Laundry: pack light, wash, and air-dry with a travel clothesline

This product recommendation and guide is useful under a few conditions:

  1. You’re traveling internationally in a warm climate and have packed lightweight, quick-drying clothing
  2. You want to pack lightly for your trip, and are maybe backpacking*
  3. You and/or your travel companions are cool with washing underwear in a sink
  4. You’re camping or beaching and want to re-use towels, bathing suits, dish towels, etc.

If this is you, or you’re at least intrigued, this post covers doing your own laundry when traveling. Like doing it all yourself…in your hotel or rental.

Backpacking: First, let me explain what I mean when I say “backpacking.” For me, backpacking doesn’t mean hiking hobbit-style on a backcountry adventure through Europe–at least so far! It simply means that everything I need for my trip (to anywhere) fits in one large backpack. Backpacking means that I’ve put thought into what I will actually use, I’ve packed very lightly, and I’ve planned for at least some re-use. What I gain is hands-free mobility and freedom, quick check-ins and -outs, no loud rolling suitcases over cobblestones, and less worry over stuff. The first time I almost got stuck on a train due to retrieving luggage is what helped me switch to packing light.

Why would I EVER want to do laundry on vacation?

  • If your trip lasts more than a week, single-use clothing may have you packing two bags.
  • Laundry service can be insanely expensive, not convenient, or not available at all.
  • If traveling internationally, you may not have laundry en suite or within walking distance of your lodging
  • You may have difficulty finding coins for coin laundry, or difficulty with the laundry language barrier
  • Do you want to waste time sitting in or near a laundromat, or waiting for the hotel to return laundry?

So how do I do it?

  1. First, air drying your clothing in a reasonable amount of time isn’t going to work if you’re packing jeans or other heavyweight items. You’ll need to be familiar with your wardrobe or read labels to know what’s going to dry quickly, i.e., nylon, polyester, merino wool, packable silk, linen, Tencel/lyocell, and rayon. Most of these fabrics, if wrung out well, will dry in anywhere from two to six hours, and even quicker if hung in direct sunlight.
  2. Find a travel-sized bottle of laundry detergent at a corner market. You can pack this yourself if you want, but there’s really no need…it’s widely available. If you want to be prepared while packing light, you can pack travel laundry soap sheets. They’re incredibly small and lightweight, but they’re not my favorite. If you use them, dissolve the sheet in a small amount of water first (which is quite hard to do) otherwise it will stick to your clothing in gooey globs.
  3. Hand-scrub and rinse your dirties in a sink. Don’t be grossed out! If you’ve ever washed delicates in a sink at home, you understand that even a light hand scrub is just as good or better than your washing machine. In most cases, you aren’t as dirty as you think you are. Remember that a little laundry soap goes a long long way. Don’t use too much or you’ll be rinsing forever.
  4. You’ll be surprised that many hotels, rentals, cruise ships, etc., have a clothesline somewhere on premises; check for a retractable clothesline in the vicinity of your bathroom, balcony, or patio. But if you want to be prepared, pack a portable clothesline. If you have somewhere outdoors to hang your laundry, it can be dry in a few hours or overnight. Make sure to plan ahead, in case some of your items need a 2nd wash or a second session to dry.

What travel clothesline do you recommend?

Teeny tiny pouch and no clothespins needed!

There are many, but I liked the idea of the Sea to Summit Lite Line Camping and Travel Clothesline due to these features:

  • Under $15, and you can get it on Amazon
  • Small and lightweight, weighing just 1.3 ounces, and its pouch is just a few inches long
  • Seems like you can attach it almost anywhere?
  • Clothing is secured with parallel cords and sliding beads; no clothespins needed
  • Cord is reflective for visibility at night; I’ve definitely been “clotheslined” at night while camping

My opinions: This was an overall win. I hung some heavy items on the line and it didn’t sag too much or fall. I was a bit skeptical of the beads, but after leaving my clothing outside for much of the day, nothing fell off the line, and the bunny-ear portion of the fabric clamped by the bead was also dry. You don’t even have to fully squish your clothing between the beads to secure it. If you put the clothing between the parallel cords and just kindof snug the beads up gently on either side, something about that tension seems to secure the clothing well. But I did a few with the bunny-ear method to see how wrinkled the clothing would get, and it did wrinkle, as you’d expect.

It seems like you could hang this pretty much anywhere (I chose a light fixture and a patio umbrella), but the clamps are awkward and not my favorite design. I was able to hang it myself, but with a buddy to hold tension it would have been easier. I definitely don’t regret this purchase–I’ll be adding it to my packing list!

Note that we are not affiliated with Sea to Summit or Amazon.

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