Five Steps for Doing Laundry While Backpacking

By: leelefever on April 19, 2006 - 12:35am

In the 130+ days that we’ve been on the road, we’ve shunned mechanical and otherwise costly means of doing laundry and relied on doing it ourselves.  The system works very well and we’ve reached a point in the evolution of the system that we’re ready to share.

The choices for doing laundry on the road are to visit a laundromat, use a hotel’s laundry service, do it yourself or have a local do it for you.  In India, to send your laundry out meant that it might be washed in polluted water and dried on the same beach where people defecate. Our advice is to proceed with caution. 


Getting laundry dirty needs no explanation, but it happens all too quickly in the tropics.  Further, it is up to the individual to negotiate the point at which something must be washed.  T-shirts and underwear are the most frequent offenders for us with shorts being the least offensive.

What you need:

  • A sink or shower
  • Soap (or shampoo)
  • Towel(s) for drying
  • Places to hang clothes
  • 5-7 minutes for each article of clothing


Step One:  Fill the sink enough to wet an article of clothing (about ¼ full). If the sink doesn’t have a stopper. use a plastic bag or do without.  Wet the article completely.

Step Two:  Apply soap to stain or “problem” areas (armpits, collar, bottoms) and scrub together. Apply more soap to the water and article before kneading it like bread.  Squeeze and scrub.  If suds do not appear…rinse, repeat. 


Step Three:  Using cold water, rinse the article until soap is gone. Wring the article to remove as much water as possible and repeat these steps with the next article.


Step Four: Lay a towel flat and place the article on the towel, with about 8 inches of towel above it.  For shirts (whose sleeves will not often fit in the towel) fold the 8 inch part of the towel over the top of the article and fold it over on itself once.  Then, fold the sleeves onto the top of that fold, giving them a place to be dried. 










Roll the towel up like a burrito and wring it, forcing the water into the towel. You might even stomp on it. 


Step Five: Unroll the towel and hang the article to dry. The best scenario for drying is in a room with air conditioning and a ceiling fan.  AC is almost essential for quick drying, but a ventilated area will work well too.  To dry a nylon/polyester shirt in an air conditioned room will take 2-3 hours, for a cotton shirt, 5-10 hours (a good reason NOT to travel with cotton clothes).  And…Voila! Clean clothes…for free.

NOTE: Shortcuts can be used to speed the process.  Washing more than one article at a time is possible.  Drying clothes with a blow-dryer (provided by hotel), directly in front of the air conditioner or in direct sunlight helps significantly.  The best shortcut I’ve found is to find a sympathetic fellow traveler to give you a hand (wink-wink).

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