How to wash clothes while camping

Mother drying clothes after washing it on a camping trip
Drying clothes, Source: Freepik

Camping and hiking allow you to relive your childhood by behaving silly and not worrying whether you get dirty. We adored it as kids, and enjoying nature means adopting different manners than when indoors. But eventually, we have to wash those dirty clothes clean. So, how to wash clothes while camping?

One of the old-fashioned ways to wash clothes while camping is to hand wash the dirty clothes with some elbow grease. Alternatively, you can use the trash bag method with soap, a trash bag, and water, while you work as a washing machine. One of the easy ways to clean clothes is by bringing or building a portable washing machine.

After a strenuous bike ride, hike, or just after spending a lot of time camping, there are numerous ways to help you spruce up your clothing. From a camping washing machine to a scrubba wash bag, you have plenty of options to wash clothes while camping. Here are some simple and quick ways to launder your clothes so you can stay fresh on your camping trip.

Ways to wash clothes while camping

Using trash bags

Trash bag

Source: Freepik

Despite the fact that this may seem a little strange at first, a trash bag can be a camper’s best friend when they have to wash their clothes while camping. For this simple laundry hack, all you require is a thick garbage bag, some detergent or soap, and water.

After placing the dirty clothes inside the bag, add the soap and water, being careful to only partially fill the bag. Your job here is to play the part of the washing machine and toss and spin the bag to simulate a washing machine’s spin cycle. Continue doing this until you feel exhausted, at which point you will know you have finished. Finally, rinse the soap from your clothing before hanging it to dry.

Hand washing clothes

Drying washed clothes

Source: Freepik

Washing your camping clothes using a dry bag is a simple method. If you’ve gone camping before, there’s a good chance you already own a dry bag, so there’s no need to invest in any more equipment. Select the appropriate dry bag size based on the amount of dirty clothing.

  • After adding dirty clothing, add clean water halfway through the bag. Make sure the dry bag is secure and supported while you add water.
  • Add the soap of your choosing. You can use any biodegradable soap for camping.
  • For agitation, include a smooth rock. If your clothing isn’t so dirty, you can skip this step.
  • Leave the air inside the bag and roll it down three times to leave room for agitation.
  • After cleansing, carry the contaminated water at least 200 yards away from lakes or streams. Pouring the dirty water into a 6 to 8 inches deep hole is the right way to dispose of it.
  • You can use a microfiber towel or a washing line to dry the clothes.

DIY washing machine

This DIY approach needs some work before you actually go camping, but once you’ve constructed it, it works like a charm. You’ll need a sizable bucket with a cover and a fresh plunger for the toilet to get started. 

Make a small hole in the cover first that is large enough for the plunger handle to fit. The handle’s top protrudes out the top of the bucket while the plunger portion sits inside. As you might have guessed, the plunger functions as the agitator by pushing the bucket up and down once it has been filled with your soiled clothing, suds, and water.

For the “rinse cycle,” some campers use a second bucket, but I usually drain the dirty water and refill it with fresh water.

Use the campfire pit as a washing machine

Campfire pit

Source: Freepik

Very few people are aware that wood ash is a natural and eco-friendly detergent. Many people use fire to clean their dirty pots and pans, and it also works for washing!

For beginners, this strategy is rather dangerous, but once learned, it works wonderfully. We do advise you to proceed with caution for the first few times and to only wash items of clothing you wouldn’t mind ruining.

You must combine copse ash in little pieces with warm water in order to do this. The result will be a slightly soapy, grayish paste. To achieve the soap-like texture, add a tiny drop of oil to the mixture. The next step is to apply the now-soapy mixture to your dirty clothing, wait a few minutes, then rub and rinse. The stains that would be difficult to remove, should be left alone for a few days and they will vanish.

Employ the local laundry facilities

If handwashing your clothes while camping isn’t a feasible option, you could always locate washing facilities near your campsite.

Laundry facilities may be right around the block or in the nearby town, depending on where you are camping. When you need to toss a load in before a trek, some campsites have their own on-site laundromats that can be rather handy.

Make sure you have plenty of change because the majority of public washing machines function on coins. Some campgrounds even have agreements with nearby washing facilities to pick up your dirty laundry and return it clean.

When you’re traveling and on the go, it can be just as simple to go to a laundromat or stay at a genuine campground once a week to do a couple of big loads of laundry in their industrial-sized machines. Typically, washing machines cost between $4 and $6, and a dryer would cost a little extra if you wanted to use one.

Scrubba wash bag

In 2012, Scrubba’s washing bag received funding from Kickstarter. This bag is specifically designed to be used to wash camping clothes as well as for general travel. It resembles a dry bag in many ways, except instead of a rigid washboard, it features an interior gripping surface.

The side valve on the newer models is also helpful for draining water and emptying the bag. If you have wet hands, it might be challenging to open the valve, so keep your hands dry.

Here is when it is recommended to use the Scrubba Wash Bag while camping:

  • For a single person or small family while camping
  • For small loads
  • To extend the amount of time between trips to the laundromat, wash socks, underwear, etc.
  • For travelers who want a compact laundry bag or portable washing machine
  • For prolonged camping vacations where washing clothes while camping becomes necessary

Things to keep in mind for washing clothes on your camping trip

Woman with clothes spread out on line after a wash

Source: Freepik

Camping involves bringing a lot of things to survive in the wild and bringing the right things will make your trip a lot easier. Here are a few things to keep in mind that will help you on your next camping trip.

Let me start by debunking any myth that suggests bringing additional clothes in an effort to skip washing. Even if you’re using a wash bag, you will gather a bag of filthy laundry that will simply fill your limited camp storage. That’s the same thing as if you would bring a spare tent instead of cleaning the existing one.

Bring quick-drying clothes

Packing a lot of clothing made of quick-drying materials is one of the simplest ways of keeping your clothes clean when traveling.

When you’re working up a sweat on a walk or a bike ride, this kind of material will keep you dry. The greatest quick-drying materials include merino wool, polyester, and nylon. These materials are thin and quickly wick away moisture from perspiration and rain to keep you comfortable and dry. Additionally, these items dry quickly if you hand-wash your clothing and set up a camping washing line.

Do not pack light-colored clothes

Clothes with a longer wear life, such as denim shorts or jeans, are recommended to pack. Dark patterns and colors are always a smart choice for hiding blemishes and stains. Dresses and skirts are good space-saving clothing that can be ideal for the days when a trip is scheduled or when dining out in the new town on your road trip. These clothes can also extend the number of days between washing sessions.

Don’t be discouraged if bore water stains your clothing and makes your light clothing appear a little brown; everyone experiences this. Wear it as a badge of honor for the outback, but keep in mind that the signature of bore water is better hidden by darker colors.

Properly dispose of dirty water

It is not advised to use even biodegradable detergent in a natural water source. You are tainting the water which makes it unsafe to drink for you, other people, and living things. Bring the water 200 feet away from water sources and use moderate amounts of biodegradable soaps to wash your clothes, and your dishes. Then, dispose of the dirty water in a cat hole that is 8 inches deep.

Do not use bathroom sinks

Although there are sinks in the campground bathrooms, these are not acceptable places to wash your clothes or cookware. Since campsite bathroom sinks frequently have a limited supply of water, washing there might clog the plumbing and reduce the area’s sanitary standards.

It’s acceptable to use the campground spigot to fill your buckets or portable washing machines. Just be cautious not to dump your used laundry there because this may contaminate the region and disrupt your entire camping.

Come prepared with drying equipment

Drying your clothes while camping should be quick and simple. You need to carry your own rope to set up a washing line for drying your laundry, provided it hasn’t been raining. When you’re done, make sure to clean it up because the next team of campers does not want to be welcomed by someone else’s abandoned washing line.

Bring some collapsible drying racks if you want to go for the more opulent approach. These are affordable and useful items to bring along if you anticipate doing laundry at some point during your trip.

Choose the detergent wisely

When camping, you must take precautions to protect the environment. A rising number of companies offer eco-friendly detergents, so choose them if you don’t want to be the one who ruined any natural life. Try to keep an eye out for indicators that state “compatible for septic tanks” when buying detergent to bring camping. 

Conserve water while using a camping washing machine

A compact van, an SUV, or a truck bed camper may require you to be careful with how you utilize your limited water supply. In order to help you conserve water while using your camping washing machine, here are some tips:

  • Sort your clothing into the three categories of “very dirty,” “medium dirty,” and “little dirty.”
  • First, wash the little dirty camping clothing, then put them aside and rinse them later.
  • Reuse that water to wash the moderately unclean clothes and, if the water isn’t too foul, give the extremely dirty items the first wash. Then, dispose of the dirty water.
  • Simply fill the machine with water without soap to rinse the mildly filthy clothes that you have already washed before refilling to give the medium and super dirty garments another wash. Then repeat the process while adding soap to handle washing your other loads.
  • If the water is clean enough to reuse, squeeze the clothing out after a quick rinse over the dry bag to save water.
  • Reusing the dirty water will give you a lot to conserve for other uses

Final thoughts

As you may have seen, it is not a complicated process to wash clothes while camping. However, there are multiple methods and things to keep in mind. Besides washing clothes, there are also ways to get rid of the campfire smell from your hair. Combined together, you’ll smell nice just as if you were cleaning everything at home.

About Antonio

I’m Antonio, a passionate traveler, and outdoor lover who’s running this website. I started this site to share my passion for camping, traveling, and bikepacking.