How to Wash and Dry Clothes When Camping with Kids

bowls with dry, wet, and washing clothes when camping

If you’re a parent then you’ll know that kids attract dirt, even if they’re just playing in the house. I feel like I’m constantly washing my two toddlers’ clothes, so I wanted to find out more about how I’d wash and dry their clothes on a camping trip, without a washing machine.

So how do you wash and dry children’s clothes when camping? There are two main options, either choose a campsite with laundry facilities or hand wash your kids’ clothes using a bowl, plastic bag or portable laundry system. The easiest way to dry your kids’ clothes is to peg them to your tent’s guy ropes.

These two options for washing clothes allow you to adapt what you pack and how often you wash, to the facilities you’ll have on camp. The better the facilities, the less you’ll have to pack as the easier clothes washing will be. If you decide to stay on a campsite with no laundry facilities then there are lots of different ways you can keep your kids’ clothes clean and dry, and some of them are actually fun!

How to hand wash kids’ clothes in a bowl or bag

If you don’t have access to a washing machine on your campsite then you’ll have to go back to basics and wash your kids clothes by hand. The good thing about toddler clothes is that they’re small! And if you’re camping in summer your kids are likely to be wearing lightweight shorts and t-shirts which are much easier to wash and dry.

If you take a washing up bowl camping with you then this is the perfect place to hand wash your toddlers clothes. But it isn’t the only place, other toddler camping kit such as a paddling pool or baby bath could easily double up as a place to wash your kids’ clothes.

Some campsites don’t have laundry facilities but do have a toilet block, so you could hand wash your clothes in the sink so you won’t have to worry about getting rid of the dirty water when you’ve finished your laundry.

You can wash your kids’ clothes in the sink or a washing up bowl in these easy steps:

  1. Separate colours as you would at home
  2. Fill the bowl with warm soapy water, biodegradable soap is more environmentally friendly than regular detergent
  3. Put the clothes in the water and swirl them around to replicate a washing machine
  4. Scrub any tough stains by rubbing the fabric together
  5. Replace the dirty water with clean water and start the process again
  6. When you’re happy the clothes are clean, drain the water and fill the bowl up with fresh cold water to rinse the clothes
  7. Swirl the clothes around the bowl and replace the water every time it gets cloudy until the water in the bowl is clear
  8. If you’re washing clothes in a sink then the easiest way to rinse them is to put them directly under the tap until the water runs clear

You can use a plastic bag to wash clothes if you don’t have a washing up bowl with you:

  • Choose a bag with no holes in it (for obvious reasons!) and ideally one with a ziplock top
  • Fill the bag half full with clothes, cover them with hot water and add a small amount of detergent (about a tablespoonful, depending on how dirty the clothes are)
  • Use your hands to swirl the clothes around the bag and then leave to soak for around 10 minutes. Make sure the bag is propped up to avoid any spillages.
  • As an alternative to soaking the clothes, you can imitate a washing machine. Jiggle the bag about or spin it round your head – moving the bag about will get the clothes to rub against each other which will help remove the dirt. You could even get your kids to help with this, just make sure you supervise them so they don’t open the bag and get covered in water!
  • When you’re happy the clothes are clean enough, refill the bag with fresh water and shake the bag to help rinse off the detergent. It might take a few refills of fresh water before the clothes are fully rinsed and the water is clear and free of detergent.

How do I get rid of soapy water from washing clothes when camping?

When you’re ready to throw out your soapy water, you mustn’t pour it into any nearby rivers, streams or lakes – you should dispose of it at least 200 feet away from any watercourse. If your campsite has a dedicated utilities sink or a grey water disposal drain then simply pour the water in here. You can pour the water into a flushable toilet as well. Check with campsite staff where the best place to dispose of grey water is if you’re staying on a staffed site.

For campsites that don’t have these facilities, the best way to get rid of soapy water is to spread the water out over a large area of ground. You can do this by throwing it out whilst spinning in a circle (taking care not to drench your fellow campers!) or simply scatter it by shaking the bowl out across a large area. Get the kids involved and ask them to pour out cups of water in different spots around the camp, ensuring they’re at least 200 feet away from any watercourse.

What’s a portable laundry system is and how do I use it?

A portable laundry system is a sealable bag you can use to clean your clothes. These differ from using a carrier bag or ziplock bag as they have nodules on the inside that help remove dirt from clothes. They are sturdier than carrier or ziplock bags and can also be folded very small to save space when packing. Although portable laundry systems do fold up small, they will still be larger than a carrier bag or ziplock bag when folded.

To use a portable laundry system:

  • Put clothes, water and detergent in the bag but don’t fill the bag any more than 40% full.
  • Secure the top of the bag to prevent water from leaking out.
  • Massage the bag to wash your clothes. It should take around three minutes for your clothes to be cleaned.
  • Repeat the process with fresh water to rinse the clothes.

Portable laundry systems work best when washing lightweight clothes, such as vests, t-shirts and underwear, so are ideal for children’s clothing.

How to dry kids clothes when camping

The easiest way to dry clothes in dry weather is to peg them to your tent’s guy ropes, and if you’re only away for a couple of nights then this is definitely the best option for drying a few items.

If you’re away for longer and are likely to be doing larger loads then the best options for drying your laundry are:

  • Portable clothes line – choose one made of elastic that can easily expand and retract so you can adjust it to the length you need and retract it when not in use. Look out for designs with integrated pegs, as this means you can avoid having to pack separate pegs that could get lost.
  • Drape clothes over your car seats – this is a great hack for rainy weather as you can pop them in the car overnight and they may even be dry by morning. Plus you can avoid the inconvenience of having clothes hung around the campsite.
  • A windbreak – if you’re packing one anyway then let your windbreak double up as a clothes line and give you extra privacy on busy campsites. I wouldn’t recommend taking one solely as a place to dry clothes though, as they can take up quite a lot of room and be difficult to pack in small cars, although some models do fold down relatively small.
  • A clothes airer – these usually fold flat and are perfect if you don’t want to buy any special equipment for your trip. Just make sure you take some pegs with you as clothes can easily blow off airers when it’s windy. You can stop the entire clothes rack blowing over in the wind by securing it to the ground with a couple of tent pegs.

Related Questions

Do I need a specialist clothes drying rack for camping?

Unless you’re planning to camp regularly or for long periods, you probably don’t need a specialist drying rack for camping. Although camping clothes airers do fold flat, they won’t save you much more space than if you took a regular clothes rack to dry your clothes.

Is it safe to dry clothes with a campfire?

Yes, provided you take some precautions. Place clothes on a rack that can be secured to the ground so there’s no danger of it blowing over or being accidentally pushed over, or lay the clothes on rocks if you don’t have a drying rack.

Dry your clothes at a distance where you can comfortably hold your hand and not feel too hot. If your clothes are so hot they start steaming, then make sure you move them back.

It’s not a good idea to dry clothes made of synthetic fabrics near a campfire as these can melt if they get too hot. Cotton clothes are much more resistant to hot temperatures. Regardless of what fabrics you’re drying, keep a close eye on your clothes at all times when drying them near a campfire.

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