top of page

The 7 Methods for Doing Laundry While Traveling

Seven methods for doing laundry while traveling and tips for simplifying the process.

There are many methods for doing laundry while traveling; in this article we'll explore each method, the pros and cons of each, and tips for keeping it simple.

Hostel/Hotel Laundry Service

The easiest and most expensive option - utilizing a hostel or hotel's laundry service.

Nothing beats dropping your dirty clothes at the front desk and getting them back freshly cleaned and folded the next day, but it comes with a price, and not all places offer it.

Tip: Ask the front desk where you can do your own laundry, and if it's nearby, drop it off yourself and save a little cash.

Pros: The least amount of work, professional cleaning, no need to pack or buy detergent, and it takes zero time out of your day.

Cons: Most expensive option, 24-hour turn-around, not always available.

washing and dry cleaning service

DIY Laundromats

If you want to save some money and can spare the time, do-it-yourself laundromats are the way to go; they're in every city, usually within walking distance and about as inexpensive as it gets. Ask the hostel receptionist for a recommendation and they'll probably point you to where they take your clothes if you opt for the laundry service.

These days you'll find lots of laundromat/restaurant or laundromat/coffee shop combos; these are great options if they're available, but buyer beware, they're usually expensive on both ends, food and wash.

Consider packing pocket-sized laundry detergent or laundry sheets, Sea-to-Summit Laundry Leaves are good for 50 washes.

Tip: Many laundromats have been upgraded so you can pay using an app like Speed Queen (Google Play, Apple Store), but don't count on it - get local cash before you go just in case.

Pros: Average cost, fast turn-around, professional cleaning, option to hang-dry your clothes.

Cons: Will take three hours of your day, may be hard to find, may require local coins/currency, and you'll likely need to pack or buy laundry detergent before you go.

A person waiting for laundry

24-Hour Laundromats

Depending on where you are in the world, you can probably find a 24-hour drop-off laundry service.

This is another easy button, but, of course, it will cost more than doing it yourself and you'll have to wait 24 hours (maybe more) for your clothes.

Tip: Pack a washable laundry bag so it's easy to drop off and pickup your clothes as you head out (or come back) for the day, plus you can wash the bag along with your clothes so everything comes back squeaky clean.

Pros:  Average cost, relatively easy (depending on proximity), professional cleaning, no need to buy or pack laundry detergent.

Cons:  Can be expensive, 24-hour turn-around, may be difficult to find.

24-hour laundromat

On-Site DIY Laundry

Some hostels have washers and dryers you can use (for a fee), just like a DIY laundromat only it's at your hostel, which is great. It may be slightly more expensive than an off-site laundromat, but definitely worth it if it's an option. Note that some hostels only have washers, so you may need to hang dry your clothes.

As previously mentioned, consider packing pocket-sized laundry detergent or laundry sheets.

Tip: You can filter for hostels that have on-site laundry when you're booking a stay, I recommend reaching out to the hostel directly and asking if the machines are in service, especially if you're planning a long-term stay.

Pros:  Average cost, very easy, fast turn-around, professional cleaning.

Cons:  Will require 3-hours of neglectful babysitting, may require local coins/currency, often not an option, requires you to bring or buy laundry detergent, and there's a small but noteworthy risk of broken machines.

woman sitting on a washing machine

Hand Washing in a Sink or Tub

Time-tested and minimalist traveler-approved, this is as simple as it sounds; you can use a universal sink stopper or portable wash basin to wash your clothes in the sink or tub; it's relatively easy, but you lose the benefit of a "professional" clean.

This is a great method if you're crunched for time or only have a few things to wash. Socks and underwear can be a pain due to their small size, so you may want to consider packing two week's worth of your small items, hand-washing shirts and shorts, and using a regular laundromat every couple weeks.

Note that you can use regular hand soap for washing, which is gentler on clothes compared to regular detergent, or you can pack laundry soap bars, general purpose camping soap, or one of the options listed previously.

Tip: Sink washing can be a pain when you're in a hostel with a shared bathroom, the sink or bathroom may be small, you may have limited time as people are waiting to use the bathroom, and you'll always have to wash out a shared sink prior to use; I opt for the portable wash basin to make it easier. In any case, I always recommend packing a sink stopper or wash basin so you always have the option.

Pros:  Free! Relatively quick depending on how much you're washing, you can scrub/target stains, you can use hand or body soap.

Cons:  Can be time-consuming if you have lots of clothes, shared sinks are gross, shared bathrooms are often tiny, it's not a "professional" clean, and it requires time and space to hang-dry your clothes.

hand-washing clothes in a sink

Hand Washing in the Shower

As weird as it sounds, but not without precedence, this is a simple, alternative approach to sink washing.

In short, you bring your dirty clothes into the shower with you - along with a "clean clothes" bag - and hand-wash each article as you're showering; as each piece gets cleaned, throw it in your clean clothes bag to keep it off the shower floor.

As with the sink-wash option, you can use body wash or soap bars to clean your clothes, as they aren't as harsh as traditional detergents.

I tried this method for awhile and loved it for a few reasons, 1) it's easy, you're already showering, and it doesn't take a lot of additional effort to hand-wash each piece, 2) it's simple; you're not taking over a sink, filling up a wash bag, or waiting around for your clothes to soak, and lastly, 3) it's free.

Tip: Portable wash basins and wash bags work great as "clean clothes" bags, but plastic bag from the grocery store works just as well.

Pros:  Free! Relatively quick and easy, you can scrub/target stains, and you can use body wash for soap.

Cons:  It's a daily chore that adds effort to an otherwise enjoyable activity, you can only wash a few clothes at one time, it's not a "professional" cleaning, and it still requires time and space to hang-dry your clothes.

a girl showering in her swimsuit

Portable Wash Bags

A go-to for many minimalist travelers and backpackers, and about as straight forward as it gets - fill up a wash bag, add soap, shake it up for a bit and let your clothes soak for however long you'd like. When you're feeling ambitious again, rinse your clothes piece by piece and hang dry for the next days' use.

In theory, if you wanted to model a modern-day washing machine, you would soak them with detergent, rinse, refill the bag with clean water, then soak them again, but most people just rinse them under running water after a single soapy soak.

This approach is great for long-term travelers looking to save some money, and for those willing to commit to manual washing on a daily or weekly basis.

Tip: Portable wash bags are designed to be watertight and airtight, so you could use your Scrubba wash bag as a vacuum-sealed compression bag when you're on the move, super convenient!

Pros: Free! You can wash a moderate amount of clothes at one time, the soaking method mimics a professional wash, you can scrub/target stains, and it's moderately easy.

Cons:  It can be time consuming depending on how much you have to wash, it again requires time and space to hang-dry your clothes, and you'll need to pack a portable wash bag.


There you have it!

Seven tried and true methods for doing laundry on the road, each with its pros and cons; if you're traveling for an extended period of time, you're likely to use a mixture of all the methods, and I highly recommend packing at least one hand-washing tool - sink stopper, portable wash basin or portable wash bag - so you have the option if the need arises.


bottom of page