Here’s how Travel readers keep their clothes clean on the road
Too cheap to send my laundry out, too pressed for time to sit in a commercial laundromat, I lamented my lame attempts to do hand laundry on the road in the Sept. 1 On the Spot column (“Dirty Little Secrets of Doing Hand Laundry on the Road”) so I asked readers for their secrets of laundry success. I cleaned up, so to speak. Here are some of their awesome tips.
— Catharine Hamm
Timing is important
I do hand wash only if I am staying more than one day at a hotel and then I do it only on the first night so it has time to dry. If you leave the fan on in the bathroom and close the bathroom door, the exhaust fans almost always dry the clothes overnight.
If you put your clothes that tend to wrinkle between layers of dry-cleaner bags, they essentially do not wrinkle.
Let someone else do it
My solution is to find a laundry service that charges by weight. They wash, dry and fold your clothes, and they charge per pound or kilogram. Many will pick up from and drop off at your hotel. Some use lockers in malls or other public places for pickup and dropoff.
Fabric is key; so are a washcloth and towel tubes
Dress in clothes made only of man-made fibers, because Mother Nature designed natural fibers (cotton, wool, etc.) to retain maximum moisture. Man-made fiber will dry faster, retain less dirt and stains, and remain less wrinkled.
Pack a dark washcloth to sponge dark clothes without leaving obvious lint.
Fold pants, shorts, etc., over lightweight paper towel tubes to reduce wrinkling. Works well and saves space if tubes are pretty flattened. Multiple pairs of pants can be folded together over one tube.
Corona del Mar
My cardinal rule is no cotton. That means no jeans or cotton T-shirts. I bring only quick-dry items of the sort that wick away sweat. I don’t find them to be too hot for steamy places.
If I am headed for such a place, I bring a lightweight skirt. I roll my clothing and I use compression cubes. Haven’t had much of a problem with wrinkling.
I agree that knits are a carry-on traveler’s best friend, and jeans with a bit of stretch won’t require washing. As for wrinkles, for years, I’ve used an environmentally friendly, easy and free solution: a small, empty spritz bottle. When I unpack, I fill it with water, spritz any wrinkled clothing, smooth out the wrinkles and I’m good to go.
I wear a knit garment after landing so that while I’m out enjoying my destination, my clothes are drying and unwrinkling and ready for the rest of my trip.
Don’t do any laundry
Take all old underwear, T-shirts and ratty jeans (instead of new items), then leave them behind. You never have to hear your spouse complain, “You’re still wearing those?” Plus your suitcase will be lighter on the way home. If the suitcase is old, leave it behind and save bag fees by coming home with only a carry-on.
It’s not cheating if it works
When I expect to do hand laundry on my trip, I bring two or three wire hangers with a few clothespins. Hangers are more manageable than a clothesline, in my opinion, but some hotels have only hangers that cannot be removed from the closet.
Another secret (although it may sound like cheating): I try to choose Airbnbs that offer a washer/dryer. And even if laundry access is not listed among amenities, hosts will allow you to use a washer/dryer most of the time if you ask nicely.
Carry the right clothes
Travel laundry tips begin with clothes designed for travel. Don’t even think about jeans. Good travel clothes don’t easily wrinkle, they are more comfortable, they pack more tightly and they dry much faster than ordinary clothes. Outdoor clothing stores offer such clothes. They are pricey, and it takes some searching to find travel clothes stylish enough for a nice restaurant, but they are worth it.
Clothes can be soaked overnight in the hotel sink by using a universal sink stopper (a flat round piece of rubber that fits over the drain). Plastic bathroom wastebaskets also work well for soaking. I pack a small scrubbing brush too.
I prefer hard laundry soap because it can be rubbed directly into the dirtiest areas, and it can be kept in a tight-locking soap dish. A 7-ounce bar of Pink Zote laundry soap can be found at dollar discount stores (and elsewhere). The bar can be cut down to a size needed for the length of the trip.
Another soap suggestion
I use Fels-Naptha bar soap to launder each day. I clean early in the morning and, by evening, clothes should be dry or partly dried.
A steamer for wrinkles
A handy device especially on ships that do not allow irons is a Travel Smart steamer by Conair. Simple device. Fill with water. Plug it in. When it starts to boil, use steam to take wrinkles out of shirts. Works like a charm.
A low-cost ‘washing machine’
I’ve changed from washing in the sink to using 3-gallon Ziploc bags. They weigh next to nothing and are my makeshift “washing machine.” I use a mild liquid laundry soap, agitate a bit, let sit for a while, then rinse again using the bag. I do this in the shower or tub to limit splashing.
Purchase an inflatable hanger, which helps your drying shirt stay in shape without ironing. Such hangers fold flat. I store mine in a locking plastic bag, along with some laundry detergent in another small bag or a hard, small bar of laundry soap.
Spot on, spot off
Pack a small pill bottle size of plain talc, not bath powder. Pharmacists usually have it. Put a dab of talc on a grease spot with a cotton tip, let it sit overnight, then brush it off with a towel. The spot is gone and no ring. I always carry a Tide to Go pen. It is great for getting a spot off and works on colored clothes as well as whites. I put a tissue under the spot, rub a little with the pen and the spot is usually gone. It does not leave a ring where the spot is removed.
Getting into laundry
I often wash laundry while I am in the shower, wearing the garment. I follow this with a personal shower.
This works well especially for my four pairs of favorite Columbia Omni Shield slacks. They are nylon and a stretch fabric, wrinkle-free and comfortable all day.
Rolling Hills Estates
Years ago, I read “The Accidental Tourist,” a great book by Anne Tyler. In this book, the protagonist washes his travel clothes in the shower by stomping on them. It works.
We like poly clothes for travel, because washed, rinsed, wrung out, rolled in a towel and hung up, they generally dry quite nicely overnight. We do the shower washing exercise every night, using small Woolite packets. And this allows us to travel with a minimal set of clothing.
I try to pack so that I do not have to wash clothes while traveling, but underwear is another matter. When I am running low on underwear, I wash it in the shower when I am taking a shower, using the soap supplied. Nothing gets wet and soapy but my underwear and I.
More clothing tips
Stock up on Chico’s Travelers Collection. No wrinkles, mix and match, easy to rinse out or spot clean.
A discovery I made about five years ago is Nuu-Muu. These are “athletic”-inspired dresses (some with pockets) that are not only great for exercise but also pair beautifully with compression-type shorts and/or leggings. Last spring, I traveled to Italy, and it was quite chilly. My Nuu-Muus, warm leggings, cardigans and light jacket were all just enough to keep me warm. The dresses wash out easily and dry overnight. For a two-week trip, I brought five of them and they worked great.
I travel to Europe four times a year, and I wear only wick-away clothing. My underwear brand for the last 10 years has been Ex-Officio. I can wash in the shower with standard shower gel, hang to dry overnight and put them on in the morning. My jeans are from Rohan of Britain. They wick too and are fast drying. I take one pair of jeans for a three-four week trip. I can still soak them in the bathroom basin, rinse and then hang to dry. No wrinkles. My shorts are from Peter Millar, Straight Down or johnnie-O and they wick and dry fast.
A fan of this method
One trick I have found for laundering socks while on the road is washing with the hand soap or shampoo, rinsing thoroughly, wringing in towels to dry as much as possible, hanging over the heated towel bar or clothes-pinning to the overhead fan and turning it on high (the drying cycle)
This will stop you cold
When I was in India for a course with the World Health Organization, I wanted to do some hand laundry, but found myself in a hotel that had no stopper in the bathroom sink. I called down to room service for a “plug for the sink.” A man in white, with a white napkin draped over his arm, arrived, carrying a silver tray. What was on it? An electric plug. No amount of explaining, pointing, trying different words, got me a sink stopper.
Now I always travel with a flat, rubber sink stopper just in case. It takes no appreciable space and has negligible weight.
An Italian wrinkle
I eventually came to learn that every Italian hotel, pensione or albergo has an iron (ferro da stiro) and a place to iron your clothes. And many places will take pity on you and do it for you if it’s just a couple items.
Hand wash if you must but...
I am a sink launderer, but I will use a laundromat if available. Before a trip, I do an online search for laundry services.
For camping and road trips, I find truck stops with laundry rooms. Truck stops also offer food, showers and, often, comfy lounge chairs to wait out the wash-and-dry cycle.
For foreign travel, I like to stay in hostels, especially hostels that have a laundry room.
As your story pointed out, the choice of fabric is important, and for this I give props for nylon clothing, Nylon is fast-drying, lightweight, compact, breathable, resists mildew, resists staining, wrinkle-free and cool. I found it to be the perfect travel wear. Its only drawback seems to be the strange, sickly colors that are available.
Make your own laundry detergent
When I travel I take a Tide pod and throw it in a jar ( like a baby food jar). When I need it, I poke a hole in it and shake it up. I now have a jar of detergent. I can use as little or as much as I want. Then when I’m done I recycle the jar.
Twist that towel
Besides rolling wet clothes in a towel, my significant other (who used to camp in the Sierra) suggests twisting the towel firmly so that the article of clothing is virtually dry.
Suitable for all occasions
I recently returned from a three week to Britain, including four days in London and the rest in the southeast. There were four of us, and we were driving so I had to limit luggage. I used a 22-inch carry-on size (it was checked) soft-sided bag and a smaller carry on bag. I packed one pair of shoes (leather) plus the ones I was wearing (walking).
My basic wardrobe consisted a couple of button wrinkle-free shirts and polyester polo shirts; three pairs of polyester pants (beige and dark blue); seven pairs of micro-knit underwear; and a variety of dry-fit socks (white and colored). All these fit easily into the bagm which was well under authorized weight even with the liquids I packed.
I included a bottle of Dr. Bronner’s Pure-Castile liquid soap in the checked bag. It does amazingly well in washing clothes in the sink of a hotel. Other brands available as well, e.g., Campsuds at sporting goods stores.
The real secret is the clothes. I have found that synthetic golf shirts and pants are perfect for travel. I like Nike, but L.L. Bean and Jockey also carry these. They are lightweight, do not wrinkle, they wash easily and dry quickly especially when rolled in a towel and squeezed. They are generally dry by morning. And they look good after washing. They are also somewhat less expensive than brands of specialty travel clothing.
I never felt underdressed in London wearing these clothes, even at the symphony and theater.
Another fan of Zote and Dr. Bronner’s (and a bonus use)
We recently went on a two-week trip to Poland and packed enough for one week knowing we would do laundry during the trip. Our on-the-go laundry consists of
▶A bar (or slice) of. It’s a glycerin soap. I sliced it in half for a trip a few years ago and took half with us. It will dry out after a year or so and get crumbly so I just put the pieces in a travel bottle with water and it becomes a liquid soap. So many uses. Google it!
▶A few travel bottles of Dr. Bronner’s soap. It’s great for washing blouses and undies as well as a facial cleanser. I take that to cut down on the number of liquids I’m carrying through security.
▶microfiber towels. I ordered some medium sized ones so we could roll the wet clothes in. They dry quickly and are useful for drying your hair too or cushioning souvenirs.
▶Ziplock gallon bag. Great for washing a bunch of socks or a blouse, especially when the sink is too small or not quite clean enough. Zip up the top, shake it up, just like a machine!
▶Plastic hangers and clips. With the plastic ones, you can hang off the shower bar, the back of a chair, the edge of a table.
▶A small spray bottle. Fill with some water and spray the wrinkles, smooth it out and most of them come out. I make sure to smooth out everything while it’s still damp so I don’t get so many wrinkles. On hot days, I take the bottle with me to cool off while we’re out.
Our goal is to use the small suitcases the Europeans travel with. We’re getting there.
Slip in, slip out
If moving from one day trip to another location, I lay a layer of tissue paper between packing layers for easy slipping out of a desired item. Worked like a charm.
Just say no to humid
Here are my tips:
▶Don’t travel where and when it is hot and humid.
▶No one cares what you wear. In most places a black T-shirt and jeans will be fine for anything.
▶For long-distance hiking, carrying everything in my backpack, I try to go as light and minimal as possible. I take two to three pairs good woolen hiking socks and Merino wool underwear. (Icebreaker makes great stuff).
▶I also take lightweight quick-dry black synthetic T-shirts, two pairs of similar long pants, and one pair similar shorts. A black fleece is tied atop of my pack.
When I get into my accommodation, I get into the shower with all the clothes I have worn that day and as I wash with whatever soap and shampoo they have, do a grape stomping wash on all the clothes at my fee. Then I hand squeeze the water out and do the “tight, twisted towel” squeeze dry method. I wear the packed “clean clothes” and the newly washed will be dry hanging up for a few hours.
And again, as long as you feel clean, no one cares what you wear.
Bounce in your bag
Best approach for two- to three-day travel: Vacuum bags and Bounce-style dryer sheet placed in each bag. Helps keep stuff dry and keeps the clothes smelling fresh.
Bike trips were good teachers
Loading your carry-on with wash and wear. For years my husband and I bicycled in Europe and piled everything into panniers, so the weight of everything we took mattered. Everything we took was also cut to the minimum. That assumed that everything we wore during the day had to be washed and hung out that evening, including bike shorts, jerseys, jackets, underwear, gloves, socks.
We also took street clothes with us and they got washed as needed, but not every night. Once we stopped the bicycling trips, the habits we made carried over for other travels.
We also took two kinds of sink stoppers, special micro towels for wringing out the clothing, clothes pins, 6 to 8 feet of thin but strong twine, and a bar of Ivory soap.
As soon as we entered a hotel room, we began figuring out how we were going to string the clothes line(s). Door knobs and other door hardware often came into play, but in a nice hotel in New York, I wrapped one end of the twine around a lamp that then had to be steadied with a chair.
In all cases the clothes line(s) were always taken down before housekeeping arrived. And we almost never hung the clothes line in an already damp bathroom.
The only small detail we had to remember, especially at night on trips to the bathroom, was that the clothes line was up. You didn’t want to get yourself entangled with a pair of drying bicycle shorts.
A different kind of soap
I travel with ExOfficio underwear. They’re lightweight, comfortable, and easy to wash and dry. I can wash a pair in the sink at night, roll them up in a towel to remove most of the moisture, and hang them up to finish drying. By morning, they’re ready to wear (and the towel’s dry enough to use, too).
For laundry soap, I take Travelon Laundry Soap Sheets. They come 50 sheets to a 1¾- by 2¾- by ½-inch container, so a trip’s worth takes up almost no room. I use one or two sheets per item washed, and they work great.
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