Dealing with wet and dirty clothes at the campsite

May 3, 2021

There’s going to be a point when you need to wash clothes when camping. Kids are attracted to mud for a start. Here are some tips for washing and drying clothes at the campsite.

Outwell washing line

When you’ve got kids, sooner or later you’re going to end up with a pile of wet and dirty clothes.

you’re going to end up with a pile of wet and dirty clothes

Unfortunately, there are only so many clothes you can bring with you. So what do you do when their clean clothes run out? Yep, you guessed it; it’s back to “doing the laundry”.

The Easy Option

If you are only camping a night or two, the laundry may not be that much of a problem, unless someone gets exceptionally muddy of course! But when on a camping holiday you could find your family soon runs out of clean clothes.

There are many campsites that have washing facilities or a laundrette of some sort, which is an easy option. Some places may just have one washing machine and you need to bring your own powder; larger campsites typically have more washing machines, as well as dryers.

We’ve listed some campsites that have a laundrette. Click here to find campsites with a laundrette.

It’s not only big holiday parks that have laundrettes. Some smaller campsites have them too.

The Hand Wash Option

Outwell Collaps washing up bowl

Not all sites have a laundrette though, and if you only have to clean a dirty pair of trousers, the laundrette would be over the top anyway.

We always used to take some plastic washing-up bowls when camping, and these are ideal for hand washing clothes. Just warm some water up in the kettle and use some detergent.

I say “used to” as this year we’re trying to see how we can save space on what we take to camp and have now got an Outwell Collaps sink. They also do an Outwell Collaps bucket too. So if space is tight while transporting things to the campsite, these collapsible items are worth considering.

A note on detergents

A lot of washing detergents are actually harmful to the environment. Especially if you tip out your dirty washing water into a stream, as you could be putting harmful chemicals into the environment and killing any fish or other creatures that live in the water.

always empty well away from a watercourse – 60 metres or 200 feet away

Most campsites have wash-up facilities or a “grey waste” point where you can pour the dirty water away.

An alternative is to take some environmentally friendly detergent. Those that may say “suitable for septic tanks”. (And still, never pour anything into a stream, always empty well away from a watercourse – 60 metres / 200 feet away is often recommended.)

Look out for free sample bottles. They’re a great size to put with your camping gear.

The Bushcraft Way (if you’re brave enough)

Did you know that if you’ve had a campfire, you have some detergent right there in the fire pit? Yes, right in all that “muck”.

only do so on items that you don’t mind if they get ruined

Wood ash is a natural detergent and certainly works well on dirty pots. However, it is a “harsh soap”, so if you want to experiment with this method, only do so on items that you don’t mind if they get ruined (perhaps a dirty tea towel).

  • Get fine bits of wood ash. Ideally, they should be sieved, but that’s not always practical when camping. You don’t want any wood ash with food, plastic, or other non-wood items in it.
  • Mix with warm water to make a grey paste.
  • If you add a small drop of oil, this paste should turn soapy.
  • Apply paste to the dirty area and leave for a few minutes.
  • Rub and rinse paste off. Any cleaner?

Again, we’ve not done this ourselves on clothes, and so this carries a warning that it may not get your clothes that clean, or could even stain them, but this may be a bit of fun to try.

If you are getting your kids to help, be aware that the wood ash does make a strong detergent that could dry out and irritate little hands.

Drying clothes

Tea Towels drying at camp

Drying clothes should be straightforward enough – you’re outside after all.

Peg box and laundry bag

We have a small plastic ice cream box that we use as our ‘peg box’, which also contains a small cotton bag that we can use as a dirty laundry bag if required.

Even if not doing laundry the pegs are useful for drying out wet tea towels, pegging them to guy lines.

Folding Washing Bin

You can use a guy line to string up a washing line, but if space is a premium you can get a foldable washing line. Click here to see our drying rack.

There’s even a foldable laundry bin and washing basket if you know this is going to be a big job. Some people will spend weeks at a campsite during the summer, so this is not as OTT as it may first appear.

If it’s raining, put up a tarp shelter and run a washing line under the shelter.

Useful equipment for campsite laundry

For basic needs, you can get by with a pot of clothes pegs, some sample (eco-friendly) detergent, and a bowl.

On the other hand, if you’re going to be camping a while, there are a few items mentioned above that could help with this task.

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Gav Grayston Contributor

Father to 3 kids, who loves getting out and about (hiking, running, camping, cycling, canoeing...) Co-founded Get Out With The Kids to help other parents enjoy the outdoors with their family.

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