If you’ve ever wondered about van life laundry tips and tricks to transform your dirty clothes into clean clothes while on the road we cover everything you need to know to make laundry days easier!
Let’s get nice and dirty and talk about doing laundry in a van. This is a particularly important topic if you are living in a van full-time. While you are travelling around in your van no doubt you will need to do laundry at some point.
Your clothes get dirty and so do your towels. Plus you want to keep your bedding clean.
So we have put a list together for you to help you with options and a few tips on how to keep your clothes clean.
Van Life Laundry – Washing Clothes While On The Road
We’ll start out with the challenges of van life laundry and take you through some creative and cost-effective ways of making laundry day less of a chore!
The Challenges of Doing Laundry While Living In A Van
Washing clothes in a campervan does have its challenges. There are things you need to think about and prep for before you struggle through trying to do your laundry in a van.
Here are a few challenges:
Washing clothes uses a lot of water
There is no way around this fact. And since water is already precious to anyone living the van life, if you do not carry a lot of water on board then doing your laundry can take a good chunk of your freshwater washing and rinsing.
You need to be aware of this if you are not going to be near a water supply. In this case, the best option is to wait until you are near a water supply to do your washing by hand or find a good laundromat.
Space is precious
If you have a bigger campervan, this may not be as much of a problem. But if you have a smaller campervan, then maybe think about something like a Scrubba which takes up minimal room.
Going to a laundromat and doing your laundry is fine now and then. But if you rely on this regularly, it can add up. Think of ways to cut your costs down by hand washing your dirty clothing.
Laundry takes time
Whether you wash your laundry at the laundromat or you are hand washing next to your van, the process is time-consuming. You may have to plan an entire morning or afternoon just to dedicate to laundry day.
Campervan Electrical supply
If you want to install one of many electric washing machines in your campervan or RV, you’ll want to consider whether your battery bank can handle the load.
Maybe you need to think about doing your laundry only on sunny days if you have solar or if you are plugged into shore power at a caravan park.
Related: Check out our best tips and hacks for living in a van!
Where to Dry Your Clothes
Drying your clothes isn’t as simple as you think. If you choose to hang them, then you need to carry a hanger or a rope to hang between some trees. Using the dryers at the laundromat can dry your laundry, but it is not cheap.
Your best option is to put your laundry on a quick spin to get as much water out as possible so the drying time will be less. If you are hand washing, hand wring out clothes without stretching them or put them in a towel and roll them to get more water out.
If you want to hang your clothes outside, then you will need to be set up somewhere like a campsite, and not parked up at a public beach.
Avoid hanging clean clothes up in your campervan if you can as this will bring condensation into your van and they may not even dry or cause mildew.
Related: Be sure to check out our post about the importance of campervan ventilation.
The Best Way to Store Dirty Laundry in a Campervan
Now where to store your dirty laundry before you wash them? You’ll want the stinky clothes hidden away so you can not see or smell them.
Here are some options for storing dirty laundry in your van.
Build in a drawER
If you are building your van, think ahead about having built-in laundry storage where you can open your lid, put your clothes in and shut it.
Also, consider having a liner so it is easy to get them out so you can take them to the laundromat or hand wash them.
store It In the Bathroom
Store your dirty clothes in the bathroom and shut the door. This is what we did in our campervan and we never smelt the clothes.
When we showered we took the bag out and put it back in when we finished. We felt like there was a waste of space in the bathroom and we could use some of this for laundry.
To stop the smell, you could use a large waterproof and airtight bag in which the top rolls to seal tight. You will not be able to smell your dirty clothes with these bags.
Remember never to put anything damp or wet into your dirty laundry bag, like a wet bathing suit or towel. This will cause your other clothing to smell and go moldy quickly. One wet item will affect everything else inside.
Laundry Bag Options for your Campervan:
- Breathable fabric laundry bag
- Sealed dry bag
- A pillowcase
- Washable bags for delicate items like bras
Washing Your Clothing and Other Items
These are a few common options among van lifers on laundry day.
In most major cities and even in a lot of small towns, you’ll find plenty of options for laundromats. Many laundromats have options where you can either wash clothes yourself or drop it off for service.
Most of the time laundromats are not cheap. Here in Australia, you can pay up to $7 for a wash.
Here are a few of our top suggestions for finding & using laundromats:
- Ask other travelers and locals. See which laundromats they recommend.
- When using the laundromats, go early in the morning or late in the evening or at night for a less busy time.
- Use Wiki Camp (AUS) or iOverlander offline for recommendations on locations of laundromats
- Bring change. Sometimes there is a change machine but sometimes there is not.
- Chose the right program on the machine. This is if you have the option.
- Bring your own detergent – do not get it from the machine. It is not of great quality and is expensive.
- Don’t overload the machines. When you do this, your clothing won’t clean well. This goes the same with the drier. If you put all your clothes into one drier, it will incur an extra cost as the clothing will not dry quickly and it will take so much longer.
- If your machine breaks or there is a problem, look around the laundromat and there will be a number for someone to call. We had a top washer not spin so all our clothes were soaking wet when we pulled them out. I rang the owner and he came down and we put it through again on another machine, no charge.
- Bring your book/Kindle or something to do while you wait. If it is near a supermarket, one of us will stay and the other will quickly do a shop. Kill two (or more) birds with one stone.
- Never leave your stuff. If you are traveling solo, definitely do not leave your stuff. Stay will it and patiently wait. You’d be surprised by what some people will be tempted to steal – even dirty underwear!
A campground with a laundry facility
When you are booking a campground, look for ones that offer laundry facilities. These facilities usually still cost money but are typically cheaper than going to a laundromat.
The most convenient thing is it is right at your campground so you do not have to walk far.
I can not tell you how much hand washing I have done in my time, both in van life and traveling through over 70 countries. When you wash clothes by hand, please be aware of how much fresh water you use and try to use as little as possible.
Portable Wash Bag – Scrubba Wash Bag
We have always traveled with a Scrubba Wash Bag when we backpacked the world and we brought it over to our campervan to wash single items when we needed them.
The portable wash bag is compact and takes up a small space in your camper van.
On-board Washing Machine
If you have the space in your campervan, there are many options for onboard washing machines. This portable clothes washer is connected to your electrical system and operates as a home washing machine. With an electric washer be mindful of how much hot water it may require.
Portable Washing Machine
There are a few different models of portable washing machines that are manually operated and are easy to use. Most portable washing machines are usually powered by either a foot pedal or hand crank and have a built-in washboard. You can store them relatively easily and take them in and out of your campervan.
Bucket with a screw-on lid
If you have a bucket with a screw-on lid, you can place your clothing items in to soak and leave them there for a couple of hours while you drive.
They will whoosh around like a machine and clean the clothing. Once you get to your destination, rise the clothing, wring it out and hang them on a clothesline.
READ MORE: Check out our article on the best campervan washing machines.
Drying your Clothes in a Campervan
Sometimes the washing is the easiest part of van life laundry. Let’s get into the drying part of the job.
You will find a machine dryer at the laundromat. You can pay for 10 minutes to 40 minutes, it all depends on what you are drying. Using a dryer will cost quite a bit of money.
But you won’t be held hostage to waiting for good weather, fresh air or a convenient place to hang your clothes out to dry.
Make sure you keep your coins so you have some to use as the dryer will take $1 and $2. And be sure to clean the lint trap after each use.
Stand free clothesline
There are so many options when it comes to stand-free clotheslines. You can buy one from your local hardware store and put that one in the campervan with your other campervan accessories.
Or head to a camping store such as REI that will have more compact clotheslines. These will most likely be more expensive.
Two of our favorite options are:
- Retractable Portable Travel Elastic Clothesline with 12pcs Clothespins
- Sea to Summit Compact Travel Clothes Line
A rope and tree
Sometimes going back to some good old rope-and-a-tree is the best way to dry your clothes. Be sure that the tree is big enough to handle the weight of the rope. And definitely don’t hang the clothesline from any fragile or otherwise protected trees.
Awning clothes line
If you have an awning off your campervan, then why not through up a line and dry your clothes under the cover of the awning? This is great when there are cloudy days with potential rain on its way.
You can go out exploring for the day and not have to worry about your items not drying.
Small clothes hanger
You can buy these small clothes hangers that are great for socks, undies and bras. They fold-away thin and can be stored flat. We use to keep ours behind our Nature’s Head Compost Toilet.
Buying Laundry Detergent
We recommend using biodegradable soap detergent. This one is environmentally friendly and will not harm greywater tanks or the environment.
Please think environmentally friendly when purchasing your products. We use Eco Store products in Australia.
Some great biodegradable soap products and dryer sheets that we have onboard for short or long-trip getaways:
- Ecostore Laundry Liquid Ultra Sensitive 1L
- Ecostore Ultra Sensitive Laundry Powder
- Dr Bronner’s Pure Castile Liquid Soap
- Strip Clean Laundry Detergent Sheets – Citrus (60 Loads)
- Sea to Summit Wilderness Wash Soap
We understand sometimes it can be hard to find certain products in different countries. Just read the labels if possible and do your best.
How to Dispose of Your Dirty Laundry Grey Water
When you have dirty laundry water, sometimes the question you may have is, “where do I dispose of this water?”
Being conscious of this and being a respectful person to the environment is so important.
If you are staying in a town or caravan park, disposing of your greywater will be easy and there will be somewhere to do so. If you are unsure, make sure you ask someone and they can direct you.
If you are off-grid and are unable to fit a grey water tank, make sure you have another container that can hold your laundry water to dispose of it safely at a later time.
Sometimes this is hard to do and space is a problem. If this is so, make sure you empty the grey water more than 100 meters away from any water sources. Be sure you scatter the water rather than pouring it to avoid it pooling or streaming.
Sometimes you will not find a water tap to wash your clothes. Please be organized if you are going off-grid for a week. Do your washing before you leave.
If you have to do your laundry when you are off-grid and there is a river or a lake, please do not wash your clothes directly in the water source. Collect your water in a bucket and do your laundry in the bucket. When you are finished, take the water more than 100m from the lake or river.
Do read up on the leave no trace guidance on the Leave No Trace website
Hacks and Tips for reducing your laundry while on the road
- Wear your clothes more than once (unless visibly dirty or smelly)
- Have a set of active outdoor clothes and a set of casual clothes
- Wear tank tops on hot days as they do not live as close to your armpits as t-shirts and won’t get so smelly.
- Buy quick-dry clothing as you can wear it one day wash it in the shower or sink and it will dry overnight.
- Use wool liquid wash and you do not have to rinse
- Use eco-friendly, biodegradable detergent
- Dispose of grey water properly
- Never wash your clothes directly in a natural water source
- Please do not wash in the campground bathroom sinks or in public bathrooms!
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