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6 Techniques to Keep Your Dirty Laundry Separate When Traveling


Aug. 25, 2016 - Austin Grandt

For trips longer than a weekend you are likely moving around, unpacking and re-packing your suitcase, and using multiple sets of clothes. It can be a real challenge to keep your clothes smelling fresh after a few days as you begin to mix your clean and dirty clothes. Not keeping things separate can lead to you asking yourself, did I already wear this? I know I have worn a couple items where it was questionable if they were clean or dirty all because I didn’t keep things separate.

Keeping clean and dirty clothes separate is not only helpful for reducing cross-contamination, but also it can help reduce the amount of laundry you have do on the road. Knowing exactly what is clean and dirty can keep you from throwing your entire suitcase full of clothes into the wash because you can’t quite tell if you’ve worn those socks already.

Reducing odor in the bag also keeps you from wanting to potentially toss the bag out. This is especially true on trips where you are very active, hitting the beach, or doing sports. Everyone has had the horrific experience of pulling out that beach towel you used on the first day of the trip only to realize what a horrible, mildewy mess it has become. I shudder when I think about the last time that happened to me.

Now that we have you convinced that keeping your dirty laundry separate in your suitcase is important, let's take a look at some of the options. When writing this guide we made sure to take a few things into account:

  • Does it keep your dirty and clean clothes separate? (most important)

  • Does the solution reduce odor in the bag?

  • Is it quick, simple, and easy to do on the road?

  • Does it cost a lot of money?

  • Is it good for a backpack, roller, or duffle bag?

These are some of the most important factors that we noticed manufacturers highlighted when describing their products and that travelers asked about most frequently across the web. As we go through the solutions, we will do our best to highlight what types of bags and scenarios these solutions work well for.

Travel Packing Cubes

1. Packing Cubes

Packing cubes are some of the best ways to separate your clothes before you leave and while you are on the trip. Most often, packing cubes are simple and lightweight compartments that can be closed with your clothing inside. They come in various sizes and can be used for everything from packing sweatshirts to keeping undergarments in one cohesive spot.

Most people the utilize packing cubes will often bring a separate cube for dirty laundry in a pocket of their bag. They easily fold up and can be stored in almost any compartment. As you use clothes and the clean laundry cubes become less filled, you can add your dirty laundry packing cube into the bag and it should fit just fine. Another option is to move the items from one cube into another as you wear your clothes and free up space in your existing cubes.

Odor reduction: 3/5
Simplicity: 5/5
Bags they are good for: Roller, Duffle
Cost: $15-30 for a set

Laundry Bag

2. Laundry Bag

This one is pretty self explanatory. Bringing a small laundry bag is a really easy and simple way to separate your dirty laundry. There are even a few that are specifically made for travel, but any bag should be just fine. Whichever one you decide to go with, make sure to pick one that is sturdy and washable itself as laundry bags will often absorb smells, wetness, etc. of whatever is inside the bag.

The biggest drawback with a regular laundry bag are that they can be really awkward to pack in almost any bag. The only type of luggage they fit well in is probably a duffle due and maybe a backpack to the size and way you pack it. Trying to effectively fit a laundry bag in a roller can often turn out with you sitting on your bag to get it shut.

Odor reduction: 2/5
Simplicity: 5/5
Bags they are good for: Duffle, Backpack
Cost: $10-20

3. Fold and Compress

The fold and compress technique is pretty simple. It’s only a few steps:

  1. Bring a space bag with you

  2. Wear your clothes

  3. Re-fold them as if they were clean in the space saver bag

  4. Seal the bag

  5. Repeat

I learned about this technique when reading a travel forum. They said that they would bring one of the Ziploc travel space bags with the folded up somewhere in their suitcase. As they wore their clothes, they would fold their clothes up as if they were clean and put them in a space saver bag. This way, they could still fit everything neatly into their bag without have a clumpy mess of clothes in a laundry bag. Their argument was that this kept their suitcase tidy and didn’t leave you scratching your head how the same amount of clothes could take up so much more room.

Using a sealable bag also reduces odor and you could possibly bring a separate bag if you plan on having wet items. I have yet to try this technique but it seems to make a lot of sense as I always seem to have a lot more trouble packing my suitcase when I come home with my dirty clothes versus when I left. I would love to hear from anyone who fully utilizes these space saver bags.

Odor reduction: 5/5
Simplicity: 1/5
Bags they are good for: Roller
Cost: $8-16

Dry Bag Small

4. Dry Bags

This was one of the more ingenious ideas I came across when doing research for this writeup. I traditionally have used dry bags during canoe and camping trips to keep things like electronics dry. What some people have done is used dry bags to store their dirty clothes, especially when wet, to keep the other items in their bag in pristine condition.

For those who haven’t used a dry bag before, it is essentially a completely waterproof bag that you put items in, roll the top down to seal, and then clip together. Having a strong seal at the top is key for keeping things completely waterproof. In a dirty laundy scenario, you are actually wanting to keep the moisture in instead of out. A nice byproduct of it being completely sealed is that no odor will also escape the bag, meaning that your chances of “cross contamination” are nearly zero.

Dry bags are highly packable and can be stored in any decent sized pocket. They don’t compress quite as well as a packing cube due to the material they are made out of, but it shouldn’t add too much weight to your bag. I would suggest stashing it in the front of a carry on roller bag, but you could likely find space in a backpack or duffle as well.

Odor reduction: 5/5
Simplicity: 3/5
Bags it is good for: Duffle, Roller
Cost: $15-25

Herschel Weekender Bag

5. The Shoe Compartment

If you are like me and normally carry a duffle bag versus a roller, utilizing your shoe compartment might be an option for you. If I forgot to bring one of the above items you can utilize the shoe compartment of your duffle bag. Now, I normally carry the Herschel Weekender and the shoe compartment has saved me in a few different situations. I once took a short weekend trip where (luckily) I wasn’t carrying any other shoes and was able to stuff all of my clothes into the shoe compartment like a stuff sack.

The obvious drawback to this technique is that you won’t be able to fit many things in that compartment, especially if you are already carrying a pair of shoes in there. I found that I could fit about 1-2 days of t-shirts, underwear, and socks in there and if you really wanted to get creative you could probably fit a pair of shorts. It isn’t the most foolproof or spacious solution, but it gets the job done when you need it.

Odor reduction: 1/5
Simplicity: 5/5
Bags they are good for: Duffle
Cost: built into bag

6. A Plastic Bag

Hey, sometimes you don’t NEED to be fancy. Using a plastic bag isn’t the most elegant solution, but it can definitely get the job done in a pinch. Most hotel rooms have some sort of plastic bag you can use and you can quickly shove your clothes in a plastic bag and tie it shut.

The reason I choose to only use this in a pinch is that I have had a couple horrifying experiences when opening back after using a plastic bag. I have had swimsuits seemingly ferment in the closed off bag between the time I put my bag on the plane and got home and have had bags split wide open which essentially defeated the purpose of using one in the first place. That being said, whenever I forget a more sustainable solution, I always opt for the plastic bag.

Odor reduction: 0/5
Simplicity: 5/5
Bags they are good for: Duffle, Backpack, Roller
Cost: $0

This list is by no means exhaustive or even the best solutions that are out there on the market. I have seen some of the new generation of bags that come with a laundry bag standard or have some sort of separator built in. If you have a technique that has worked for you, I would love to hear about it and add it to the list!

Photo credit: 1, 23, 4

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