to wash and dry
Inclusive Washing MachineConvenientAvailability varies
May not include dryer
Hand WashingCheapestLabour intensive
Clothes take longer to dry
Pros and Cons of Travel Washing Options

How Many People in the Travel Party

Start with how many people are you travelling with.  If you are on your own even travelling as a couple hand washing a couple of t-shirts and underwear each night is not that much work to do. 

But as a family, rinsing out all this laundry each day will become quite the chore.  Therefore, you may prefer to consider the laundromat or find accommodation with an inclusive laundry.

Top Trip Tip: Consider how much work is involved in handwashing versus visiting a laundromat

Type and Length of Trip

Next what type of trip do you have planned?  Is it an extensive backpacking adventure or a luxury vacation?

If you are backpacking, you have a limited amount of luggage to carry all your belongings.  For example, when I backpacked around Europe for six months, I only took three T-shirts, sets of underwear and socks, two pairs of shorts and a skirt.  I had to hand wash each night so that I had clean clothes for the next day.  As a backpacker, you are also generally watching every penny that you spend.  Laundromats can cost from $5/wash plus $5 to dry, that’s $10 each visit, which can really eat into your budget.  I used to only visit the laundromat about once a week and include in the wash all clothes, towels and my travel bed sheet.

However, if you are only on vacation for a week or two, it’s all about relaxing and enjoying the location.  You don’t want to be spending time doing the laundry, so splurging on either accommodation that includes a washing machine or paying for a laundry service becomes a worthwhile cost and ensures your vacation remains a holiday.

How Much Luggage

The type of trip you take may influence the type and amount of luggage that you take.  Again backpacking you may only have a 65-85L (17-22 Gallons) backpack – this has to carry all your clothes, toiletries, shoes, cooking items, towels and personal belongings.  You have to be savvy with your packing and this means only a limited amount of clothing – meaning washing more often.

Whereas a road trip or flying vacation could mean a large suitcase or duffle that is just required for clothing, shoes and toiletries.  Everything else will be provided by your accommodation and on top of that you are not carrying it on your back and thus the weight is less important.  Therefore you can take more clothes to last a longer time frame.  You may not even need to launder your clothes whilst away.

Different types of trips require different options for luggage. Discover which is the…

In the ever-evolving adventure of travel, conquering laundry challenges becomes a journey in itself. Whether you opt for the convenience of hotel services, the self-sufficiency of laundromats, or the cost-effective charm of handwashing, the choice is yours. As we bid adieu to laundry woes, remember, the best travel laundry strategy is the one that fits seamlessly into your unique journey—keeping your clothes fresh while leaving room for new memories. So, pack light, suds up, and embrace the adventure, one spin at a time!

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