8 Essential Products for Washing Your Clothes on Vacation

Family Travel on 07.19.11
Contributor bio | twitter

Our clothes drying this summer in the Sardinian sun. Image credit: Amy Suardi

My thinking cap was clearly not on when I directed my family to pack 10 changes of clothes for a 14-day hotel stay. Just three days into our Italian vacation, I found myself sweating over mini-loads of shorts and beach cover-ups in the sink, using nothing more than shampoo and lots of bicep action. (New respect for my Whirlpool.)  

So the next time I lock up the house for anything longer than a week's trip, I'm going to follow this advice I found from savvy travelers at Rick Steves' Europe Helpline.

1. Travel Detergent: Leaves or Powder Packets

Several travelers recommended REI's packet of matchbook-size laundry detergent sheets. They come 50 to a pack; use one for a hand-wash, three to four if you are so lucky to find a coin-op washer. 

People also suggested individual packs of Woolite (10 for $5.85 at Magellan's). Woolite is a time-tested hand-wash detergent that rinses out easily. 

2.  Stick Spot Remover

If you have messy chowhounds, then you'll be happy you brought a stick of Spray-n-Wash (now Resolve) spot remover. No worries with airport liquid restrictions, and you'll have much better luck with those pesky ketchup stains. I find this waxy form of the product works about as well as the liquid form.

Smear it on when the clothes get thrown in the laundry bag, instead of right before washing, to give it more time to do its magic.

3.  Two-Gallon Ziplock Bags

Several travelers at Rick Steves' recommended bringing a few oversized (2 gallon) zip-top bags to shake up your wash. Dump in a small amount of clothing, some detergent, and water -- and do the jig while getting your jeans clean.

4.  Bleach Pen

These little dual-tipped tools by Clorox are great at dispensing powerful bleach in tiny portions. But I offer this advice warily, because I have ruined too many pieces of clothing by collateral bleach damage. 

Nonetheless, if you like your whites white, there's nothing faster than this little stick to erase stubborn stains like fruit, wine, blood, or mud. Remember to wash only whites with clothes that have been treated with bleach, or you could inadvertently tie-dye your favorite blouse.

5.  Plastic Grocery Bags

They may be a nuisance and environmental waste at home, but on the road, the ubiquitous plastic bag becomes a guarded resource. Plastic bags can collect piles of laundry and are small enough to be distributed among the suitcases. They can also contain wet clothing, soiled diapers, and of course, trash.

6.  Microfiber Towel

The best way to dry your clothes before hanging them is to lay them flat on a towel, then roll up the towel, and squeeze or sit on it. However, some travelers swear that you'll get a ton more water out -- and therefore put your clothes back into circulation faster -- if you use the kind of microfiber towel they sell in camping and sporting stores. The word on the street is that you can find them cheaper in the automotive section.

7.  Inflatable Hangers

There are only so many places you can hang clothes to dry in a hotel room. Inflatable hangers are rounded, so they don't deform your clothes while drying, and they also allow a bit of air to circulate by separating the front from the back of the clothing.

I found them at $10 for a set of 4 at Amazon.

8.  Quarters

What? After all this, I'm going to recommend you cop out at a laundromat? Well, if you can believe it, despite all that hard work, hand-washed and dried clothing comes out kind-of wrinkly and crunchy. Given it's your vacation, it might be worth it to spend some coins at the laundromat. Or even better -- drop it all off and pick it up the next day. It will still be way cheaper than the highway robbery also known as hotel laundry services.

Top Articles on Family Travel
See How Easily You Can Find the Best Deals on Hotels
A Family Road Trip Packing List to Make Everyone Happy
Avoid These Nasty Surprises When Booking Hotels