An Easy Guide to Washing Clothes While Journeying

I’ve traveled for as short as a week and as long as three months at a time. Since I prefer to pack pretty light on my trips no matter how long or short they are, this means I ultimately wind up with a bunch of laundry at some point! I thought I’d put together a quick guide with all my tips on washing clothes while traveling.

When I’m in a more expensive country, that means doing my own laundry rather than giving it a hotel to do at a high fee. But, in places like India and SE Asia, you can hand out a bag of laundry and have the whole lot done for just a few bucks. I tend to travel with silks, linens, and other delicate fabrics that need to be washed by hand so sometimes I don’t feel comfortable handing them over.

In India, almost all laundry is done by hand which is quite nice but in other places, they will throw it in a machine and often not sort it by color. Because of that, I tend to do my laundry myself, sometimes even in a sink or bucket.

Washing Clothes While Journeying: My Ultimate Tips + Hacks

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1. Wear materials that travel well.

Don’t be like me, lol. I love silks and linens which I do think travel well BUT they have to be washed on a delicate cycle or hand-washed. Some of my clothes (cue hand to face) need dry cleaned. For me, I’m so into fashion that it’s worth it but if you are on a backpacking trip, you might want to stick to quick dry cottons.

Think about buying things that aren’t going to bleed. In Asia especially, you’ll see all these “ali baba” pants with elephants on them. These will bleed color for at least 5 washes and I’ve had so many readers tell me they had their entire wardrobe ruined when they sent their clothes for washing. Whenever you buy colorful pieces even in your home country before your trip, wash them and make sure they aren’t going to bleed.

With cotton and items that you know won’t bleed, it saves a lot of hassle as you can just hand a bundle of your laundry over at the laundromat and have it done without worrying your clothes will get messed up. I love cotton dresses from Free People, Anthropologie, and Urban Outfitters. I also use small lace bralettes which can be thrown into the wash rather than padded bras which should be washed on delicates and take longer to dry. If you do travel with silks and linens, it’s not a huge deal because you can wash them lightly by hand and they dry really fast. Denim takes ages to dry but can go longer between washes. Remember that in humid countries, sometimes it can take (no exaggeration) days for things to dry and it’s best to let them dry inside your room with a fan or A/C on rather than outside.

Click here to see how to make a boho-chic capsule wardrobe for travel and click here to see where I shop for travel clothing.

2. Figure out the cost ahead of time and decide which option is best

Before handing over your laundry to be washed, see how much it will cost. In Asia, it’s often very cheap and you can just hand it over without worry. They typically charge per kilo. In hostels in Europe, it can be more and you are likely better off to go to a laundromat and do it yourself for a few euros. If you are in a luxury hotel, laundry is insanely expensive and charges per piece.

If the price is by weight, then just hand it all over but think about what is the heaviest like a pair of jeans and decide if maybe you want to wash those yourself. If they are doing it by piece, you might want to take the smallest items like socks and undies and wash those by hand to save money.

If you do hand your clothes over, make a line-sheet with each item like this:

  • 4 underwear
  • 1 jeans
  • 2 long sleeve shirts
  • 4 tee shirts

Doing this makes sure that you will know exactly how many pieces you dropped off and you can ask ahead of time how much it will cost. Usually, small items like undies cost less than a pair of jeans and they can itemize that for you. This would be for traveling in Asia. If you are traveling long-term in Europe or somewhere with expensive laundry or you just hate sitting at a laundromat, then when it comes the time that you need to do laundry, check into an Airbnb that has a machine. This makes it so much easier!

3. Keep dirty clothes separate from clean ones with travel-friendly laundry bags.

Please don’t throw dirty clothes in with the clean ones! Then it all gets closed up in your luggage and will make everything smell. It’s so important that you have a separate bag for dirty clothes that actually keeps the smells closed in. You can usually just use that bag to drop off the dirty clothes. Easy Peasy! I also put lavender or vanilla essential oil on a cotton ball or cotton face pad and throw that into my bag so it all smells fresh.

4. Save space with mini-packets of laundry detergent.

You can get just a few packets of Tide or whatever brand you like in the travel section of Walmart or Target and bring it along. You can then buy more as you go. If you are being frugal, you can even just take some powder from the normal size detergent you have at home and put enough for a few washes in a ziplock bag. You can then buy more as you go so your luggage isn’t full of laundry detergent. If you run out or forgot them, shampoo works too in a pinch.

5. Use a wet/dry bag for wet things. This is sometimes known as a bikini bag.

We’ve all been there where you hang your laundry up, it’s ALMOST dry and you need to pack up and check out. It’s tempting to just fold up the laundry and pack it away but wet stuff or even “almost dry but not quite stuff” will make your whole bag smell bad… then having done laundry was pointless and you’ll just have to do it again at your next destination. Instead, put that semi-dry stuff into a wet bag. I also take mine to the beach and put my phone and tablet in them to keep them dry so it’s a multi-purpose bag I always travel with.

6. Tips for washing things in a sink or a bucket

In Asia, you’ll often have a bucket in the bathroom to use but places like Europe, you’ll want to use the sink.

  • Fill with warm water
  • Scrub clothes with soap or detergent, rub fabric on fabric for stains
  • Let it rest for a few minutes
  • Rinse + drain (maybe rinse twice if you used too much soap)
  • Roll in a towel to dry after gently wringing excess water (hotel robes work too!)
  • Let dry completely

7. Dry in the sun and with a breeze

Try to make sure things dry with a fresh breeze rather than cramped up in your room so that they smell nice. The only time you would want to hang things inside is if 1. it’s too humid outside and they will dry better inside in the A/C or 2. the hotel doesn’t allow you to do laundry and you had to be sneaky about it.

8. The ULTIMATE Hack: Buy a Scrubba bag!

These are amazing and make it so you can do laundry easily and get the clothing really clean with less effort. So many bloggers swear by this bag and you can read the reviews on Amazon. If you are going to be traveling long term and doing your own laundry, like in India, you need one of these in your life.

This video from the company shows how it works and you can to buy one for $34.

For more travel packing tips:

Pin washing clothes while traveling for later!

2018-07-08T21:48:22+00:00

About the Author:

Rachel Jones left a career in nursing and lived on the beaches of Goa, India for the five years. Now she lives in Mexico where she gives advice on the 40+ countries she’s visited in the last 10 years. She’s the author of two India travel e-books: Guide to India and Insider’s Guide to Goa. Her blog, Werkenntwen, like its name, is a contradiction combining off-beat adventurous places with glamorous and bespoke travel. Werkenntwen has been featured in ELLE, Marie Claire, Grazia, and Cosmopolitan magazines. She’s a writer for Bravo TV.

5 Comments

  1. Rachel en Route July 13, 2018 at 6:06 am - Reply

    This is exactly what I needed to read! I will be traveling for over a month around SE Asia and South Africa and only bringing a carry on and a small back pack. Laundry will be necessary.. Thanks for the info!

    • Rachel Jones July 13, 2018 at 9:30 pm - Reply

      Happy to help! I hope you have a great trip. I really want to go to South Africa!

  2. thebritishberliner July 17, 2018 at 10:23 am - Reply

    These are great tips Rachel ‘cos Ha! Ha! I do a lot of hand-washing when I travel as I either wear delicate wash or dry-clean only!

    In India, I’ve been stung by the very-efficient-but-beaten-to-death clothing situation, so only give clothes that I don’t really mind what happens to them or basics such as T-shirts, underwear, socks and shorts. I never give in my jeans, as most of the time I wear €150 – €200 jeans that need to be washed at “cool” temperatures, and not “beaten” lol!

  3. Veronica - La Vie en Journey Blog July 19, 2018 at 9:25 pm - Reply

    I love this post! And I don’t think I’ve ever seen any other post like it. Definitely helpful since we travel for 1-2 weeks at a time and always end up taking dirty laundry back home with us. It’s especially true what you wrote about wearing fabrics that travel well. We learned the hard way that jeans don’t air-dry very fast lol

  4. Planet Full Of Love September 1, 2018 at 7:51 pm - Reply

    It’s amazing how few people would even consider doing this whilst abroad. We travel between 3 to 5 months at a time, travelling light, so we frequently need to hand wash our stuff. We use quite a large vacuum bag (the sort that you place clothes in and then use a vacuum cleaner to take out all the air with) as it is quite waterproof when sealed up. Interesting that you sometimes use shampoo, We found that washing up liquid works quite well too.

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