What To Do About Laundry While Traveling?

Washing Your Clothes While Traveling

My Freshly Laundered Wardrobe

Travel Tips

Contrary to the rumors, travelers are not a bunch of filthy vagrants. Well not always. This is how I wash my clothes when traveling around the world for extended periods.

Living out of a backpack doesn’t lend itself to a stylish & extensive wardrobe. So when I explain to others that I own 2 pairs of pants, 2 pairs of shorts, 4 t-shirts, 2 collared shirts, and a sweater, the next question is usually “what do you do about laundry?”

Actually it’s surprisingly easy to keep everything clean.

There are 4 different laundry techniques I use with great success:

  • The Aloksak Bag Method
  • The Sink Wash Approach
  • The Coin-Operated Procedure
  • Art of the Laundry Lady

Each has its benefits and disadvantages, which I’ll describe in fascinating detail below!

Travel Laundry in a Bag

Wash Your Clothes in a Bag

Aloksak Bag Method

This ingenious technique involves a large heavy-duty ziplock bag called an Aloksak. Renowned for its durability and waterproofness, the bags are able to withstand underwater pressures down to 190 feet deep for two weeks! But it’s also lightweight and easy to pack. They come in many sizes, but for laundry I use a 16″ x 24″.

I also use the Aloksak for storing my dirty (smelly) clothes. To wash with it, first dump in a pinch of detergent (small packets are available for pennies), fill with hot water, and mix everything up for 5 minutes with your hand. Imagine the oscillating action inside a washing machine.

Finally, zip up the bag and allow your clothing to soak in the soapy water for another 10 minutes. To rinse clean you can either refill the bag with fresh water, use a sink, or my personal favorite method, get naked and jump in the shower with them!

COST: Free

Washing Clothes in a Sink

Wash Your Clothes in a Sink

Sink Wash Approach

The sink approach is pretty simple also. Plug the drain of a sink, add soap, fill with hot water, and hand-wash your clothes. It’s one of the most popular ways for backpackers to clean their garments.

There’s even a universal drain plug specifically made for travelers. But a rolled up sock or washcloth works too, especially when it’s wrapped in a plastic grocery bag. Rinse your clothes in the sink when done.

Cost: Free

Coin-Operated Procedure

Coin operated laundromats can be found all over the world, usually in larger towns & cities. Sometimes hostels or guesthouses will even have a few machines. This method is pretty self-explanatory.

Many will often have WiFi, and it’s a great place to meet women. Double bonus!

COST: $3-$6

Laundry Lady in Thailand

Meet Jai: My Laundry Lady in Thailand

Art Of The Laundry Lady

My favorite laundry ladies can wash a load of clothing in under 6 hours! However a 24 hour wait is more common. Washing clothes in many foreign countries is as easy as strolling down the block to drop-off your stinky shirts & shorts at someone else’s house.

Depending on the country, most neighborhoods have a small (or large) family-run laundry operation based from their home.

Your clothing is weighed on a scale to determine price. Sometimes you can choose between machine drying (quicker but more expensive) or line drying in the sunlight.

Because I don’t own mountains of clothing, I usually get to know the laundry lady & her family pretty well with weekly visits. Maybe twice a week if they happen to own cute pets.

COST: $2-$4

Line Dry Laundry in Mexico

Laundry Drying on a Mexican Rooftop

How To Dry Your Clothes

If you’re washing clothes with the Aloksak bag or sink techniques, finding a fast & efficient way to dry them is key. When it’s sunny out, and your guesthouse or hostel has a clothesline outside (often on the roof), line drying in the fresh air only takes a few hours.

But if the weather is bad, or you’re forced to dry them inside, here’s a little trick I use to speed things up.

Find a dry towel, lay it on the bed, place a garment on the towel, and roll it up tight. The dry towel will suck out some additional moisture, allowing your clothes to dry faster when hanging inside on a rope or travel-friendly elastic laundry line.

Bonus: The Astronaut Method

To help reduce the amount of laundry I do, it’s common for me to re-wear pants & shirts until they start to smell. In fact right this moment I’m wearing the same clothes I wore yesterday. My friends Dave & Lauren, who are sitting right beside me, didn’t notice. Most people don’t notice.

Wearing your clothes over and over again is actually the space traveler’s preferred method too!

In a recent interview with The Guardian, celebrity astronaut Commander Chris Hadfield explains that in space, water doesn’t behave the same way as on Earth. So using it to wash clothes doesn’t work. Up there astronauts wear clothes until they fall apart.

I wouldn’t recommend that method down here on Earth though. ★

READ NEXT: Make A Secret Pocket In Your Pants

Do you have any good travel laundry tips?

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers.

THANKS FOR READING

Hi, I'm Matthew Karsten — I’ve been traveling around the world for over 5 years. Adventure travel & photography are my passions. Let me inspire you to travel more with crazy stories, photography, and useful tips from my travel adventures. Join thousands who receive exclusive email updates and click the green button below...

Comments & Questions

63 Comments

  1. Grace
    August 27, 2016

    Thank you so much for the brilliant Aloksak Bag Method of washing clothes. I was simply looking for the best laundry bag for travel and found your ‘effin’ amazing blog. I am grateful to have found your blog.

    Reply
  2. Bryce
    August 2, 2016

    I soak my 2 work shirts in our cubicle showers at my dorm apartment. I use palm olive oil and rub in deep in my clothes. Its to get grease, dirt or etc out. Then when washing them, i get the inside and outside and use my hands to scrape junk off. Takes 10 minutes per shirt so i dont need to rinse them, then i hamg them in my room or dry them outside by laying them on my cars windshield. If i want them to smell good, i use a pinch of my shampoo or bodywash. Works great, saves me 6 dollars to wash one shirt and me getting fired from work for having a dirty shirt.

    Reply
  3. Jazz
    June 9, 2016

    Brilliant. Thanks for sharing! DEFINITELY going to look up the Aloksak thing since I have a pretty distinct distrust for coun-operated laundromats. I mean really… If my dog shizzes all over her bed, would I want to put it in my washing machine? Probably not. Off to the laundromat!
    I’ve never DONE that; but those are the horrors I imagine.

    Reply
    • Jeffo
      August 23, 2016

      Cut the paranoia off. If it’s washed, it’s new, no matter the past or in what machine it was done.

      Reply
  4. mich
    June 7, 2016

    the problem is finding small quantities of washing powder that get rid of smells and also being able to dry them so they dont smell worse

    Reply
  5. Lorraine
    May 30, 2016

    Have you heard of the DryerJet ?

    Reply
  6. Crystal
    May 21, 2016

    I’m chuckling a little bit about your “hot water” instructions, because I’ve been backpacking Central America for 5 months, and very rarely come across hot water. The laundry ladies don’t even have it available to them. I think in the tropics it is standard to only have cold water available. Also, coin operated is very rare in Central America…I’ve only found one place that had this service available. I’m having terrible problems drying things out during the rainy season.

    Reply
    • Matthew Karsten
      May 22, 2016

      All you need to do is boil some water on the stove! Many showers have electric-style water heaters too, you can fill a bucket from the shower. One extra step. But that’s only when you REALLY need hot water. Cold water works for most situations.

      Reply
    • mich
      June 7, 2016

      getting things dry is the hard part

      Reply
  7. Ashley
    May 18, 2016

    Is there a particular soap you have found that works well for the sink method? I am looking for something that is strong enough to clean clothes but gentle on the environment since yet easy to transport/pack.

    Reply
  8. Leanne
    March 4, 2016

    Handy tip…..a salad spinner is a lifesaver when needing underwear and smalls dried quick….
    Seemed to always pick a really really cheap one up and lashed in car or bottom of bag….

    Reply
  9. Nikki T
    February 10, 2016

    As a runner and full-time traveler, I only have room for one set of workout clothes. So I thought I’d add some drying tips that get my clothes dry in less than 24 hours, even indoors in humid climates: (1) I buy mostly synthetic clothes that dry fast, (2) I always travel with a super absorbent shammy that I use to lay the clothes in and twist all the water out and (3) I use a fan or find a windy spot outside. Items usually dry in 8 hours or less.

    Reply
  10. Rob Rachowiecki
    December 12, 2015

    There’s another method which I use when car camping (or any extended road trip). It’s kinda like your plastic bag. I have a plastic storage bin with a snap-on lid and throw clothes, water, and soap in, then drive the car. The swishing around while driving acts like a washing machine. Then rinse and dry.
    BTW, Matt, your Aloksak link leads to a product which is no longer available (though other sizes are if you search.)

    Reply
    • Matthew Karsten
      December 13, 2015

      Thanks for the car-wash tip Rob! I love it.

      And for pointing out the broken link, it’s been fixed. :-)

      Reply
  11. Thedre
    November 12, 2015

    Where do you store your dirty clothes from the moment you decide to wash them until you end up washing them?

    What kind of laundry bag do you use?

    Reply
    • Matthew Karsten
      November 12, 2015

      I actually use the same Aloksak bag that I wash them with. Air-tight seal keeps the smell in.

      Reply
    • Nomadgrrl
      January 10, 2016

      I also turn dirty clothes inside out to keep track of clothes that are past their time.

      Reply
  12. Paul Fitzgerald
    September 27, 2015

    I will chime in with the other two who have mentioned the Scrubba washbag. It is worth every penny and every ounce. I will also mention ExOfficio as my goto brand for undergarments. They can actually be worn for several days in a row without smelling and are very quick to dry after a wash or swim.

    Reply
  13. Thomas S
    May 16, 2015

    I recommend to take shower with your underwear and wash with soap.

    Reply
  14. Amanda
    May 7, 2015

    Great info! I’ve never heard of the Aloksak bag but it’s basically like a portable washer. Very cool. I operate a wash and fold laundry service from home and we have locations all over the US. I never thought that these existed in other countries as a common practice.

    Reply
  15. Marc
    April 30, 2015

    I love the Aloksak bag method! I never heard of it before but it’s quite ingenious! Much better than the sink option in my opinion because you have more room to work with and can wash everything in one batch. In the sink, there’s not much space to put everything in.

    Reply
  16. Michel
    February 6, 2015

    Great blog Matt, great post … keep up the good work!

    Reply
  17. Kathryn
    January 5, 2015

    I always said I’d never handwash when travelling until I was confronted with a trip to the laundrymat just for a few pairs of knickers :)

    The towel method of drying is great but I stomp on the towel to get more moisture out. Then hang under the air con. Bulldog clips are also great.

    Reply
    • Helen Shaw
      February 22, 2016

      Even better for the towel method of drying quickly is to use a microfibre towel as it strips out much more water from the clothes than does a normal towel. I travel with one for each of us and the towel also dries overnight.

      Reply
  18. Tim
    January 3, 2015

    I use the ‘vineyard method’ if in a hotel with a bathroom. Put some detergent in the bath with the clothes and run in some hot water. Strip off an run the shower whilst tramping on the clothes (like you are crushing grapes with your feet) – rinse each garment under the shower until the water runs clear – wring and hang to dry. Shirts dry quickly if ironed damp. Socks dry very quickly if loosely put over the outlet to a hairdryer. Also I never forget needles and thread for on the go mending.

    Reply
    • Matthew Karsten
      January 3, 2015

      Nice! Excellent tips Tim, thanks. Never thought of just stomping around on the clothes.

      Reply
    • Dawn
      September 15, 2015

      Great Idea! I’ve got a family of 5 and think this is perfect!

      Reply
  19. Mike Harrop
    November 27, 2014

    1. No need to wet all the garment – takes too long to dry. Just the pitsy and crotchy bits and sock toes.
    2. Wipe these parts of your body daily with a vinegar-soaked cloth. Or any alkaline item in nature such as plant or vegetable.
    3. By thinking mindfully, you can gradually learn to sweat less. Preserves body-liquid too.
    4. Dress loose, keep limbs loose, so garments absorb less sweat.
    5. Wipe potentially smelly parts daily with a vinegar-soaked cloth. Kills bacteria.
    All the best, Mike

    Reply
  20. jlw
    July 25, 2014

    I use washeze laundry sheets. They are perfect for traveling. Everything is in one sheet – detergent, fabric softener and static guard. If I have a small handwashing I just cut one into smaller squares and it is perfect.

    Reply
  21. Zed
    February 18, 2014

    I’ve always used the sink wash, then hang up somewhere in my hotel room

    Reply
  22. Pierre
    January 23, 2014

    Hi. Great tips. Thanks for sharing. I use what you call the Aloksak method but with a new and great wash bag that I was given to test a while ago: the Scrubba Wash Bag (thescrubba.com). It’s a prettry cool product and it works very well. I never leave without it. Keep on the good work. Pierre.

    Reply
  23. David DiGregorio
    January 9, 2014

    I like your bag technique. One thing I’ve always wanted to invent was a network of vending machines to put in hostels that sell t-shirts, underwear and socks. Let me know if you’re interested in investing ;-)

    Reply
    • Matthew Karsten
      January 10, 2014

      Ha! That’s a good idea. I’d buy cheap fitted t-shirts from a vending machine.

      Reply
  24. Gregory
    December 9, 2013

    Awesome, totally right, no one knows your wearing it a second day, at least I hope they don’t!

    Second day wear, method of choice. Sink is the old back up. I have got to try that bag, does it work better than the sink?

    Reply
  25. Anja
    November 10, 2013

    The Indian Method and South East Asian Method:

    When I lived in India I was taught the “Asian Method” due to blackouts electricity is unavailable for washing machines.

    What you need:
    1. Liquid Laundry Soap

    2. Two very large buckets (think industrial size or large size for mopping your home). College students use plastic basins that can be stacked and put away.

    3. Cheap Plastic Scrub Brush

    4. Clothesline

    The bathroom floor is a mosaic tile so you sit on the floor of the bathroom or if you have a small footstool you sit on the footstool.

    One bucket has soapy water that you agitate to stir the soap into the water. One bucket has clear, clean water for the rinse cycle.

    Dunk the dirty clothes in the soapy bucket, swirl them around to coat them with soapy water. Let soak for 10 minutes. Stirring occasionally.

    Remove a piece of clothing from the soapy bucket and place it on the clean floor. Use the plastic scrub brush to scrub the clothing clean and remove stains. Scrub both sides. This is like a washboard or agitation cycle in a washing machine.

    Once the garment has been scrubbed clean dunk it into the clean water bucket to rinse it. If you like leave it in the clean water to rinse while you scrub the next item. Dunk and agitate the clean, soapy clothes in the clean water to rinse them.

    Ring the items of excess water. Hang to dry on the balcony clothesline to dry.

    Only problem is that in India with full sun from 8 AM – 9 PM and 120 F and my clothes did not dry due to excessively high humidity. My clothes turned moldy and mildewy instead of drying. The humidity prevented drying. I had to use a hair dryer to dry my clothes.

    This is the common Indian and South East Asian style of hand washing clothing. Always with buckets or basins of water and a scrub brush. Where electricity is unreliable and prone to what we call a “Blackout” but what locals call a “Brownout” this is how you wash clothing. It isn’t possible to use a machine.

    Cheap plastic scrub brushes are sold for this purpose, but they are a bit harsh. A softer nail brush for washing your fingernails is not as harsh on your clothing.

    Alternative Indian Method:
    A Dobhi Walla (translates to: laundry man or washer man. Said as “Doe-Be Wall-la”. Dobi = means laundry. Walla = means “guy” or man.) will wash your laundry, dry it and press it delivering it to you in India. It is cheap. Dobhi Wallas are men. They do door to door service pick up and delivery. It takes 2-3 days to get your things back.

    Please Note:
    Western females CAN NOT give Western bras, panties, undergarments, lingerie, sexy things, etc. to the Dobhi Walla unless they wish to never see them again. He will give them to his wife or girlfriend as they are higher quality then you can get in India. Do your own under garments in order to keep them.

    I usually only gave the Dobhi Walla my sheets, towels and things like this. I washed my own clothes to make sure I never “lost” them to the Dobhi Walla and his sticky fingers.

    Count your items in front of the Dobhi Walla and write down the number of items in front of him so he is aware you are tracking what you give to him and expect back. Create an inventory of what you give to the Dobhi Walla and show him each item as you check your list. Make sure you both agree on what he is taking and the number of items. This cuts down on theft. When the Dobhi Walla returns…count your items in front of him and consult the inventory list you made of what he took. Make sure everything is returned. Make a bit of a fuss and show of it so he doesn’t make off with anything. Indians are quite dramatic with the Dobhi Walla, so the Dobhi Walla is used to it. The exchange is not done very quietly.

    Of course Westerners are charged more, as per usual. Ask a local what the usual price is so you can avoid paying 10 – 50 times the normal rate.

    Dobhi Wallas come to apartments and homes. I don’t know if you can find them in the hostels. I only lived in apartments and homes. They knock on the door and tell you they are there for laundry. You can ask locals what days the Dobhi Walla comes around. If one does not come around simply ask where you can find the nearest Dobhi Walla. Again, allow 2 – 3 days for the Dobhi Walla to return.

    Dobhi Wallas charge per item and size of the item. Example: single sheets cost less than queen size sheets because they are smaller and take less time to wash. Agree upon a price prior to handing anything over and write it down so they don’t try to change the price when they return with your clean laundry. Write the price on your inventory list. Tell the Dobhi Walla, “OK, I am writing down the price and this is the price when you come back.” This avoids them changing the price upon their return. You pay when the Dobhi Walla returns with your laundry and not ahead of time just like at a dry cleaners.

    The Dobhi Walla will beat your clothes clean by flinging them against a rock or cement washing station and bring them back nicely pressed. They do a good job. (See photos of Dobhi Wallas at work in Mumbai, India.)

    I would not give the Dobhi Walla anything delicate, fragile, dry clean only or expensive. I would take care of those items myself. Only give the Dobhi Walla items you don’t really care about and can part with in case anything doesn’t come back to you and sturdy items that can withstand the beating.

    Reply
  26. Peter Miles
    November 8, 2013

    Very helpful tips for those that are constantly in a rush when traveling haha :)

    Reply
  27. Shaun
    November 5, 2013

    I’m a big fan of the Astronaut method! Atleast until I get to a place that offers laundry service. Some hostel I’ve been to are offerring free laundry service (One in St. Petersburg comes to mind)

    Socks and underwear will get done by hand if I run out though, there’s no astronaut to apply there imho.

    Reply
  28. Stephen Jones
    November 5, 2013

    Very informative post, Matthew! I’d never heard of the bag method, before. However, it makes a lot of sense!

    Reply
  29. Tim H
    November 3, 2013

    I got something called ‘thescrubba’ for Christmas. It’s essentially a drybag that has studs on the inside and a valve for leaving the air out. I haven’t had a chance to try it out yet, but I’m looking forward to my next backpacking trip so I can give it try.

    Reply
  30. Laura Lee
    November 1, 2013

    We’re on the road five months of the year. I keep some of those little balls that they sell to keep sneakers smelling fresh in my suitcase. Also, if you fill a small spray bottle with one part vodka two parts water you can spray that on clothes when they get a little stale smelling.

    Reply
    • Matthew Karsten
      November 3, 2013

      Nice Laura. Didn’t know about the vodka technique. I actually use the Aloksak bag to zip up my dirty laundry to prevent it from stinking up my pack.

      Reply
  31. Christine |GRRRL TRAVELER
    November 1, 2013

    If I have a room to myself, it’s definitely the sink method. If I’m at a hostel, then it’s the “shower method”. I’ve no problem bathing with my laundry, but that way, I can only do it bit by bit. The trick is timing washes. I do it when I know I have 2+ nights at a place, as some of it can take a while to dry if there’s not enough ventilation.

    Reply
  32. wanderingeducators
    October 31, 2013

    That bag is genius.

    Reply
    • Matthew Karsten
      November 3, 2013

      Comes in handy all the time Jessie. If I’m staying at a hostel, they often aren’t big fans of people doing their laundry in the public sinks, and you may have a waiting line to use the showers. This way I can do my laundry without holding anyone up.

      Reply
  33. Neesa
    October 31, 2013

    great tips!
    I’m going on an extended travel myself and will use some of these tips. Was also thinking to use floss tape to hang my clothes on to dry. Floss tape seems to be pretty sturdy to have things hanging on it.

    Reply
  34. Michael
    October 31, 2013

    We use the sink method when not house sitting

    Reply
    • Matthew Karsten
      November 3, 2013

      Your clothes will last longer hand washing them all the time, another bonus.

      Reply
  35. Victoria
    October 31, 2013

    Some great ideas here!

    I have a drying related tip – we just returned from a month long road trip around Italy and in autumn (unfortunately the weather was not always so great) drying was often an issue… sooo we had an elastic laundry line, much like the one you provided a link to (except ours had a ‘sucker’ on each end) and we strung it across the back of the car… from window to window… thankfully the rear windows were tinted so my smalls weren’t quite so blatantly on display in some public car park!!

    But as cars get pretty warm inside (even if its barely warm outside) & obvs it stays dry in there too (bonus)… & it saved having to pack away wet washing every time we moved on somewhere new… so it just stayed there hanging till it was dry :)

    Reply
    • Matthew Karsten
      November 3, 2013

      Thanks for the tip Victoria! I love how you call them “my smalls”. :D

      Reply
  36. Maria Alexandra @LatinAbroad
    October 31, 2013

    well, is this bad? But… I always say thank God for Couchsurfing :D I bring a six-pack with me as currency…

    Reply
    • Matthew Karsten
      November 3, 2013

      ha! No, not bad. I make use of my host’s washing machine when couchsurfing too.

      Reply
  37. Jose Luis
    October 30, 2013

    I use the method of man in space and I´m putting away clothes.

    Reply
    • Matthew Karsten
      November 3, 2013

      Apparently clothing doesn’t smell in space because the lack of gravity keeps them loose on your body. Too bad we can’t use space man method for too long down here before others will notice…

      Reply
  38. Terri Smart
    October 30, 2013

    Personally, I like to wash the small stuff as soon as it comes off my body. It is too easy to wash out your under clothes in the sink or in the shower as you bathe and then hang them on the towel rack or the back of a chair to dry. That is if you wear underclothes, and yes in some instances they just are not necessary.
    I think the Aloksak is an amazing idea. However, I would invite a friend to do laundry with me, that way the shower rinse cycle is a whole lot more fun. Just saying!
    For drying indoors I have been known to beg for a fan. All you need is air movement in the room and the clothes dry faster. Also, hanging them near the A/C is helpful. Dryer Machines eat your clothes, so I usually opt to line dry. Who does not carry some fishing line or rope with them?
    If you clean the tub prior to doing the clothes you can stomp the excess water out of them. Being a small woman this is easier than trying to wring them myself. Rolling is better than wringing, it does not wear out the cloth as fast or misshape your t-shirts.
    I agree with wearing the clothes multiple times prior to washing. However, I will hang mine out to air for a day before wearing them again. Matthew, you say that people do not notice when you have worn your clothes for several days. That may be the case, but it might be that they like you too much to say anything. At any rate your home free, dude!!!
    So, my best tips on laundry are: 1) Go as natural as you can it is cheaper. 2) If you are washing by hand invite a friend, the work gets done faster and everyone is naked. Halaluyer! Halaluyer! 3) If you are washing clothes in your room, invite a friend, wash all the clothing you can find and hang them to dry. This way everyone is, again naked (key point), and waiting is much more entertaining.

    Reply
    • Matthew Karsten
      November 3, 2013

      Good point about the AC or fan to keep air moving on your wet clothing Terri. I do that as well.

      Reply
  39. Casi @HeyNoobz
    October 30, 2013

    I brought as many quick dry clothes as I could without always looking like I was going to the gym. Especially quick dry underwear and socks since those were always one time wears and therefore needed to be washed more often.

    I definitely miss laundry ladies! My clothes have never been folded so nicely!

    Reply
  40. Chris
    October 30, 2013

    I often found laundromats a little difficult to find in Europe and when I did they weren’t so cheap. So normally opted for washing them in the sink or taking them into the shower with me and I’d wash them there.

    Drying is always difficult in small city hostels so getting the bottom bunk in a dorm room allowed me to hang clothes from the rails at the end of the bed or even from within the slats of the bed above.

    The best tip is to just wash often and not till you run out as you don’t always have a lot of drying space.

    Reply
    • Matthew Karsten
      October 30, 2013

      Completely agree Chris. A little bit every few days takes no time at all. Waiting around for everything to dry when all you have to wear is your swim trunks can be a pain.

      Reply

Leave a Reply