How do we wash our clothes while living on the road full-time? Well, it really depends on the situation. Things that determine how we wash our clothes are:
- on-board fresh water supply
- access to a water source
- ability to dump gray water
- ability to hang dry our clothes.
How we washed our clothes at the beginning of our travels while exploring the US differs now that we traveling internationally. When we started living on the road in 2008, we didn’t know that boondocking or wild camping was a possibility and found ourselves at campgrounds or RV parks. We had access to washing machines and dryers at the campground maybe half the time. For the other half, we found ourselves at coin-op laundromats. Visiting laundromats is also how we handled dirty clothes once we started boondocking in the US as well.
It was a bit of a transition to start using public laundromats when we started traveling. But as time went by, we saw a huge benefit. We could wash and dry multiple loads of laundry in the time it took to usually launder only one load. And another benefit? The kids learned counting by 25s real fast.
When we decided to spend the majority of 2016 in Mexico, we had to figure out new methods for laundry because laundromats were not as prevalent as they are stateside. In Baja and mainland Mexico, I can probably count on one hand the number of times I found self-serve laundromats. We actually found dry cleaning kind of places more. They provide a service where you drop off all your laundry and they wash, dry and fold it for you for a nominal fee. I think it may have been cheaper to use these services than to use the self-serve places.
As our travels took us to far away places, we found ourselves hand washing our clothes more and more. Partly because it was a pain to pack our camper up and drive into a town just for laundry now that we didn’t tow a trailer behind us… and I actually started to enjoy the process. If I had access to an additional water source (a spigot, spring, lake, river, etc) and decent weather, I would simply fill up my collapsible bucket with water, environmentally friendly soap and a small load of dirty clothes. I hand wash in three cycles. In the first cycle, I use my arms/hands to agitate the clothes, dispose of the soapy water and quickly wring out the clothes. In the second cycle, I fill up the bucket again and agitate the clothes to get more of the soap out before disposing that water and quickly wringing out the clothes. In the third and final cycle, I do a final rinse and agitation, dispose of the water and do a much better job at wringing out all the clothing. The kids also like to help out but they usually get too tired using their hands and end up using their feet instead.
And that process we started in Mexico has followed us overseas as we travel across Europe and bits of Asia and Africa as well. While overseas, if we have access to water, good weather and place to hang up our clothesline, we try to stay on top of laundry by hand washing whenever we can.
In regards to clotheslines, it really depends on the situation. If there is a chance, we will tie a line between two objects, like trees. If that is not an option, we tie one end to our camper and the other to a tree or to friend’s camper van.
If there is no option of us to tie a clothesline to something else, then we hang one from one end to another on our own vehicle. It’s important to not have a mud covered camper in this situation. A quick rinse on one side might be in order.
And sometimes, if it’s just a few wet things, we will hang it off of our Aluminess Ladder.
Or if it’s possible, we deploy the awning.
And then you occasionally have the situation where a dryer breaks at the laundromat or a rain storm comes through after you hand wash and your the clothesline needs to come inside for the night.
While in some foreign countries, we’ve also found it cheaper to rent a small AirBnB and use it just for a few hours so we can use their washer (and occasionally dryers too). And while we are there, we can hop in the shower as well.
I guess they key for laundry success on the road is to be flexible. If it’s sunny and you have access to water and a place to hang a line, go for it. If you are city camping, head to a laundromat or an AirBnB. Please do not dispose of your soapy gray water within 200 feet of a water source. Have a disposal plan before you start soaping up.