Socks and Sinks: Washing Your Clothes On the Road

The traveling life sounds glamorous, until you realize how many times you have to wash your own underwear in a grimy sink. Cheap laundry services and laundromats exist in a few spots, but more often than not, you’re stuck with washing your clothes yourself. You know what I miss the most when I’m traveling? A washing machine.

Here are some lessons I’ve learned to make washing your clothes less of a hassle.

Get a drain stopper

drainstopper

Having some way of blocking the drain on the road is essential. I’ve seen a few places that had some kind of plug for the sink, but in 90% of places I’ve stayed in, I had to figure out my own way to retain water.


If you can find a drain stopper back home, it’s well-worth the buck or two you’ll pay for it.
In my experience, they’re almost impossible to find abroad. Look for a wide, flat drain stopper, not something you have to plug in the hole to stop the flow. A flat drain stopper you can lay on top of the hole will work wonders.

Alternately, you can simply use a balled sock to plug the drain. You’ll have to work faster because the water will seep out quickly, but in a fix it’ll get the job done.

Bring a thin nylon cord

Along with the drain stopper, the nylon cord is another traveling item I can’t seem to find abroad. This one won’t take up any space at all in your bags: just grab ten-fifteen feet of thin, lightweight nylon cord. Wrap it tightly around a small, compact object, and you’ll be good to go. (Helene uses a small incense box.)

If there’s no place to hang your clothes, you’ll be able to use the rope as a makeshift clothesline, in the bathroom or bedroom. It might be a bit tricky to find a spot to hook the rope, but you should be fine most of the times. No need for clothespins, by the way; since you’re not hanging the clothes outside, there will be no wind to blow them off the clothesline.

Buy soap locally

Soap is one thing I don’t bother bringing with me. You can usually find a local brand in a local convenience store or supermarket. In many countries, you can find little packets of laundry soap that will last you just a few days.

If you’re stuck without laundry detergent, you can also use regular soap. If you rinse your clothes thoroughly, you shouldn’t have problems with soap residues.

Do your clothes require expensive and delicate laundry detergents? Then perhaps you’re packing the wrong clothes for the road. You should leave the fragile clothes back home; or, if you bring them, consider paying a laundry service to get them cleaned.

Learn to wring

Washing your clothes in a sink isn’t that hard; you just work up a good lather, and soak your clothes through. But the key to washing your clothes really well is the wringing. It’s also the reason I hate washing clothes by hand so much.

You want to rinse your clothes multiple times until there is no more soap left in the fabric. The soap “captures” the bacteria responsible for bad smells, so if the water you wring out of your clothes doesn’t run clear, your clothes are likely to smell once they’re dry.

When wringing, avoid twisting your clothing,  as you’ll stretch and damage the fabric. Instead, fold it upon itself, and squeeze it with your hands. Start at the middle, and wring the water towards the edges. Repeat as often as necessary, until you barely get water out anymore.

Continue to wring your clothes once they’re hung, as the water will pool downwards under gravity. You can do it three or four times over the course of a day or evening, and have your clothes ready the next day.

Dry your clothes in the sun

The sun is a wonderful laundry tool. If you can hang your clothes in the afternoon sun and breeze, your clothes will smell clean and fresh the next day for sure.

The sun helps fight lingering moldy smells by drying the clothes quicker than indoors, and thus prevents bacteria and mold from building up. If you’re staying in a hostel or guesthouse, ask if they have a balcony or roof with clothes racks. This way, you’ll also discover a nice spot to grab a drink at sunset, and it will make all that washing of socks worthwhile!

(Image sources: 1, 2)

Any experience washing clothes on the road? Please share your tips below!

About Daniel Roy

Daniel is a writer, backpack foodie, slow traveler, and endurance runner. He is the author of the upcoming book, "The Way of Slow Travel: A Hands-On Guide to the Best Travel of Your Life."

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