Art & Freedom On The Road

Laundry On The Road

by Alice on 29th September 2018

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 or a manual washer and dryer but these can be really quite expensive! And not that ideal for small vanlifers.

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 scrubber wash bag. It’s about the size of a drawstring bag with a fabric outside and rubber 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 then use the handy vent to get rid of the air. Then lay the bag on a flat surface, washboard side down (that isn’t sharp that could damage the bag) 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, then clip up again shake it about and drain again to finish. You will need to wring out the clothes and hang dry them preferably outside as there will be drips! You can purchase a drying bag from scrubber but the wash bag was all we really needed.


We have a little wash line over our sliding door inside which is handy to dry things on but have to be careful of the drips. Otherwise things get hung over the van with hangers or use more washing line tied to various parts of it. We also brought with us our old clothes dryer from home, the fold down kind that stand tall. It has lost one of its legs but still can be used upside down or on its side (make do and mend!). Finding running water can be a challenge sometimes on the road but not as difficult as finding drinking water, so water to wash and rinse with is not usually a problem- beach foot wash taps can be pretty handy for this!  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 easy laundry while traveling 

  1. Deal with stains straight away! When you’re the washing machine trying to get out the dried in stain it 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. The best thing I have is a Vanish stain remover bar and an old toothbrush to scrub! 

  2. Eucalyptus oil / Olbas oil. If like us you love curry, then I'm sure you’ve encountered one or two turmeric stains? That bright yellow powder (which is super good for you) can be a stain that will never come out! Best thing for this yellow fiend is firstly to get it early with the stain remover bar water and toothbrush technique and when you’ve worked it as much as you can dab a few drops of eucalyptus oil or I use Olbas oil as I’ve always got some in my med box for cold season! Leave it to work its magic and keep it damp overnight for best results then wash as you normally would.

  3. Bottled washing water. When we come across water that we wouldn’t want to drink we usually fill a few 5L bottles up with it to save for washing time. These can be handy if you know you’ll be getting to a service area later that day so you can fill your scrubber bag (or equivalent) in the morning with washing and water leave to soak through the day and empty when you find an appropriate place to do so. Also, if there’s a drain nearby you can use the water to wash and rise without needing running water or depleting your precious drinking water or filling your grey water up very quickly!

  4. Dashboards are great drying racks. Once everything is clean and ringed out it can be difficult to dry, especially when it can be that you can sleep in your vehicle but not ‘camp’ which means nothing outside the vehicle like chairs or a drying rack. 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 bit as it can get steamy! 

  5. Eco detergent. Some great all natural detergents work just as well as their chemical counterparts and can work brilliantly even with cold water. Its much much better for the environment and you wont be so worried about rinsing your clothes so much as they are much gentler to the skin should you not quite get it all out. Also if you do dump the dirty water somewhere you perhaps shouldn’t it wont be quite so damaging should any get into the environment. We use Ecover washing detergent

  6. Old toothbrush. As mentioned before this can be perfect for getting stains out or just giving something a bit more of scrub like pants or armpits of tops. When used with a stain remover soap, little bit of detergent or simply normal soap this can be really effective. We use bamboo toothbrushes as they are way more environmentally friendly, and if you use it to clean your clothes it prolongs their life too!

  7.  Shampoo bars. If you're traveling light these are amazing! I swear by them for everything, they wash your hair beautifully, some even condition too, they can wash your whole bod and are actually really effective at washing your clothes too! So perfect for back packers or washing on the go. 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! Lush do some great bars and we use Funky Soap ones too! 

  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.  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 scrubber 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.

  10.  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. They hook anywhere you can find around the outside of the van and mean no dripping washing in the van!

Hope you find these tips helpful! We are still only early days on our van life adventure so I’m sure more tips and hacks will be discovered along the way and we’ll be sure to share when we do!

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