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Travel Laundry: How to Wash Clothes While Traveling

Life has gained some normalcy for the millions of Americans whose past year has been defined by indoor activities and social distance. That said, as vacation plans cautiously resume, so do the logistical challenges that come along with traveling, including the beast that is travel laundry.

Before you pack a suitcase overflowing with two weeks’ worth of underwear to avoid breaking out the detergent, remember that learning how to wash clothes while traveling doesn’t have to be a hassle. There are several on-the-go laundry tactics you can use so that you can pack fewer clothes, freeing up space for more important items. Let’s get washing!

How to Do Your Laundry While Traveling

Whether you’re traveling by hotel, hostel, Airbnb or camper, you have options for travel laundry – you might just have to get a bit creative. From making use of a hotel’s laundry services to scrubbing in a sink, we’ll cover it all.

Use Hotel Services

The most convenient – but also most expensive (we’re talking $30-$70 per load) – travel laundry method is using a hotel’s or cruise ship’s laundry services. Most hotels are willing to wash, dry, iron and fold your clothes for you. Some even offer dry cleaning services if you need a nice suit or dress ready for tomorrow night’s gala.

How to Wash Clothes in a Hotel

To wash clothes in a hotel, you’ll first want to look for a laundry bag in your room, as most hotel rooms should have one. You should also see a form that you can fill out to tell hotel staff what you want done to your clothes. If all else fails, don’t hesitate to call the front desk and ask about their laundry services.

Just be sure that you don’t need any of the clothes you put in the bag for the next 24 hours – that tends to be how long it takes to complete a load.

Use a Bathtub or Sink

If you’d prefer to skip the laundromat and do your laundry yourself, consider hand washing in the bathtub or sink. Unlike using a hotel service, this strategy is the most time-consuming and challenging but also the cheapest way to do your travel laundry.

When washing by hand, it’s important to have a drying space ready ahead of time. Since many clothes will take 12-24 hours to hang dry indoors, it’s a good idea to primarily pack clothes made of quick-dry fabrics like polyester and nylon if you expect to hand wash during your trip.

If you’re in need of some quick-dry underwear for your next trip, our Air Underwear can hang dry in under 4 hours! After a wash, just squeeze out the excess water and roll the underwear in a towel to soak up any remaining liquid before hanging up to dry. Thanks to the underwear’s perforated mesh fabric, it will be dry within 4 hours.

How to Wash Clothes in a Bathtub or Shower

If worse comes to worst and you have to hand wash your clothes, there’s no need to stress. Just remember to come prepared with your own laundry detergent and to ensure you have a good place to hang dry your clothes.

A guide illustrating the 6 steps to doing travel laundry in a bathtub, from plugging the drain and filling the tub to hang drying

To wash your clothes in a bathtub or shower, just follow these easy steps:

1. Plug the drain. Some showers and bathtubs don’t have a drain plug – if that’s the case, it’s time to get creative! Grab a plate, a couple socks, a washcloth or a sponge.
2. Fill the tub with enough water to submerge your clothes. You don’t want to fill the tub with water as hot as you use to shower – aim for about 85°F or cooler so that your colors don’t bleed.
3. Soak for a couple minutes. You’ll want to get all of your clothes wet before you start adding detergent.
4. Add detergent & rub into clothes where needed. If you have stains to remove, you’ll want to lather detergent in those places to remove them.
5. Rinse with clean water. Either rinse under the faucet or refill the tub with clean water to get all of the soap out of your clothes.
6. Drain the tub, wring out your clothes & hang dry. Consider wringing your clothes out in a towel to get them to dry a bit faster before hanging them up.

How to Hand Wash Clothes in a Sink

The process of hand washing clothes in a sink is very similar to doing so in a shower or bathtub. A sink, being smaller, makes it the ideal choice for washing small garments like underwear, bras and thin undershirts

Here are the steps for washing your clothes in a sink:

1. Plug the drain. Hopefully, your sink will have a built-in sink stopper, but if not it’s a good idea to have a portable sink stopper packed.
2. Fill the sink with water. Similarly to washing in a bathtub, you should keep the water temperature at about 85°F or less so that your colors don’t bleed together.
3. Add a couple of garments at a time & soak. The sink probably can’t fit too many clothes. Make sure you don’t add too many at a time as this could make the sink overflow.
4. Add detergent & scrub.
5. Drain & refill the sink. You may need to drain and refill your sink a few times to get everything washed. You may not want to rinse each item with the faucet as this could cause the sink to overflow.
6. Wring out & hang dry.

    Book a Self-Service Option

    Before you book a place to stay, you might want to do some research and see which locations offer self-service laundry options. Several lodging options offer these services, from hostels to Airbnbs to apartments. There may even be a washer and dryer in the same building you’re staying in.

    While these are often free to use, they may charge a few dollars per load and they tend not to provide detergent or dryer sheets. It’s a good idea to have some coins, cash and detergent on-hand just in case! 

    Use a Laundromat

    Laundromats are great options if you’re wanting to keep costs low and are willing to do a little walking to get your clothes washed. Just be sure to look at a map ahead of time to check if there’s a laundromat near where you’re staying.

    Laundromats come in many different formats, but the most common are self-service and assisted. Much like other self-service options, machines in laundromats will likely charge between $2.00 and $6.00 USD to wash and dry your clothes.

    Some laundromats may offer washing and drying services, where an employee does your laundry for you. They will likely give you a time to return to the laundromat when your clothes will be washed, dried, folded and sometimes even ironed for you. Although far more convenient, this service will likely triple or quadruple the cost of your laundromat visit.

    Image of a woman doing travel laundry at a laundromat with text reminding travelers to have cash or coins on-hand

    Pay for Laundry Services

    Local laundry services can be great options if there are no laundromats near you. Price can vary significantly by location, so you may want to check the cost before you carry your dirty clothes to one of these facilities. You can either pick up your finished laundry or potentially have it delivered to you, depending on the service.

    These services are often attached to tailors or dry cleaners, and tend to be run by families or even a single person.

    Camping Laundry: Washing Clothes While Camping or RVing

    Finding a way to do laundry is relatively easy when traveling in a city or town, but washing clothes while camping in the wilderness may require a little more creativity. Before giving up on ways to wash your underwear and hunting for bra alternatives, remember that camping laundry isn’t as difficult as you may think!

    While campsites often have either a laundry facility or a sink that can be used to wash clothes, if you’re camping away from a designated campground, you can either look for a river or other water source, or bring a bag that you can fill with soap and water to wash your clothes.

    If you find a natural water source, remember to use environmentally friendly travel laundry detergents to avoid causing unnecessary pollution. All that soap has to go somewhere!

    On the flip side, traveling in an RV opens up some more options for on-the-go laundry. You can either detour to a laundromat, an RV site with a laundry facility or hand wash inside your RV. Since you’re traveling, you’ll have plenty of outdoor space to hang your clothes if you just stop somewhere safe for the day.

    How to Wash Clothes While Backpacking

    When backpacking, it’s especially important to be ready to do some travel laundry since you have to travel so lightly. If you’re wondering how to wash clothes while backpacking, we can pull from some of the tips in the above camping section.

    If you stumble upon a natural water source like a lake, river or stream, make use of it! As mentioned previously, just make sure to invest in a small bottle of environmentally friendly laundry soap ahead of time.

    The bag method will also be especially useful when backpacking, particularly when you’re traveling in a relatively dry area that lacks natural water sources. Just add some water from your water bottle, a little detergent and your clothes. Voila – you’ll be the best-smelling among your backpacking buddies!

    Image of a woman sitting by a river while backpacking with text listing 4 backpacking laundry tips, like bringing eco-friendly detergent

    Tips for Preserving and Washing Clothes While Traveling

    If the concept of travel laundry intimidates you, you’re not alone. Let’s walk through some helpful tips so that you can feel confident in your washing abilities before you hit the road.

    1. Choose lightweight, fast-drying fabrics. Merino wool, polyester and silk, for example, are great materials for easy washing and drying on-the-go. Pro tip – jeans rarely ever need to be washed, which makes them and other denim garments great for traveling.
    2. Keep your whites out of the travel bag. Not only do whites stain easily, but you also want to pack clothes that can be washed together without colors bleeding into each other. Your whites will likely darken if washed with all of your other clothes.
    3. Bring a microfibre towel. Microfibre towels are quick-drying and great for drying not only your body, but also your clothes. Use it to wring out your washed clothes, leave it out to dry for an hour then use it again!
    4. Roll your clothes. Rolling your clothes keeps them compact so that you can fit more in less space.
    5. Hang to avoid wrinkles. You may feel like there’s no way to prevent your clothes from wrinkling when traveling, but that’s not the case! Just hang them up as soon as you get to your new dwelling.

    How to Remove Stains from Laundry

    Traveling can be messy. Whether you spilled a greasy snack on your shirt while on the plane or got some wine on your pants at dinner, there are plenty of powerful and eco-friendly stain removers that you can add to your travel laundry arsenal.

    Tide to Go

    If you do the shopping for your household, you’ve certainly seen Tide to Go pens in the “impulse section” before checkout, if not in the laundry detergent aisle. These little tools are inexpensive, TSA compliant and can easily be thrown into a small bag compartment for emergencies.

    Just press the pen down and rub it onto your stain immediately after the stain occurs. It’s a good idea to also wash your clothes with laundry soap and water after applying the pen.

    Warm Water and a Bar of Soap

    Don’t underestimate the power of simple body soap when you need to remove a stain fast. Rub the stain with soap (lightly, to avoid rubbing the stain deeper into the fabric) and soak your garment in warm water for several minutes, and repeat if needed.

    Just remember to go easy on your clothes to keep them from getting damaged.

    Baking Soda

    Baking soda is one of the most popular ingredients for simple and natural stain removers. Just mixing it with some water and scrubbing it on your stain should work wonders.

    Luckily, baking soda is super easy to come by. If there’s a convenience store anywhere near where you’re staying there’s a good chance you’ll be able to find some.

    Dish Soap

    Dish soap was strategically designed to remove food grease from plates, and it works the same for clothes! If you spill something greasy on your clothes, rub some dish soap into the stain before it dries to start attacking that grease before giving it a thorough wash.

    How to Stop Your Bag From Stinking

    Sometimes, you have nowhere to put your dirty clothes aside from the bags you’re using for other items, like snacks, sunscreen and electronics. After a little while, your bag may start to smell like your three-day-old dirty laundry, which isn’t fun.

    If your bag starts to stink, don’t panic. There are several ways to mask or absorb these odors until you get home and can give your bag a thorough wash.

     Illustration of a dirty laundry backpack with 4 tools to make it smell fresh – essential oils, gel packets, dryer sheets, and the sun

    Use Dryer Sheets

    If you’re planning to use a laundromat or a similar self-service laundry area, you’ll likely already have some dryer sheets on hand. If not, bring some anyway!

    Dryer sheets are great for taking care of odors, so you might as well throw a couple in your dirty laundry bag so that the smell of your clothes stays contained for the rest of your trip.

    Use Essential Oils

    If you aren’t a big fan of the synthetic smell of dryer sheets, turn to a favorite among aromatherapists: essential oils. Choose your favorite natural scent (like lavender or lemongrass) and rub a couple of drops onto the lining of your backpack. This will keep your laundry smelling like a field of flowers.

    Use Silicon Gel Packets

    You may have never thought to save those little silicon gel packets stored in medicines and other packaged goods, but it turns out they have a valuable use when traveling. They work great for absorbing moisture – including sweat.

    They’re cheap to purchase and throwing a couple in your laundry bag after filling it with your post-hike clothes will keep microbes from growing and help improve the smell of your bag.

    Use the Sun

    Bacteria don't do well in sunlight. If your bag starts to stink, just leave it open outside for a little while to get rid of bacteria and improve its smell.

    5 Things to Bring for Travel Laundry

    Now that we’ve covered just about everything you could want to know about doing travel laundry, let’s review a checklist of items that you should pack away to make the process as seamless as possible.

    1. Sink Stopper

    To avoid needing to create a makeshift drain plug using a garment, you’ll probably want to bring your own sink stopper. While many hotels and other lodgings will have built-in sink stoppers, bringing your own is a good way to ensure that you’ll be able to hand wash your clothes regardless of your destination’s amenities.

    2. Dry Bag for Dirty Clothes

    Unless you’re backpacking and don’t have the carrying capacity to bring another bag, consider bringing a dry bag to use just for your dirty laundry. This way, you’ll keep your dirty clothes separate from everything else to avoid stinking up your other items.

    3. Travel Clothesline

    Depending on your travel logistics, you may not have a clothesline readily available for hang drying your clothes. To keep your wet clothes from dripping on the floor, you may want to buy or make a bathtub clothesline.

    Making a DIY travel clothesline may sound daunting, but it can actually be a fun project before departing for your destination if you’d rather make one than buy one. You can use elastic ropes or rubber bands to braid a long line together that makes hang-drying your clothes at a hotel, Airbnb or campsite easy.

    4. Travel Laundry Detergent

    When deciding which travel laundry detergent to pack, remember the importance of packing light. Choose a small bottle, and ideally one that is eco-friendly – especially if you’ll be washing your clothes out in nature.

    5. Travel Laundry Washing Bag

    As mentioned above, a great way to wash clothes in the wilderness is using a travel laundry washing bag. These bags tend to be sturdy, sealable and lightweight making them perfect for on-the-go washing.

    Just add water, soap and your clothes, seal the bag and use the pressure of your hands on the outside of the bag to lather up your clothes before rinsing them. These bags are a must-have for any avid adventurer.

    Whether you’re figuring out how to wash your underwear on a backpacking adventure or are simply wanting to freshen up your cozy pants to wear around your hotel, hopefully, this guide has provided you with some valuable travel laundry takeaways.

    Remember to stock up on some soft tops and sweaters for your next travel adventure so that you feel as comfortable as possible the next time you trek.