By Peter Landsiedel
Traveling for more than a few days generally means laundry becomes a necessity. Laundry on the road is not nearly as complicated or difficult as some might imagine. Emily and I have now travelled for five months straight and we’ve tried several different ways of washing our clothes. Listed below are the methods we’ve tried, the equipment needed for that method, and the corresponding pros and cons.
I like to think of shower laundry as an extension of showering myself. Here’s how to do it: First, hop in the shower. Wash yourself. When sufficiently clean, grab your clothes one by one and get them wet under the showerhead. Then, grab a bar of laundry detergent, and lather up your clothes. Scrub them between your hands, rinse the soap out of them and wring them as dry as you can. Finally, hang them up on a clothesline (paracord makes a fantastic makeshift clothesline), radiator, or over the edge of your bunk bed. Depending on fabric, temperature, humidity, and airflow, clothes can take over 24 hours to dry. Pro tip: After wringing out your clothes, lay them flat on a dry towel and roll them up tight, as if trying to roll an overstuffed burrito. This will remove quite a bit more water, and noticeably shorten drying times.
Equipment Needed– Bar of laundry detergent, Shower, Clothesline
Pros– Super cheap. I bought a bar of laundry detergent in Mexico for less than a dollar, and it’s lasted me and Emily at least 20 loads of laundry. Not carrying any additional equipment (other than the bar and some paracord) makes this an attractive light weight option.
Cons– Arguably the most labor intensive method of washing clothes. Also, good luck finding a shower that runs hot water long enough to do your laundry. You will leave the shower pruny and wrinkled by the time you finish all your laundry. Finally, if staying in a busy hostel, this method forces others to wait on you. It’s hard to make friends when all your roommates are too fed up with your long showers to chat with you.
I’ve used this straightforward method most often. Simply plug a sink with a rubber sink stopper, fill the basin with warm water, add your powdered laundry detergent, and your clothes. Then agitate the water and clothes with your hands. Let them sit for twenty or so minutes. Agitate again. Drain the soapy water, and rinse your clothes. Wring dry. Roll up in a towel to get that last bit of moisture out. Hang dry on your paracord clothesline (seriously bring paracord when traveling). Voila.
Equipment Needed– Sink Stopper, Sink, Powdered Detergent, Clothesline
Pros– Yet another cheap method of washing clothes. I’m still using the kilo of laundry detergent I purchased in Peru months ago. The rubber sink stopper we use cost a few dollars, and is both lightweight and small. Most hostels we’ve visited in Central and South America have a large sink dedicated to washing clothes with this method.
Cons– The ease of this method depends on factors often outside of a traveler’s control. Too often we’ve come across a sink that’s too small, or too grody, and I’ve ended up washing clothes in the shower. While somewhat laborious, it’s not nearly as time consuming as shower laundry.
I’d read about this method on a travel blog, and as a bit of a gear junky, figured I’d give it a go. After several instances of not having a clean or large enough sink in a hostel, we ventured out and found a dry bag. This method is very similar to the sink method. First, fill your drybag with warm water. Add powdered detergent and clothes. Fold the top down three or four times, sealing the bag, and buckle it up. Agitate the bag. Let it sit for twenty or so minutes. Agitate again. Drain the soapy water. Refill the bag with clean water. Seal the bag. Agitate. Drain. Repeat if necessary. Roll clothes in towel and hang dry. Wipe out the inside of the dry bag and hang dry as well.
Equipment Needed– Dry Bag (13L is about as small as I’d go), Powdered Detergent, Clothesline
Pros– No need for a sink. You carry the washbasin with you. After the initial investment in a dry bag, this is just as cheap as shower or sink laundry and less reliant on your accommodation.
Cons– This is the most heavy and costliest of the hand washing options. A quality drybag runs $15-$30USD. While it does fold small, my 33L Pack can only carry so much. While it doesn’t weigh much, every ounce matters when you’re trying to stay as light as possible. Additionally, it can take two to three “rinse cycles” in a dry bag to get all the soap out of my clothes, making this a longer and more labor intensive method.
The most simple method happens to be the most expensive. Everywhere we’ve been in the world, we’ve been able to find Laundromats, either drop-off or self serve. In South America, the vast majority are drop-off and you can expect to pay anywhere from $5 to $20 per medium sized load.
Equipment Needed– Money
Pros– Drop off laundry services are super easy and take no effort. Drop your clothes off. Come back in a few hours. Hand over some cash. Voila. Clean, dry, and folded clothes. No messing with a dirty sink or hogging a shower for an hour. No waiting hours (or days!) for your clothes to dry.
Cons– They are by far the most expensive means of washing clothes. Additionally, you don’t always get back everything you give them (or in the case of a friend of ours, you end up with two pairs of new-to-you panties.) If you’re wearing special technical clothing (like Merino wool), forget about this option. Your expensive shirts and socks will be destroyed in the rough washing machine, or shrunk beyond repair by the high-heat dryers. You also have to go out and find a Laundromat, whereas the other options are at your accommodation.
Having used all of these methods over the past 5 months, my two favorite are the Sink method and the Dry Bag method. Shower laundry takes too long, and I’m too stingy to pay to have my clothes washed every week. If a large sink is available, I’ll generally use that. If not, then I have my drybag handy and I can wash clothes even in a hostel dorm room.
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