How to do laundry while living in a campervan
It doesn’t matter if you’re a weekend warrior or a full-time van dweller, it’s important to keep clothes and bedding clean so your van feels comfortable, healthy and smelling good.
Also, regular washing will help you carry less excess “back-up” clothing, making a biggie among campervan storage ideas.
You don’t want your clothes and bedding getting dirty, as it ruins the technical properties.
When dirt accumulates in the fibers, wicking, warmth, breathability and durability all suffer.
So make sure you put laundry on your weekly or bi-weekly schedule to avoid running out of clean clothes.
Bonus: I will share my very own environmentally friendly, money-saving pro-tip with you, so stick around!
So how can we keep our campervan clothes and bedding clean without it being a full time job?
There are several ways. I’ll start with a solution that’s available in nearly every town you’ll drive through, the public laundromat.
7 Tips for vanlife laundromat success
Check the reviews before you choose. Google is your friend. Some laundromats can be dirty, unsanitary, or worse. Take a minute to find the best facilities in your area.
Bring your own change. It’s no fun chasing down a shop or bank that will make change. Keep a roll of quarters in reserve at all times. Also, have a piggy bank on board where all quarters go at the end of the day, just for laundry.
Chose the right program on the machine. Read the instructions carefully, according to the type of clothing you’re washing at the time.
Never leave your stuff. Instead, you should bring your laptop or a good book, hang out and spend your time wisely. Many laundromats have free wi-fi, so take full advantage and get some work done, or relax and do some reading.
Don’t forget your bedding. At least every two weeks, depending on how dirty they are.
Keep your preferred detergent on board. Even if the laundromat has detergent for sale, it will likely be over-priced. Also, they don’t tend to carry environmentally friendly, unscented or other alternative laundry soaps. Best to bring your own.
- 1/2 & 1/2. Either hand wash your clothes in your manual machine and then go to the laundromat to dry them, or the other way ’round. If it’s a bright, sunny day and you’re headed to a site where you can put up a clothes line, don’t pay for the dryer. If you’ve got a great manual washing system but it’s cold or rainy, drop a few coins for the electric dryer.
The ultimate Vanlife fabric?
If you have the chance, use clothing made from wool as it’s antibacterial and doesn’t tend to smell.
It keeps you warm on those chilly nights around the fire and allows for breathability when you sit behind the steering wheel of your camper van.
Most wool products can be refreshed by simply hanging them out in the fresh air and leave em hanging for a couple of hours in the wind. A bit of rain or so won’t hurt, it will actually help.
Wool is also quick drying and should you get a stain, it’s often possible to remove it with a wet cloth and a bit of hand soap.
Merino wool in particular is truly amazing. It’s nearly as soft, and can be woven as thin, as cotton.
This allows it to be worn against the skin as under-layer, to bed for extra warmth, or as everyday outer layers.
It’s not cheap, but it’s so durable, comfortable and effective that the cost is well worth it.
Storing dirty clothes between laundry days
Storing all the dirty clothing that you are just waiting to get cleaned is an important consideration.
The best advice I can give is to store them in an airtight bag and make sure it’s closed tight!
This will keep smells under control and reduce the chance of mildew on damp clothes between washing.
Perhaps the biggest mistake is to allow dirty clothes to get tucked in to nooks and crannies and other random spaces.
When you return from that long run, wet mtb ride or muddy hike, seal those clothes up right away so they don’t become the predominant smell of your home.
The simple way to do Vanlife laundry
This brings me to my pro-tip. A real-life applicable solution that might actually end up saving you a whole bunch of money and a lot of trips to the laundromat + it’s environmentally friendly.
A couple of ingredients is needed first though.
A large waterproof bag (see product suggestions, below) to fit your dirty clothes
Tea tree oil
- Clean water
This is how you do it:
Put your dirty clothes in the bag, fill it half way up with warm water, don’t over do it, just cover the clothes, next add some soap nuts, the instructions will be on the packing, add 10 drops of tea tree oil and seal of the bag.
Here comes the easy part! Between driving destinations the bag will get a good shaking.
Upon arrival, dump out the water, twist the clothing half dry, add fresh water, put the clothing back without the soap nuts.
Close the container and shake it for a minute or two and voila! You have clean clothing, now simply twist and hang to dry.
Our product suggestions below work great with this method, or they include their own instructions for clean, fresh laundry while traveling in your camper van.
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Portable clothes washers
I was surprised to see some great off the grid washing machines available, at such reasonable prices and rated so highly.
Of course they do require more effort, but it’s only a few minutes once or twice per week and it’s a very rewarding task.
There are several great machines available to cater to your VanLife needs.
However, they are not well suited for bedding and jackets as there is simply not enough space in them. I do larger item at the laundromat.
They do take up space, so make sure you have room before you buy.
I won’t get into portable automatic, electric powered machines here as even the smallest of them are too big for campervans.
Also, they use a lot of electricity and require extra plumbing and water.
Not even most class A motor homes have on board powered laundry.
Drying your clean laundry
Getting clothes completely dry before storing them is important to avoid mildew. Mildew can stain your clothes and make them smell bad.
When traveling in cold, damp and humid climates you’ll often need to dry your clothes in an electric dryer.
It will be tempting to hang damp clothes in your van. This is a sure fire way to create mold in your van as the water from the clothes has to go somewhere as they dry and where it goes in in your walls, bedding…
If you’re running a heater on high for long periods of time, it’s okay to hang an item or two in the campervan to dry, but it should mostly be avoided.
Any time you increase humidity in the van, you also need to increase airflow by opening windows, running your fan…
I carry a length of climbing rope that can be stretched between trees for drying hand washed clothing and bedding.
But when the weather doesn’t permit, those hand washed, damp items go into a bag and I head to a laundromat for some serious dryer action.
The number one challenge with Vanlife laundry?
Electric washing machines do more than just wash your clothes; they also spin them dry.
In recent years, appliance manufacturers have invested a lot into creating machines that spin as much water out of clothes as possible in order to reduce expensive, wasteful dryer time.
So how do we get the bulk of the water out of our clothes after washing? Well, you can hand wring them; a lot of extra work, but sometimes it’s the only way.
You can also just hang them outside for a long time. Eventually they’ll get dry if there’s a breeze and it’s warm enough.
Another option is a manual hand crank clothes wringer. These machines really can do a great job of getting most of the water out and they make a big difference in how long it takes clothes to air dry.
Please see our portable, manual washing machine and wringer product suggestions, below.
Our Portable Clothes Washer Top Picks
Jens Fuglsang Møller is a Globetrotter – Writer – Coach – Personal Trainer & Author.
He has traveled through and lived in most of the major Asian
countries and now does full-time VanLife in Europe, together with his wife.