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Doing laundry on the road

Old 04-27-10, 05:06 PM
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Doing laundry on the road

Hey all,

So I've been trying to wrap my head around this problem and I can't quite work it out. I'll be doing a trans-america this summer and plan on stealth camping as much as possible. I want to take as little clothing as possible and am thinking mostly wool for it's odor-killing properties and thus, less need to wash. Based on what I've read on here and other sites, I've got a good idea of what to bring and how much. So far, I've got a couple pairs of Icebreaker boxers and some t-shirts on the way. How often do I reasonably have to wash everything? But, more importantly, how do you wash clothes at camp? Occasionally there will be running water or streams to rinse things, I imagine, but other times I'll only have what I brought (3 water bottles, maybe extra containers depending on conditions). A while back, a friend joked that you could easily wash your clothes in an Ortlieb pannier if you wanted to. Is this actually feasible? Or recommended? I would think it would take a lot more than one bottle to wash and rinse clothes but then you would be left with very little to cook and drink. I know I can easily wash in a motel room and I can stop at a laundry mat when necessary but I would like to avoid those as much as I possibly can. How do you all handle this? Thanks!
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Old 04-27-10, 05:22 PM
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I use a Sea to Summit Folding bucket with a little Tea Tree Oil. The tea tree oil is good for a lot of things - antiseptic, antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral, insects repellent - smells okay and doesn't hurt the environment too much if at all. I recently did a 9 day tour and it was all I used for washing and bathing - though I did have access to one hot shower where I just rinsed my clothes.

This obviously requires a bit of water - about 5 litres is enough for washing and bathing - so you need to find a tap or a stream sometime during the day if you don't have access to water in camp.

The rear rack becomes the clothes line, which is not always perfect especially on dirt roads.
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Old 04-27-10, 05:47 PM
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I would suggest that stealth is not required on the Trans America. We stayed for free more often than not without any need for stealth. It is your call, but why not just stay in places that have water when you can do so for free?

Obviously whether that works for you depends on why you want to stealth camp.
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Old 04-27-10, 05:50 PM
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Wash a set of clothes everyday if you can, you can find sinks in public restrooms, or use the folding bucket suggested above. When I was doing long distance tours we would hit up a laundromat every 3-4 days and wash everything we owned.

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Old 04-27-10, 05:50 PM
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You've got to have water to do laundry.

I do laundry every day it's not raining in a large freezer bag with CampSuds. I rinse and squeeze out everything and hang it on a clothesline. If you bring synthetics and if it's halfway sunny and breezy, everything is dry enough to collect before you turn in.
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Old 04-27-10, 07:21 PM
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The only thing I wash daily is my shorts and maybe the jerseys. That can be done in a sink in about five minutes, then thrown on the rack to dry while riding. (This requires carrying two sets of course.) Everything else gets cleaned in a laundromat every 7-14 days.

If there was no water where I was camping, I would not bother washing at night. Wherever the next water stop is the following morning, I would wash my shorts and go. If I had some aversion to laundromats, I would do full laundry when I had access to water, using either a sink or a bag as described in previous posts. Unless you think you'll go day after day camping without access water, I don't think it'll be that big a deal.

also this:

Originally Posted by staehpj1
I would suggest that stealth is not required on the Trans America. We stayed for free more often than not without any need for stealth. It is your call, but why not just stay in places that have water when you can do so for free?
I've only done about two weeks on the TA, but we stayed in churches for free for about half the nights. My friends who rode the whole thing said that it was the same for the rest of their trip. They got most of their leads from the Adventure Cycling maps.

Last edited by stedalus; 04-27-10 at 07:26 PM.
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Old 04-27-10, 07:47 PM
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washing clothes every day is crazy. you can't do it and stealth camp. you simply won't always have water that easily. wrap your head around washing clothing less often and easing back on the stealth camping to allow yourself to make use of public water sources. Even a lake is fine. I keep my sleeping back in a Trash Compactor bag for ultimate water proof protection (both are put into a stuff sack. Anywhere there is enough water I can put hot water into the trash compactor bag and make a sink. I can dig a small hole in the earth and use biodegradeable soap, and wash that way quite easily. It doesn't take much to wash your cycling shorts and they are about all you have to really keep clean-clean. Your largest cooking pot is probably big enough to do one pair of shorts per washing if need be, but a thick trash-compactor bag makes washing clothes really handy as long as you have running water to rinse them (or a lake that won't be damaged by a small amount of biodegradeable soap left in a pair of shorts).
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Old 04-27-10, 08:12 PM
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I'm with the above poster - the only thing I wash daily is my shorts. I carry three pairs of shorts and can always find a water source at least every other day. I strap them on top of my dry bag on my rear rack to dry. I don't use a bucket or anything like that - I either wash them in the sink, the shower, or a lake or river. We've been on the road for nearly 3 years now and there has only been ONE time when I couldn't get them washed!
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Old 04-27-10, 09:41 PM
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Thanks for the help. Sounds like its one of those things that you just figure out on the road. I was thinking stealth camping mostly because its free. I'm hoping to take advantage of as many free showers and public facilities as possible. It's going to be one long learning process. I'm definitely looking forward to it. Cheers
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Old 04-27-10, 10:14 PM
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Last fall I did an 8 day tour in Southern UT and there were showers every night but the first. So every night but the first, I washed my shorts but by the 6th day they were smelling pretty bad! I took them into the shower with me but not one me and let them soak up the water and suds from me cleaning up. Then I put some soap on them and scrubbed some. Then I rinsed them out the best I could. What'd I do wrong?

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Old 04-28-10, 12:19 AM
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I'm with the smelly crew here I can't imagine washing clothes every day... after a day's riding it's sometimes almost too much of an effort to roll my sleeping bag out and crawl into it!

I ride in t-shirts with cut off arms made of... wait for it.... COTTON!!!! (ah BF blasphemy!!!), which don't get as smelly as all this modern nonsense

I usually wash clothes once a week on a rest day at a campsite laundry (on my recent tour in the US I was pleasantly surprised as to how cheap this was, $1 or $1.25 wash, and the same for the dryer... As someone else mentioned ALL my clothes get washed (got a couple of funny looks wearing my rain gear (and nothing else) when it was really hot...)

In california I bought a bear vault which was great for carrying food, sitting on when the ground was wet, or washing riding gear in when no other option was available... The only "con" to the bear vault was it's weight.
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Old 04-28-10, 01:54 AM
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btw...with regard to wool..... it's true it keeps you warm when wet because it moves water away from your body, but it doesn't evaporate the water quickly. You end up with wet, hard to dry wool. You should be wearing virtually all synthetic clothing. Some women need cotton panties to wear when not wearing riding shorts. A decent cotton tshirt to wear when the weather is good is nice and comfortable. A bandana might be nice, but your jersey/shirt should by nylon/synthetic, your socks should be synthetic...pants, jackets, all synthetic. They won't absorb moisture like cotton or wool and therefore will keep you warmer longer and dry faster. Much faster. Much much faster. I take one cotton tshirt with me when touring. Everything else is some type of polypro or nylon or other synthetic. Wool was better than cotton but synthetics are just that much better than wool, particularly when on tour where drying clothes can be a challenge. Synthetics will dry on you while you continue to wear them.
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Old 04-28-10, 02:05 AM
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Originally Posted by digibud
... Synthetics will dry on you while you continue to wear them.
... and smell horrible... let the synthetic/cotton war continue hihi :

nah but seriously I really don't see why synthetics are regarded sooooo highly, part of me feels it's been a clever marketing ploy (the touring equivalent of spandex for roadies (oops got into that aswell! ... and yes, I have ridden in both, but prefer cheap cotton... maybe because I don't mind getting sweaty... actually love being sweaty

In very cold weather I'm sure synthetic base layers under wool has many advantages, but for 3-season conditions I find cotton to be superior

shoot!

Last edited by imi; 04-28-10 at 02:16 AM.
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Old 04-28-10, 02:22 AM
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Laundromats. Many towns have them ... just stop in on your way through and do laundry.
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Old 04-28-10, 04:24 AM
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Originally Posted by nycphotobike
Thanks for the help. Sounds like its one of those things that you just figure out on the road. I was thinking stealth camping mostly because its free. I'm hoping to take advantage of as many free showers and public facilities as possible. It's going to be one long learning process. I'm definitely looking forward to it. Cheers
In that case you will probably have to stealth camp very little if at all. On our 2007 TA we stayed in expensive (like $20 or so) camp sites only a few nights and paid for a room once. We also paid to stay in a cabin once and a teepee once, but we split the cost 3 ways so in both cases it was between $5 and $7 per person. We did stay in hiker biker or other cheap (like $4-8 per person) camp sites a good bit too but more than half the time it was a free site. If I had to guess I'd say we stayed for free maybe 40 out of 73 total days on the road, but we could have stayed free more often if we were really concerned about pinching every penny. As it was overall I think we averaged under $6 per night and could have done it cheaper.

On the TA at least, I think I spent less money on tour than I would have at home. You have to eat where ever you are and on tour I didn't have to put gas in the car.

I guess people stealth camp for other reasons, but if it is only to save money it is seldom necessary. For me hiding out in the woods isn't what touring is about. I'd rather be in town where I meet the local folks. As a result I'd only stealth camp in a pinch.
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Old 04-28-10, 06:09 AM
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i always pack a sink stopper as it is amazing how many restrooms don't have stoppers.

wash clothes at rest stop or restaurant, air dry on back of rack.


I use the 3 shorts in rotation method. and wear wool. and have worn wool jerseys up to 5 days at a stretch without laundrying, its really the bottoms that you need to be concerned about.

loose fitting summer camp shirts are actually quite comfortable to ride in, i recommend highly versus a tight fitting jersey on hot days. wet it down.

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Old 04-28-10, 07:18 AM
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Originally Posted by Bekologist
i always pack a sink stopper as it is amazing how many restrooms don't have stoppers.

wash clothes at rest stop or restaurant, air dry on back of rack.


I use the 3 shorts in rotation method. and wear wool. and have worn wool jerseys up to 5 days at a stretch without laundrying, its really the bottoms that you need to be concerned about.

loose fitting summer camp shirts are actually quite comfortable to ride in, i recommend highly versus a tight fitting jersey on hot days. wet it down.
Amen to that!
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Old 04-28-10, 07:28 AM
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As a bit of a historical note, Return of the Scorcher has a scene where "Kash" demonstrates using a Tupperware bowl as a washing machine... Add water, the garment, a little detergent, and strap it to the rack as you go down the road. At the end of the day, rinse and dry. ;-)
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Old 04-28-10, 09:58 AM
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Some of you are underestimating the true power of merino wool. I brought one light merino top on my last 5-week tour that I used on and off the bike every day. I never washed it, it never smelled, and it dried quickly. I commute to work every day using a mid-weight merino top, and I can't remember the last time I washed it.

I'd recommend that you bring just one light merino t-shirt and one mid-weight shirt as your base layers for everything. You'll only need one pair of boxers unless you ride in them. The only important item to wash is your cycling shorts, although I like to throw in my socks when washing my shorts because they're smelly synthetic material.
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Old 04-28-10, 10:33 AM
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All excellent posts. I thought I would add a few things, as I stealth camp almost everywhere these days.

(1) You can do a daily clothes AND body quick wash in the bathrooms of convenience stores. Whip your stuff off, wash it in hot water, wash your lavaliere, , rinse the clothes again, and put em back on. Let them dry while you ride the rest of the day. Make sure ya leave the room cleaner than ya found it and the reputation of cyclists will remain unsullied.

(2) Laundromats are great for recharging your whole soggy mass of clothes if it has been raining and miserable for a prolonged stretch. Far cheaper than camping with the intent to wash/dry, or even worse, staying indoors at a motel.


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Old 04-28-10, 10:43 AM
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I guess people stealth camp for other reasons, but if it is only to save money it is seldom necessary. For me hiding out in the woods isn't what touring is about. I'd rather be in town where I meet the local folks. As a result I'd only stealth camp in a pinch.

I like stealth camping for the quiet, on the outskirts of a town, in an area that may be farmland, public right of way, state forest, etc. The money I save, I use to meet the locals over coffee and breakfast, or lunch in a public park, etc.

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Old 04-28-10, 11:01 AM
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Originally Posted by niknak
Some of you are underestimating the true power of merino wool. I brought one light merino top on my last 5-week tour that I used on and off the bike every day. I never washed it, it never smelled, and it dried quickly. I commute to work every day using a mid-weight merino top, and I can't remember the last time I washed it.

I'd recommend that you bring just one light merino t-shirt and one mid-weight shirt as your base layers for everything. You'll only need one pair of boxers unless you ride in them. The only important item to wash is your cycling shorts, although I like to throw in my socks when washing my shorts because they're smelly synthetic material.
Different strokes, I much prefer synthetics. I have tried Merino wool and didn't find it to be any great shakes. I found that while warm even when damp, it stayed wet longer and smelled worse than most of my synthetics. I also found it slightly itchy. I gave up on wool for everything but socks long ago.

I come from a ww kayaking background and remember being very happy to see synthetics replace wool as the garments of choice for that sport. We paddled in winter and early spring and were wet all day. It seems like the situation where wool should be at it's best, but I found it downright unpleasant.

As far as socks go... I took two pairs of synthetic socks and one pair of Smartwool on the TransAmerica. There was very little difference in warmth, but the smartwool socks were far and away the stinkiest thing I had along on the trip. I wonder if it is a matter of different body chemistry or what, but I have always found that on me wool just plain reeks after wearing it for a few days.

I like the idea of using natural fibers, but in practice I have not found that they really cut it for me. As a result no wool and no cotton will be found in my panniers or on my body while on tour. The only exceptions are a wash cloth, bandanna, and cycling cap that are cotton or a cotton blend.
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Old 04-28-10, 11:31 AM
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I wash in sinks, use a microfiber wash cloth as a stopper and shampoo or liquid soap (most of which aren't really a soap anyway, but a detergent). I don't use laundromats as most of my clothes don't like the dryer and I don't have enough for a load anyway.
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Old 04-28-10, 02:34 PM
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I found that doing laundry was really fun. WIFI maybe, free electricity, shelter, people bored out of their mind, and air conditioning or heat.
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Old 04-28-10, 03:26 PM
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Originally Posted by John Nelson
I wash in sinks, use a microfiber wash cloth as a stopper and shampoo or liquid soap (most of which aren't really a soap anyway, but a detergent). I don't use laundromats as most of my clothes don't like the dryer and I don't have enough for a load anyway.
On a tour I specifically bring clothes that do like the dryer ... clothes that are made of merino wool and synthetics. I want to be able to toss everything in the wash, toss everything in the dryer and be done with it all.
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