The RVers Guide to Doing Laundry on the Road

the-rvers-guide-to-doing-laundry-on-the-road

Nobody likes doing laundry but when you’re traveling. In an RV, it’s even more of a pain. There are so many more enjoyable things to do than laundry.

But…as we all know… it has to be done. But where? How?

Start by getting the right tools for doing laundry in an RV, like bins, detergent, and drying racks. Shop laundry necessities at Camping World.

I’m not saying the task of doing laundry will be a highlight of your trip, but we do have some suggestions for you that will get it done relatively efficiently, and then let you get back to the things you really want to do. Fair enough? Read on…

Use Campground Laundry Facilities 

RVer doing laundry
Jennifer Wendland doing laundry from the road.

Virtually all RV campgrounds that offer full hookups for RVs also have a washer and dryer (or several) available for campers.

For Jennifer and me, we can expect KOA’s, Thousand Trails, Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park, Good Sam Campgrounds, and other large commercial campgrounds to have on-site laundry facilities that are kept clean and neat. Most offer access in early mornings and evenings so you can get the laundry done when outside of peak recreation hours.

Most (but not all) state parks have laundry facilities, as well as many county, municipal, or national park campgrounds. In general, though, we’ve found that cleanliness and the condition of the equipment can vary greatly at civic and smaller campgrounds. So check the reviews.

One caution, though. Campground laundry machines can be costly. They do have a pretty captive audience, and some have very steep rates because they know most folks will decide it’s not worth the hassle of leaving the campground and finding a commercial laundromat.

Use a Commercial Laundromat

Laundry Machines in public laundromat
Laundry machines in public laundromat. Image by Pung, Shutterstock.

We actually enjoy laundromats. Like the small-town diner gives you a window into the community, so too does a small-town laundromat. We often do laundry en route to somewhere else.

Typically, we’ll Google “laundromat near me” and almost always find several to choose from in the towns and cities we travel through. It usually takes us about an hour to an hour and a half to do our laundry, so it’s a nice break.

We’ll do a drive-by before pulling in and unloading at the first one we see. We’ll check the neighborhood out and the safety of the parking lot. If all looks good, then we’ll go inside and look over the machines.

In our near 11 years of the RV Lifestyle, there have only been a couple of occasions when we’ve decided to move on. Once was at a laundromat located in a rather seedy-looking parking lot a few doors down from a bar that had a lot of rowdy people hanging out in front. The other time we chose to find another laundromat was one where most of the machines had “out of order” signs and there was a rather unpleasant odor coming from a sink.

We have met a lot of interesting people over the years doing laundry at laundromats. We have learned about fascinating places to see, great spots to eat, and we get a sense of the area we are visiting that we never would have found in a guidebook or website.

Bring Your Own Change

Here’s an important tip about doing laundry on the road: Carry a stash of quarters. Over the past year, the U.S. has experienced a severe shortage of coins. Like many things, you can blame it on the pandemic. It’s no secret that COVID crippled economic activity in the U.S. and as a result, officials say the circulation of coins dropped off significantly. The U.S. Mint has conceded as much, noting that it has also had to deal with reduced staffing and thus hasn’t been able to resupply banks and financial institutions as efficiently before.

The result is we can no longer ask for a couple rolls of quarters from supermarkets and other places that once regularly exchanged paper money for coins. We’ve noticed that even coin machines at laundromats seem to be empty or broken more than usual these days. While some banks still will give rolls of coins, more often than not it’s only for their own customers.

So, for the past couple of years, we’ve been saving all our coins and always try to be sure we have a $10 roll of quarters handy. If the laundry machines accept credit cards, we begrudgingly will use one, but credit card washers and dryers always seem to cost more than coin-operated machines.

Factor in a laundry allowance in your RV lifestyle budget.

A Word About Laundromat Courtesy

This is a huge deal when using washers in dryers at a campground or laundromat: Tend to your clothes.

We’ve witnessed a lot of angry words directed towards people who put their clothes in the washer or dryer and then leave them unattended, often for hours. This needlessly ties up a machine, making it unavailable for the next person. Once, we saw a very grumpy man open a dryer and remove a pile of long dried clothes, tossing them outside on the sidewalk so he could use the machine. We never did see if the people whose clothes got dumped ever did come back.

But avoid arguments and don’t be rude. Stay with your clothes and promptly tend to them when their cycles come to an end.

Bring Your Own Detergent and Laundry Supplies

Bring laundry soap, fabric softener, and dryer sheets with you. It will certainly save you money over buying them in the laundromat. When you finish, clean out the lint filter for the next user. Be polite, respect other people’s space when folding your clothes and clean up any spills.

It will also save time and space if you sort your clothes – whites, colored and delicates – ahead of time before bringing them into the laundromat. Use collapsible bins to organize your laundry.

Collapsible Storage
Collapsible Storage from Camping World

Get a Washer and Dryer for Your RV

Oh how we envy friends who have laundry machines in their Class A and Fifth Wheel RVs and campers. To run these a washer/dryer appliances in an RV, you usually need to have a 50 amp service. But they are surprisingly efficient and while often a bit smaller than traditional-sized washers and dryers, they are such a huge convenience.

RV Washer Dryer
RV Washer Dryer unit by Camping World

There are combo units that are both a washer and dryer in one machine, as well as stackable units and even compact units available. It’s best if you can get these units factory installed but they can also be added to existing RVs. Installation can be a challenge.

Many have external venting requirements, meaning you must cut out a hole through the side of the RV.  There are some RV washers and dryers that are ventless machines. Plumbing hookups can be tricky. And the machines need winterizing if the RV is in very cold climates during the winter.

I mentioned size. You may need to do considerably more loads with an RV washer and dryer than what you are used to at home or in a laundromat. The smaller size is so they will fit in the limited space of an RV so there’s not much that can be done about that. But they also use a lot of water, making their use pretty impractical if you are boondocking or aren’t at a campground with full hookups.

RV laundry
Camping World Partner, Karen Akpan of The Mom Trotter, uses a stackable washer dryer unit to do laundry on the road while her family travels full time. Image by Karen Akpan.

Shop washer and dryer units at Camping World.

Use a Portable Washer and Spin Dryer

There are numerous portable small washers available that will help you clean your clothes in your RV. Typically, they cost from $200 to $300. Amazon has several models, just search “portable RV washer.” Camping World has portable washing machines, too.

GloBest Portable Washing Machine
GloBest Portable Washing Machine by Camping World

These units, also used in college dorms and apartments, wash and dry using two different tubs. You pour water in the washtub and put a hose in the sink to drain. They are in wheels so you can easily move them about.

Again, you will want full hookups or large fresh water and grey tanks. They do need electricity. These usually are spin-dry only. We have not used one – basically for space reasons – but if you have the room in your RV, the price is pretty reasonable.

portable washing machine in front of RV
Doing laundry outdoor campground. Image by Voyagerix, Shutterstock.

Handwash Your Laundry Using Two Buckets

Yes, you can do this. I washed a pair of jeans that way this summer and we’ve washed other clothes like this on boondocking trips when we wanted to stay out off the grid longer.

  1. Fill up two buckets with water.
  2. Put in a little detergent in one and then your clothing.
  3. Just wash and mash – with your hands.
  4. Wring everything out and then put them in the other bucket to rinse as best as possible. Fill and refill as needed with clean water, emptying the used water as far away from the lake or river as possible so as not to pollute or contaminate water resources.
  5. Then air-dry your clothing on a rope or over a bush, or using a bumper mount clothesline
Bumper Mount Clothesline
Bumper Mount Clothesline by Camping World

Works fine. Though the clean jeans were a bit stiff when I first put them on. Search around online and you’ll find DIY clothes washing setups like this.

Stay clean everyone!

Happy Trails!

Mike started RVLifestyle.com with his wife in 2012 after deciding to spend their retirement traveling throughout the U.S. Mike also runs the popular podcast called “The RV Podcast.”

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