Jun 23 2008

How DO you do laundry while traveling?

Published by at 10:10 am under Travel,Virginia

Our first week abroad, we made a rookie mistake. We let our dirty laundry pile up. It wasn’t until we were officially out of underwear that the thought occurred to us that, oh yeah, I guess we have to do laundry here. So, naturally, we packed our dirty clothes in plastic bags and hiked over to a laundromat we’d seen in the busy new town of Chania. There, we made the unfortunate realization that the use of their washing machines cost eight euros (12 bucks) per kilo. On our budget, that was the price of about four meals. Yikes.

We were even more dismayed to find, upon our return, that to dry the clothes would cost an additional eight euros per kilo. To put this in perspective, say you wanted to wash and dry five pounds of clothes. It would cost you forty euros or about SIXTY DOLLARS.

Which is why, on one sunny afternoon, we found ourselves heaving bags of soaking wet laundry through Greek city streets, back to our room, where we hung them out to dry.

Obviously, going forward, we adopted the tried-and-true backpacker routine of manually washing our wardrobes. Eventually, we honed our hand-washing skillz to perfection. For the benefit of fellow travelers, I’ve decided to share the process, in ten steps.

Step 1: Pretend that the hostel’s bathroom is clean. Find a sink.

Step 2: Fill the sink (or bathtub or bowl) with water, some sort of soap (laundry detergent is a luxury; it’s far too heavy to cart around. Shampoo or body wash work just as well), and your dirty clothes. You’ll need some sort of sink stopper (you can get a universal stopper at a travel store, though they never work great). A dirty sock works just as well.

Step 3: Walk away. Entertain yourself for about 15 minutes while you let your clothes soak (more, depending on level of stinkiness [FYI, according to spell check, "stinkiness" is not actually a word]). Try not to forget about your clothes until the next morning when you wake up, walk into the bathroom, see your waterlogged wardrobe sitting in a puddle of stagnant water — actually, stagnant red water, thanks to one shirt — and then for the next six months have to wear clothes that all have a pinkish glow about them.

Step 4: Come back. Stare at the sink full of filthy clothes with loathing. Question, not for the last time, why you chose to travel far away from your comfortable home with washing machine.

doing laundryStep 5: Get your hands dirty. Swish around the clothes for a while. Scrub each item individually, concentrating on Problem Areas (i.e., armpits, stains). Apply additional soap as needed.

Step 6: Rinse! Run each item under the faucet (a shower head is particularly good for this) until the water runs out clean, and not soapy.

Step 7: Wring the excess water out of the item. Now, most proper hand-washers will tell you not to do this, as it stretches or misshapes your clothes. But seriously people, these clothes are going to be ruined by the end of your trip, no matter what you do. Embrace it.

You want to know why I’m pro-wringing? ‘Cause the most annoying part of doing laundry by hand is drying your clothes. That is, they don’t. It can take DAYS for soaked clothes to dry.

But never fear — Brittany’s come to the rescue once again! I have a little trick that hastens the drying process.

Step 8: Spread out a towel on the floor. Place the wet clothing item on top of the towel. Roll up the towel/clothes combo. Whack your boyfriend with it a couple of times. Very important.
doing laundry

Step 9: Wring, squish, squeeze, sit, stomp, have fun! Do whatever you can to that towel burrito to get as much water out of your clothes, and into the towel, as possible. Work out all your aggression! Sing while you do it. Sorry, it’s required.
doing laundry

Step 10: Hang up your clothes, wherever you can. Outside is always best. We brought a portable clothes line with us. If you hang clothes indoors, in a non-air-conditioned, unventilated room, they’ll pretty much never dry. If you can, time it so your clothes can hang out overnight. You’ll be wary of leaving your clothes outside overnight before you realize that no one wants to steal your dirty, hand-washed underwear anyway. Also, get used to wearing damp clothes.
this is how we dry our laundry... on the heater

If you’re clothes are still wet by the time you have to pack up and move on, for the love of God, pack them in a separate, plastic bag! They will stink to high heaven otherwise. Oh, borrowed hair dryers also work for emergency drying.

Ta da! You did it! Your clothes are (kind of) clean!

If ever you find yourself in a hostel, scrubbing your unmentionables in a small sink using hand soap instead of detergent, and hanging them to dry on the railing of your bunk bed in a room you share with eight people, you’re officially allowed to call yourself a backpacker. Be thankful that you don’t have to do your laundry in a river, like most rural residents of S.E. Asia.

Important Tips:

  • Do NOT, for your own sake, let your dirty clothes pile up. Every couple of days wash a few items. Trust me, it’s much, much better this way. Manually washing an entire load of laundry is not a fun way to spend an entire day.
  • Realize that pretty much no matter what you do, you’re going to stink. It’s cool. So does everyone else! Your definition of what’s “acceptable to wear” is far different while traveling than while living at home.
  • And as a “treat” to yourself, splurge once a month or so and let someone do your laundry for you in a proper machine, no matter what the cost. ‘Cause, trust me, you’re never going to feel truly clean wearing underwear you hand-washed in a sink.

And finally, two items a traveler should never, EVER be without:

  1. Tide stick
    Tide to go stick
  2. Febreze! For the uninitiated: Febreze is a miracle liquid that eliminates odors in fabrics. It pretty much allowed us to do laundry half as often. I know, disgusting.

Sweet, sweet modern luxuries.

NEXT: Circuit City »



59 responses so far

59 Responses to “How DO you do laundry while traveling?”

  1. Jessieon 23 Jun 2008 at 10:46 am

    Oh dear, I’m having nasty flashbacks of being in China for 6 weeks. We washed all of our clothes in the bathtub and since it was 115 degrees with 600% humidity they never fully dried. Such fun.

  2. Linaon 23 Jun 2008 at 11:53 am

    they ripped you off. i was in chania two years ago and had the same “problem”. i paid about 10 euros for getting two big bags of dirty clothes washed, dried and folded.

  3. Craigon 23 Jun 2008 at 1:03 pm

    You carry a giant spray bottle of cleaner? That’s mad. Get a small tube of handwash or just use shampoo. I find it makes my clothes extra-dandruff proof!

    My laundry ideas are here: I use a pretty similar system to you though.

  4. Sarahon 23 Jun 2008 at 3:48 pm

    Another trick is to put a couple of towels with clothing between under your mattress when you sleep at night. When you wake up in the morning the clothes will be dry. You might want to put a trashbag between your towel and the hostel mattress, though.

  5. Baqueroon 23 Jun 2008 at 3:53 pm

    Hi Brittany!

    Great article. I really enjoyed it. I would like to translate it to spanish to put it in my blog. Do I have your permission for doing that? (I would refer it to your article and ask to visit it)

    Well, let me know (I have put my e-mail). Thanks.

  6. beverlyzon 23 Jun 2008 at 4:02 pm

    What traveling on a tight budget is all about!

  7. Sean Kearnson 23 Jun 2008 at 4:37 pm

    Great article… although I also found that given the opportunity (however rare it is…) take a shower with your funky duds on… “stripping” down the layers as you need… also might be a good idea to get a small brush (I used to use an extra “wax brush” from my ski racing kit just for that purpose)…
    In warmer climates some biodegradable eco-friendly soap and a nice clean stream (If you can find one) does wonders as well.

  8. Paulon 23 Jun 2008 at 4:41 pm

    Quick-dry underwear is a great investment, available at many travel-goods stores.

  9. Jameson 23 Jun 2008 at 5:00 pm

    Nice entry though IMO your attitude about the cleanliness of handwashing is a little off. I’ve washed a lot of my clothes this way while traveling (and when not) and I’m fairly confident that handwashed (with some care) is cleaner than machine washed. I mean, that machine impeller doesn’t do that much but swoosh them around – YOU can get into the PITS! MMM pits.

  10. Mathiason 23 Jun 2008 at 5:01 pm

    Sometimes it’s better to stay in a hotel that offers free/cheap cleaning of your clothes. We found a couple in Thailand last year. Every time we needed our clothes cleaned we try to look for a hotel instead of a cheap guesthouse.

  11. Jimon 23 Jun 2008 at 5:17 pm

    Also…60 euros…?

    Dude, new frickin wardrobe of clothes you’ll look less touristy in.

  12. Charon 23 Jun 2008 at 5:34 pm

    This is great. When I was in Europe last summer, me and my three room mates learned this the hard way also. Our room in Luzcerne smelled like, roses, axe, and cherry blossoms and looked like a spiderweb the first time we figured out we needed to do laundry by hand. In Paris, our hotel had a washer and dryer, but it was a super shady place, so we spent six hours sitting in the room playing with a bouncy ball, jealously guarding the machines. We weren’t worried about someone stealing our clothes, we were worried about our clothes being moved and someone else using the machines.

  13. zeek!on 23 Jun 2008 at 6:02 pm

    word. shampoo, water, and lots of string. that’s how 17 of us made it through rural bangladesh! we did, however treat ourselves to hotel laundry service the two nights we were in Dhaka…

  14. sabraon 23 Jun 2008 at 7:12 pm

    try 9 mos in equatorial africa. there was nothing better than visiting my “host” family and doing a load or two of laundry – especially getting towels that were machine dried rather than line dried. the small luxuries of student/budget travel.

  15. Carolon 23 Jun 2008 at 7:44 pm

    My daughter and I traveled through Rome, Florence, and Paris doing our own laundry. We brought along a camping clothes line bungy cord thingy that had twisted elastic cords. We would stretch the bungy clothing line all around the bathroom and then would wash our clothes by putting them in the bottom of the bathtub while we showered. We would squirt shampoo or body wash on the clothes and stomp on them like stomping grapes. We would rinse and wring them out in towels like they did above and then would hang them all around the bathroom by untwisting the cords just enough to stick a small corner of the item between the cords. The only things that wouldn’t get dry by the next night were demin things. we would hang them on the balcony and by the next afternoon it would be dry.
    We washed clothes every night and had an additional fresh set to wear the next day. We stayed in the same hotel for several days at a time so we always had some clothes hanging to dry and still had something to wear. It was an adventure but we had sooo much fun.

  16. JJon 23 Jun 2008 at 8:08 pm

    Never worry about your laundry when traveling in Thailand. In bangkok both of the hostels we stayed at had laundry machines we could use for free, and in Chiang Mai there was the sweetest lady around the corner from our guesthouse who would wash, dry, iron, and fold our laundry for 60 baht per load(about two dollars american)! My wife wants to move there now so that she never has to do her own laundry again.

  17. Heathon 23 Jun 2008 at 10:24 pm

    We stayed in a hostel that had a washer and dryer. I put in the liquid detergent and then put in the money and came back later and surprise! It didn’t wash them and the detergent stained my clothes! I would have rather used your method! Thanks!

  18. Anna Ballon 24 Jun 2008 at 1:44 am

    Amost anywher you go, ther is a woman who takes in laundry, dries , folds, and charges very little. Ask in the local eating place, also a local clinic is a good place to find out about local launderesses

  19. Millieon 24 Jun 2008 at 4:37 pm

    Please come over to visit again and we’ll see if your little system works on clothes stained with newborn baby poo.
    Love you

  20. pareshon 26 Jun 2008 at 7:57 am

    little but smart experience.

  21. The Dudeon 28 Jun 2008 at 2:48 am

    i meet this guy in austrailia who just never washed his clothes. instead, he took a swim in the pool for 5 minutes with his clothes on and then would just in the sun for 30 mins until he was dry. i never used the pool in this hostel again ….

  22. Lorion 29 Jun 2008 at 1:42 am

    Great article. I carried individual Woolite packs, which were perfect for washing everything. Next time I travel I’m going to try the pack of 20 ‘detergent sheets’ that are solid and light, but disintegrate in water.

    Oh, and I love the braided rope made out of rubber that can be stretched across a bathroom using anything that it can be tied around. The braid allows you to hang up clothing without a clip… which is great!

  23. Kimon 11 Jul 2008 at 11:47 pm

    This post made me laugh, and shudder, ALL AT THE SAME TIME. Yes, I probably look (and sound) a little… retarded right now… but, whatever! YOU GUYS ROCK!

    PS. I’ve been reading your site for quite some time now, and even emailed you both a little while back… (and you guys actually responded!) Are you guys back from your trip now? The both of you are from VA, correct? I will be living and interning there for the next two weeks! Keep up the great updates!

  24. Hollyon 14 Jul 2008 at 9:00 am

    Come on guys….you’ve got to have something to say!!!! We miss your posts.

  25. jetsetlifeon 15 Jul 2008 at 7:19 pm

    Great Post! We’re currently in Mykonos filming the latest Jet Set Life show and we loved your post. These high end hotel clening bills can be a little high! Why not do it your self great post!

  26. [F]oxymoronon 17 Jul 2008 at 12:23 pm

    …funny! And good advice too. I’m gonna pick up one of those tide sticks.

  27. Craigon 20 Jul 2008 at 4:03 pm

    I’m staying in a place for six weeks and they completely FORBID handwashing. The maids seem to be very strict about it too. Five quid a wash/dry? I’m going to go broke.

  28. Melissaon 25 Jul 2008 at 1:38 pm

    I sure miss reading about your adventures! Will you be posting any more updates about life in general? Your writing was superb on this blog and so much fun to read.

  29. Cristinaon 02 Aug 2008 at 12:49 pm

    oh dear, reminds me of having to wash my lingerie while in Budapest last year. Note: there were 5 of us in the room, no washing machine and no hot water! YIKES lol needless to say the FIRST thing I did when I came home was…toss the clothes in the darn automatic washing machine and myself in the shower!

  30. Amyon 04 Aug 2008 at 4:18 pm

    Please give us an update! We are all dying for an update here!

  31. Timon 27 Aug 2008 at 5:40 pm

    Another reason to avoid Europe. In most of Asia and Latin America you can get laundry done so cheaply that you can refresh your wardrobe every two weeks or so.

    You said “soap or shampoo” in this piece but there’s a big difference. Shampoo is a kind of detergent and is therefore chemically pretty close to laundry detergent. Soap is not and will leave a residue that clings to sweat unless you rinse everything twice as many times, making you stinky again much faster.

  32. Priyankon 30 Aug 2008 at 12:52 am

    Hey, this is good. Some hostels I stayed at disallow hand washing, but you can always take extra long showers and learn how to wash your clothes while standing. Its not that bad if you ‘shower’ your clothes frequently ;-) Cheers

  33. Brooke vs. the Worldon 06 Sep 2008 at 1:26 am

    I like the part where you say to pretend the bathroom is clean. Yes, I know this one all tooooo well.

  34. Enlighton 30 Sep 2008 at 2:12 am

    I use the garbage can to wash my clothes in the hotel rooms. I am currently in Turkey. In Egypt they did have dry cleaners.

    You will get use to it quickly.

    I will put your link on my blog.

  35. Karaon 18 Nov 2008 at 10:49 pm

    Amazing post and awesome resource for those traveling for a long time on a short amount of cash. Great way to save money. Definitely remember have the same “uh oh” moment of running out of clothes while in Thailand…and getting use to scarce running water.

  36. europeguyon 21 Nov 2008 at 4:32 pm

    Jessi, Lina – China is NOT Europe…

  37. Megalead11on 22 Nov 2008 at 6:08 am

    Using washing machines while travelling can be costly, especially when you are on a tight budget. Thanks for sharing the 10 step process of manually washing the wardrobe. It will definitely be beneficial for the fellow travelers.

  38. veselaikartinkaon 03 Apr 2009 at 8:16 am

    I’m addicted to your website, even if I don’t understand a single word of it.

  39. Ryanon 17 May 2009 at 8:36 pm

    hahaha Brit, I just stumbled on this!!!

    ~ Ryan

  40. Ellieon 16 Jun 2009 at 12:43 pm

    yes, jim, buy a new set of clothes every time your clothes get dirty. sounds GREAT!!!

  41. Nepal Expeditionon 27 Aug 2009 at 9:36 am

    i like to do my laundry my self even when i m in home i do my self

  42. William Wallaceon 15 Sep 2009 at 3:44 pm

    What a waste of time and effort, don’t be a cheap dumb Yank and pay the money to at least have your clothes washed.

  43. Charlemagneon 19 Sep 2009 at 10:53 am

    I tend to splash out on the luxury of a hostel with a free/small charge washing service every few weeks once I’ve dirtied my clothes, failing that buying new cheap clothes along the way is also fun. Nice article though and for first timers sounds very useful.

  44. Danaon 02 Oct 2009 at 1:42 am

    Another tip – Wash you clothes while on you :) Really, I’m serious! When you get into the shower wear what you want to clean soap it up, scrub well then when you take them off you can address the areas that may need some additional attention. Then wring, and hang to dry :)

  45. Nepal trekkingon 17 Apr 2010 at 2:29 am

    i suggest to do own laundry self because if we do our our laundy our self then we can save money and our cloth can be more clean. i like to do my laundry my self

  46. Nepal trekking, trekking in Nepalon 03 Oct 2010 at 4:17 am

    you are really funny!! like the way you describe it!!! :)

  47. Nepal trekking expeditionon 12 Oct 2010 at 7:24 am

    we must do our laundry while travelling because when we travel we have to save money. no one know where and when we need money because some time we can be sick and if we dont have money then no one look us but if we have money every one help so we should save money. to save money we have to do our laundry and we must barren for price

  48. BikeQueston 14 Dec 2010 at 1:05 pm

    Love this! Reminds me of hiking the Appalachian Trail and hitting a cheap hotel. Throw the pack off and first thing is step into the shower with all my stinky clothes on and peel off as the water rinses them (and me) out. Rinse more until all the brown water goes away. Hang outside or string across the room and furniture if they had good A/C.

  49. bwilsonduncanon 20 Jun 2011 at 2:33 am

    I really think that Google Earth and Maps would be doing something useful if it added to its list of ‘tags’ 1)Offices de Tourisme, and 2) Laundromats, Lavories Automatiques, Washereie

  50. Nava Dahalon 21 Sep 2011 at 1:35 am

    Nepal Environmental Treks & Expedition : Best Leading Trekking Agency in Nepal.

  51. Kevinon 02 Oct 2011 at 9:09 pm

    I think everyone missed the main comment point … does singing different songs, or better singers, get clothes cleaner? I mean, geez … I’d hate to think the reason I stink so bad was I couldn’t sing :/

  52. Krishnaon 02 Nov 2011 at 5:45 am

    Global Adventure Trekking offers the best holiday trip in Nepal/Tibet and Bhutan.

  53. Travel Tipson 17 Apr 2012 at 6:41 am

    alltraveltips4me have solutions for all your travel queries and sickness and also have suggestions and tips as to where you can go and what you can do.

  54. Melanieon 24 May 2012 at 3:50 am

    Enjoyed your advice about the towel burrito. If my boyfriend were accompanying me, rest assured that he would be whacked with said burrito (my, that sounds like a euphemism for something terrible). Linked to your blog in a post of my own. Thanks for the laughs.

  55. Samrat Nepalon 20 Jun 2012 at 4:30 am

    Responsible Travel Company in Nepal. Organizing Nepal Trekking, Travel, Ticketing, Trekking Nepal Information Portal and also promotes Mount Kailash Tours and India Tours.

  56. Trekking Nepalon 25 Jun 2012 at 7:41 am

    I like to do by my self , it’s good way to save money during the traveling.

  57. Coreyon 05 Dec 2012 at 3:58 am

    There’s a new invention called the Vapper which can dry a shirt in under 10 minutes. It folds to the size of a newspaper when not in use. More information and a product video are at

  58. Nepal Package Touron 06 Feb 2013 at 12:51 pm

    Laundry is important in traveling time, which time or where to possible, this is worried during traveling but we prefer for laundry in city where all kinds of services available. We order in reception of Hotel, they assist us to make clean clothes.

  59. Johng710on 30 Apr 2014 at 6:21 am

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