The longer you travel, the more likely you'll need to wash your clothes, bedsheets, or other textiles. You can:
- Use a coin-operated laundromat or laundrette – common in North America and Europe, but not so common in Asia and South America.
- Use the hotel's laundry service – often the most expensive option
- Use accommodation where laundry facilities are available (hand or machine; some low-cost or family-directed accommodations; some camps and marinas)
- Use a laundry or dry-cleaning business – quite expensive in some countries, especially if you have to pay per piece, but it may be very reasonable in countries with low cost of labor and few laundromats
- Pay some locals to wash them for you – a good option in low-income countries, though an expensive or difficult proposition in high-income places
- Wash them yourself – e.g. in the hotel bathroom, if allowed there
If laundry fees are charged by weight and the clothing is already wet, you'll pay a whole lot more. Allow the items to dry out first, or negotiate a lower rate.
|“||Sometimes I feel like throwing in the towel. But that would only mean more laundry for me.||”|
The cheapest way to do your laundry is to do it yourself. It can also be the most time-consuming method. If you are staying at a hotel, make sure this is not against the rules.
Washing and rinsing
- In the bathroom, fill the sink or bathtub with water, some sort of soap (or shampoo, body wash, laundry detergent), and your dirty clothes. You can use a universal sink stopper or just a dirty sock. Be very conservative with the amount of soap, or there will be a lot of rinsing to do.
- Let it soak for about 15 minutes.
- Swish the clothes around. Scrub each item individually by rubbing the cloth together, concentrating on areas such as the armpits and stains. Apply additional soap as needed.
- Rinse each item under a faucet (e.g., the shower), regularly wringing out most water, until the water runs out clean, not soapy. You can save water by using the sink, getting most dirt and soap out of each item before changing the water.
- Twist the clothing to wring the excess water out of the item (with wool and other delicate textiles: do not twist, just squeeze).
For woollen clothes, just hanging them for fresh air does wonders. If you have a good place for this and a change, you may not need to do any laundering. Treatments during the manufacturing process sometimes destroy this feature – watch out for woollen clothes that can be washed at higher temperatures.
- Hanging up your clothes is usually best. A portable clothes line can be used indoors or outdoors. You may also be able to hang your clothes from a shower rods, over the backs of plastic chairs, on coat hangers hung from curtain rods (check that it's strong enough to hold the weight of your wet laundry first), and other items in your hotel room or other accommodations. If you can't hang your clothes, you might be able to lay a few things out flat on a towel, but this is much slower.
- Hanging clothes outside results in the fastest drying time, especially if it's windy. Clothes can even be dried when the weather is below freezing, as the water will first freeze to ice and then sublimate to dry (but very, very cold). If drying clothes outdoors, try to time the drying so that you can take them down in the morning or day, before the moist evening and night. Some places have rules against leaving clothes out all night, being visible from the street, or in certain places, so look at what others in the neighborhood are doing, or ask for advice. Direct sunlight can fade some bright colours even in a single day. Most clothes will be fine, and you may be able to hang brightly colored clothes in the shade.
- Laundry dries fastest when there is plenty of room around each layer. If you're drying something thick, like a towel, try to hang it either flat (from one end), or so that the two halves don't touch each other, e.g., by draping it across two rods on a drying rack.
- Try to let your clothes dry completely before packing, which may require hanging overnight or longer.
- Ironing is possible at some accommodations. Otherwise, you can avoid most wrinkles by straightening them pieces carefully on your drying rack and not packing the clothes until they are dry. A few hotels may offer a trouser press, which flattens the legs of trousers overnight.
- In some countries during the rainy or humid season, drying clothes can be a major challenge, even with the fan on all night. You may also run into problems due to a late arrival, a stay cut short unexpectedly, or needing to dry more clothes than you can hang at once.
- If you have a large number of items to dry quickly, you may want to re-consider hand washing, and instead look for a coin-operated laundrette or other source of a dryer. Even if dryers aren't available, you may be able to find an alternative; for example, a Wäscheschleuder (clothes spinner) is more common in Germany than a dryer, and it speeds the drying time considerably.
- Ironing damp clothes can help them dry. Many hotels have an iron and ironing board available for loan, even if one is not present in the room. If an iron isn't available, or if you don't fancy wearing ironed socks, then you can try using a hairdryer, if available. Be careful not to allow fabric to become too hot (which can cause shrinkage, or in extreme cases, scorch). This approach works better for pants and shirts than for swimsuits and bras.
- Some hotel bathrooms have electric heaters designed for heating towels. They may be used to dry laundry, but are often quite small. This will be handy if you need to get one or two things dry, but it won't help much with drying a week's worth of clothing.
- If your clothes are still wet, pack them in a separate, plastic bag, but take them out for further drying as soon as possible. Some clothes can be dried on the outside of your backpack while you are walking around (but pack them before using vehicles). Especially in hot, dry climates, dressing in damp clothes is quite comfortable.
If you are washing laundry at a coin-operated public laundry facility or in a rented home, the process is likely familiar from home. In the US, commercial washing machines and dryers are large compared to what's typically seen at home or in the rest of the world.
The cost of using a laundrette varies significantly. As of 2023, washing and drying one large load of laundry could cost £8 in the London, $10 in New York City, €6 in Berlin, €7 in Paris, or ¥1000 in Tokyo. However, prices will also vary within a country: a laundromat in pricey New York City might cost $10 per load, but a laundromat in a lower-cost part of the US might charge as little as $4, and the nationwide average is around $7. The setting also matters: washing your clothes at a laundromat business is generally more expensive than a coin-operated washing machine in a residential building.
Some self-service laundry facilities use an app, so the entire transaction can be cashless. Some coin-operated machines may accept a small variety of coins, and others may require a single specific one. Some places will have a staff person on site who can make change or a machine to dispense coins (usually for a fee). However, you may need to collect coins for your laundry in advance. If they don't advertise the prices, you may have to go to the laundromat in advance, look at the washing and drying machines, read all the signs on the walls (sometimes, they provide advice about getting the correct coins), and then start collecting coins. You may be able to obtain a handful of coins at a bank, at your hotel, or by asking in shops that change be given in the particular coin that you need.
Some laundrettes sell single-use amounts of laundry detergent, which is handy if you need a small amount and don't have sensitive skin or an aversion to scented soap. Alternatives include buying your preferred type at a store beforehand and bringing your favorite from home. Small amounts of liquid or powdered laundry detergent or laundry pods can be packed in leak-proof containers, the same way you would pack shampoo or other potentially messy toiletries. Backpackers may prefer eco-friendly, lightweight laundry strips, which look a bit like paper but which are actually made of dried, compressed detergent that dissolves easily in water.
Dealing with stains may be more complicated, as you probably don't want to buy a large bottle of bleach or stain remover when you need only a small amount. Liquid detergent can do double-duty as a stain remover: instead of pouring the detergent in the machine, pour the usual amount directly on the worst stains, let it soak in for a few minutes, and then put the stained clothes in the washer.
If you expect to be machine-washing more than a few things, you need a way to transport them to the washing machine. Wrapping up a pile of laundry in a big bath towel might work if you only need to get down the hallway. For longer distances, consider bringing lightweight bags, re-purposing big shopping bags, or emptying your luggage of everything else so you can fill up your suitcase or backpack with the clothes you want to wash.
Wash and fold laundry services
A wash-and-fold service, sometimes called fluff-and-fold, is a business that will wash your laundry for you. For an extra fee, some of them may also iron it, steam-clean it, package it for shipping, or provide other services. Some of these are services provided by the staff at a self-service laundromat, and others are part of a traditional laundry or a dry-cleaning business.
Laundry services operated by hotels are almost always more expensive than independent businesses. Laundry services that charge by the piece are generally more expensive than services that charge by the weight.
As of 2023, in Mumbai, expect to pay about ₹100 per kilogram for a basic wash-and-fold service, with the prices going up by 50% or more if you want the clothes ironed. Basic laundry service in Paris will run about €5 per kg, and in London, you'll pay at least £3 per kg, usually with a minimum charge of £20 or more.