When it comes to luggage and travel, less is more. The dry bag laundry method is the epitome of this “traveler minimalism” and it makes for the perfect travel laundry kit. Keeping a dry bag for laundry allows you to wash anytime, meaning you can travel more with fewer sets of clothes but still have fresh clothes anywhere. Having fewer sets of clothes means smaller bags, an easier time moving from place to place, less money spent on checked bags, and more money to spend on food wine and adventures.
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Unfortunately for most travelers, the question of how to wash clothes while traveling is a difficult question…but one with plenty of very simple solutions, and we’ll give them all to you here. From deciding the best travel laundry detergent or soap (to improvise) to sharing the best travel laundry bag options that are less “improvised” (like the Scrubba and Laundreez), we’ll give you all of the best travel clothes wash method and tools for travelers who want to stay light, and a couple extra, more luxurious options that will make life easier.
To make sure you’re fully equipped to handle laundry on the road, without packing too much, we’ll review the solutions and costs for doing your laundry while traveling in Europe, Asia, and South America, and then share my preferred method of doing my laundry while traveling using a dry bag for washing clothes (Jump to “How to wash your clothes without a washer in 10 Minutes Using a Dry Bag“)
How to Wash Clothes without a Washer While Traveling
If you’re wondering how to wash clothes without a washer while you’re traveling, you’re not alone. Don’t worry! Once you’re learn our preferred option for laundry while traveling, you’ll be able to travel indefinitely out of a single bag as single week’s worth of clothes will last indefinitely.
Here are your options for laundry on the road:
- Let your hostel or hotel do it: Usually charged by the lb/kg and expensive
- Let a third party do your laundry (Southeast Asia and South America): Much cheaper but requires waiting 24-48 hours and I have had my nice undies stolen
- Do it yourself at a laundromat (Europe): Your cheapest option in Europe. Requires a few hours of time, but is efficient
- Do it yourself in your bathroom – In the Sink: Free, but in hostels can be inconsiderate of shared bathrooms.
- Do it yourself in your bathroom in laundry bag or dry bag: Free, easiest, and simplest as soaking (not agitation) works and no sink is required. Can be done nearly anywhere. This is why a drybag is always part of my travel laundry kit
1. Let your hostel or hotel do your laundry
Letting your hostel or hotel do your laundry is nearly always an option. Plan on paying by the kilogram and receiving your laundry back in ~24 hours
- In Southeast Asia and South America, laundry in a hostel usually costs $2-$5 per kilogram
- In Europe, laundry in a hostel usually costs $5-$10 per kilogram
2. Let a third party do your laundry (Southeast Asia and South America)
The third party services that normally do your hostel’s laundry Southeast Asia and South America are very happy to your laundry as well. Just walk up the street from your hostel, look for a sign saying “laundry” or “lavadero” and walk right in. Costs will be slightly cheaper than at your hostel and you will receive it back much more quickly. So plan on $2-$5 a load in Southeast Asia and South America
3. Wash your clothes at a laundromat (Europe)
Throughout Europe there are great, easy to use and very clean self-service laundromats. All of the laundromats I’ve seen are completely automated and always in walking distance of my hostel. Price averages 7 to 10 Euros to wash and dry 5kg of clothes including detergent and softender, so if you have a lot of laundry this is a great option
4. Wash your clothes in your bathroom: In the Sink
This is my least favorite option, as you occupy the bathroom if you’re in a shared bathroom situation, preventing others from using the facilities. Also…that sink is seriously pretty disgusting, and you’ll probably find Paleolithic Zombie bacteria on that thing. But, sometimes you’ve gotta do what you’ve gotta do. To get your clothes (kinda) clean this way, be sure to bring a universal sink stopper on your journey. I highly recommend going with the following option though, as it is easier, less time consuming, more sanitary, and doesn’t keep the bathroom occupied if you’re staying in a hostel.
5. Wash your clothes using a dry bag or portable laundry bag and your travel laundry kit
When I have a small amount of clothes to wash or will be leaving a place within 24 hours, this performing my own dry bag laundry is the option I go for. All it takes is bringing a dry bag, like the many drybags sold at REI, or the many other drybags sold on amazon. From there, a good travel laundry soap or detergent makes a quick and easy laundry option that can be done anywhere.
These portable laundry bags have special features that make the travel clothes wash process much simpler.
The “Laundreez” has a special side cap allowing you easily drain the bag while squeezing water out of the clothes, and then refilling without removing your clothes from the bag.
For the Laundreez, simply fill with water, add detergent, add clothes, soak, drain, fill to rinse, drain, and it’s done. This video gives a quick snapshot to show how easy the drain spout makes the process.
On the other hand, the Scrubba has soft raised dots on the inside of the bag that gently “scrub” your clothes clean.
Of these two options, the Scrubba is my favorite as the raised dots help with the cleaning process, but both options are decent.
In the end, I recommend using a normal dry bag because of its versatility.
The dry bags can be used as a day bag for routine travel and a place to hide electronics when your adventures take you on the water. From there, steal a little dish soap from the kitchen and you’re ready to go. By the way, dish soap is an underrated detergent that is cheap, available everywhere, only requires a little bit, and pulls stains out of anything.
The Travel Clothes Wash Procress
(Continue scrolling for step by step instructions)
The “Dry Bag Laundry” caters to lazy, procrastinating travelers (like me)
An upside to using this, “laundry in a dry bag” method is that you don’t actually have to wash anything…you can just let the clothes soak. You simply fill up the bag with clothes and soapy water, swish around the clothes in the the bag once (5 seconds of effort total) and set the bag aside to soak for anywhere from 15 minutes to a day.
After that soak period, rinse by pouring out the water and refilling with clear water until clean – usually 2 to 3 rinses total gets everything squeaky clean. This method has cleaned everything from oil stains to European bar smoke out of my favorite garments, all quickly, conveniently, and cheaply. Read on for step by step instructions for how to wash your clothes without a washer.
Additionally, you can wash as many or as few items as you’d like, while with normal laundry you have to wait for “an entire load” of laundry to be efficient. If you realize you’ve procrastinate and are on your last pair of socks and undies, you can quickly do those two items and wait a few hours for them to dry…if you’ve brought travel friendly goods. This is one more reason I love traveling with wool clothing, as it dries much more quickly than you’d expect.
How to wash your clothes without a washer in 10 Minutes Using a Dry Bag and Dish Detergent
Step 1: Find a dry bag or portable laundry bag
These options on Amazon are cheap, leak proof, and will work for the task. As I said before, I recommend dry bags over “portable laundry bags” because most dry bags (like the ones below) can double as a day pack during wet adventures ..
Step 2: Find the best travel laundry soap available: Dish Soap
You may initially think “what is the best travel laundry soap I can use to wash my clothes?” Though your head is in the right place, the best travel laundry detergent may be – regular dish soap (yes, dish washing soap). Any will do, but aim for one with a decent scent or no scent at all.
Dish washing detergent works well because it’s concentrated, meaning we don’t need much, easy to find, so any hostel kitchen has it or you can buy a bottle for $1, and its great at breaking down oils, dirt and pulling out stains.
The single warning here is to rinse thoroughly. For some materials, dark colors that are rinsed well may fade when exposed to the sun if they haven’t been rinsed well. This happened with the inside of my travel pants – my Outlier Slim Dungarees – (as the cuff was folded and the inside was exposed to the sun) but the outer material didn’t noticeably fade
Step 3: Dilute 1 spoon of dish soap in water
Add one tablespoon of dish soap to a glass of water, stir to mix the water and soap, then pour into the dry bag
Step 4: Add clothes, water, soap
Add your clothes to fill the bag 1/2 to 3/4 of the way full, but make sure the bag can still be closed
Add enough water to cover clothes plus ~1 inch
Step 5: Mix and Let Soak
Agitate with hands 15-30 seconds to ensure all of the clothes are covered with and soak up the soapy water
Let the clothes sit in the water and dry bag for 15 minutes at least…don’t feel bad if a day or two goes by, especially if the clothes are very dirty
Step 6: Drain dirty water, refill with clean water, agitate, repeat
Rinse (~2-3 times) by pouring out the water, refilling with clean water, agitating with hands, and pouring out the water again. Repeat the process until the water is clear
Step 7: Remove clothes from bag and squeeze out excess water
Squeeze water out of clothes by hand. Avoid twisting or wringing out the clothes as this will stretch and damage the clothes
Lay out clothes to dry, ideally on a flat surface
Step 8: Wear the clothes, look stylish, and get them dirty again…and repeat
Wear again until dirty
Travel Clothes Wash FAQ
Can you wash clothes with soap?
Yes, virtually any soap (shampoo, hand soap, dish soap) will work to get clothes clean, just beware of washing delicate items, dark colored items, or delicate wool items with harsher soaps like dish detergent. Beyond this, as long as you rinse thoroughly you won’t have many major problems
What is the Best Travel Laundry soap?
The best travel laundry soap is liquid dish soap, as it is easily accessible, available everywhere, cheap, and pulls stains, oils, and sweat out very well.
For soaps to take with you, Dr. Bronner’s unscented soap is the best, as it is highly concentrated and multi-purpose. It can also be used as a body wash or facial cleanser if diluted. I generally carry a small bottle of Dr. Bronner’s soap at the start of my trips and it lasts a while.
What is the Best Travel Laundry detergent? (That isn’t dish soap)
Any powdered laundry detergent that you can pickup at a mini-mart is the best travel laundry detergent – as it is cheap, readily available, and keeps your bags lighter making your travels easier. Throughout Asia, South America, and even Europe, it is possible to buy a small bag of laundry detergent for under $1 USD. I’ll purchase this bag, and pour enough detergent for a few washes into a zip-loc bag and leave the rest at a hostel as a donation…for a “future me” to wash with.
What is the best travel laundry bag?
The best best travel laundry bag is a normal dry bag, between 10L and 20L in size. This bag can serve as an actual laundry bag, storing your dirty clothes, and serving as the holder for the travel clothes wash process.
Is washing clothes with dish soap ok?
Yes, just be careful washing delicate laundry items (ready the label) and rinse dark clothes thoroughly, as residual dish soap in the clothes can cause slight fading in the sunlight. If you’re very worried, take a small amount of powdered laundry detergent in a zip-loc bag and refill it with powdered detergent from mini-marts along the way.
A Note on choosing the right clothes for travel…for easier washing
The process of washing clothes by hand while traveling can become much harder or easier, depending on how “travel friendly” the clothing.
How much water materials hold (cotton is the worst), how long the materials resist grime and stains, and how quickly they dry (again, cotton is the worst) affect how quickly you can wash your clothes and how quickly they’ll dry.
Make the most of your travels, and reduce your wash time and time between washes by packing travel friendly clothes. These “best of” lists of the travel shirts, pants, and even shoes, that have been my favorites and best performing during my adventures.
- The 7 Best Men’s Shorts for Travel
- Travel Pants for Every Type of Travel: 27 Options for Adventuring Hard and Looking Good
- My Favorite Shirts for Minimalist Travel
- Wool Socks: A Travel Essential
Tips for Washing Clothes while Traveling
- For heavily stained clothes, get an old toothbrush and scrub dish detergent into the stain and allow the garment to sit for 10 minutes, then wash as usual.
- Depending on the type of stain you’re trying to get out, washing in cold water or soaking in hot water may be appropriate. Google the stain type to confirm
So now that you know how to wash your clothes without a washer while backpacking….here are a few great options travel laundry bags and dry bag laundry options on Amazon.
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