Skip to Content

How Do You Wash 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 while you travel 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
  • Washing Clothes In A Sink
  • Coin-Operated Laundromats
  • Art Of The Laundry Lady

Each has its benefits and disadvantages, which I’ll describe in fascinating detail below! Ready? Let’s start.

Aloksak Bag Method

Travel Laundry in a Bag

Wash Your Clothes in a Bag

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 Your Clothes In A Sink

Washing Clothes in a Sink

Wash Your Clothes in a Sink

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 Laundromats

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. Although if the instructions are in a foreign language, sometimes it can be confusing to know what cycle you’re using.

Some machines take coins, others require you to buy separate tokens.

Many laundromats will often have wifi, and it’s a great place to meet local people. Double bonus!

COST: $3-$6

Art Of The Laundry Lady

Laundry Lady in Thailand

Meet Jai: My Laundry Lady in Thailand

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 out of 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-$10

How To Dry Your Clothes While Traveling

Line Dry Laundry in Mexico

Laundry Drying on a Mexican Rooftop

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 Tip: 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 washing clothes up there in space doesn’t work. In space, astronauts wear their clothes until they fall apart!

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

Do you have any good travel laundry tips? Share your tips and questions in the comments below!

READ MORE TRAVEL TIPS

I hope you enjoyed my guide to washing your laundry when traveling! Hopefully you found it useful. Here are a few more wanderlust-inducing articles that I recommend you read next:

Caroline

Wednesday 26th of February 2020

I never thought of using a car shammy for drying clothing. I use the towel and roll method. The towel does tend to get very wet at the end, and not every thing comes out damp when I first rolled the clothes in the towel.

I will update you all and let you know how every thing worked out with the car shammy.

Dom

Tuesday 23rd of July 2019

Changing clothes daily even if they dont stink or are dirty - women mindset. Sorry if this is sexist, but guys USUALLY (except for Matthew) just dont care if it doesnt stink or is too dirty!

Well, I just happen to have a very stinky outfit. There are no laundromats around (just dry cleaners - which are expensive. For this outfit roughly 5-10 gbp. I asked around.)

So I came here, and I think I can get a big plastic bag and do the same as with the aloksak. I dont even know where to buy those. But is it necessary to wash them completely? The clothes are just sweaty and stink, but arent dirty. Is there maybe a way to kill the smell?

caroline

Saturday 15th of February 2020

You can get the extra large ziploc bags from amazon.

j davidson

Wednesday 27th of February 2019

I take Washeze Laundry Detergent sheets with me when I travel. TSA approved. no chance of any spills or mess. I can even cut a sheet in half for a small sink load. contains the detergent, fabric softener, stain fighter and static guard. Great value.

Mark Gilchrist

Monday 24th of December 2018

Great tips — I will def use the ziplock and the towel techniques! Matt, have you used Exofficio clothes? My brother gave me a shirt and pair of underwear a few years ago, and I have used them ever since. They, (especially the underwear,) are made of material that dries quickly, and they are usually dry in the morning.

Say, I'm not really sure how much more quickly they dry than other stuff would, as I've handwashed only these, so if anyone has any input, I'd appreciate it. First, they are really expensive, and second, I'm in SE Asia, where I can't buy Exofficio, so I'm harassing my brother to send me a second, (backup,) pair.

lorna choong

Monday 16th of July 2018

Hi, I've used the sink washing before, but it's only for small load of laundry, now, I'm thinking for a quick and easy solution, since I think the Astronaut method's a good idea too, has any of you tried cleaning (temporarily) the garment/shirts, with a portable steam iron? (or those travel garment steamer?) has anybody tried before? and if it works? cos, washing is ok with me, finding a place to linedry my laundry will be a problem, as, usually the hotel's hangers are made to be inside the cupboard, it can't be used outside, and I'll try to travel minimally with my family

caroline

Saturday 15th of February 2020

This is one thing I struggled with, where to hang my clothing. The shower rod works for me. And I make sure to handwash my clothes at least two days before so I can make sure they are able to dry.

I as a woman do wear my skirts two or three times before I wash them.

We use affiliate links and may receive a small commission on purchases.
For more info please read our policy page.