Expert travelers know that one way to avoid overpacking, especially on longer trips, is washing your clothes while you’re away. Doing laundry mid-trip lets you get more wear out of your outfits, while still packing light. And “a lighter suitcase helps you avoid extra airline fees — and leaves more room for souvenirs during your trip,” according to Judy Perl, president of the Judy Perl Worldwide Travel agency.
Hotel laundry services, however, can be prohibitively expensive, and likely won’t even be an option if you’re camping, backpacking, or staying in hostels or Airbnbs. But with the help of a few handy items, Perl and the three other frequent travelers we spoke with say that it can be just as easy to wash your clothes on your own, allowing you to pack light and save money. As Stephanie Flor, the founder of Around the World Beauty, says, “When you do your own laundry, you’re in control.” Below, our experts recommend their favorite detergents, garment steamers, laundry bags, and more to stash in your carry-on so you can do a load (or two) on your next trip.
An odor-fighting detergent
Flor told us, “When doing my own laundry, I always bring my own detergent because the last thing I want to do is run around looking for a laundry place at midnight.” Most of our experts agreed, offering up a number of different options depending on what you may need to wash. No matter the detergent you choose, Perl notes that “small travel packets of detergent are wonderful because you can stash them in your suitcase without taking up too much space, and you can easily wash your smaller items in the hotel sink [or] bathtub.” For something that cleans well and can tackle odors on any garment, Flor loves these travel-size pouches of Defunkify powder, a detergent specifically designed for laundering sweaty activewear. She adds that Defunkify is made from plant-based, ecofriendly ingredients that won’t pollute local water systems. “In many parts of the world you have to take into consideration what you’re putting into the water-filter system,” she explains. “It’s all about traveling consciously.”
A detergent for delicates
For hand-washing delicates like underwear or bathing suits that need extra attention, travel writer Beth Sandland uses Soak detergent in convenient single-use packets. There’s no need to rinse or scrub, she says, so you won’t risk tearing or pulling your garments. “Just put a teaspoonful in a sink of water and soak,” Sandland explains.
A mess-free detergent
While the above liquid and powder detergents are fairly spill-proof, if you’re very wary of messes, try these soap sheets recommended by Perl. The solid sheets dissolve in water so, as she says, there’s “no risk of them spilling in your bag on trips where your bag is getting tossed or jostled around more frequently.” Plus, the tiny pack of 50 biodegradable sheets will take up minimal room in your luggage. Whichever detergent you use, Perl stresses the importance of bringing a sink stopper in case your hotel’s or other home-away-from-home’s bathroom doesn’t have one (or it isn’t working).
A detergent dupe
Although it’s meant for hair, Sandland calls this shampoo bar her “secret weapon” for washing clothes away from home. “I used it to wash a hand-wash-only dress in the shower in Indonesia, and discovered it works really well for freshening up clothes,” she says. “It only takes a few minutes, smells lovely, and is totally plastic-free.”
A washing add-in
Even if you’re fastidious about separating your dark- and light-colored clothes at home, it’s not always feasible to wash two separate loads while traveling. If you’re planning to do laundry while on the road and don’t want to restrict yourself to a monochrome wardrobe, Perl says these dye-trapping sheets are a “must” because they “prevent dyes from bleeding so you can still wash light and dark colors together.” Simply toss one in the sink or bathtub while you’re washing your clothes to avoid staining whites and other light-colored fabrics.
Nail artist and frequent traveler Julie Kandalec, the creator of blog Julie Off Duty, told us she always packs this mini-steamer to give clothes a quick refresh after unpacking. Traveling with the steamer allows her to “bring thinner fabrics that would normally wrinkle like crazy,” she adds. Kandalec says that this one is “compact and super simple to use,” and that it “heats up in 30 seconds and is very, very efficient — even on hard-to-steam fabrics like linen.” Flor also brings a steamer with her on work-related trips when she can’t look rumpled, and Perl says that, in a pinch, you can use your “shower time as an opportunity to de-wrinkle your clothes” by simply hanging wrinkled garments in the bathroom while you shower and letting the hot steam do its work.
An all-in-one washing bag
When she doesn’t have access to a sink or tub, Sandland relies on this innovative washing bag that’s perfect for camping, backpacking, or van-living. Just add water, detergent, and clothing, then give the bag a vigorous rub against a flat surface so that the hundreds of mini nodes inside can scrub away at your dirty gear. When it’s not in use, the washing bag folds down small enough to slip into any pocket of your luggage.
A washing bag for delicates
We’ve previously written about using these mesh bags to protect underwear in the washing machine, and Flor says the same idea applies when you’re hand-washing delicates on the road. To save space, she’ll also pack her undergarments in these bags before putting them in her suitcase.
A laundry bag for dirty clothes
For separating your dirty clothes from clean stuff until you have a chance to wash them, Perl recommends this strong and durable laundry bag from the German brand Reisenthel. She says that the packable mesh sack “fits nicely in a suitcase and is extra functional, with a zipper and a loop to hang it when needed.” Even if you don’t plan on doing laundry during your trip, a bag like this is useful for keeping dirty clothes together so they’re ready to wash once you get home.
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