Doing Laundry in Your Hotel Room

BY Beth Williams

Chances are that if you travel for more than a few days you may find that you get an evening chore of doing a bit of laundry in the sink of your hotel or B&B. Never done laundry by hand?  It’s pretty simple.  Here’s a quick guide to doing laundry or washing clothes in your sink.

A quick pre-rinse will get some of the dirt out of the clothing before the wash phase begins. Fill the sink ( washbasin, or tub) with water, immerse the clothes, and knead them with your hands, much like preparing dough for bread-making. Then drain off the water, squeeze the clothes to remove as much of the dirty water as practical, and set them aside. Begin the wash by refilling the sink (but not too full, as the wet clothing will take up a fair bit of space when you return it to the basin) and adding soap or detergent; if using a dry laundry product, ensure that it is well dissolved before continuing.

Add the wet laundry. If the clothes are badly soiled, you might let them soak for a bit at this point (probably ten minutes should do it) however most of the time that won’t be necessary. Wash the clothes by kneading them thoroughly. If you’re trying to remove a stubborn stain, rubbing that portion of the fabric against itself is helpful (when doing this with socks, try slipping them over your hands like mittens). Remember that washing is primarily a mechanical process, not a chemical one. When the wash water stops getting noticeably dirtier, drain it. Then refill the basin with clear water, and rinse the clothes the same way you pre-rinsed them. Drain, squeeze out water (wringing the clothes will extract more water but is more damaging to fabrics so use your judgment), refill, and repeat until the rinse water remains clear. You might need several rinses if the clothes were particularly dirty or if you used too much soap, but two or three usually suffice. This entire process, apart from any soaking, should take no more than a few minutes.

Rinsing can often be done more effectively in a shower than in a sink, but at the cost of more water used. If laundering silk, try giving it an extra/final rinse containing some hair conditioner, which (because silk — like hair — is a protein) keeps both the fabric nice and lessens wrinkles.

Rolling wet clothes in a towel, and wringing the towel tightly (with clothes inside), is an old traveler’s trick to extract water and speeds up the drying process considerably. The towel both absorbs the moisture and protects the fabric from damage due to wringing. This technique works with any towel, but using a viscose towel is particularly productive, as you can separately wring out the towel and reuse it to good effect (whereas a regular towel, once damp, will cease to be effective).

Finally, hang the garments on your travel clothesline, and go to bed. All of this takes but minutes with a bit of practice, and you will forever be amazed at how much it lightens your load.

If some item of clothing isn’t quite dry when you’re ready to depart in the morning, use a hair dryer on it or, do as they do in the army: put it on anyway. Though it might feel a bit uncomfortable at first, you’ll be amazed at how quickly it will dry next to a warm body. A better solution, though, is to choose travel clothes made of quick-drying (and wrinkle-free) fabrics. A shirt made of Coolmax® (or some similar fabric) will not only dry quickly but will keep you cooler in summer and warmer in winter than cotton.

If you’re traveling, of course, you’re unlikely to want to wash your dress shirts in the sink (though it’s nice to be able to). On the other hand, it’s more likely that someone else is footing the bill, so letting the hotel do your laundry is a more acceptable option. Be prepared for occasional surprises if you take this route; the laundry processes in foreign hotels can be quite entertaining! Should you choose to have the proprietor of a B&B or small hotel do your laundry, be sure to negotiate the fee in advance.

When traveling for extended periods, some people like to splurge on a “real” laundry every couple of weeks or so, especially for large/bulky items of clothing that are more troublesome to hand wash. Drop-off laundries in some places are notorious for “losing” items; spreading out your clothing on their counter and taking a quick photo with your digital camera can help resolve any differences of opinion at pickup time. Lastly, keep a stain stick in your backpack or bag for quick fixes on the go.