Tough-but-True Laundry Tactics

It doesn’t matter where you live on the planet, chances are you do laundry. And most of the world’s population tackles the chore by hand. If you’re among the fortunate few who can simply toss a load into a washer, count yourself lucky. For a lot of people, wearing a clean T-shirt takes a bit more work.

For backpackers who hit the Appalachian Trail, the Pacific Coast Trail, or more exotic peaks like Mount Everest or Kilimanjaro, popping a load into a washing machine isn’t an option. When possible, they usually just give their clothes a quick rinse in a cold stream and then hang them in the sun to dry; other times, they just keep on trekking.

Hotel- or hostel-hoppers have it a little easier, since most rooms have a sink and running water. The washing is easy enough (especially if you brought along travel detergent), but drying can get tricky. Many hotels discourage guests from doing laundry in their rooms, so hanging a clothesline can draw unwanted attention from the staff. Instead, savvy travelers will wring out wet garments, then press them between layers of a microfiber towel to absorb extra water and speed drying.

In other parts of the world, laundry day takes many guises. In Varanasi, India, it’s common to see men and women beating their clothes clean on rocks along the Ganges, and in Africa, where water is scarce, dirty gear gets scrubbed clean in plastic bowls. In Brazil, most people either hand wash their entire wardrobe or use a tanquinho, a semi-automatic washer that whips clothes around as if in a blender, working up a thick lather. Unlike machines we use in the U.S., though, the tanquinho has no rinse cycle. Once sudsy, clothing must be removed from the drum and rinsed by hand.

And sailors on long journeys usually wait until they hit port before tending to smelly garments. They all know washing clothes in saltwater results in stiff-as-cardboard shirts and pants that can be rough and itchy when worn.

As for those astronauts aboard the International Space Station? They take the same approach as many college freshmen: They wear their clothing as long as they can bear it, then pack up their dirty laundry and bring it home with them. (Hopefully, they don’t make their moms do the washing!)

If you’ll be traveling to a locale where you suspect that washing machines are in short supply, do yourself a favor: Pack a to-go stain remover. That way you can tackle any noticeable spills and smudges—and mask the fact that you’re wearing not-so-fresh clothes.