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Packing up dirty laundry

I pack light (10-12 clothing items). My suitcase is never jam packed. I have a good handle on all the light packing tips. However I cannot figure out the mystery of the expanding dirty laundry pile. If I plan to wash every 6 days and stay at each hotel 2-4 nights, that means I have to bring my dirty laundry with me on 1-2 hotel moves. This is a problem as 10 items of clean clothes seems to double in size when dirty. I hand wash underwear but prefer to wait for a laundromat or apartment with a washer for actual clothes. So the dirty clothes need to be packed up.

So - How do I pack the dirty items so that they fit in my bag, don’t make the clean stuff stinky, and are clearly separated from the clean? The size is the biggest thing. Is there a secret I’m missing here?

I do this for me and 2 children (each with his own suitcase). My husband takes care of his stuff.

Posted by
2649 posts

ask your husband he probably knows.i wopul;d just use a large polythene bag and squeeze as much air out of it as i could before i put it in my case.

Posted by
8006 posts

Fold your dirty stuff tightly and slip them in cheap plastic grocery stores bags. Push all of the air out of the grocery bag and tape tie or roll the bag closed.

Posted by
1221 posts

Heavy duty kitchen trash bags. I always have one as a bag for extra shoes and one as a laundry bag in my suitcase.

Posted by
7061 posts

I also use a strong plastic bag and squeeze as much air out as possible. I've used the 2 gallon Hefty or Glad storage bags. They are strong and you can compress them quite tightly so they lie flat on the bottom of your suitcase or backpack.

Posted by
3521 posts

I use the Flat Pack (sold here in the RS store). Put the dirty stuff in there and it seals up, you roll it and the excess air is pushed out taking up a smaller space than the items were packed separately. I carry a second one for wet stuff if I plan on doing any swimming -- put the swimsuit and towels in it and the rest of my suitcase contents don't get wet. The bags keep any odor inside and when empty take up very little space in your suitcase. I have used the same one I bought for all my travels over 10 years and it still works just like new.

Posted by
11453 posts

I use one of my packing cubes for the dirty stuff if I am in that situation. I have three packing cubes: one for bottoms, one for tops, and one for undies, when I start the trip. One of the large ones becomes a laundry bag and the others hold the clean ones in transfer. I like the brightly colored ones from Eagle Creek. They compress nicely.

You can get a cinch/zipper bag like the RS nylon tote. You can use several "grocery store" type plastic bags. The advantage of several smaller bags is being able to distribute them more easily in your suitcase.
You can use a desiccant like a foot-wear "odor-eater" to neutralize odors en route - to protect your bag and clean stuff from smell.
Carry a larger cinch type bag to make hauling your dirty stuff to the laundromat easier.

Posted by
1662 posts

Mira, I agree with Andrea in her suggestion. Maybe TJMaxx, Marshalls, Bed, Bath & Beyond, or Walmart sell similar?

A "ditty bag" which is lined is used for wet clothing or items to be laundered, etc. and is washable.

Visual example:

Does your luggage have a large, zipped front compartment? If so, perhaps you can put the laundry to be cleaned in a bag and in that compartment to keep separate from your other things.

Or, here's another suggestion: or

The Lavender or Vanilla are not overwhelming or choking with a scent.

Posted by
1861 posts

I also use a small laundry bag. To cut down on dirty clothes smells invading my clean clothes I take a couple of scented dryer sheets and keep those in the bag.

Posted by
2712 posts

We use trash bags that are treated with Febreeze (they are widely available). That seems to make a difference.

Posted by
2467 posts

Get a Glad kitchen trash bag that has been trated with Febreeze

Posted by
2481 posts

My clean clothes are in packing cubes, and my dirty clothes are added to the "big laundry roll". The base is a teeshirt (always my base layer), and other clothes are place on top, flat, then the whole thing rolled up. Takes up minimum room, and easy to place in a tote bag to take to laundromat.

Posted by
1229 posts

Without having read every response (so, sorry if I repeat), you say your bag is never jam packed, so if the dirty clothes are somehow bigger, who cares? Sounds like what you are looking for is a way to keep them separate and keep the smell separate. How do you pack your other clothes? Cubes? I (and my kids and hubby) use 1-2 gallon Ziplocs for categories of clothing (undies, shirts, shorts, etc), then everyone has a small stuff sack (not SMALL small, so maybe medium) for dirty clothes. I just shove them in there and shove tight. Because clean clothes are in plastic, there is no cross contamination of smells (or spills of lotions, shampoo, whatever) ever. Being totally honest, I roll my eyes at people who say they use packing cubes over Ziplock bc Ziplock are slippery. Um. They are cheap, effective, keep smells and spills out, and can be air packed. Shrug.

Posted by
173 posts

Why not share suitcases for the clean clothes and put all of the dirty clothes in one suitcase.?

Posted by
4574 posts

I use a separate cube with some dryer sheets. I fold everything neat and tidy so it doesn't really take up any more space than if it was clean.
but I like the idea of dedicating one suitcase to dirty laundry. Just wheel that to the laundromat.

Posted by
2122 posts

The trick, I find, is to make sure the dirty items are packed as efficiently as they were when the trip started. Roll dirty items, and put them in a separate plastic bag (as others have already posted). Often I will leverage the plastic bags in which my husband's extra pair of shoes are packed...who cares if shoes are stuffed with dirty socks or undies, etc? (Okay I will wait now for all the subsequent posts of "ewwwww gross." LOL!!)
Unless it is the middle of the summer in a very hot environment, I do not expect stinky dirty laundry....but maybe my sense of smell is not as keen.

Posted by
1309 posts

I use a compression bag for the dirty laundry.
It squeezes flat and contains any odors.
You can buy a three-pack so there would be one for you and one each for your sons in their own bags until laundry day.

Posted by
567 posts

I also put my dirty clothes in one of my packing cubes. I fold/roll them inside out so I know which ones are dirty. I bring a lightly scented dryer sheet or two to put in there until I can wash them.

Posted by
3311 posts

I bring a pillowcase and put dirty laundry in it. For a family of 4, you would probably need a pillowcase/laundry bag for each person.

Posted by
16894 posts

Remember to let clothes breathe and dry out (e.g. throw them on the floor!) at least overnight before shoving them into a plastic bag or rolling tightly.

I tend to sequester the dirty underwear but not larger clothes, since it's easier to tell the larger clothes apart and remember which have been worn the most. I'm not using packing cubes in the first place, so I don't have to worry about clothes fitting into various square spaces.

Once I'm ready to actually carry all the clothes to a laundromat, then I Iike Rick's Hideaway Tote Bag.

Posted by
3241 posts

I have an identical packing cube to the main packing cube with my clean clothes. I roll the dirty clothes into the empty one just like I would initially when packing. Volume lost in the clean clothes cube is absorbed in the dirty clothes cube.

That being said, Tom Binh has a stuff sack that has two ends, as the clean clothes move into the end for the dirty clothes, the bottom of the sack moves to accept the change in volume between divisions.

Posted by
1420 posts

Laura's right in the "let them air out first" suggestion. I usually use a drawstring bag that the other 50 weeks of the year is used to machine wash lingerie at home... that's what dirty socks and underwear goes into. I always keep it on the floor. I flop it around a couple of times a night to aerate it. If I'm lucky enough that my room has a luggage rack, it lives on the floor under the suitcase. Dirty shirts get placed in bottom of suitcase. Pants are always in a state of " I can wear these again." Last summer with a more streamlined osprey fairview 40 pack of 8 tops, 4 bottoms, one packing tube just bigger than a ream of paper served as the laundry bag

Posted by
4171 posts

Your question says, "10 items of clean clothes seems to double in size when dirty" and that size is the major issue. Dirty clothes expand because we wad them up and throw them in a bag.

My Navy vet daughter agrees with those who say fold or roll dirty clothes just like you pack the clean ones. As for isolating them from the clean clothes, I agree with plastic of some type. I'm a devotee of Eagle Creek compression cubes, but unless I'm washing the cubes as well, I don't want to put my clean clothes in a compression cube that previously held dirty ones.

Posted by
458 posts

If you decide to use a laundry bag, Container Store has some cute ones that come with their own pouch and weigh next to nothing, yet holds quite a bit of dirty laundry.

Posted by
15568 posts

You have a few choices....

Use a laundry bag and try to distribute the clothes evenly so they pack flat.

Besides the Tom Bihn item, Eagle creek makes two sided packing cubes--one for clean clothes, the other for dirty. They help to compress the clothes.

Posted by
1061 posts

I hate taking time to do laundry, so I pack stuff I can have the hotel staff clean (or wherever they take it). Turn it in right after you check in, and have it back in a day or so (unless Sunday's involved). If the trip's over 2 weeks I usually send stuff home with my laundry and buy local to replace it. I buy and throw away socks; the Euro Store is my friend. Thrift stores too. Clothes are cheap, time is not.

(FYI I judge the cost of taking time to do laundry at $100/hr at my vacation rate. Considering it takes at least 2 hours to do a load the break even point is pretty ugly. This is also how I justify paying a cleaner.)

Posted by
5697 posts

Well, unlike KGC, one thing I hate worse than doing laundry (sink or laundromat) is spending time in stores looking to buy specific boring items like socks. (Aimlessly wandering through street markets, however ...) Different strokes.
Zip-loc bags with air pressed out for underwear, t-shirts; pants tightly rolled up and shoved in any spare corner of suitcase.

Posted by
10337 posts

I do my hand washing either late at night or early in the morning. I try to stay somewhere with a washer whenever possible, and again I do my laundry early or late. I don't want to take time away from my day.

Posted by
2768 posts

Thanks for all the suggestions. I’ll be looking into various laundry bags - I like the idea of a dedicated space. Also I never really considered folding dirty items. I mean, I flatten them but I never actually folded, because at home I just toss them in the hamper. Sounds obvious now, but I never really thought of it.

I do re wear things when possible. That depends on dirt, sweat, and how clumsy I am with gelato. Or wine.

I usually stay in apartments and choose ones with washers at least half the time. So I’ll do a load in at siesta or before dinner, hang it up to dry before bed (I’ve never had a dryer in Europe), and fold it the next day. This takes very little time. If I can’t find an apartment with a washer I will look for a service where they do the laundry. Drop it off in the morning, pick it up later.

Posted by
139 posts

I use a nylon laundry bag that folds into itself when not in use. I always put laundry sheets inside my backpack/luggage and they help with the smell a lot. Also I use them when using the laundromat dryer, no need to buy sheets "there". I like the Bounce brand because the fragrance last several days and can be use up to 2-3 cycles in the dryer (I know, I'm kind of cheap).

I also bring several Ziploc bags (gallon or even 2 gal size) and put the super smelly stuff in one of those.

Edit to add: I fold the dirty clothes,that way they don't take up as much space in my backpack. They're not as neat as when folded when clean, but it works for me.

Posted by
92 posts

I use two clean/dirty cubes; one for socks/underwear and one for shirts. This lets me put the cubes in the same place I put them when I packed the first time as they take up the same amount of space. I don't tend to need to wash pants, but if I need to carry a dirty pair from one location to another before washing - I turn them inside out and fold as usual. I also take the light weight version of the Scrubba for clothes washing - and could place seriously stinky items in that and lay flat in the suitcase for the journey.

Posted by
4441 posts

The non-compressible Eagle Creek(red, blue, green) wash well on the delicate/hand wash cycle.

Posted by
5 posts

I used to use just any packing cubes for my dirty laundry, however, that's really not the case. You need something that lets air in and air out. Especially when you travel in hot and humid destinations you will tell the difference.