Clothes drying at the campsite

Dealing with dirty clothes at the campste

Dealing with wet and dirty clothes at the campsite

Posted by Gav Grayston.
First Published Apr 2014; updated May 2023.

At some point you're going to have to wash dirty clothes and do the laundry when camping. Here are a few tips to help get the job done.

There will 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 will 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.

Many campsites have washing facilities or a laundrette, 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 and dryers.

On our list of campsites, we indicate if they have laundry facilities. Click here to find campsites.

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, 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 plastic washing-up bowls when camping, which is 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 now have 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 can be 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 washing water 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 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 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 the paste to the dirty area and leave for a few minutes.
  • Rub and rinse the 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 we use as our 'peg box', which also contains a small cotton bag we can use as a dirty laundry bag if required.

Even if not doing laundry, the pegs are useful for drying 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 one. Click here to see our drying rack.

There's even a foldable laundry bin and washing basket if you know this will 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.