Previously I wrote about washing yourself whilst living out a campervan, of course we also need to wash our clothing too. I’m an advocate of minimalistic travelling, so don’t have much clothing, and those which I do are usually quick dry stuff. It’s easier to carry layers than a thick item, not only is this more efficient for warmth and cooling, but it’s also easier and quicker to clean.Of course, like everything else with campervan living there is a cheat option – go to a laundrette. I don’t have to overly explain this one! But likewise with staying at a camp site (which will likely have a laundry room amongst showers, electricity and other bits), it’s an easy and conventional way to get things done, of course you’ll have to pay. I hate paying for things, especially when I have no significant income so this is how you do it on a budget.
Firstly you’ll need either a fresh water river or a bowl of water (I’ll admit now, I never cleaned my clothing in a river – a bowl of water is more reliable and easy to find to start with!)
You will need some sort of detergent to clean your clothes with. I carried a travel clothing wash tube which was a sort of gel and mixed with cold or hot water (we will mostly use cold water). However shampoo is a good substitute – if it can get grease out of your hair – it can get it out of your clothing. Of course you can use conventional powder too. It’s ok to carry extra stuff like detergent powder when living out of a campervan as there is space to carry it. I got used to multitasking items though when generally backpacking.
You’ll also need a means to hang your washing up to dry. I had a portable washing line, and also rope inside my campervan (originally to hold a surf board to the roof on the inside but I used it as a washing line in the end.
It is best to do this near a water supply, as cleaning can take up a lot of water. So I often washed my clothing beside the beach where there are free water taps available (for cleaning feet after a walk on sand, or provide dogs with water).
People have been cleaning their clothing by hand for centuries. Washing machines are a relatively new phenomenon so there is no excuse to not compromise whilst living out of a campervan (especially if it’s a short term thing. If like me you’ve never cleaned your clothing by hand before. I’ll explain, but it is quite simple.
Basically, in water, mix in your detergent/shampoo. Let it dissolve and stick in your item of clothing you want to clean.
Next make sure the item absorbs the water fully and move it about. Be a bit rough, ring the item, keep putting it in and out of the water, and just give it a bit of time so the detergent can work its magic. I usually swap the bowl of water/detergent over once it starts to get dirty. I found socks to hide the most dirt so I did them separately (even though I only wore them in the colder months). You’ll be surprised at how much dirt comes out.
That is pretty much it! The phrase ‘rinse and repeat’ is definitely the most appropriate here too. You should end up not getting dirt coming out of your items – that means they are clean, a final rinse in clean water will confirm this. If you need an image to go by – think about what your washing machine at home is doing. It literally pours in water (and detergent), spins it round and repeats until things get clean. Washing by hand is usually more efficient in terms of cleaning (but not of time) too.
This is also why I recommend you do this by a water supply – washing can use up a lot, and it’s always a good idea to have a good reserve of water for multiple reasons (washing clothing actually takes a low priority – hydrating yourself is the #1 reason to carry water).
Lastly hang your washing up to dry! Unfortunately on rainy days or humid days it doesn’t always work. I spent a few nights with wet washing above me inside my campervan but it mostly dried by the morning. At least you won’t wake up dehydrated as the air will be so moist – which works well to prevent hang overs too!
This is also why I recommend quick dry clothing, and washing in the morning, it gives all day to dry then. I wore jeans in the colder months and even if I washed them in the morning they would not be dry by night fall (and sometimes not in the morning after either). So be careful with your choice of clothing and timing of washing. I found it easier to do a bit of washing once a day or every 2 days. If it builds up it takes longer to do and you have less room to hand it up to dry and air-ate – packed in with other wet clothing inside a metal box is not the most efficient means of drying clothing after all.
I hope this is of some help to someone out there – it becomes second nature once you’ve spent a while in a campervan – as ever if you’ve got more tips please leave them in the comments to help others too.