How to Do Laundry While Camping: Essential Tips for Fresh Clothes Outdoors

Washing clothes while camping can pose a unique set of challenges. You’re away from the convenience of your home washer and dryer, and you need to find ways to keep your garments clean. This is critical for both hygiene and comfort during your outdoor adventure.

The process requires more effort and ingenuity, but it’s perfectly feasible with the right approach.

To begin, you’ll need to gather supplies that are both effective and environmentally friendly.

A biodegradable detergent is essential, as it ensures you do no harm to the natural water sources. Whether you’re using a portable washing device, a collapsible bucket, or just a basic washbasin, the key is to be gentle with the ecosystem while efficiently cleaning your clothes.

Knowing how to wash clothes while you camp allows you to pack lighter and stay fresh throughout your trip. The technique you choose may vary depending on the duration of your camping trip, access to clean water, and environmental conditions.

With a basic understanding of hand-washing techniques, you can maintain clean clothes without relying on the amenities of home, ensuring you can enjoy the wilderness without concern for laundry.

Preparing for Laundry While Camping

Proper preparation can make laundering clothes at the campsite straightforward and environmentally friendly.

Choosing the Right Supplies

For successful laundry while camping, select the appropriate supplies that are effective and eco-conscious. Opt for biodegradable detergent to minimize environmental impact. When choosing laundry soap, ensure it’s safe for use in natural water sources—biodegradable soap is essential.

Additionally, consider a wash bag designed for outdoor use, which efficiently cleans clothes with minimal water and soap.

Supplies Table:

Item Description Use Case
Biodegradable Soap/Detergent Earth-safe cleaning agent For washing clothes without harming the ecosystem
Wash Bag / Dry Bag Portable containment for soiled garments and washing To contain dirty clothes pre-wash and to use as a makeshift wash basin

Packing Laundry Essentials

Pack strategically, ensuring your laundry essentials are accessible and organized. Your laundry bag should be durable and have the capacity to keep dirty clothes separate from the rest of your gear.

Store your laundry detergent or soap in a leak-proof container to prevent spills. It’s also practical to include a small, sturdy dry bag, which can double as a wash basin and a place to carry wet clothes after washing.

Packing Checklist:

  • Laundry Bag: To organize and separate dirty clothes.
  • Biodegradable Detergent: Stored in a secure, leak-proof container.
  • Dry Bag/Wash Bag: Multipurpose for washing and transporting wet items.

Selecting a Laundry Method

When camping, keeping your clothes clean is essential, yet challenging. You’ll need to choose a method that suits your needs, taking into consideration factors like the availability of water, the type of garments, and how much effort you’re willing to expend.

Manual Washing Methods

Sink or Basin: Use a collapsible sink or basin with water. Add biodegradable soap, soak your clothes, agitate, and rinse thoroughly. This method is ideal for a small number of items.

  • Pros: Lightweight to carry, and you control the water usage.
  • Cons: Can be time-consuming for large loads.

Washboard: Durable and time-tested, hard ridges help scrub dirt away effectively.

  • Pros: Efficient at cleaning heavier stains.
  • Cons: Bulky to transport and requires more physical effort.

Scrubba Wash Bag: A modern solution, this portable bag includes a washboard-like interior. Fill, roll, clip, deflate, rub, then rinse.

  • Pros: Compact, doubles as a dry bag.
  • Cons: Limited capacity, may not be ideal for large or bulky items.

Plunger Washing: A manual plunger tool can mimic the agitation of a machine. Combine with a bucket or tub.

  • Pros: More gentle on clothes than washboard, better for larger loads.
  • Cons: Requires sufficient water and physical effort.

Washing Wand: Designed to push and pull water through clothes effectively.

  • Pros: Ergonomic and efficient, less straining than traditional scrubbing.
  • Cons: Needs a bucket or tub.

Portable Laundry Machines

Portable Washing Machine: Small electric or foot-powered machines. Add water, soap, clothes, and operate according to the machine’s instructions.

  • Pros: Mimics a traditional washing machine, less labor-intensive.
  • Cons: Requires power source or labor, more to carry.

Wonder Wash: A portable, hand-cranked machine that’s user-friendly. Add clothes, water, soap, seal, and crank.

  • Pros: Energy-efficient, uses less water and soap.
  • Cons: Small load size, requires manual effort.

Finding a Suitable Washing Spot

When camping, it’s essential to find a spot for laundry that doesn’t harm the environment while ensuring your safety and convenience.

Respecting the Natural Water Sources

Choose a spot at least 200 feet away from natural water sources to prevent contamination. This distance protects streams, rivers, and lakes from pollutants in grey water, maintaining the ecosystem’s integrity.

  • Avoid using running water directly: Collect water in a bucket to wash your clothes, and then dispose of grey water by scattering it on land, away from the water source.

Convenient and Safe Water Usage

Identify a flat area that can support your washing setup without risk of erosion or water run-off into water bodies.

  • Ensure a sufficient water supply: When backpacking or RV camping, it’s important to secure a nearby water source for convenience. However, remain mindful not to deplete natural resources.
  • Dispose of grey water properly: Scatter it away from campsites and trails, ensuring it doesn’t flow back to the water source.

Doing the Laundry by Hand

When camping, efficiently cleaning your clothes by hand requires attention to the soaking and scrubbing process, and the nuances of rinsing and removing stains.

Soaking and Scrubbing Process

To begin, find a clean water source and fill a basin or tub. Add a small amount of biodegradable soap to minimize environmental impact. Then, submerge your garments in the soapy water and allow them to soak for 5-10 minutes to loosen dirt and grime.

  • Soak: 5-10 minutes in soapy water
  • Soap: Use biodegradable soap

After soaking, scrub each item against itself or use a washboard or a tool like the Scrubba—a portable washing bag with a built-in washboard. Rub the fabric together vigorously with your hands, paying extra attention to stained or heavily soiled areas.

  • Scrub: Use hands, washboard, or a Scrubba bag
  • Focus: Target stains and soiled spots

Rinsing and Removing Stains

Once your clothes have been thoroughly scrubbed, drain the soapy water and refill the basin with fresh clean water for the rinse cycle. Rinse each item by swishing it in the water and squeezing the fabric to remove soap. Repeat this process until the water runs clear and soap-free.

  • Rinse Cycle: Refresh water, swish, and squeeze until clear

For tougher stains, apply a small amount of concentrated detergent directly on the affected area before the initial soak. Then, gently work the detergent into the fabric with your fingers or a soft brush.

  • Stains: Apply detergent and gently work into the fabric
  • Hand Wash: Focus on stained area with fingers or brush

Effectively Drying Clothes Outdoors

When camping, drying laundry efficiently is crucial to ensure comfort and convenience. Optimal drying techniques utilize both natural elements and portable tools suited for the outdoors.

Utilizing Natural Resources

Sun and Wind: The sun’s heat and wind are natural drying agents. To effectively use these resources:

  • Choose the right location: Find an open area with direct sunlight and good airflow.
  • Time appropriately: Dry clothes midday when the sun is strongest and the wind circulates best.
  • Positioning: Spread clothes out on a clothesline or drying rack to maximize exposure to the sun and wind. Ensure clothes are inside out to prevent fading.

Avoiding Moisture: To prevent clothes from retaining moisture:

  • Don’t line dry near your tent: This avoids moisture from the clothes seeping into your living space.
  • Keep away from dew: Hang clothes early and take them down before dusk to avoid dew, which brings additional moisture.

Portable Drying Solutions

Drying Tools:

  • Clothesline: A lightweight, portable clothesline can be strung between trees or tent poles.
  • Drying Rack: Compact, foldable racks are specially designed for camping, placing your laundry in direct sunlight.

Innovative Gear:

  • Dry Bag: Multi-functional, also used as a dry bag; after washing, add clothes, seal, and shake to remove excess water.
  • Quick-drying clothes: Investing in quick-drying fabrics reduces drying time and makes your outdoor experience more comfortable.

Use a fan if you have access to power, as it can help speed up the drying process by mimicking wind flow. Ensure all dry clothes are thoroughly aired before packing away to prevent mildew.

Avoid drying laundry too close to a campfire as it can be a fire hazard and can infuse clothes with smoke odors. When necessary, garments can be laid flat on warm rocks near but not too close to the campfire for residual warmth to aid drying.

Managing Laundry Waste

When camping, responsibly managing your laundry waste ensures the protection of the natural environment. Pay close attention to the way you dispose of grey water and the impact of litter and detergents.

Grey Water Disposal

Grey water is the waste water that results from doing laundry. Dispose of grey water at least 200 feet away from streams or lakes to prevent contamination.

Dig a small hole in an inconspicuous spot where the water can be absorbed into the ground. Use a biodegradable soap or detergent to minimize the environmental impact.

  • Steps:
    1. Use a strainer to remove any solid particles from grey water.
    2. Walk 200 feet from any water bodies.
    3. Dig a 6-8 inch deep hole for disposal.
    4. Pour grey water into the hole, dispersing it over a large area.

Litter and Detergent Impact on Environment

  • Avoid the use of non-biodegradable detergents. Opt for biodegradable detergent as it is designed to break down in the environment without harming it.
  • Always carry a trash bag with you to collect wrappers or bottles from detergents and soaps, ensuring that no garbage is left behind. Properly dispose of the trash bag in a designated disposal area or take it with you until you can do so.


  • Choose biodegradable products.
  • Carry out all trash to prevent pollution.
  • Read labels carefully to ensure the soap or detergent is indeed environmentally-friendly.

Dealing With Specific Fabrics and Items

When camping, it’s essential to understand how to care for various fabrics and items to keep them in good condition. Specific cleaning techniques will ensure your gear lasts longer and performs better.

Synthetic Fabrics Care

Materials: Polyester, Nylon

  • Hand-wash with a mild detergent in cool to warm water.
  • Gently agitate your synthetic base layers, avoiding harsh scrubbing.


  • Air-dry away from direct sunlight which can degrade the fabric.
  • If necessary, synthetic fabrics can tolerate a cool tumble dry.

Handling Wool and Delicate Materials

Materials: Wool

  • Use a wool-friendly detergent.
  • Wash with cold water to prevent shrinking and agitation.
  • Avoid wringing out wool items.


  • Lay flat on a towel and roll to remove excess water.
  • Dry woolens by laying them out flat, reshaping if necessary.

Washing Shoes and Bulkier Items


  • Remove insoles and laces, washing them separately.
  • Brush off loose dirt, then clean with a gentle detergent and water.
  • Stuff with paper to hold shape and air-dry.

Bulky Items:

  • Shake out sleeping bags or backpacks to remove loose debris.
  • Spot clean with a damp cloth and mild detergent.
  • For thorough cleaning, check the manufacturer’s instructions for suitability for smaller loads or hand-washing.

Laundry Tips for Long-Term Camping

When camping for extended periods, managing your laundry becomes crucial. Efficient strategies reduce the frequency of laundry tasks, and proper planning ensures that you remain prepared for the trip.

Strategies for Reducing Laundry Needs

  • Select Appropriate Fabrics: Opt for moisture-wicking and quick-drying materials such as merino wool or synthetic blends. These fabrics require less frequent washing.
  • Wear Layers: Layering allows you to only clean the layer in direct contact with your skin, reducing the amount of overall laundry.
  • Air Out Clothes: After wearing, hang garments to air out. This practice can refresh clothes and extend the time between washes.

Planning for Extended Trips

  • Pack Smart: Carry a limited but versatile wardrobe to minimize bulk and laundry frequency. Aim for items that mix and match well.
  • Laundry Kit: Assemble a portable laundry kit which includes:
    • A collapsible bucket or waterproof bag for washing.
    • Biodegradable soap to reduce environmental impact.
    • A compact, lightweight drying line.
  • Choose Detergents Wisely: Avoid regular laundry detergent. It often contains chemicals that can damage natural environments. Select a soap that’s safe for use in natural water sources if doing laundry on the trail.
  • Consider Water Sources: If you’re in an RV or car camping, you may have access to water hookups. For backpackers or tent campers, plan for water availability or carrying enough for cleaning.
  • Dry Smart: Utilize the sun and wind to dry clothing quickly. Hang garments in a spot with maximum airflow and sunlight exposure.

Troubleshooting Common Laundry Challenges

While camping, you might face some hurdles with laundry, particularly if you’re dealing with limited water or concerns about mold and mildew. This section outlines solutions to keep your clothes clean and fresh.

Addressing Low Water Situations

If you find yourself with a low water supply, prioritizing your laundry is crucial. For lightweight garments, consider using a portable washing machine that requires minimal water. Here’s a step-by-step guide:

  1. Sort your laundry by prioritizing the most needed items.
  2. Pre-treat any stains to reduce the need for water-intensive washing.
  3. Fill your portable machine with the minimum recommended water level.
  4. Use a concentrated detergent to maximize cleaning power with less water.

For RV owners, connect to your RV’s water system and utilize hot water sparingly for heavily soiled items. When access to laundromats is not possible, using quick-drying clothes and spot-cleaning them can save water and reduce the amount of full washes needed.

Preventing Mold and Mildew

In damp environments, clothes are prone to mold and mildew. To prevent this:

  • Dry clothes immediately after washing. If you’re unable to air dry outside, use the interior of your RV or a compact clothesline under a shelter.
  • Select quick-drying fabrics when packing for your camping trip.
  • Ensure proper ventilation in drying areas to circulate air.
  • If you suspect mildew, soak clothes in hot water mixed with a mold-preventing solution before your standard wash cycle.

Special Considerations for RV Campers

When RV camping, managing laundry requires careful use of the limited space and resources at your disposal. The following advice will guide you in using your RV’s laundry equipment efficiently and maximizing space and resources during your trip.

Using RV-specific Laundry Equipment

Washing Machine: If your RV is equipped with a built-in washing machine, ensure you have a reliable water source and check the machine’s capacity versus your needs. It’s typically smaller than standard household units. Use high-efficiency detergents that are suitable for smaller loads and the RV’s septic system. Be mindful of water usage to avoid filling your gray water tank too quickly.

  • Laundromat: Sometimes it’s more feasible to use a laundromat, especially when on extended trips. Look for nearby laundromats or campgrounds with laundry facilities to save on your RV’s water usage.

Maximizing Space and Resources

Portable Washing Machine: A portable washing machine is an alternative for RVs without built-in units. It’s compact, uses less water, and can be stored when not in use.

  • Water Conservation: When camping away from full-service RV parks, conserve water by:
  • Wearing clothes more than once if they’re not heavily soiled.
  • Using a spray bottle for spot-cleaning.

Dry Clothes: To effectively dry clothes, use an outdoor retractable clothesline or a foldable drying rack that can be set up when weather permits. When indoors, use air-circulating fans to speed up the drying process, but make sure the space is well-ventilated to prevent moisture build-up inside your RV.

Eco-Friendly Practices for Outdoor Enthusiasts

When camping, you need to consider the environmental impact of your laundry routine. By using less water and eco-friendly soaps, you ensure the preservation of natural resources and ecosystems.

Conserving Water and Reducing Pollution

  • Use Minimal Water: Aim to use as little water as possible. A portable wash bag or collapsible bucket can help measure and limit the amount of water you use for laundry.
  • Biodegradable Soap/Detergent: Choose biodegradable detergent or soap to minimize the impact on the environment. These products break down naturally without harming wildlife or plants.
  • Grey Water Disposal: Dispose of your grey water (used water) at least 200 feet away from any water sources to prevent pollution. Digging a hole to absorb the water is better than pouring it on the surface.
  • Reusing Rinse Water: Rinse water can be reused for washing another batch of clothes to conserve resources.

Natural Alternatives to Commercial Detergents

  • DIY Soap Nuts Liquid: Soap nuts can be boiled to create a natural laundry liquid that is gentle on the environment.
  • Baking Soda and Vinegar: A combination of baking soda and vinegar can serve as a natural fabric softener and is harmless to the surroundings.

Frequently Asked Questions

When camping, doing laundry may seem challenging, but with the right techniques and tools, it can be quite manageable. Here are some common questions to help you keep your clothes clean in the great outdoors.

What is the best method to handwash clothes when camping?

For handwashing clothes while camping, submerge your garments in water, use a biodegradable soap, and gently agitate. Then rinse thoroughly to remove all soap. It’s a simple process that effectively cleans clothes with minimal equipment.

Which portable laundry devices are recommended for camping trips?

Portable laundry devices like a wash bag or a mobile washer with a plunger-like tool can be efficient for camping. These devices are compact, easy to use, and require less water than traditional methods.

How can one effectively dry clothes after washing them outdoors?

To dry clothes outdoors, wring them out thoroughly, and hang them on a line or lay them flat over rocks or bushes in a sunny, breezy area. Ensure the clothes are spaced out to maximize air circulation for quicker drying.

Are there eco-friendly soaps suitable for outdoor clothing wash?

Yes, there are many biodegradable soaps available that are designed for outdoor use. These soaps are gentle on the environment and effective for washing clothes. Always follow Leave No Trace principles by washing at least 200 feet from water sources.

What strategies should be used to manage dirty laundry on multiple-day hikes?

To manage dirty laundry on multi-day hikes, contain clothes in a separate, breathable bag. If feasible, briefly air them out each day to minimize odors.

Consider quick-dry fabrics to ease washing and drying.

How can you ensure proper hygiene when washing clothes during a camping excursion?

To maintain hygiene when washing clothes during camping, use clean water, biodegradable soap, and always wash your hands before and after handling laundry.

Avoid washing directly in lakes and streams to protect the natural water sources.

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