On many travel shows such as No Reservations I've noticed the people in remote villages in third world countries (most frequently in parts of Africa) who come to greet the host are almost always dressed in clothing (whether traditional or manufactured) so bright and clean that it quite frankly puts mine to shame. Living in a place with no running/purified water or detergent, and no ability to simply walk to the store to buy a fresh set of clothes for a special occasion, how are these people able to keep their garments so fantastically spotless and bright? Is this a trick of television editing, makeup/costume designer intervention, or some other reality-obscuring action? Has Tide been lying to me my whole life about needing their products to keep my colors fresh? Or am I simply completely ignorant of how these people actually live? (For the record I'm guessing the last of those options is the correct one.) I could imagine that perhaps they take huge pride in themselves and always keep a practically-new outfit tucked away for the inevitable high-status visit, but to be honest, I'm guessing.

Edit: To put it more succinctly and on-topic... If one were to travel to these types of locations, would one see a similar scene to what is on the aforementioned shows? If not, why? For the record I have no idea what tags would apply to this, so please feel free to help me out in that department.

  • 8
    This question appears to be off-topic because it is about laundry. Jun 24, 2014 at 13:56
  • 2
    Honestly I didn't know where else to ask it. Until someone creates laundry.se that is! Though to be fair this isn't specifically about laundry, rather the cultural impact of travel shows both on the viewer and the people who live in these places.
    – thanby
    Jun 24, 2014 at 14:03
  • 1
    I think that the mechanical action of a washing machine is just as important as detergent. After all, people did not wait for modern times to wash clothes (but it was/is significant work).
    – Relaxed
    Jun 24, 2014 at 14:26
  • 1
    @MarkMayo That was just a joke, please see my edit. The question is not literally about laundry but about things observed while traveling in a third world country, and how that would compare to what is shown on travel shows.
    – thanby
    Jun 24, 2014 at 15:17
  • 1
    Are you specifically talking about the Masaai people? They're known for their distinctive bright clothing. Very easy to boost this in post production + a many tribes put on better effort for TV production companies. No production company will "just" show up, there's entire crews to make sure the visuals pop, everything is in place, etc. They have to! Jun 24, 2014 at 21:48

3 Answers 3


This is based on my experience living in Sierra Leone for close to a year, I can't speak for anywhere else in the world but I suspect this is typical. A few differences from existing answers:

  • Clothes here are phenomenally clean every day of the week (not just Sundays or Fridays), school uniforms especially. People do have Sunday and Friday Best, but that's in terms of the clothes themselves, not the cleanliness which is consistent all week.
  • People tend to hand-wash using cheap imported soaps (so it's not just some magic handmade soap that makes the difference). Don't underestimate how far into the bush certain imported goods reach, though the very remote villages make their own too. Simple things like leftover fat from cooking can work as a soap.
  • The difference is visible indoors and outdoors, on light, bright and dark clothes, and against colourful backdrops, it's not just an optical illusion (though bright sunlight does really bring it out and make it show)

The difference seems to be hard work, hard scrubbing, and more attention paid to little habits that help keep clothes clean. Meticulous cleanliness of clothes seems to be a point of family pride, i.e. if you go out looking at all dirty, it reflects badly on your family, not just you. So they really do go above and beyond.

Since washing machines are both expensive and impractical, and unemployment is high, we hire a local housekeeper to clean our clothes. She hand-scrubs them meticulously, and they really do come back cleaner than from a washing machine. They also occasionally come back stretched a little... which shows how rigorous her scrubbing is.

It's the hard work that makes the difference, but there are also some other little habits I've noticed that contribute, for example:

  • Putting things on the floor, even indoors, even temporarily, seems to be quite taboo here.
  • Local people seem to be more careful about where they step. For example, they'll habitually walk in the road, out of the dust that builds up on the side of the road, trusting cars to weave around them, whereas I'll keep off the road even if that means walking through dust. Result: their shoes stay amazingly clean, mine get dusty very quickly.
  • When carrying heavy items, I'll tend to carry them in my arms with the weight against my chest, whereas locals will tend to carry them on their heads, or if that's not possible, over a shoulder or just in their hands. I get dust, dirt and grime on my shirt, they don't.
  • People seem to be a little more careful about wearing scruffy old clothes when doing dirty activities or using rags etc to keep clean with, then changing back. Similar to, say, my grandparents' generation.

Somehow, local people manage to keep their shoes clean even during the rainy season when half the country is mud. I've tried to work out how they manage that, but I haven't managed it yet.


In many parts of the world, including remote villages of 3rd world nations, people have a special set of clothes, their "Sunday go to meeting" outfit. Clothes that they wear only on special occasions, a village ceremony, going to the temple, the marriage of their children or the death of their parents. Sometimes these outfits are simply a nice sarong or a colorful shirt, sometimes they are full ensembles. They usually get hand-washed after being worn, neatly folded and stored away until their next use. And the arrival of a TV crew from another country would be grounds for the villagers to break out their Sunday go to meeting outfits.

  • 1
    The people on the shows have clothing that looks like it's straight out of the store (or straight off the loom in the case of hand-made garments) that's even brighter than the "Sunday best" I'm familiar with, as if it's never been worn at all and often times looks severely out of place for the surroundings (how does one living in a mud hut get a hold of brand new soccer jerseys, after all, let alone keep them in perfect condition... but I digress). Is that the trick of video editing? I guess I'm confused how they would keep something so clean while lacking purified water.
    – thanby
    Jun 24, 2014 at 16:46

This is really late, but no the clothes are so bright because they hands ash with handmade soap. I recently returned from Haiti and yes their whites were somehow whiter than my clothes with bleach. Their soap is homemade and lacks all the chemicals of ours. Plus the hand washing means you can focus on stains better unlike a washing machine.

  • Not to mention that hand scrubbing applies more friction than sloshing about in a drum full of water and other clothes ever could.
    – phoog
    Oct 22, 2018 at 4:11

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .