Travel Laundry Detergent & Other Solutions for Washing Clothing While Traveling
I once ended up forking over more than the nightly rate of my hotel just to launder a small pile of clothes. Blame it on my overzealous attempt to pack ultra-light or my underestimation of the chaos a clumsy hand with pasta can create.
But listen up, fellow travelers. You don’t have to stuff your suitcase to the brim or resort to spending an arm and a leg on hotel laundry services. There’s a middle ground, and it’s easier to find than you might think.
For those hitting the road for an extended period, consider opting for a vacation rental or long term stay hotel with a washer and dryer. Many hosts will provide the detergent (or you can grab some locally), saving you the trouble of packing extra and tangling with TSA’s liquid rules.
Now, if you’re stuck with nothing more than a hotel sink, don’t sweat it. I’ve been there, done that, and I’ve got some no-fuss, easy-to-pack solutions that will keep you looking and smelling fresh on the road.
Quick shop our picks below, or scroll down for more info on keeping your clothes clean while traveling, and all the nitty-gritty details on our choices:
Travel Laundry Solutions
The Wayfarer’s Guide to Doing Laundry
The life of a frequent traveler is an incessant dance between adventure and practicality. Today, we’re stepping into a dance that’s seldom discussed in travelogue narratives but is a reality for every on-the-go individual: the seemingly mundane task of doing laundry.
Ah, the dirty laundry! A perpetual shadow on the flamboyant face of the travelling life. After days of cross-country bus rides, bustling city tours, or treks through dense forests, that crumpled pile of clothes in your bag can take on a life of its own. And when the stench of adventure gets too heady, that’s when the hotel laundry service flyer catches your eye.
Now, let’s tackle this head-on: hotel laundry services are to wallets what black holes are to light. They swallow your funds faster than you can say “folded, not hung”. Having been privy to laundry bills that could fund a small country’s budget, I’d advise you to steer clear unless you’re ready to auction off your favorite camera or vintage boots to keep your shirts clean.
My Favorite Travel Laundry Hacks
Yet, the laundry must be done. And herein lies the rub: the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has a firm hold on your liquid laundry detergent dreams. Those large, aromatic jugs of cleansing goodness are frowned upon at airport security checks, thanks to the 3.4-ounce (100 milliliters) limit for liquids. Watch your favorite jasmine-scented detergent being confiscated by a stoic TSA agent, and you’ll know what heartbreak truly is.
But fear not, fellow adventurers, for in the vast universe of travel hacks, compact and versatile laundry solutions have made a stellar appearance. My personal savior? Laundry detergent sheets. They are weightless, pre-portioned, and water-soluble, making them the stuff of backpacker dreams. Not only do they not count as liquids, but they also leave room in your luggage for that extra pair of comfortable shoes or the keepsake from a local artisan.
And for those wanderers whose path leads to rustic locales, wilderness campsites, or off-the-grid destinations, I present to you: the Scrubba Portable Wash Bag. This little marvel is the closest you’ll get to a pocket-sized washing machine. It’s lightweight, easy to use, and more importantly, it does a surprisingly good job of cleaning your clothes. Just add water, your clothes, and one of those handy detergent sheets I mentioned earlier, and you’re all set. It’s like having a personal laundry service at your disposal, without the exorbitant price tag.
However, once your clothes are washed and smelling of adventures yet to come, they need to dry. Here’s where a travel clothesline becomes an indispensable part of your arsenal. Compact and light, these nifty devices can be set up anywhere, from a sun-drenched campground to a breezy hotel balcony, turning any spot into your personal drying area. No need for pegs either, thanks to the braided design that grips your clothes. This way, even if you find yourself in the middle of nowhere, you can still have the comfort of clean, dry clothes.
The Joys of Doing Laundry on the Road
Yet, let’s not reduce our laundry conversation to logistics alone. Embracing the unexpected is the spice of a nomad’s life. One day you’re washing your denim in a sparkling hotel sink while the city skyline glows outside your window; another day, you’re watching your socks dry on a makeshift clothesline strung across a rustic hostel room, with the sounds of a foreign language echoing in the alleyway outside.
And let me tell you, there’s a distinct charm to local laundromats. They offer a unique portal into the rhythm of local life, a chance to watch the world go by in its most ordinary and honest form. You may stumble upon an impromptu conversation with a local resident, a tale that has you gripped as your shirts spin in the dryer, or an unplanned friendship that makes your journey even richer.
Remember, life on the road isn’t simply about the splendid sights or thrilling experiences. It’s also about these small, intimate battles with the ordinary, reshaping the mundane into extraordinary tales. Laundry, in all its simplicity, becomes a testament to the traveler’s resilience, adaptability, and the inherent sense of humor that helps us thrive in every circumstance.
So, pack your bags and your detergent sheets, brace for the unexpected, and embrace the humble act of doing laundry as an inherent part of your journey.
Travel Soap & More to Wash Clothes on the Road
Hawatour Portable Travel Elastic Clothesline
If you’re planning on washing more than a couple pairs of undies while traveling, think about bringing a compact travel clothesline. It’ll help your clothing dry more quickly and evenly, and you won’t be scrambling to find spots to drape all that wet clothing.
Tide Travel Detergent Sink Packs
The classic Tide liquid detergent in small packets just the right size for a sink’s worth of laundry. The small packs are also TSA compliant, so they’re safe to toss bring in your carry-on bag. Convenient and a tried and true brand, these are always a safe bet.
Travel Laundry Detergent Sheets
Don’t want the combined TSA and potential leakage hassle that comes with liquid detergents? Toss a pack of dry detergent sheets in your luggage. They dissolve easily in warm water, and work just as well as the liquid stuff.
I’m partial to lavender scented, but there’s plenty of variety to choose from on Amazon, including fragrance free detergent sheets. Buy a big box and toss some in a ziploc baggie, or choose a smaller pouch to toss directly into your suitcase.
Scrubba Portable Laundry System
If you won’t have a sink to scrub in, or just don’t want to get your hands wet and soapy, give Scrubba’s laundry wash bag a try.
Its unique washboard-in-a-bag design is lined with gentle scrubbing nodules to get an even deeper clean than hand washing in a shorter time. The Scrubba allows you to clean your clothes in a matter of minutes, making it suitable for a wide range of settings, from hotels and hostels to camping and RV trips. Weighing a mere 5.3 oz. and collapsing to pocket-size, this compact device requires no electricity and is eco-friendly, thanks to its water and space-saving features.
With a pocket-sized design that weighs just 5.3 oz., this little gem is the world’s smallest washing machine, giving you the freedom to travel light without sacrificing cleanliness.
Tide To Go Instant Stain Remover Liquid Pen
Avoid having to do laundry at all by treating small drips and spills with Tide’s stain remover pen. Toss one in your toiletry bag and whip it out for all those red wine and pasta sauce incidents. Just be cautious, it can damage delicate fabrics. It’s best to do a test spot before you go crazy erasing stains.
Fels-Naptha has a cult following as a stain remover, poison ivy remedy and component of homemade laundry detergent. People swear by this soap for stain and odor removal. So no surprise that many travelers will also cut off a chunk of a bar, toss it in a plastic baggie, and use it as their travel laundry detergent.
It’s a super compact solution, and not subject to liquid rules. You can shave a bit of the bar into hot water, or directly rub on the soiled spot. In general, Fels-Naptha is safe on colors, but as with any detergent, be cautious with expensive or delicate clothing.
Travel Size Perfumes at Sephora
There’s no shame in this travel hack! It’s as simple as it is effective: the modest travel-size perfume vial. Ideal for those moments when your clothes start to carry the ‘fragrance’ of your journey a little too authentically, this small vial can be your best friend, sitting inconspicuously in the corner of your toiletry bag, or tossed in a purse.
When laundry options are out of reach and your clothes aren’t their freshest, a spritz of your travel-size perfume can offer a quick and easy solution.We featured the Maison Margiela ‘REPLICA’ Mini Perfume Set above, but Sephora stocks tons of perfumes in travel perfect sizes.
Men aren’t excluded from this trick, either. Sephora has a wide selection of mini size men’s colognes perfect for throwing in a travel toiletry bag.
Don’t Wash Your Clothing– Wear Merino Wool
Merino wool is softer than regular wool, temperature regulating, and–most importantly for our purposes here– odor resistant. All this moisture-wicking, odor resisting goodness means you can wear merino wool clothing for longer before you need to wash it.
For anything that’s not a beach vacation, I make sure to pack a couple pairs of Smartwool socks. They can be re-worn multiple times without getting smelly, and the same goes for their tees and sweaters. (They even sell Merino underwear, but I think I’ll stick with a fresh pair everyday, thanks).
You’ve probably never paid so much for a single pair of socks before, and some of their other basics skew a little pricey. But they’re great quality and really do deliver on the odor resistance.
Emergency Cleaning Options
Didn’t bring laundry soap with you, but need to clean your clothes on the road? Shampoo will do in a pinch. Shampoo is generally gentle and works just fine for hand washing clothing. Remember that a little will go a long way, especially if you’re washing in a small volume of water like the hotel sink.
The exception here is 2-in-1 Shampoo and Conditioner formulations, and tinted shampoos (like the kinds used to add color to your hair or tone down brassiness). Most hotel shampoos should work as well. Do avoid bar soaps, as many are formulated with moisturizers that won’t wash out completely, and can leave spots on your clothing. The same rule applies to body washes. You should be fine with gel type body wash, but cream based moisturizing washes shouldn’t be used on your clothing.
As a last resort, hand dish washing liquid can also be used, so long as it doesn’t contain any bleaching agents. Use only a tiny amount, and avoid using on delicate fabrics as dish washing liquid is concentrated and can be harsh. Your jeans will probably wash up fine–your favorite cashmere sweater, not so much.
If possible, bring along the exact detergent you use at home, or do a test run at home with a travel-friendly detergent. Vacation isn’t the best time to experiment with new, potentially skin irritating chemicals.
If you’re not able to find your favorite in travel size, or don’t react well to fragrance free detergent sheets, detergent pods are also easy to travel with, and nearly every brand offers a “free and clear” option. (Just be careful not to smoosh them!).
Also, if you don’t anticipate needing a large amount of detergent, you can simply pour some in a travel bottle. The same leak proof bottles you’d use for shampoo will work fine for at least a couple loads of laundry.
We stay in Airbnbs or other vacation rentals pretty frequently, and it’s hard to predict what kind of laundry detergent will be available. I’ve gotten used to just bringing some of my own detergent along.
Play it safe and follow the care instructions for your garment. For delicate clothing, gently spot clean, try washing with lukewarm water only, or simply wait until you get home. Laundress has excellent delicate and wool and cashmere detergents that could be poured into a travel size bottle.
Cotton and synthetic blend fabrics are versatile and easier to clean. In addition, heavy weight fabrics like denim will take longer to dry. Try to keep in mind ease of washing and drying when choosing your travel wardrobe.
This isn’t to say you should eschew nicer clothing. I usually bring one nice dress for fancy restaurants. Many can be travel friendly too–check out our list of the best little black dresses for travel here.