I'm getting much better at packing my clean clothes when I am preparing for a trip, but I still haven't figured out what to do with my dirty clothes when I need to pack them to move hotels. My goals are:

  • Avoid using "clean areas" of luggage.
  • Make them easy to identify as dirty and find all at once, so that I don't forget to wash them when I do laundry on the road.
  • Not make the suitcase bulkier than when clothes were clean.

I've tried the following:

  • Ball them up in a plastic bag.
  • Put them in my shoe bags.
  • Put them in the outside pockets of a suitcase.
  • Backpacker tip: It's quite usual for backpacker hostels to have laundry facilities at reasonable prices. In some countries such as South Korea, laundry is usually even free! Commented Jul 7, 2013 at 13:11

10 Answers 10


The problem with dirty clothes is they will take huge space when packing them again (if not done correctly), logically the clothes are the same but after packing the dirty ones the space is not enough. Usually this is due to packing them in an ugly way like the ways you mentioned (ball them or putting them in shoe bags).

The best thing I have always been doing and it always worked and I never had space problem is by folding them as if they were clean, then put them in a plastic bag, squeeze the air out of the plastic bag and seal it. Squeezing the air will make it less bulky. This way you will not need more space than what you needed when you first packed them and it will not mix with your new clothes and smell (if available) will not spread all over the bag. If no plastic bag available you can do the same with a laundry bag (usually available in the cupboards in hotels).

Anyway, putting clothes in a plastic bag and squeezing the air out is also good idea for clean clothes to save space.

  • 1
    This sounds right, I'll try it on my next trip. I might try zippered food bags since they are cheap and clear, or I might get some packing cubes to use as "dirties".
    – flighttime
    Commented Jul 6, 2013 at 20:18
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    I was always told that plastic bags are wrong, and cloth/cotton bags are way better to avoid moisture from staying in the dirty clothes. Afaik, moisture stimulates the bad odours and helps mould form; dry clothes stink less and can't be damaged by mould.
    – tricasse
    Commented Jul 6, 2013 at 23:49
  • @tricasse you are right if you store them in plastic bags for long time.. usually people pack the dirty clothes a day before the trip and these dirty clothes maybe have sands or other stuff in them.. plastic bags are the best in this case.. Commented Jul 6, 2013 at 23:51
  • @HaLaBi If you also pack the clean clothes in plastic bags, how will you differentiate between clean and dirty again? ;p
    – Bernhard
    Commented Jul 7, 2013 at 8:34
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    When I'm low on space I also used to fold my dirty clothes. But recently I learned a trick, which is to roll each item into a kind of tube. It seems to make packing easier and works with clean and dirty clothes. Of course none of my clothes are very fancy and I don't care about creases and wrinkles (-; Commented Jul 7, 2013 at 9:58

This might seem obvious to some, and completely out of the question to others, but it's what I do:

Wash your laundry before going to a new hotel.

I do it in the hotel sink at night before going to bed, and by morning my clothes are usually completely dry. Of course, this can depend a lot on your clothing, and the material from which they are made. I make a point to travel with quick-drying clothes, and a travel clothes line to make this task easier.

Traveling this way also makes it easier to travel lighter, as you can carry fewer items of clothing, as you can always do laundry on demand, rather than waiting until the end of your journey, or when laundry facilities are available.

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    What about when the hotel has a sign kindly requesting you not wash your laundry in the sink? Commented Jul 7, 2013 at 4:24
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    @hippietrail: Then I would use the bath tub or shower. :)
    – Flimzy
    Commented Jul 7, 2013 at 6:44
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    Or pick a hotel with a guest laundry!
    – Gagravarr
    Commented Jul 7, 2013 at 10:18
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    If they don't managed to get dry, you'll make them take more place, be heavier, and risk they'll mold :) Commented Dec 8, 2014 at 12:41

I take a very large clear plastic bag (sold I believe as a leaf bag, or paper recycling bag) that is larger than a "green garbage bag" and I use it as a laundry bag. I typically leave it in the suitcase, unpack my clean clothes, and put dirty clothes into it after I wear them, like a hamper. When it's time to go, I can fold and compress the dirty clothes if I need to, then layer the non-clothes items (bathroom stuff, books I've read, etc) on top and then clean clothes on top of that. For most of my trips, by the time I head home there are little or no clean clothes remaining so the dirty clothes need 80% of the suitcase.

When I get home I can just dump the laundry bag as part of doing the laundry, and then I put the bag back in my suitcase for next time. I've been using the same bag for years and years, and there are more on the shelf should it ever wear out.

The advantages of being clear: I can see what is in it, no hotel people will think it's a real garbage bag and throw it out for me, customs people can see that it's clothes and might not treat it badly, etc. Because it's plastic it takes less room than a cloth bag, and if something is damp or actively nasty it will protect the rest of my clothes from the mess.

  • Good tip about clear bags.
    – flighttime
    Commented Jul 6, 2013 at 20:18

I just use a large plastic garbage bag a.k.a. bin liner. If anything is wet or really dirty or really smelly, then I may double or even triple bag it.

If you're lucky your luggage has more than one compartment. My current backpack has a separate zippable section at the bottom, below the main section. I use this for storing the dirty laundry in its bag(s).

This way I can even add dirty items to the laundry section without having to pull everything out and re-pack if I'm moving before I expect to wash laundry next.

Any clean clothes that I want to keep nice do not go near this bottom laundry section. I'll put rugged stuff like jeans above the laundry section.


First up, what not to do - don't store them in a hotel laundry bag. It might look tempting, as it's a handy plastic bag in your hotel room, but there's a fair risk that you'll come back to your hotel room one day to find a pile of clean clothes and a fair sized bill...

Now, talking of clean clothes - check with the hotel, and think about this when booking. You can sometimes book rates that include a few items of laundry ever day, often as part of a longer stay package with breakfast etc. These can be good value, mean you don't need to take as many things with you in the first place, and you won't have dirty washing to deal with! Some hotels have very reasonable laundry fees, others huge ones, so it can be worth just paying sometimes too. Also, consider checking nearby laundries and dry cleaners on longer trips, that can work out well too. Some (mostly lowerer end) hotels offer free guest laundries, so you just need to buy/bring some laundry powder/liquid and you're done!

Assuming you can't get things washed though, my normal way to deal with it is to go out with an expanding suitcase fairly expanded, including a bag (rucksack, small duffel bag etc) in there. As the trip goes on, the dirty washing goes into the other bag, and the suitcase gets compressed. It does mean you carry bag+suitcase rather than just suitcase, but keeps it all separate. (The expanding suitcase option allows you to keep the suitcase "full", so things don't move around and get creased) When it's time to come home, I'll sometimes just be lazy and check the dirty washing bag along with my suitcase! Otherwise, I decant the dirty washing into a few plastic bags, squish them down, expand out the suitcase, and fully re-pack.

(For very short trips, I tend to just roll the dirty washing up inside a dirty shirt, stuff that into a gap, and know I'll be unpacking at home in a few hours so it's no big deal.)

  • Can you elaborate on how you've arranged laundry service as part of a stay?
    – flighttime
    Commented Jul 6, 2013 at 20:19
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    I normally look for a long stay rate, at business focused hotels those often include laundry and breakfast, and can even sometimes bring the room price down a lot. Generally checking the "special offers" section of the hotel website can find them, otherwise if you were going to book the normal rate it can be worth phoning the hotel to see if they'll do you a deal including some laundry
    – Gagravarr
    Commented Jul 7, 2013 at 10:09

I always use an old pillow case for this purpose.

This way I can neatly store all dirty clothing in a single place but avoid the airtight properties of a plastic bag.

  • I've done this in the past too, as well as putting shoes in pillowcases. One of the drawbacks is that pillowcases tend to be too big for the amount I'm putting in, leaving a lot of unused cloth I'm lugging around. But it can be a fine solution for some situations.
    – flighttime
    Commented Jul 18, 2013 at 15:57

Ever heard of Canoe Bags ?? Simply, place folded up dirty clothes into one of these bags (perhaps bring two ?? one for lights / one for darks) and squeeze the air out. Then seal.

  • no smells
  • no wet leaks
  • easily packed ready for washing
  • I own many of these and use them when canoeing. For suitcase travelling I find them heavier and stiffer than I need, as well as harder to open and close. Basically overkill. Commented Jul 15, 2013 at 11:54
  • Understood. But you can get lightweight ones. The Military use them for keeping kit both separate and dry.. that's where I discovered them.
    – Jez
    Commented Jul 15, 2013 at 12:07

Very old question, but I just saw it, and while I don't travel as much as before Covid, I just came back from a quick trip, HKG<>Germany, and needed space in my suitcase on the way back. So I had to pack my laundry tight.

So I repacked it the same way it was packed. Properly folded, in large ziplock bags. I close them tight, with just a little bit still opened, sit on the bag carefully to remove all the air, then close the last bit of the ziplock. The bag becomes very skinny and takes very little space.

It's not completely airtight, but lasts long enough to pack it. Once the suitcase is closed, it stays more or less that way.

Back when I was traveling a lot, and stayed at least 2 nights in a hotel, I would send the laundry in the morning, and get it back in the evening, properly folded. That would reduce the amount of clothes I took with me.


I normally carry two laundry bags—one for the soiled clothes and the other to hold my just laundered clothes before placing them in my suitcase. Also, to hasten the drying of wet clothes, I wrap them in a clean hotel towel to squeeze out any remaining moisture. Back in the days when the hotel rooms came with incandescent lampshades, I would place the damp (not dripping) clothes over the lamp shade. The heat from the incandescent lamp would hasten the drying process. Since incandescent lamps are no longer available, I would jury rig a clothes support over the air conditioner fan to blow air across the damp (not dripping) clothes. I usually come prepared with a nylon cord, clothes pins, hooks, and folding hangers to handle the most common way of setting up a clothes line.


My method to pack my suitcase is very suitable to deal with this particular problem. What I do in general is to put all the rigid stuff (things like shoes, tripods, chargers etc.) first in the empty suitcase and put them apart a bit. E.g. don't put your running shoes in a single plastic bag, use two bags and put them some distance from each other. Then you put in your clothes. You start with the smallest items like socks and you put them in between the spaces with the aim of getting to an even level. You then fold your clothes such that they fit well into an available area, but not with the aim of being neat.

When your suitcase is filled evenly up to some level, you'll can continue filling it evenly by putting in shirts, trousers, etc. in a largely unfolded way so that it covers most of the area in an even way as much as possible. At every step you just correct for any unevenness, so you end up utilizing the available volume of the suitcase in a very efficient way. If the suitcase would end up being quite full and would require some pressure to close, that pressure will act quite evenly over the entire area, you then don't need to apply a lot of force to compress the contents to close the suitcase.

Then to deal with dirty clothes, all you need to do is decide which ones to put in first. If most clothes are clean, you can choose to put in the clean clothes first as you'll likely reach even level with the clean clothes. You can put in a plastic bag to separate the bottom layer of clean clothes from the top layer of dirty clothes.

  • I don't know what percentage of people would consider a plastic bag as a separation layer suitable for not contaminating "clean areas" of luggage with dirty clothes. I know my wife wouldn't, but she's bordering on OCD. From the OP's wording I suspect the OP is similar to my wife, but I don't know for sure.
    – AndyT
    Commented Aug 10, 2017 at 11:31

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