Van life is all about freedom and flexibility. You have the ability to go wherever you want, whenever you want. You can explore new destinations, follow the weather, and change your plans on a whim. But van life presents some challenges, too.
- What do you do with all of your dirty clothes after a muddy mountain bike session?
- How can you get that smoky campfire smell out of your favorite hoodie?
- Do you have to give up light-colored clothing when you take a road trip? What if it gets food, dirt, or mystery marks on it?
- How do you get your clothes and bedding clean after your sweet adventure pup slathers his muddy paws all over them?
Dirty laundry is a hassle for those who live stationary, but it can be even more tricky if you’re a full-timer or frequent traveler in the camper van lifestyle.
So let’s go over your options for van life laundry. From hand washing in the sink to a portable camper van washing machine to lugging your clothes to the laundromat, we’ll fill you in on the possibilities. Armed with all the details, you’ll be able to make an informed decision on how you’ll wash and dry clothes on the road.
Can You Put a Washing Machine in a Campervan?
Yes. Should you? We’ll leave that decision to you!
There are certainly options available and after comparing them, you can decide what works for you. Remember, don’t worry about what anyone else thinks of your choices; make the ones that work best for your needs.
Major considerations for camper van washing machines:
Frequency of use: How often do you need to wash clothes? A family with an infant might need daily access to a campervan washing machine, whereas a solo traveler could go weeks without clothes washing.
Power source: Washing machines require a significant amount of power, so you’ll need a reliable power source to run it. This could be a large battery bank with an inverter or a generator. Keep in mind that running a washing machine can drain the battery quickly. If you plan to be off-grid, you might have power struggles with running a washing machine; however, if you mostly stay at campgrounds with access to shore power, this would not be an issue.
Water supply and drainage: You’ll need water to fill the campervan washing machine, and a way to drain the used water. Some campervans have built-in freshwater and greywater tanks, but if your van doesn’t, you’ll need to plan for this accordingly.
Water Temperature: Do you need hot water to wash some items? If so, you’ll need to navigate a way to heat water or install a water heater. Many small water heaters are only a couple gallons and you might need more than that depending on your load capacity.
Vibration and stability: Washing machines can generate vibrations during the spin cycle. Make sure the camper van washing machine is securely installed to prevent movement while the campervan is in motion. Choosing a washing machine without a spin cycle will eliminate this problem, but without a spin cycle, you’ll need to find a method to wring out wet clothes.
Detergent and storage: You’ll need to find a suitable place to store laundry soap and other cleaning supplies securely to prevent spills and accidents.
Cost: Installing a washing machine in a campervan can be relatively expensive, especially when considering the need for additional power sources and modifications. Weigh out the cost-effectiveness and convenience to decide if it’s worth it.
Camper Van Washing Machine Ideas for a DIY Van Build
If you’re not comfortable with a permanent installation, you should consider using a portable campervan washing machine. These options might be more suitable for smaller vans or if you’re trying to keep costs and modifications to a minimum. Remember, whichever option you choose, it’s essential to plan carefully to ensure your campervan can handle the added load and power requirements.
There are two main types of portable washers – portable electric washing machines and portable manual washing machines. While they are called “portable,” some models are still quite heavy and not something you want to carry around. Think of this label as meaning you can push it around within your van and not necessarily pick it up and sit it on the counter.
Portable Electric Washing Machines
Portable campervan washing machines have been specifically designed for washing clothes in small spaces like dorm rooms and tiny homes, and they just so happen to work great for van life, too!
Because they are operated by electricity, they require a power source to function. Portable washers are usually built to handle small loads of laundry, so don’t plan to wash your duvet in this thing, but underwear, T-shirts, and pillowcases should be fine.
Keep in mind you’ll need to drain the water out of the mini-washing machine after each cycle. Depending on the model, the washer might have a drain hose or it may just use a gravity drain. Be sure to take that into consideration when choosing a location to set up your portable washing machine!
If you have lots of extra space in your rig (we’d like to know your secret!), this apartment-sized washer can clean a 12-pound load of laundry in about 40 minutes. There’s an LCD screen for choosing water temperature, load size, and soil level and a clear lid to check on your washing clothes.
If you go with this type of washer, you’ll need to be careful about the electrical load. Make sure you can connect to shore power or that your inverter can handle the 1800-watt draw of this electric washing machine when you’re off-grid.
This electric, portable washer from Laireg folds up for easy storage. It is recommended for washing baby clothes, socks, underwear, and smaller items. The super compact design is a great option for keeping your favorite swimsuit clean after a saltwater dip or for washing toddler clothes that seem to get dirty the second they’re worn!
Portable Manual Camper Van Washing Machines
These small and non electric washing machines are a great option that won’t have your worrying about power! They typically operate by manual agitation, where you turn a handle to rotate the drum and wash your clothes. Portable manual washing machines are easy to use and don’t require a water line hookup.
The Wonderwash is a small, manually operated drum that can wash about five pounds of laundry at at time. It uses less water than traditional washing machines and is an affordable laundry solution for your camper van. Bonus tip: It comes in lots of colors if you want to match it to your build aesthetic!
This non electric mini washing machine operates via hand crank is available from Camping World. It comes with pieces for washing clothes and it includes a spin dryer function as well.
Camper Van Washing Machine Laundry Detergent Options
Once you figure out how you’ll do laundry in your camper van, you still have another decision to make. What kind of laundry detergent will you use? Maybe that doesn’t seem like a huge decision, but when you’re trying to save space, it is! Here’s a quick look at what’s available and works best for van life laundry.
Laundry pods are a convenient and popular way to clean clothes, but they require a good amount of water for the outer layer to dissolve. If you’re using a portable washing machine or using a DIY wash method, these are probably not the best choice, though they work great in heavy-duty machines at the laundromat.
A major benefit to liquid laundry detergent is that you can use more or less depending on if you’re washing larger or smaller loads. On the other hand, liquid detergent takes up more space and creates waste since most plastic containers cannot truly be recycled.
Powdered laundry detergent is a good option because there are many ways to store it. Divide it into several containers, store some away and keep some out to have on hand.
Homemade or DIY
If you’re interested in saving money and using natural ingredients in your laundry detergent, consider making your own. The internet is full of recipes, and it’s a bit easier than you may think! Make a large batch that you can keep in your garage or storage area and just keep a small bag or tin accessible for laundry days.
Laundry sheets and strips have changed the van life laundry game! Not only do they get your clothes clean; they also save space. Rather than finding storage for a big jug or box of laundry soap, these little sheets take up barely any room. Drop them into the washer with your clothes and they dissolve into detergent! As they have increased in popularity, there are several brands of laundry sheets available now in both scented and unscented options.
Pro Tip: Keep some laundry sheets in your glove box for unexpected trips to the laundromat during a road trip!
How to Dry Clothes in a Camper Van
Your best bet for drying your clothes after washing is to hang a clothesline and let the sun and air do their thing. Wet clothes can wreak havoc on your van by creating condensation that can turn into mold. Do your best to keep wet clothes out of the van when you can! If you hang things inside, keep the doors and windows open to take advantage of sunny and breezy days and speed up the drying process.
While a portable washer may advertise a drying feature, this is usually a spin dryer, meaning it will wring out your clothes, but not fully dry them. The wash cycle of a portable machine is faster than most permanent , but be sure to factor in hang drying time to your laundry schedule.
Keep in mind that tumble dryers typically use heat, and in order to produce hot air, you’ll need a lot of electrical power. Traditional dryers are not practical for a camper van unless you plan to be plugged into shore power.
Other Ways to Do Van Life Laundry
For small loads or emergency situations, you can handwash your clothes using a bucket, a basin, or a collapsible wash bin. A little water and some detergent in the sink is a simple and easy way to wash an individual item of clothing or a small towel when you need it. Of course, it’s not really possible to do a full load of laundry this way, but it works in a pinch. Use biodegradable detergent and be mindful of water usage.
Scrubba Wash Bag
The Scrubba Wash Bag was invented for backpackers who needed to clean their clothing on treks. It is a lightweight, portable bag that allows you to wash small amounts of clothing with minimal water and detergent. You place the clothes inside, add water and detergent, then knead or shake the bag to clean the clothes. It’s marketed as a washboard-in-a-bag, meaning it has a textured interior that helps to get dirt and soil out of clothes. You can fit about two t-shirts, two pairs of underwear, and two pairs of socks in the Scrubba Wash Bag. We think that’s pretty good for a portable and packable option!
After washing, you’ll need to empty the Scrubba Wash Bag. Be sure to use biodegradable laundry soap and do not drain water it into a water source.
Bonus tip: The Scrubba wash bag doubles as a dry bag. Pop your phone, keys, or snacks in it when you head out for a day on the lake. We love things that work double duty for van life!
The Washing Wand is a handy non-electric method for washing clothes. It breaks down into several small pieces and takes up very little storage space. You’ll still need a bucket or tub to use this method.
The way it works is that the Washing Wand makes direct contact with the clothing, and the push and pull suction gives a thorough rinse and cleaning of the clothes. It’s like a handwash without getting your hands all pruny! Pairing the Washing Wand with a collapsible bin is a great option for a small space.
Most folks living the van life opt for laundromats rather than a camper van washing machine as their method for washing clothes and bedding. The average cost of a load of laundry at a laundromat is around $6.00. That includes a washing machine with large load capacity and a tumble dryer with a variety of heat levels. Of course, in high-demand areas and heavily touristed towns, laundromat prices can vary.
There are some benefits to laundromats:
- You can usually find a local laundromat in any decent-sized town or city. A quick search on Google maps will direct you to the closest one.
- There are a variety of washing machine sizes, which are especially handy for your large loads like bedding, rugs, or outdoor gear.
- You can do multiple loads of laundry at a time. In a few hours, you can have everything you own washed and dried, and you can get back on the road.
- Laundromats often have Wi-Fi for customers, so you can work or plan your next leg of travel while your clothes are washing.
Camper Van Washing Machine Wrap-Up
Consider the available space, cost effectiveness, your power source, and freshwater access in your van when choosing a washing machine or other van life laundry method. Also, think about your laundry needs and the size of the loads you typically wash. Portable and compact machines are generally more suitable for camper vans due to their size and weight restrictions, but they can’t wash a lot of clothes at once.
Before purchasing a specific camper van washing machine, it’s always a good idea to read reviews, check product specifications, and ensure compatibility with your camper van’s electrical system and plumbing setup.
So, that’s the “dirty” on camper van laundry. Now it’s up to you to choose what works for you!