So you were smart enough to remember to take a nice big tough bin liner on your travels to carry your dirty clothes in to keep them separate from your clean clothes.

Now it's laundry day. So just take that big bag of stinky clothes to the laundromat etc.

Now the wash is finished so it's time to get your clothes. Umm isn't that handy bin liner still pretty stinky? Do I really want to put my fresh washing back in there?

What would our smart travellers do?

It might make a difference if you've washed and dried your clothes vs. if they're still wet and you're going to go hang them out.

Even if you can go back in time and pack two bin liners you'll hit the same problem on your second laundry day.


Some variables have become apparent, which probably means there are two to four right answers with a different strategy being optimal depending on your travel mode.

  • Whether you're travelling with a suitcase vs backpacking
  • Whether you're travelling light or heavy (or ultra light or ultra heavy I suppose)

In my case I'm backpacking and travelling very heavy. My strategy is to use my trips as a workout. Carrying lots of gear gets me much more in shape than when I'm a lazy geek at home. Last trip I lost 15kg. Most of my gear is socks, shirts, and undies. When I see I'm about to run out of any item I do a big load of laundry. Roughly once per month. This helps stretch the funds when on a long trip with a small budget too.

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    Doesn't packing two bags solve the problem completely? Reserve one for clean clothes and refill the other one with dirty clothes. Works fine for any number of laundry days. Commented Sep 5, 2016 at 3:18
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    I put dirty clothes in those ubiquitous plastic grocery bags. Commented Sep 5, 2016 at 4:12
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    @LightnessRacesinOrbit: I'm walking/hitchhiking long distance in tropical areas and sometimes have to stash dirty/sweaty stuff while still damp until laundry day. Not sure if damp qualifies as leaking to you. Not sure if you want to come sniff my laundry bag either. Commented Sep 5, 2016 at 14:44
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    @hippietrail: Nope, that explains it! Ew! :) Commented Sep 5, 2016 at 15:00
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    Kudos for the 23 kilos total, anyway. You're totally crazy ;-D
    – motoDrizzt
    Commented Sep 5, 2016 at 16:04

10 Answers 10


I throw my dirty laundry bag in with my clothes when I wash them. Of course, if your term "bin liner" means a plastic garbage bag then that might not work, as I use a nylon drawstring bag.

  • Yeah when travelling ultra light this becomes easier at the cost of more frequent laundry days. I'm travelling ultra heavy. Time to add some details to my question. But it's looking like there's solid criteria for multiple right answers! Commented Sep 5, 2016 at 3:38
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    I suppose it depends on how big of nylon bag you use. I could go a couple of weeks and still have room in the dirties bag (an old extra large sleeping bag sack).
    – user13044
    Commented Sep 5, 2016 at 4:12
  • Ah OK we use these bags at the hostel I work in but only rather small ones and we use them for another purpose. I never realized they also come in larger sizes. Commented Sep 5, 2016 at 4:21
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    A stuff sack is the thing you put stuff in and then compress so that it takes up (much) less space in your main pack. Commented Sep 5, 2016 at 6:49
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    The "stuff sack" is usually what the sleeping bag comes in when you buy it. Some stuff sacks come with compression straps to make them even smaller, as Michael Hampton mentioned, but not all. The sleeping bag storage sack is something sold as an accessory for storing your bag when not in use to allow the loft to be maintained. Of course, mind you, my terms are American market usage, so UK or EU or Australia based posters might use slightly different terminology.
    – user13044
    Commented Sep 5, 2016 at 7:24

I have laundry bags made of cotton. They are washable but actually if you wash once a week or every other week (that's what I am doing, not sure this is an option for you), they don't get too stinky in the first place (I think that synthetic fibers and especially water-tight plastic bags tend to get stinky faster).

I haven't actually tested that, though, as I try to fold and repack my clothes in my regular bag ASAP.

  • I never thought of these. One advantage of the bin liner is that it contains stink and dirt as it fills up so I can put it in my backpack dirty but compartmentalized until wash day without tainting other stuff in my backpack. What do you do for this? Commented Sep 5, 2016 at 8:22
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    @hippietrail I don't usually have really dirty clothes, mostly underwear I wore for a day and some such so I am not too concerned about containing dirt. If I go hillwalking for example, I would rinse and dry my trousers on the same night (even if I don't wash them completely).
    – Relaxed
    Commented Sep 5, 2016 at 8:25
  • In my case long distance hitchhiking/walking in the tropics, the main problem is sweat. Commented Sep 5, 2016 at 8:29

Simply buy two lightweight laundry bags. One for dirty laundry and one for the clean one. They're usually made out of nylon, but I'm sure you can find cotton options as well.

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  • See how helpful it is to include a picture! Thanks for the extra effort Jonathan. Commented Sep 5, 2016 at 16:10

This is what I do on multi-day hiking trips:

I put dirty clothes in those ubiquitous plastic grocery bags.

Plastic grocery bags

They're large enough to hold a couple of pairs of jeans or a large towel with some space left over. And if they develop a hole or tear, they're easily replaced.

They're ridiculously easy to get hold of in many places in the world. Just go buy food at a market somewhere, which you were probably going to do anyway. Or drop by my kitchen and I'll give you a few dozen.

This won't work in places that have banned such bags, like Rwanda or San Francisco.

  • The whole EU is pushing hard to discourage using them incidentally (not an outright ban but quantitative targets so that in many countries shops are not allowed to give them away for free and are moving towards other type of bags).
    – Relaxed
    Commented Sep 5, 2016 at 6:59
  • Certainly. This won't work forever, as I expect most everywhere will tax or ban them outright eventually. But all the "reusable" bags I buy keep disappearing, while I always manage to have so many of the "environmentally unfriendly" plastic bags that I can't find uses for them all. Commented Sep 5, 2016 at 7:02
  • Plastic bags banned? really? Seems extreme. Here in England they've introduced a mandatory charge of 5p/bag in the shops. You can always get one if you need one, but they're not quite free so people now mostly re-use them until they break.
    – nigel222
    Commented Sep 7, 2016 at 13:00

With certain caveats: turn your bin bag inside-out.

Main caveat is that the outside of the bin bag must be reasonably clean. So, no good if you've carried it 5 miles through a duststorm to the laundry. Probably fine if it lives in your backpack and then you've carried it down the corridor of a hostel.

Secondary caveat: if you put wet clean laundry in it, it'll be wet, so you'll need to turn it back outside-out and dry it along with the laundry.

As far as I remember I've only used this technique when the main problem is mud rather than stink. But since the reason you're using the bin bag in the first place is that it's stink-proof this ought to work.

  • I'm actually trying this method right now. I have it airing inside out but I'm a bit worried I could confuse in- and out- sides, so I'm seeing how it goes. (-: Commented Sep 5, 2016 at 8:56
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    @hippietrail: if you can't tell the difference between the two sides, either you're anosmic or both sides are "clean enough" :-) Commented Sep 5, 2016 at 9:06
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    @hippietrail Turn the bag inside-out while you empty it into the machine (bonus: this is also the easiest way to empty the bag), so the smelly side can air off faster. I think the stink comes from bacteria etc, and so helping the moisture on the smelly side to dry off faster helps the bacteria to die off faster. (do still give the bag a clean when you get back to your room though, else after a few cycles it could turn into an interesting biology experiment...) Commented Sep 5, 2016 at 17:50
  • Good point about the bacteria. It's basically the bacteria that feed on the sweat and excrete it back out, well along with other smells. So the longer damp sweaty stuff in enclosed the more it "ferments". I'm actually trying the inside-out technique this time to see how it goes. Commented Sep 6, 2016 at 4:17

Not speaking from experience, but you could take a towel and wrap the clean clothes in it until you can clean or organize a new bag. That's probably what I would do.

Besides, every traveller should have a nice big towel with him/her. :)

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    Great point and an other good use for the big towels so many people seem to feel needed. +1
    – Willeke
    Commented Sep 5, 2016 at 20:21
  • Actually I often wrap more stinky / more damp items in a more dry item. I have one large and one small towel on this trip. The last couple of trips I had two large towels and I'm definitely missing the spare. Commented Sep 6, 2016 at 4:20

Bring your suitcase to the laundromat, and put your clean clothes in it. Optionally, fold them first.

  • Suitcase? How would you hitchhike around the world with a suitcase? Oops I guess I left out a detail (-: Commented Sep 5, 2016 at 3:36
  • @hippietrail: Well, your backpack then, or whatever you normally use to carry your clothes. Commented Sep 5, 2016 at 3:38
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    Yeah in my case my backpack is a pain to repack. I like to do it in the comfort of my room. Probably because it's large and stuffed. People travelling light probably don't have such a problem. I added some more details. It's a good answer though. Commented Sep 5, 2016 at 3:46

Everything's stinky goes in the stinky bag (a simple plastic bag). And most often the stinky bag goes always in one specific backpack folder.

Everything else, being clean, wet or not, goes directly in another backpack folder, no need for a plastic bag. I mean, it's simple: dirty things with dirty things, clean things with clean things.


I find that bringing the whole roll of bin liners would help, as they are not small, and can cater for a large number of days.

  • That's somewhat overkill. A roll of bin liners is not small, not light and not at all necessary. Commented Sep 5, 2016 at 15:06
  • This is what I mean:binlinersdirect.com/media/catalog/product/cache/1/image/500x500/…
    – Sidsy
    Commented Sep 5, 2016 at 15:25
  • Yep, that's what I thought you meant! Commented Sep 5, 2016 at 15:33
  • Strange, they are pretty small and light
    – Sidsy
    Commented Sep 5, 2016 at 15:43
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    OMFG too many bags what am I to do? How about keep a few and just leave the rest behind. I am sure whatever hotel/hostel/random kind strangers household you stay in will make use of them.
    – rom016
    Commented Sep 6, 2016 at 11:46

I use a series of ziplock bags, often collected into one plastic grocery bag, a bin lines or these days one of the thin foldable bags you can buy instead of plastic bags.
The very smelly things go into one ziplock, the clothes which have been used but are not really dirty in an other. The longer between laundry days, the more bags in use.
All those ziplock bags go into the bigger bag.

After emptying into the washing machine the ziplock bags are zipped closed, keeping the smell inside.
The clean clothes (dried if possible, wet if not) go into the bigger bag, which is still clean smelling.
If the clothes go in wet, the bigger bag goes on the line with the clean clothes.

But as it always rains when I put any laundry to the open air, even in a desert, I prefer dry my clothing in a machine.

For shorter travels I use the same ziplock bags system collected in a bigger bag, only to come home with me before laundry day. Ziplock bags often start the trip holding other things, like left-over food when traveling by train or gifts for friends which might get lost if loose in the backpack or suitcase.

I do not see any difference in how I handle laundry in my luggage between traveling with a back-pack, with a suitcase. Nor in using hostels or staying in homes of friends.
When using hotels I tend to bring more and not do laundry while traveling. I have never been traveling hotels for more than 3 weeks though.

This might not fit with your 'one bag' requirement. But that is because I feel that just one container is not enough for dirty and clean laundry in a single case or pack.

  • No this is great. This is my first trip with ziplock bags but I didn't bring any for laundry. I'm using them for chargers, adapters, cables, connectors; phrasebooks and dictionaries; passport and documents; even for the laptops now. My peculiar mode of travel has lead to all kinds of damage to things due to sweat penetration, but also due to rain (-: Commented Sep 6, 2016 at 5:18

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