Unless you plan on packing one set of clothes per day of your trip or plan on wearing soiled and smelly clothes on your trip (both doable on shorter trips), you will need to wash your clothes at some point along your journeys. How you do so will depend on where you are sleeping or traveling and how clean you wish to be.
You may not notice the body odor accumulating on your clothing, but others will. It can make personal interactions more difficult while thru hiking through towns and make it more difficult to get rides back to the trail. Dirty clothing can also create a health hazard and increase the likelihood of developing fungal infections - especially on your feet and groin area.
There are several different ways to go about washing clothes in the outback. The goal is to rinse out as much bacteria, fungus and odor creating substances from your clothing within reason and to get it as dry as possible to prevent mildew or loss of body temperature to put back on (optional in hot climates).
Ideally, you will want to soak your clothing in soapy water, shake it up, rub off stains and thoroughly rinse. This unfortunately can be difficult in the outback and is generally overkill.
Thoroughly wash out your socks and undergarments (if worn) in a stream or lake. You can use a biodegradable liquid soap, rub your clothing with a bar of laundry or regular soap, or just do a good job of rinsing it out with water to remove a significant amount of undesirable odor forming products, bacteria and fungus.
Gently wring our your clothes and hang it from a clothes line made from a tarpline, hang it on a branch, place it on the outside of your pack or just lay it out in the sun to dry.
If you are using a plastic garbage compactor bag to water proof your gear, then this can be used to soak your laundry in. You will need prop it up in a way that it will hold your water without collapsing. This can be done by tying a line to it. If you are not good at knot tying, you can place a smooth rock near the edge of your bag, fold the bag over it and tie a knot around that.
After rinsing out your clothing in the stream and giving it a good wring, fill your bag up with water and add your clothing. Mix in some biodegradable soap and let sit for an hour. If you are in a cold environment and have unlimited hot water, you can also use this to help clean your laundry. Afterwards, give your laundry a thorough rinse and a good wring.
If you have a camp towel, you can wrap your clothes in it and give it a second wring. Wring our the towel and repeat with each article of clothing.
You can use a purpose made clothesline, a make shift line, branch or pack to hang your damp clothes on or place them in the sun to dry.
If you are staying at a hotel or hostel, laundry should be simple to do. Hopefully, you packed quick drying clothing that does not need ironing. You should also have a laundry kit that may include a travel clothesline, sink stopper, mesh bag, large plastic bag and/or concentrated laundry soap.
Of note, while some hotels are set up with a good sink, sink stopper and built in clothesline for washing clothes in your room, some hotels discourage this practice. Your bathroom may even have a "no washing clothes in room" sign. This rule or sign can generally be ignored without problems as long as you are discrete about your laundry and don't hang it out the window or all your clothing to drip on the room's carpet or furniture.
If your room provides bath foam, shampoo and/or bars of soap, you can use these to wash your clothes. Otherwise, you will need to use your own shampoo, bar of soap or ideally - concentrated laundry soap. Liquid soaps should of course be packed in a sturdy watertight squeeze bottle and packed in a ziplock container to prevent leakage in your pack. Bleach should be avoided as it is generally not needed, and is a hazard to your laundry and gear when spilled.
If you just don't have soap available for washing, then a good soak and rinse in water may be better than not washing at all.
You can generally wash your clothes in your room's sink. Some sinks will be missing or have a leaky sink stopper. This may be done instinctually by the landlord to discourage doing laundry, of because you are staying a in a budget room. If you don't have a leaky sink, you can use a travel sink stopper, film canister lid or stuff a sock in the drain. You can use medium sized plastic bag to line your sink and wash your clothing in that or you can use a small plastic bag (if this is all you have available) with your sock to create a pretty tight seal - just be careful to not clog your drain by stuffing the bag alone in the drain and hoping that the water in your sink won't force it down into the pipes.
If the sink with your clothes, hot water and soap. Stir it up a bit, let it soak for an hour and then give your clothes a couple of good squeezes before doing a thorough rinse. If you are the impatient type, you can use your hands to repeatedly squeeze your clothes to give it a good wash. When your hands begin to look like prunes, you should be ready for a good rinse.
Alternately, you can create a travel washing machine with a good sized water tight bag (such as a sealable 2 gallon bag or plastic trash compactor bag). Simply place you laundry in it, add hot water and soap, seal off your bag (leaving air in it to allow for shaking), give it a good shake and leave it to soak for an hour or so. Afterwards, give it a good shake, dump your water in the tub or shower and rinse.
Unless you are in a very hot environment, you will want to get your clothes as dry as possible prior to wearing or packing them. With socks and undergarments, you will always want to get these as dry as possible to avoid skin breakdown or fungal infections.
You will want to wring out your clothes as much as possible before hanging it up to dry. You will want to do this over the sink or tub to avoid flooding the floor. Of note, you should avoid packing clothes that are not wring friendly and thick cotton clothing that don't seem to ever dry.
If your room provides you with a towel, or if you have a travel/camp towel, wrap them around your clothing a give them a good wring after your initial wringing. Give your towel a good wring and repeat with each article of clothing. You may wish to start with slow drying clothing such as jeans, sweaters and wool sock, since they will need all the help they can get.
There are several travel clotheslines available for use by the occasional or veteran traveler. These include retractable cord, twisted shock cord (bungee cords), and stretchable braided latex or rubber lines. Twisted or braided lines are goods, since you can hang your laundry from it without the need for clothespins. You may also need suction cups to attach your line to tiled bathroom walls, or a snaplink, extra tie or double sided Velcro strip to attach the free ends to a towel rack, curtain rod, shower head, between bunks, etc. Hanging your clothes over the bathtub is generally the safest place to do so since and dripping will occur in the tub, which should be water proof.
Some smaller easygoing hotels will even let you add your laundry to their clotheslines in the back of the hotel or on the roof. Many hostels will also have communal clothesline for use. These outside lines should do a better job of drying and airing out your clothes, weather permitting, but have the potential of having your clothes turning up in someone else's pack either intentionally or accidentally.
If you are traveling via auto, laundry can be hung in the back of your car, SUV or truck. Hanging clothing out the window to air dry is possible, but may result in being pulled over by the local authorities or loss of your clothing.
After hanging you clothes, you should separate the front and backs of clothes so that they dry faster. Some travelers will use inflatable hangers to do this or use the hangers provided by the room.
If you are just sending a single night at a place and need to dry slow drying clothing, you may wish to use a hair drier. At most hotels, if one is not provided in the room, it is often available at the front desk or by room service. To get jeans to dry, wring them out as much as possible, wring them with a dry towel, and then lay them out. Prop a leg open with something (like the plastic wedge with advertisement often found in rooms) and set the dry on a towel so that it faces the jean leg and inflates it. If your drier requires you to hold down the trigger the entire time you are drying, you can usually wrap a small towel tightly around the hand grip and trigger for hands free use. Make sure that the drier isn't too close to your clothing and that the air inlets aren't obstructed, as either poses a fire hazard and will most likely shut off after it overheats. After that leg is reasonably dry, switch to the other leg, then to the upper half of the jeans and spot dry as needed. Socks and other clothing can be dried in a similar fashion.
If the power goes out in your room after having the drier on high, you may with to set it to low after you get your power turned back on or forgo using the drier altogether. You may also want to avoid using your immersion heater and any sensitive plug in electronics while staying there.
You should never leave a running drier unattended. Some travelers will leave their drier on all night or go sight seeing while the drier roars away in their room. This may seem like a good idea - an may cause a fire of get you in trouble with the hotel. If you choose to leave your room, you may need an extra room card if one is needed to power your room and place the do not disturb sign on the door so that house keeping does not discover you very dangerous setup and report you to their boss.
Some travelers prefer not to look like they just pulled their clothing out of duffle bag. With minimal effort, you can hand iron your clothes by buttoning them up, setting the collars and smoothing them out. If it dries wrinkled, you can leave it in a steamy bathroom. If this isn't enough, you can usually get an iron from the hotel or hostel you are staying at and if you are just compulsive, you can lug around a travel iron with you.
Lint can be removed from dry clothing with duct tape.
On occasion, you may wish to take your clothing to a launderette to get a good cleaning. These are easy to find in Western Europe and many hotels have coin operated machines. These can be a place to meet and talk to strangers or a big loss of cost to travel time. Some travelers can take advantage of the attendant and get him/her to transfer your laundry to the drier so that you can go out for some site seeing. Just remember that in some places, if your are not there the entire time your clothes are being washed and dried, you may be packing a much lighter pack at the end of the day.
In Asia and other parts of the world, you can usually find a pretty affordable place to get your laundry done and have it delivered back to your room - clean, dry and folded. Most hotels will also do this for you for a price.
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