Campervan Tips – Washing Clothing

December 20, 2010 · 12 comments

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.

Preparation

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).

Cleaning Process

cleaning clothing in campervan

Bowl and cleaning fluids prepared

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).

Drying Process

hanging up clothing in campervan

Hanging up t-shirts inside campervan

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.

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{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Randy December 21, 2010 at 3:11 AM

Love the tips! Keep them coming. Another option to washing clothes on the road is to do your laundry as you shower with your shampoo or body wash. For example, why not multitask at the outdoor beach shower? If the beach bunnies weren’t impressed by your van, then multitasking at the beach shower should do the trick.
Randy´s latest blogpost – Majorca on Foot

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Kirsty December 22, 2010 at 8:31 AM

Poi loves to wash his clothes in the shower, but I prefer the conventional sink or bowl jobby!
I like the tip to help prevent hangovers, I’m going to try it! :-)
Kirsty´s latest blogpost – Couple vs Dorm Rooms

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AdventureRob December 22, 2010 at 3:07 PM

When I first travelled I used to wash my clothing in the shower often too, kills 2 birds with one stone. I had a separate travel wash but just use shampoo now when I’m on the move, saves carrying an extra bottle.

The hangover prevention was a lucky find! Complete unintentional side effect of having wet clothing dangling above the bed :-) Good times.

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AdventureRob December 22, 2010 at 3:06 PM

Ah yeah, I did that a few times too, the bodywash/shampoo can go straight onto the clothing, it’s like recycling soap bubbles! Thanks for the tip though :-D

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joshywashington December 23, 2010 at 8:02 PM

Agree with the shower technique, I would use that all over southeast asia and when I mentioned it to a co worker the other day and they seemed disgusted!! Oh well.
I hold fast to the belief that Dr. Bronners Magic Soap is the best for clothes, stinky feet and anything that needs washing. It is super concentrate and super strong…
joshywashington´s latest blogpost – How do you Prepare for Your Travels

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AdventureRob December 24, 2010 at 8:45 AM

Is it a co-worker that has never travelled? Lol

Not heard of Dr. Bronners before, where is it from?

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Brooke, WhyGo Australia December 29, 2010 at 12:41 AM

Sink or bowl for me! If your clothes are still wet, you can always drive around with the windows down. That usually does the trick!
Brooke, WhyGo Australia´s latest blogpost – Favorite Australian Slang- When In Doubt- Add an “O”

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AdventureRob January 3, 2011 at 1:57 PM

Alright in summer, but not a solution in the rainy winter of Oz!

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Alicia January 14, 2011 at 8:23 AM

Ha! Ha! Ha! These are other excellent tips from the pro… I am really learning a lot of things from this website. I really never camp on a van for a long time so washing clothes is not a problem to me. I just bring enough clothes for the duration of the trip.

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AdventureRob January 14, 2011 at 10:07 AM

Renting a campervan is actually quite an expensive way to travel in a developed country. I’m surprised by the amount of people that do it. I think in the opposite way and would never think of taking enough clothing for the duration of a trip, sounds heavy to me!

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turaguides March 15, 2011 at 9:58 PM

Some good advice, but if you must wash your self, dishes and clothes in a river or lake, please use a bowl and use bio-degradable detergents. Empty the soapy water onto a grass area, not back into the water source where it is a pollutant.

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AdventureRob March 18, 2011 at 11:54 AM

Good point well made.

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