Learn how to quickly and easily wash clothes while travelling to keep on top of your laundry and scrub up well for every occasion.
I know, I know. The last thing you want to think about while backpacking Europe, taking a safari through Africa, cruising the Caribbean, or travelling the world on a whirlwind adventure is the mundane chore of laundry. Anything that reminds you of the banality of home as forcefully as a pile of dirty, smelly clothes simply has no place on your carefully planned trip itinerary, right?
While we don't blame you for this attitude, we do encourage you to channel it into something productive that will help you stay on top of your laundry and keep you looking and smelling like royalty on your next trip!
If you couldn't care less how you smell and are immune to the disgusted looks fellow travellers are throwing your way, you may be surprised to learn that there are tons more benefits to developing an effective travel laundry strategy than mere personal presentation.
Not sure where to start? Don't worry! Our ultimate guide to travel laundry will have you scrubbing up well in no time.
Pack Fewer Clothes to Travel Light
If you're a complete newbie to the whole minimalist packing movement, you might like to check out our handy 5 Tips for Packing Light guide. We'll give you a sec to take it all in ...
There's a fair bit of handy information there, but the main point to remember for now is that the fewer clothes you pack, the fewer you need to keep presentable throughout your trip. Similarly, the more you're willing to wash your clothes while travelling, the fewer garments you need add to your travel checklist. Limiting yourself to just a couple of changes of clothes may seem daunting at first, but it's the best way to minimise your suitcase, lighten your backpack, and finally achieve the long awaited goal of packing for carry on only.
Just ask yourself: how often am I really going to wear those ugly zip off trousers that I only bought because they seemed to adorn every travel checklist on the Internet? If the answer is even close to, "I wouldn't be caught dead in them," drop them from your packing list without hesitation. After all, comfortable clothes that you actually plan on wearing will be infinitely more beneficial than even the most practical gear that's left crumpled and unused in an overpacked suitcase. Choose a couple of travel outfits that suit your style and run with those instead of opting for the travel gear "must-haves" that you really don't need.
Choose the Best Travel Fabrics
Unless you're trekking through the Arctic, you probably won't need that heavy anorak or those -50°C rated snow boots that weigh roughly the same as the rest of your pack put together and took you a month to save up for. Yes, certain activities and locations will require specialised clothing or technical fabrics, but the vast majority of travel occurs in urbanised environments and moderate climates that simply don't require such expensive gear.
As someone with plenty of experience travelling well above the Arctic Circle in the depths of winter, I can promise you that a good knowledge of undergarments, layering techniques, and ideal winter fabrics will be of much more use than any specific item. The same is true of most tourist destinations, so it pays to familiarise yourself with the low-maintenance fabrics that will enable you to pack a light bag and minimise the stress of the laundry process.
Best fabrics to pack:
These are the fabrics that wick moisture, require no special care, minimise UV, dry quickly, are lightweight, effective in both warm and cool environments, and are antimicrobial, meaning they can be worn for days on end without acquiring the sort of awful odour that destroys budding relationships with dorm mates. Although it can be difficult to find fabrics that fulfil all these qualities, a few check off the majority and accordingly make ideal travel clothes and base layers, including:
- Merino wool
I can already hear the pulse on all you die hard jeans-fanatics rising in alarm ... If you have room in your bag and you can't go without your favourite pair of jeans, don't worry - you don't have to. Although denim is heavy, bulky, and ridiculous to launder, it has good abrasion-resistance, likely matches everything in your backpack, and only requires washing about once every six months on average, making it a good option for many travellers.
If you're keen to learn more about some of these miracle fabrics, we discuss their benefits at length in our Merino Wool vs Synthetic Materials debate.
Best Ways to Wash Clothes While Travelling
There are a couple of tried and tested options when it comes to doing laundry while travelling and the one you choose depends entirely on your circumstances. Here are the ones we've experienced:
The Scrubba Wash Bag: The Only Travel Wash Bag You'll Ever Need
Okay, we may be a little biased, but hear us out!
The Scrubba wash bag is a pocket-sized, portable washing machine capable of delivering a machine-quality wash in only three minutes, all while using no electricity and only minimal water. Able to wash approximately two summer outfits at once and doubling as a dry bag and dirty laundry sack, this portable clothes washer makes packing light easier than ever. All you need is a little soap or detergent and a few minutes to spare and then, voila, your clothes will be clean for the day ahead, all without spending a cent or roaming the streets in search of a dingy laundromat - in other words, wasting time that should be spent sightseeing and soaking up the culture. As the Scrubba wash bag is family friendly and prevents pollution by allowing grey water to be disposed of away from the water source, it also makes for an ideal camping washing machine.
I've used the Scrubba wash bag all over the world, from hotel rooms and hostel bathrooms to cruise decks and campsites and can honesty say it beats resorting to an unhygienic sink or lugging loads of dirty clothes around. When you consider that it's been designed and constantly redeveloped by travellers, for travellers, it's easy to see why it complements globetrotting lifestyles so seamlessly.
Managing director, Ash Newland, designed the Scrubba wash bag while preparing for a trip to Tanzania, his ultimate goal being to scale the famous Mt Kilimanjaro. When planning his journey, he was starkly confronted by the challenge of doing fast, effective, and environmentally-friendly laundry in remote landscapes that lack access to running water. Finding a solution to this problem was made even more urgent by the warm, bulky clothes and small, lightweight packs required for the hike, a combination which made it impossible to carry enough garments to complete the trek without either washing clothes or re-wearing dirty ones and ending up smelling awful enough for the stench to waft all the way down to the people below!
The idea to create a non-electric washing machine by incorporating a flexible washboard into a durable dry bag quickly led to the Scrubba wash bag design, which has since been loved by over 100 000 travellers, campers and outdoor enthusiasts around the world.
Hand Washing Clothes in a Hotel Sink or Shower
If you don't have your Scrubba wash bag handy, a hotel sink or shower may just be your next best, cheapest option. Nevertheless, there are a couple of points you should keep in mind if planning to wash your clothes using this method.
Although it's quick and easy, hand washing in a hotel sink might not always provide a quality wash without the help of other cleaning implements. Washing your clothes in a sink can also be unhygienic and create messy, potentially dangerous spills. These points are especially relevant to hostels, as shared, crowded bathrooms can make for complicated, inappropriate washing conditions in unsanitary environments. I don't know about you, but I think it's pretty reasonable to be less than enthusiastic about brushing your teeth right next to the guy from dorm room 3 vigorously scrubbing his underwear and dousing the floor with the sort of dirty, soapy splashes that you just know you're going to slip in at some point during your 2am bathroom run.
If you're planning on using a hotel or hostel sink, we recommend giving the basin a quick wipe down to ensure maximum hygiene before use. Another travel hand wash tip is to try washing small items in the shower, as this method alleviates many of the above issues and enables you to wash clothes as you wash yourself, saving valuable time in the long run.
If you do choose to wash your travel clothes in a sink or shower, you may find your Scrubba wash bag useful for storing the damp garments afterwards. This not only ensures you won't drip any water on the floor as you make your way from the bathroom to your room, but also prevents your wet clothes from coming into contact with any other items in your case. Because there's nothing worse than having to suffer through a damp pair of socks.
Ah yes, the humble laundromat, a staple for both tourists and locals the world over. As you may have guessed, laundromats are such popular tourist destinations not because they hold some secret, unparalleled wonder, but because, for most people - at least those of us who just aren't that into hand washing - they offer a cheaper alternative to hotel laundry.
Laundromats are generally abundant in cities and other urban environments but can be tricky to find in more rural areas, making them far less preferable for adventurous types who don't care where they are as long as it's at least 50km off the beaten track. Furthermore, although laundromats are generally reasonably priced, costs can fluctuate wildly depending on the location, rendering it difficult to keep track of spending. This can make laundromats fall on the less appealing side of travel laundry even before considering the questionable quality of the often old, battered machines that are risky for anyone who actually cares about the garments they're washing.
As far as we're concerned, the effort it takes to lug your laundry through the streets, source a decent laundromat, work out how to use the machines, and then haul the clothes back to your accommodation is already a bit too much. When these points are combined with the unpleasantness of being forced to choose between either wasting time hanging around for a full wash and dry cycle or trusting people not to nick your favourite jacket while you try to sneak in some sightseeing, you may as well just forget it!
If you travel with lots of gear and prefer to work your way steadily through your travel outfits until you're down to your last one, we'll concede that a laundromat is likely your best bet, especially if you've managed to find a reliable service close by your hotel. If, however, your goal is lightweight travel with only a couple of changes of clothes that require washing on a regular basis, we recommend you look for alternatives to washing your clothes in a laundromat while travelling, as the effort and expense of suffering through the whole process every few days will likely far outweigh any benefits.
Hotel Laundry Service
Virtually all hotels and most hostels now offer laundry service because, you know, it's something of a money maker for them. Again, prices fluctuate dramatically from place to place, but you can usually bet that they'll greatly exceed the ones quoted by the local laundromat. After all, you're not only paying for the convenience of having your clothes neatly laundered without any impact on your precious sightseeing time, but also for the relative security of keeping your clothes within the hotel under the watchful eyes of its staff. Hotel laundry is a good option for those who don't mind paying for it, but again, it may not be the best option for minimalist packers and those who travel carry on only, so be sure to consider the alternatives before you make any requests.
Tips for Preserving and Washing Clothes While Travelling
If you've always struggled with travel laundry, these extra travel tips and hints might help:
- Use a microfibre towel: Microfibre towels, like the Scrubba travel towel, are quick drying and super absorbent, making them ideal not only for drying you, but also your clothes! Simply roll damp clothes in the towel and press firmly to encourage moisture absorption and expedite the drying process.
- Avoid white clothing: It's great in hot or humid environments that are prone to bugs, but it also stains easily, so where possible give it a miss.
- Take only a small amount of eco-friendly detergent: Use non-drip, carry on approved bottles and opt for something gentle and eco-friendly to minimise impact to the environment.
- Roll clothes when packing: Roll rather than fold your clothes to do more with the limited space available.
- Go aluminium free: You know that yellow discolouration that falls anywhere from "unsightly" to "disgusting" on the style scale? Those mysterious blotches that seize control of the armpits of your favourite white shirts, lounging around like friends that have overstayed their welcome, refusing to budge without some serious intervention? That's caused not exclusively by sweat, but rather by a combination of sweat and the aluminium found in antiperspirants. If you have to go white, making the switch to an aluminium free deodorant can help keep the stains under control.
- Hang to avoid creasing: Nobody's got time for ironing and, thankfully, there are loads of tricks you can utilise to ensure you pack a wrinkle-free suitcase every time. One of the easiest ways to avoid wrinkles is simply to hang your clothes when you arrive at your accommodation. The lightweight Scrubba inflatable coat hangers and pegless travel clothesline can come in handy here!
The Bottom Line: How to do Laundry While Travelling
If you're still wondering how best to do laundry while travelling, the not so simple answer is: it depends! With a number of options available, most travellers now have the luxury to choose the method that best suits them, which is, after all, what really matters.
Our favourite option is, of course, the Scrubba wash bag paired with the microfibre Scrubba travel towel to ensure fast, effective laundry on the go, but we also occasionally opt for a shower or sink hand wash or a laundromat depending on circumstances. No matter how we choose to do laundry while travelling, we always keep the Scrubba wash bag on our packing list, as it's never failed to come in handy as a dry bag, stuff sack, shoe bag, or even makeshift pillow that gives us the versatility we need to confidently travel through both urban and rural environments. It's also a must for doing laundry in the wilderness when other forms of washing aren't available! Knowing it's there if and when we need it makes all the difference.
Still concerned about doing laundry while travelling? Check out the travel laundry guide below or save it to you device to keep it handy on the road: