The One Surprising Thing Our Home Editors Never Travel Without

And it barely takes up any space.

July 24, 2021
Photo by James Ransom

I absolutely love things specifically designed for travel—my carry-on with a built-in portable charger, my favorite duffel with all its specialized pockets and essential trolley pass (which attaches the bag to the handle of a carryon), my monogrammed leather passport holder, and my packing cubes, of course. Not only are they ultra-functional, but I also love thinking about the purposeful engineering behind each one—all the R&D that went into making our travel experiences less stressful.

Oddly enough, among all these hyper-specialized items, the one thing I absolutely can’t travel without? A wee bottle of laundry detergent.

As a kid, I remember doing loads and loads of laundry with my family before a trip, my parents packing at least two large checked bags for our family of four. We each laid out separate outfits for the days of the week, and probably about 2-3 extra. Suffice it to say, this was a lot of clothing. “We will not be doing laundry at the hotel,” my mom would say, “it’s far too expensive.” Her words stuck. I’ve never even bothered to check the price of wash & fold at any hotel I’ve stayed at—I just assume it’s even more exorbitant than the room service.

But since when did washing your clothes require a washer and dryer? Well, okay, it’s 2021 and many of us couldn’t fathom living without the luxury, but your hands, a sink, and some laundry detergent do the job just as well, I promise. On a recent trip to Austin, TX, I found myself in a Target on the very first day, and bought a simple black dress on an impulse. Guess how many times I wore that dress in five days? At least three. It’s the same story on every trip. I always want to repeat one thing I wasn’t sure I’d wear at all. And it wouldn’t have been possible without the essential addition of my favorite concentrated detergent (The Laundress x John Mayer collab)—decanted into a mini toiletry bottle.

Buy on The Laundress, $20 Photo by The Laundress
Buy on Amazon, $8.99 Photo by Amazon

It’s not just me, either, it’s the whole team here at Home52. Says Editorial Lead, Arati Menon, “I truly detest having to lug around tons of luggage when traveling, and I’ve discovered the secret to traveling light—doing laundry while traveling! It’s one of the best ways to pack less clothing—all you really need is a clean sink, water, and maybe some lingerie bags for your delicates. And to smooth out wrinkles after all that wringing (trust, there are still some Airbnbs without an iron), just hang your dress or shirt up in the shower—the steam will get the creases out in no time.”

So too, agrees Jada Wong, our Market Editor, “Most of my trips involve some combination of hiking, snorkeling, and scuba diving, so I always pack gear that can handle sweat, salt, mud, and who-knows-what-else. I don’t want to bring all that home or get my suitcase dirty, so I wash clothes in the hotel sink with a detergent sheet. I only need one or two of the postcard-sized sheets for a weeklong trip, and since there’s no liquid, there’s no worrying about spills or TSA restrictions either. The detergent sheets dissolve and rinse quickly, and more importantly, wash my clothes just as well as the pods I use at home.”

Interested in the best way to do your laundry on the go? We’ve got you. When my local laundromat shut for a few months during quarantine, I became a sink and tub clothes-cleaning expert.

  1. Start by filling the sink or tub with water. I prefer cold water to prevent colors from bleeding, but you can also use room temperature water. If I’m in a time crunch or just being lazy, I’ll also take the item of clothing into the shower with me and wash it there.
  2. Then, pour the suggested amount of detergent into the water per its instructions and give it a swish. I usually add about a tablespoon of detergent per one item of clothing I’m washing in the sink. It’s likely that’s too much, but man, do my clothes smell good after.
  3. Gently rub the clothing together to get it nice and soapy, then leave it to sit for 20-30 minutes (if you’ve got it).
  4. After they’ve been left to sit, give the clothes one more swish and a little scrub, then rinse them under cold water until the suds run free.
  5. To remove excess water, press each garment against the side of the tub or sink, and press, press, press. For items that can withstand a rougher hand (like cotton or denim), you can give 'em a good wring. For even more moisture absorption, wrap the item up in a clean, dry bath towel like a cinnamon roll, and give it some pressure. The good news? You can always call down to the front desk for more towels.
  6. Now, it’s all a matter of dry time. If I’m in a hurry to get something dry, I have a couple tricks: If I have a window or balcony in my hotel room (and it’s warm out), the sun and breeze dry things far quicker than stagnant indoor air. I’ve been known to drape clothing over AC units and fans, as well as heating vents (on low!), and when all else fails, I’ll stand there with the blow dryer aimed at a dress until it’s dry enough to put back on.

Do you do laundry while you're traveling? Tell us your tricks below!

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • jacquerupp
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When I'm not writing & editing for Home52, I'm likely to be found DIY-ing a new piece of furniture (or restoring an old one), hanging things on the wall in my apartment, or watching hours of vintage RHONY.


jacquerupp August 18, 2021
I could not link to the carry on bag either
Libby O. July 29, 2021
I grew up traveling around Europe with my very intrepid parents in the 1960’s. Laundry in the sink was your only choice. Almost all bathtubs included a retractable laundry line, btw, which you can still find in some old hotels. For most hand laundry, I recommend just using the body wash or soap provided by where ever you are staying -except in some hostels.I like the suggestion of the detergent leaves cut into small squares. That’s a lot easier than traveling with a bottle . It’s easy to find quick dry underwear online (that breathes)although socks can take a lot longer to dry. .
Victoria D. July 29, 2021
The link to the carry on doesn’t seem to be working for me? Anyone else having problems…….
jantiques July 26, 2021
I always pack a couple of those cheapy plastic hanger/hook things with a little clothespin clip at the bottom; that way I can hang clothes from the shower rod (or elsewhere) if need be (esp. if the hotel is still using those weird anti-theft hangers that come apart at the base of the hook).
GigiR July 26, 2021
I wonder if you’ve ever done the following to dry clothes while traveling. If it’s summer and good weather, wring ‘em out and put it on. Maybe not a whole outfit. But underwear will dry quite fast against warm skin. Not talking about jeans here. It won’t work. But light cottons will. It might not be your first choice, but sometimes you have none. Wring out the water well. Shake out the item. Use your hand to smooth out any creases. Try it on. If it’s too damp for comfort, you can always take it off and hang it up. I’ve had success doing this at different times. The thing usually dries quite quickly. Just a mention.
Arati M. July 27, 2021
Gigi, I've definitely done this before—slightly uncomfortable at first but provided it's in warm weather, you're right, cotton does dry quick.