Doing washing when on the road in an RV

by George
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Whether you live the “RV Life” or are just taking the family on a road trip, the boring jobs still need doing. Eventually, you’re going to need clean clothes, so you’re going to need to do some washing! Yes, you can try and get more than one day out of some of your clothes. But wearing the same clothes day after day will get pretty old and smelly, no matter how much you’re happy to rough it. Luckily, there are plenty of ways to wash your clothes and linens while RVing.

Go to the Laundromat

One of the options we have used many a time, and the obvious method, is going to the nearest or most convenient laundromat. Sure, you will have to wait around for a few hours for your clothes to wash… and then dry. Which, obviously takes up time and is the downside of using a public laundromat. To many, this is a waste of time because you could be using that time to explore the area or travel on to your next destination.

To make the most of this time just doing the washing, in France we used laundromats mostly at supermarkets. While the washing was on, we would get our food shopping done. Sometimes I would blog, other times we used it as time to do workbooks in the car with Olivia.

Most laundromats are easy to use and have large machines. If you make sure you don’t have any whites you can just put it all in a nice big 20kg machine for €6 and get it all washed in one go. Then separate out the tumble dryables and stick them on for half-hour for around €2. You’ll have everything done in an hour.

Here are some tips to limit the feel of this being wasted time:

  • Have just one member of the family go to the laundromat. Take some headphones and listen to an audiobook, take a book and catch up on reading, take your laptop and do some work, blogging or message friends. Use it as some me-time.
  • All go as a family, find a laundromat in a small town, set a timer slightly short of the time it will take the washing to finish and take a walk around the local area. Go to the park, have lunch etc.
  • Find a laundromat outside a shopping centre or supermarket (this is very common in France). Whilst your washing is on, go and get your food shopping done as a family. If you’re concerned the shopping will take longer than the washing, make sure you set a timer to go off a short while before its due to finish. Then one person can pop out and collect the washing while the others continue the shopping.

If you chose to use a laundromat, don’t forget to:

  • Take your own detergent and fabric softener. You don’t want to buy the ones they supply. You’d be shocked at how pricey they are.
  • Use a hamper, basket or large bag to carry your dirty clothes in, and to store your clean and folded clothing on the way out.
  • Take plenty of change. Most laundromats will have a change machine or can be paid by card, but there is a chance they won’t. The last thing that you want is to run out of coins before your clothes are completely dry.
  • As mentioned above, take something along to entertain yourself. Trust me, you will be there for a while. But make sure you keep a close eye on your belongings.

Hand Wash and Line Dry

Another common way to do laundry while RVing, is to hand wash your clothes and hang everything on a portable clothesline. This does take some manual labour and some patience as your clothes dry dangling in the wind. But this is a feasible, cheap, and effective method of cleaning your clothes. We have only really done this with the dogs bedding and blankets as most laundromats and campsites do not allow pet bedding to be washed in the machines.

What you’ll need:

  • Empty basket
  • Two wash tubs
  • A washboard (yes, they still make them)
  • Liquid laundry soap
  • Rope
  • Clothespins

With this method, you place the tubs side-by-side. Fill one tub with water and soap, and the other with just water. Place the washboard in the first bin with the soap. Now, scrub each soiled item of clothing on the washboard, then squeeze out the water, rinse it in the clear water, squeeze again, and place in the empty basket. Repeat this technique until all your clothes are washed and clean.

Tie your rope (when allowed, some sites do not allow this) to a couple of trees or to your RV and hang the washing up to dry. Sitting outside in the sun under blue skies with a view of nature and the kids playing can make this more pleasant.

Dry outside if you can!

When the weather is good enough, we use a rotary airer to dry our clothes. It folds up small, is lightweight and pegs down to the ground to stop it tipping over. Drying your clothes outside means that the moisture isn’t released into the van, reducing condensation.

We also use a slimline airer which fits in our shower if the weather is wet. Then, if we are on electric hook up, we put on our dehumidifier using laundry mode and its dry in no time.

A quick mention of your unmentionables…

Also, try to be aware of your surroundings! While we don’t think there’s a law against it, there are plenty of stories of people who’ll take offence if you hang your underwear outside to dry where they can see it!

Campsite Laundry Rooms

Plenty of campsites have laundry rooms. If this is how you plan to wash your clothes, make sure when planning which site you are going to that you check which features are on offer. Most are indoors, have sinks and several machines. You have to pay for the use of these machines. The cost is around £4 for a wash and £1 for 15 minutes tumble dry. Sometimes the sites also have washing lines that you can use.

Most campsites (particularly in the UK) do not like you tying a rope between trees and prefer you use your own dedicated washing line.

These are nicer than laundromats as you can put your washing on, set a timer and head back to your RV and get on with stuff while it’s washing.

On-board Washers & Dryers

The truly most convenient way to clean your clothes while travelling would be to have your own machines on-board your RV. In some RVs, this is a viable option. If there is the space you could fit one or if you have one of the top of the range RVs it may come with one. I am sure if you can accommodate one it would pay for itself over time. We have seen some RVs with them on board but regularly you will find that it takes away wardrobe space and you have to consider the weight.

Another issue with having a washing machine on board is disposing of the wastewater. Not many sites in the UK or Europe offer a decent drain within reach of your pitch. Starting up the RV, and driving round to the service point might negate the cost of using on-site facilities.

Portable Machines

However, if your RV doesn’t have a washer-dryer combo or the space for one you could consider a portable one. They are usually small and basic, but they get the job done.

This travel washing machine & spin dryer is a great example of a portable washing machine. It is a lightweight washer and ideal for caravans, motorhomes, and RVs as well as small student flats. It has two tubs, one for washing and one for spin-drying. The machine runs off mains power and will fit in most showers. It has a relatively large capacity washing tub and will take up to 3.5kg of washing and 2.5kg capacity for spinning.

You still have the issue of where to store it when not in use, and of disposing of the wastewater once you’ve finished doing the washing.

Visit Friends and Family

Of course, another way to get your washing done is to take it with you when you are visiting friends and family! My family never mind me dropping in for a cup of coffee and chat while I use their machines to get my washing done, especially if I bring cake!

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