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Essential Pack Items for Hand-Washing Clothes on the Road

laundry on the road

I admit, I’m a total budget traveler when it comes to certain things… like doing the laundry on the road. Okay, so I’m not like a complete slob or anything; I can see the value in getting a load of laundry washed in a machine. However, when that load of laundry is looking to cost me $9 or more, I completely shy away and proceed to wash the necessaries in the sink until I can get a cheaper deal.

So, over time, I would call myself a bit of a pro at hand-washing my clothes. For others looking to do the same, here is a list of some of the essential pack items that make it all possible.

Essential Pack Items

A Sink Plug
sink plugSome travelers say this is a worthless item because the sinks will already have stopper or they can just use running water to clean the clothes (and therefore don’t need a sink full). I disagree because you can never really assume there will be what you expect 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, so a sink plug, one that works with multi-sized drains, is a great asset for those looking to hand-wash.

You can easily buy a sink plug on Amazon >>

A Stretchy Clothes Line
travel clothes lineA clothes line 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 that you won’t be. With that in mind, I recommend a stretchy, braided clothes line that allows you to just hang clothes in the middle of the rubber bands. Also, the stretchy lines allow for you to stretch in some of the most unique locations, like from the side of the bed to a locker door.

An option for those without a clothes line is to hang items over chairs and the edge of the bed, but let’s be honest, those just don’t dry 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).

Several versions of the travel clothes line are on Amazon >>

Skin-friendly Detergent
travel washNot all detergents are created equally. You could easily use any old brand to wash your clothes in the washing machine, but hand contact to some 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 the sensitive skin or hand-wash friendly detergents at the local market.

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

Buy your travel wash on Amazon >>

Items That Can Be Helpful

Pack Towel
pack towelThese shammy type pack towels soak up water like no other. So, by having one, you can use it to drain your washed clothes of excess water before hanging them to dry. 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 in the towel – a towel that is quick drying and can be wrung out itself.

>>Check out our tips for drying clothes without a dryer.

You can pick up pack towels on Amazon >>

These are some of the items I recommend for travelers looking to save money by hand-washing clothes on the road. How to do it? Well, that’s another post, so stay tuned.

In the meantime, do you hand-wash your clothes when you travel?

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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