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Laundry On The Road... the Eco Way!

Updated By Alice on 15th May 2019

Washing while living in the van or traveling can be a tricky business if you don’t want to splash out for laundrettes every other week. You can always buy a compact caravan/camper van twin tub washing machine with low electricity usage but these can really be quite expensive! And not that ideal for small vanlifers with limited storage space.
So while traveling on a budget, the best option is to hand wash yourself. The simplest approach is simply a bucket with cold/warm water, a little detergent and plenty of elbow grease. To make washing a little easier we chose a wash bag that does some of the work for you: the Scrubba wash bag.

Scrubba Wash Bag

The was bag is about the size of a drawstring bag and has a rubber coated inside. What makes it so special and worth the £40 price tag is the inbuilt washboard. You follow the simple instructions on the side and put your clothes in (only a few at a time as overfilling can lead to leaks) fill to the water line add some detergent and fold the top over about 4 times and clip in to fasten. Use the handy vent to get rid of the air. Then lay the bag on a flat surface, washboard side down and massage the bag back and forth for 30 seconds - 3 minutes. This is pretty easy and all you're doing is pushing the clothes back and forth against the washboard. When you're done simply unclip the bag drain off the dirty water and fill with clean cold water. Massage again with the cold water and drain. (I usually rinse twice to make sure I get out all the suds). You will need to wring out the clothes and hang dry them preferably outside as there will be drips! 

We have a wash line over our sliding door which is great for drying clothes on or just hanging things out of the way. When doing lots of washing we also have a dryer rack which stows away in our back cupboard. 

Finding running water can be a challenge sometimes on the road (but not as difficult as finding drinking water) so take advantage of clean water when you find it. Beach foot wash taps can be a good public source. It can be a little tricky to get into a routine washing especially if you're used to using a washing machine at home, and it definitely makes you realise how much you take one for granted! 

These are my tips for laundry while traveling 

  1. Deal with stains straight away! When you’re the washing machine trying to get out the dried in stain can be a major headache! So best approach is to deal with them soon as you can. Could be just getting some water on it before it dries or soaking before you wash. Keep your old toothbrush to really work the stain with a little liquid detergent or leave a few drops of Eucalyptus oil on to soak for turmeric stains, Bicarbonate of soda for really dirty stuff and lemon juice to lighten stains that wont budge. 

  2. Wash your clothes when you find water. Don't wait until you've run out of clothes to wash. If you're staying somewhere that has running water take advantage, especially if the sun is out. 

  3. Guppyfriend Wash Bag. It doesn't matter if you live in a van or not everyone should have a Guppyfriend wash bag! It is a large bag you place all your synthetic material clothing in before washing in order to capture the microplastic fibres and stop them polluting the waterways and ultimately the oceans. In a washing machine simply put your clothes in and wash as normal, for hand washing do not wash in the bag but instead pour the used water through the bag before disposing of it. This will capture the fibres and over time up you will be able to pick the collected fibres from the corners of the bag and bin them. This is the most effective method of collecting microplastic waste from clothing and should be a concern for everyone when washing. 

  4. Soap Nuts. Soap Nuts are a 100% natural washing product which come from the berries of the Sapindus Mukorossand tree. They can be just as effective as regular washing products except without harsh chemicals or plastic packaging. To use in a normal washing machine simply put 6 nuts in the bag provided (packs of soap nuts come with a cotton bag) and wash as normal. The nuts will last 6 washes before you need to change them. You will not need fabric softener. For hand washing put 2 soap nuts in a cup/jug and soak with hot water before adding the mix to the cooler hand wash water. Soap nuts work best in warm water conditions, so if you prefer washing or can only wash in cold water then liquid eco detergent might be better for you (see 6.). Find Soap Nuts in good health food shops or online. 

  5. Eco washing detergent. Some great all natural detergents work just as well as their chemical counterparts and work brilliantly in cold water. Its much much better for the environment and your skin. If you come across zero waste stores on your travels you can usually re-fill old detergent bottles eliminating the plastic waste. We used Ecover washing detergent and re-fill. 

  6. Old toothbrush. As mentioned before this can be really effective for getting stains out or just giving something a bit more of scrub. We use bamboo toothbrushes and by using them on your washing when you'd usually throw it away it prolongs its life too. 

  7. Shampoo bars. The biggest hack in going eco, more natural or traveling light is an all in one shampoo and body bar. I swear by them for everything, they wash your whole body and hair beautifully without needing conditioner. But you can also use them to wash your clothes too. This is not a good stop gap between proper washes and would be perfect for back packers, hikers or minimal campervaning. Just rub it into your wet clothes and lather. Make sure you dry your bar out before putting it away again or it will turn to mush. I recommend Primal Suds and Conchus for 100% natural and eco friendly bars.

  8.  Scrubba wash bag. I swear by my Scrubba bag and is great for taking some of the effort out of washing. It is quite expensive for a ‘bag’ but add up what you’d spend at laundrettes and its well worth it. It is quite small so think small regular loads rather than all at once. It also packs away really small so perfect for vans with minimal storage or even camping or backpacking.    

  9. Dashboards are great drying racks. Once everything is clean and ringed out it can be difficult to dry, especially when its not possible to put a rack outside the van. But if you're going to be traveling that day you can utilise a pretty big dash and lay out your clothes, especially if it’s a hot day it wont take any time at all to dry. Keep your window open a little for the steam.  
  10.  Foldable bucket(s). These are great for camper van life as they stow away easily and you can use them for anything! Foldable buckets are great for washing bigger things like duvet covers and bed sheets as they wont fit as easy into as Scrubba bag. Also, when you fill up your Scrubba bag it wont stand up on its own so if you’ve not got a friend to help hold it you can place it in the bucket to steady it.

  11.  Washing line & hangers. We just bought a cheap plastic coated washing line from a DIY store and ran a line over the door but kept the rest of the loose line to make make-shift washing lines around the van. This is great if you don’t have space for a dryer and can’t place anything on the ground where you're parked. Hangers are handy even if you don’t have a wardrobe to hang anything up in in your camper van or tent!  Trouser hangers with clips on either end can be great for hanging heavier things rather than on the washing line.

  12. Be mindful of damp. Washing during the summer is a breeze compared to winter. Ensure you are not trapping moisture in your van by regularly drying clothes inside with little ventilation as this can cause problems further down the line. If the weathers not going to permit you to dry outside then find a laundrette and use a tumble dryer. Its not the most eco approach but as long as you only use it when necessary its the best option for getting your clothes dry without compromising your van interior. 

I hope these tips are helpful and insightful when choosing to be more environmentally minded while traveling. 

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