When you are a road trip or if you live in your van full-time then your clothes are going to get dirty quickly and you will need to do laundry. Inside such a small space with limited electricity, it’s very unlikely that you will be able to fit any kind of washing machine. This means you have to go out of your way to do laundry. If you are an apartment dweller then you are no stranger to doing laundry outside of your home and this won’t present a new challenge to you. However you might have been lucky in adulthood and always had quick access to a washer and dryer, if this is the case then I hope these suggestions make the transition to van life much easier when your laundry bag is full and stinking up your van. Below are all my van life laundry tips to make your nomad transition much easier!
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Where to do your laundry on a road trip
The first question you may ask yourself when your clothes get dirty in your campervan, is where am I going to wash my clothes? Lucky for you there are plenty of options when it comes time to do laundry in van life. Below are my top suggestions for where to do laundry on a road trip whether it’s a short or permanent one!
1. Do your laundry at a Laundromat.
Doing your laundry at a laundromat is the most sensible option of the following. Most places, even very small towns have at least one laundromat. They are typically open early and close late most days of the week. A quick search into google maps and you will typically find a laundromat just a few miles from you.
At a laundromat, you will need your own laundry detergent and quarters for the machines. I have seen prices range from $2.50 a load to $6.00 depending on the size of the machine and the city you are in. The dryer typically costs $0.25 per 5 minutes and a load takes about 30 minutes to dry. If you don’t have cash or laundry soap on you sometimes, laundromats have ATM machines, change machines for your cash, and will have single-serve soap and dryer sheets. To avoid those heavy ATM fees and overpriced soaps I recommend you go prepared.
2. Rent out an Airbnb to do Laundry
Kristen of Where the road forks and I were talking and she made a great point during our conversation that often doing laundry the costs are typically around $10 by the time you get it all done. Sometimes even more if you want to wash all of your blankets, clothing, and seat cushions. If you are going to be spending $10-$20 you might as well look to see how much a single room in an Airbnb will cost. I’ve seen rooms priced around $25 if you are willing to be hosted by an Airbnb instead of having the entire place to yourself. This is especially handy if it is cold or rainy out and you/ your dogs could use a break from the van.
3. Do Laundry at a Friend’s House
When Shawn and I find ourselves in an area where we have old friends we often take them up on their offer to use their facilities. This includes a shower, laundry, and maybe even sneaking some dishes up there. It’s a great opportunity to let someone help you. I think it is so easy to be self-sufficient and not want to bother people but it’s also nice to let people help.
Some rules for staying with friends: Never outstay your welcome. I don’t recommend staying for more than a few days and ALWAYS ask before using their facilities. To make it easier we will often still stay in our van but hang out with them in their house during the day. This can allow both of you to feel independent!
4. Wash your laundry in the sink
If you are in a pinch, then you can always wash your clothes in the sink! I still have a few nice items that I don’t feel comfortable washing at a laundromat. Although the washers are typically in good shape, I don’t want to spend $2.50 on one tiny load of delicate items. Instead, I clean out our sink and fill it up as minimally as possible and hand wash what I can’t wash in a machine.
5. Use a Portable Washing Machine in Your Campervan
If none of these options appeal to you, you technically could have a washing machine inside of your campervan. There are many options when it comes to portable washing machines including some that serve as both a bag and a washer. Others are larger and electric, needing a larger van that has shore power. I have listed the top portable washing machines in this article.
How to find a good laundromat on a Roadtrip
- Google. Google is a traveler’s best friend. I typically type “laundromat” into google maps and check out what is nearby. Next, I look at the reviews and pictures to ensure that it feels like a safe, nice laundromat that doesn’t overcharge for doing laundry.
- Yelp. If there are no Google reviews I will also check out Yelp. One of my favorite things to look out for is a laundromat with a bar in it! Honestly, I’ve only seen it once in Greensboro but it’s such a smart idea, someone else has to be doing it!
- Ask the locals. If you are hanging out in an area for a bit, ask the locals! They know the best spots for just about everything and that includes laundromats.
- Van life apps. IOverlander, RVAllstays, and the Vanlife app all include laundromats in their apps.
The best way to store dirty laundry in a campervan
Storing your dirty laundry is an important part of keeping your van clean and stink-free. You want a laundry bag that won’t take up too much space but that also keeps your clothes from stinking up the entire van. There are a few ways to go about this, one is with a mesh bag that aerates your clothing and keeps them from getting so stinky and moldy. However, if you have stinky clothes in there that means you will smell it! Which is why we typically keep our clothes behind the driver seat hanging on the back of the headrest in a SEALED bag. NOTHING is getting through that thing. I do not want to smell our dirty clothes until it is time to throw them in the washer.
The Top Portable Washing Machines for Van life Laundry
Although it’s unlikely that you would have a portable washing machine in your van it doesn’t mean it’s impossible. In fact, if you are in a bus or RV it might be more fiscally responsible to have a portable machine that you can use instead of spending money every time you need to wash your clothes.
There are a few types of portable washing machines going into two main categories: Electric and Non-Electric. If you are in a camper that has shore power you might be able to get an electric washer enabling clean clothes that come out dryer than a non-electrical washer. If you do not have access to a large amount of electricity but still have space and want the convenience of a portable washer then you still have quite a few options for washing your clothes.
Top Non-Electrical Portable Washing Machines for Van life Laundry
Hand Power Clothes Washing Wand
I probably shouldn’t be so amazed by such a simple design but here I am wondering if I need a clothes washing wand. This wand is super simple and you only need it and a bucket to do your laundry. You could easily use your clean trash can with this wand to wash laundry and you’d be good to go!
Pros: Affordable, easy to store, and lightweight.
Cons: The wand is plastic and there were a few reviewers complaining that it snapped in half after about 8 months. Also quite the workout but that doesn’t really have to be a bad thing does it?
Scrubba Bag Wash
The scrubba dub is such a cool item and I have ALWAYS wanted one. Why I haven’t bought one yet is beyond me. This item can not only serve as a laundry bag but you can then use it as a make-shift washing machine when you are ready to wash those dirty clothes! This portable washing machine is a great item to have when you know you will be out in the wilderness for quite some time and still want to be able to wash your favorite items. When you only have 2 pairs of yoga pants and two sports bras, things can get stinky in no time!
Pros: Pretty inexpensive and super easy to use!
Cons: Getting clothes dry will be quite the manual job and wouldn’t be ideal for jeans/heavy items that soak up water.
Lavario Portable Clothes Washer
This portable non-electric washer is a great option for van lifers who want to do their laundry inside the van. The Lavorio only uses 10 gallons of water, 5 to wash and 5 to rinse and cleans your clothes in 20 minutes.
Pros: Non-electric and only 31″ H x 19″W
Cons: According to reviews it doesn’t get the clothes super dry so you would have to wring them out a bit before hang drying.
Hand Crank Counter Top Washer
Although this washer seems very industrial, it’s a small non-electrical option that could work for vanlife if you have space. It fits on a countertop and can store in your “garage” once finished.
Pros: Quick 2-5 minute wash and rinse, easy to use, smaller wash option.
Cons: You have to hand wring your clothing
Top Electrical Portable Washing Machines for Van Life Laundry
Super Deal Portable Washing Machine and Spin Dryer
If you are going to be at the campsite often with shore power then you might consider purchasing an electric portable washer that can get your clothes really clean and dry.
Pros: This will get your clothes both clean and dry without having to do any of the work.
Cons: It takes a bit of power so you would need to be hooked up to shore power or have a massive solar set up.
COSTWAY Washing Machine
The Costway portable washing machine is a great option for those in a smaller RV or bus as it is compact enough to fit into a small closet or under the bed and it’s only 10 pounds so it won’t add a ton of weight. It is a washer and spin dryer which means you likely won’t have to wring out your clothes before hang drying them. It’s a great option coming in around $80. With over 400 reviews on Amazon with 4.0 stars, it’s definitely a solid choice.
How to Dispose of Your Dirty Laundry Grey Water
If you are going to use a portable washer for doing laundry on the road then you should use Leave no Trace principles for disposing of your water. You also need to use a biodegradable soap like Dr. Bonners. Here is what the Leave No Trace website has to say about properly disposing of greywater:
“It’s always a good idea to check local regulations or ask campground staff on how to dispose of your greywater. In some campgrounds, it’s recommended to dispose of greywater in a dedicated utility sink. Other campgrounds have grey water disposal units specifically for this waste. As a last resort, consider disposing of strained greywater in a flush toilet if allowed. If these facilities aren’t available, carry your greywater at least 200 feet away from camp and water, and scatter it widely.“
Click here to read the full guide from LNT on disposing of greywater.
The top items that make vanlife laundry easier
Doing laundry in a van is a bit different. You need to think about where you will store everything and how it will all ride inside the van. Before vanlife we didn’t worry about whether our detergent would spill or where we would hang our clothes that we line dry – there were a ton of places inside our apartment for that.
Things such as Tide Pods and clotheslines that don’t take up much space make all the difference when doing laundry in a van.
Doing laundry when you live in a campervan doesn’t have to be difficult! I hope these van life laundry tips will help keep your van smelling fresh and your clothes nice and clean! Let me know in the comments which method is your favorite for doing laundry on the road!
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