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Essential Pack Items for Hand-Washing Clothes on the Road

Essential pack items for hand washing clothing on the road

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During my early years of backpacking, I was a total budget traveler when it came to certain things… like doing my laundry on the road.

I could see the value in getting a load of laundry washed in a machine.

However, when that load of laundry was looking to cost me $9 or more, I completely shied away and proceeded to wash the necessaries in the sink until I could get a cheaper deal.

So, over time, I became a bit of a pro at hand-washing my clothes – a skill I still use today while traveling with a minimal travel wardrobe. For others looking to do the same, here is a list of some of the essential (and non-essential) pack items that make it all possible.

The Hand-washing Essentials Quick List

Won’t My Clothing Be Less Clean If I Hand-Wash?

A common misconception people have is that hand-washing clothing is not as effective as machine-washing. They stay away from hand washing clothes on their travels because they are worried that their clothes won’t come out as clean and fresh, or they may not be able to get stains out properly. 

This leads to overpacking. 

All a washing machine is really doing is agitating your clothing in soap and water. Which is exactly what you are doing when you hand wash your clothes! Although perhaps not to the same extent and for a shorter period of time.

But you can still absolutely have sparkling clean clothing from hand-washing.

If you are worried about your clothing not being as clean when hand-washing, you might want to soak your clothes while you’re out exploring for the day and then wash them in the evening when you get back to your accommodation. This can lead to a more effective wash. 

You could also choose to buy one (or more) non-essential hand-washing items (we discuss these later in the post) like a travel washboard or a Scrubba Wash Bag. These can make your laundry on the road even more effective and give you some peace of mind that your clothes really are getting clean.

Hand-Washing Essentials

These are the items I take with me on every trip. They are the essentials for doing your laundry on the road. If you’re packing light, make sure you save space for these items!

hand-washing on the road essentials

A Sink Plug

Some travelers say this is a worthless item because the sinks will already have a stopper or they can just use running water to clean the clothes (and therefore don’t need a sink full). 

I disagree!

You can never really assume there will be what you expect there to be when you travel overseas. 

Maybe you want to soak your clothes for a while because they got really dirty. Maybe you want to conserve soap by having a sink of suds to work with. Perhaps you have to use the tub. 

You never know what to expect when doing laundry on the road. So a sink plug, one that works with multi-sized drains, is a great asset for those looking to hand-wash.

Universal Sink Plug

A simple tool to help you fill a sink or basin without a plug (yes, it happens) so you can easily soak and hand-wash clothing while traveling.

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12/11/2023 10:12 am GMT

A helpful tip from one of our readers if you find yourself without a sink plug, is to use a plastic bag to block the drain. Not as effective as a plug but it will do in a pinch!

A Stretchy Clothesline

It’s one thing getting your clothes clean, it’s a whole other story getting them dry. You don’t want to be stuck wearing damp clothes because you ran out of places to hang them to dry in your hotel room.

A clothesline rope will obviously do the job, but how are you going to hang things? Are you going to carry a set of clothes pegs in your backpack around the world? Chances are you won’t be. With that in mind, I recommend a stretchy, braided clothesline that allows you to hang clothes in the middle of the rubber bands. No pegs needed!

Also, the stretchy lines allow you to stretch in some of the most unique locations, like from the side of the bed to a locker door. You might also want to bring a carabiner clip to give you some extra options for attaching the clothesline. 

An option for those drying clothes without a clothesline is to hang items over chairs or the edge of the bed. But let’s be honest, your clothes won’t be drying as quickly. Sometimes you’ll be lucky and your hostel will have a communal line, or they may even have those drying racks in the bathroom (I love those).

Tri-Braided Cord Travel Clothes Line

Braided laundry lines require no pegs to be packed. The stretchy nature means it can be strung up in variable places easily.

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12/11/2023 10:17 am GMT

To make drying your clothes on the road even easier, you might want to take a look at some of the best fabrics for travel clothing. Fabrics like merino wool or Tencel are known for their quick-drying properties.

Packing one outfit of quick-dry fabric is also a good tip to ensure you always have something clean and dry to wear. We have a whole blog post on finding affordable quick-drying travel clothes.

Skin-Friendly Detergent 

Not all detergents are created equally. 

You could easily use any old brand to wash your clothes in the washing machine, but hand contact with some detergents may irritate your skin. I suggest grabbing a tube of concentrated hand-washing detergent in advance. The little packs of Woolite or non-liquid detergent sheets are also good to pack in your bag. 

Otherwise, look for sensitive skin or hand-wash friendly detergents at the local market.

Check out my review of the Sea to Summit laundry products.

12/11/2023 10:32 am GMT

If you’re packing extremely light and don’t want to take a single-use product for doing laundry on the road, opt for something like Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap which can be used as a soap, shampoo, AND detergent (among many other things as well).

Helpful Hand-Washing Extras

These items are super helpful but not a necessity. Bring one (or more) of them if you have space, are planning on doing laundry regularly on the road, or for some extra peace of mind if you’re feeling skeptical about hand-washing your clothing.

Hand-washing non-essentials for travel

Pack Towel

Drying your clothes goes much quicker if you use a towel to squeeze out all the excess water before hanging.

These shammy-type pack towels soak up water like no other. Simply roll up your wet clothes in the towel and then twist it, stomp it, and squash it. You will soon find that a lot of the liquid originally in your washed clothes is now in the towel – a towel that is quick drying and can be wrung out itself.

Rainleaf Microfiber Travel Towel

A microfiber travel towel packs up small and absorbs water well, making it a great addition for a packing list.

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12/11/2023 10:37 am GMT

We also LOVE Turkish towels which make an awesome pack towel alternative.

Scrubba Wash Bag

If you’re very skeptical about how clean your clothes will be with just hand washing, you might want to invest in a Scrubba Wash Bag which claims to provide a machine-quality wash in just minutes thanks to the washboard in a bag design. 

Plus, it’s easy to use. Simply add water, clothes, and detergent to the bag. Close the bag, deflate it, and then rub the clothes against the internal washboard for 30 seconds to 3 minutes. Then you just rinse and hang to dry as normal.

To make this even better, the Scrubba Wash Bag was designed with backpackers in mind, weighs only 5.3 ounces, and folds up pocket-sized, meaning you won’t have to compromise on packing light!

Scrubba Portable Wash Bag

With a scrubby pad inside the bag, you get to create your own self-contained washing machine, no sink plugs needed.

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12/11/2023 10:42 am GMT

Travel Washboard

You can also simply buy your own travel washboard instead of the Scrubba Wash Bag. 

Rubbing your clothes against a washboard acts as the agitation that you would normally find in a washing machine and is a very efficient way of hand-washing clothes. It’s especially helpful when dealing with stubborn stains. 

It’s good to note that you may want to use a washboard sparingly on delicate items and fabrics like bras or tops with embellishments because the agitation can be a little rough.

Foldable Silicone Washboard

If you prefer a better scrub while hand-washing, this silicone washboard makes it easy.

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12/11/2023 10:48 am GMT

Stain Pen

It doesn’t matter how careful you are while traveling, you are bound to spill a drink, food, or countless other things on you sometime during your travels. While traveling, you often aren’t in the position to quickly wash items to get rid of stains. Your favorite shirt might sit with a stain for a few days before you get the chance to deal with it.

That’s where a stain pen comes in!

A portable, instant stain remover helps eliminate fresh stains on the spot. Keep it in your day bag for instant access when a spill occurs. To use, simply remove excess residue from the stain, press the pen onto the stain to release some solution, and then gently rub the pen across the stain to remove it. Easy!

(Just make sure the stain pen is compatible with your fabric first.)

Tide Liquid Stain Remover Pen

For those who tend to drip and drop, a stain pen might be a great addition to your travel laundry packing list.

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12/11/2023 10:57 am GMT

Hanging Clothes Pegs 

If you’re only planning on washing a few smaller items like underwear or socks on your travels, some hanging clothes pegs might be a good option for you. They can also provide you with more drying options if you’re planning on doing a lot of washing on your travels.

These pegs can hang on almost any surface making it super easy to dry your clothes. They do this with the plastic rope attached to each peg which you can loop around curtain rails, towel rails, and door knobs…the list goes on. 

Clothes Pins

Beyond hanging up wet laundry, these clothes pins could be useful in a number of travel situations.

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12/11/2023 11:02 am GMT

Hand Washing Tips for Laundry on the Road 

If you’ve never washed your clothes by hand before (never mind doing it while traveling) here are a few helpful tips to get you started.

hand washign while traveling tips
  • If you only need a few pairs of underwear washed, why waste water by washing them in the sink? Simply wash them with you while you’re in the shower. This works for all smaller items.
  • Don’t be tempted to leave all your washing for the last day. Wash as you go to avoid your clothes all being wet at the same time. Plus it will be quicker to wash a small load every second day than a big load all at once.
  • Be mindful of the weather and humidity. When you’re in a hot and humid destination, things are going to take MUCH longer to dry. Make sure you pack enough essentials so that your clothes have adequate time to dry.
  • Near the end of a trip, bags can sometimes turn into disaster zones. Keep track of which clothes are clean and which are dirty with packing cubes, pouches, or bags.
  • If you have sensitive skin make sure to use a brand of detergent that you’ve used before or test it at home before you go to avoid any uncomfortable reactions.
  • Hang clothing in a place with airflow if possible. This will ensure that your clothes dry as quickly as possible and are ready when you need them. Think across from the window in your room rather than over the shower rail in your bathroom. 
  • If you are using a sink, wipe or clean out the sink first. This way you ensure your clothes are getting as clean as possible. 
  • Soak clothing when possible to soften dirt and stains and make hand-washing more effective.
  • Certain fabrics need to be laundered less frequently and dry quicker than others. Invest in travel clothing made from these fabrics to make hand-washing on your travels even easier. 

Do you hand-wash your laundry on the road? What are your hand-washing essential pack items?

essential pack items for laundry on the road

Written by Brooke

I run the show at Her Packing List and love packing ultralight. In fact, I once traveled for 3 entire weeks with just the contents of a well-packed 12L handbag. When I'm not obsessing over luggage weight, I'm planning adventures or just snuggling with my pet rabbit, Sherlock Bunz.

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Reader Interactions


  1. Charlie says

    In Ethiopia, you absolutely need to take a plug, even for regular washing. Water is a real issue hence plugs generally not provided in hotels etc.
    To save space, I often just use shampoo for hand washing.
    I fancied getting one of those foldaway hangers, where wd I get one? Best of all is just having manmade fabrics – no creases! Or those skirts you twist while damp to make funky false creases

  2. Alouise says

    I can definitely attest to buying a sink plug before your trip. Last year I went to New York and figured the guesthouse I was staying at would have sink plugs, but they didn’t. Trying to handwash clothes without a sink plug is a pain.

      • Cara says

        I’m so difficult about this type of thing on holiday but the way your saying it’s making sense, like a different view on why to do it!

  3. Red Kayak says

    Plug? Not necessary if you have a plastic bag. Lay the bag in the sink and fill it with water and your detergent. Add clothes, tie the bag closed and swish around. Rinse. Repeat. Dry as above.

  4. Debbie says

    I do the similar list: plug, stretchy line, fast-dry towels.

    To this I add:
    1) Zote Laundry Soap Bar. No liquid, has never bothered my skin, easy to pack
    2) Clips with hooks (2) don’t take much space, and will hold pants (stretchy lines collapse)
    3) Quick-dry shirts. As in: golf polos and Land’s End “rash guards” (I know they are supposed to be swimming items, but they make great, light, quick-dry shirts).

    Be aware high humidity destinations (like Hong Kong, where I often travel) take forever to dry sometimes. I know I need 2 extra shirts for those occasions, but the quick dry clothes take up less space.

    • Brooke says

      Will have to look into Zote! If I’m in a hot and humid place, I sometimes will just wear the clothes damp haha. Thanks for the tips, Debbie 🙂

  5. gee gee says

    I have had my luggage lost with the airline for the entire trip. So i now use a carry on when traveling and therefore i cannot pack heavy anymore. I need an airline approved laundry solution – so i actually was traveling in first class for a change and ask what they recommended and they told me Washeze laundry sheets. I could not find them for quite a while. I finally found Washeze laundry sheets and they were right you can cut them to do a small sink size washing and they take up no space and are great for travel. i also purchased a tracker for my luggage which has come in handy.

    • Brooke says

      Thanks Gee Gee! Those look great! For anyone else reading this, since they have fabric softener though, they won’t work for people who are packing some technical gear/merino wool. Just keep that in mind, read labels before packing 🙂

  6. Amanda says

    This. Was. Amazing. I usually wash my underwear when I shower and travel, but always end up having to throw shirts on chairs and stuff. That clothes dry rope is about to change my life! Thanks for the tips!!


  1. […] In less humid climates, wicking shirts and gear are great for days when you plan to be a bit more active, such as when you have to do a lot of walking with your luggage on your back, when you decided to hike in the woods for an afternoon, or even when you decide to climb to the top of a bell tower. The wicking gear might be an option for those who like to save a buck or two on laundry by doing their washing in the sink. […]

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