Clothes and Laundry


Living on a boat comes with some restrictions in storage and living space – to put it mildly. Long gone are the days of browsing through my selection of tops hanging in neat rows on individual hangers. On board Camille my clothes are crammed into a couple of bins set atop the closet. Yes, we do have a few  nice closets, with shelves and room to hang things, but that space is taken up by food, tools and spare parts.

Our Wardrobe ~ Mike and I were lucky to have had very relaxed jobs where jeans and t-shirt were the norm, so switching to shorts and T-shirts/tanks was easy and our basic wardrobe hasn’t change much. At work we used to wear flip-flops in the summer and we are now barefoot most of the time.

Towels ~ Towels require a mention of their own because they are used daily and take up a lot of space. We don’t like to use those small camping towels – we’re not camping after all – so we mostly have normal terry towels that claim to be fast drying. We have beach towels, shower towels, towels to sit on in the cockpit and the dinghy, towels to clean the deck, towels to wipe our feet… the list is endless. And they all have to be washed!

Warm Clothing ~ We keep warm clothes on board because it can get pretty chilly at night out on the ocean – even in the tropics. When not in use warm clothes are stored in vacuum bags to save space and keep them from getting mildewy.

Storing Laundry ~ Dirty laundry takes up a lot of space in a small boat. We now tend to wear clothes a lot longer before they are deemed “dirty”. Once dirty they are put in a small basket on the seat in our cabin. When the basket gets full clothes are transfered to a canvas bag which gets stuffed under our bed until laundry day. If we are transferring laundry to shore by dinghy it is loaded into dry bags to keep the saltwater out.

Laundry Options ~ Some bigger boats (like my parents’ boat Prana) have marine washers on board, which are a washer and dryer in one unit. We don’t have enough space aboard Camille for such extravagances. We can either do laundry by hand, at a laundromat, or have someone else do it.

Laundry at the Laundromat ~ Here in Mexico it’s quite affordable to have someone else do our laundry, which is what we usually tend to do. At some marinas our laundry gets picked up, washed, fluffed and folded, and dropped off the next day – and it only costs about about $1-$2 more per load than doing it at the laundromat ourselves.

Laundry at Anchor ~ When we are at anchor for long periods of time I wash a few things by hand in between laundry days. I wait until we are making water so I don’t have to feel bad about using too much. I fill the kitchen sink with water, add some light detergent and ammonia, rub them together a bit and then let things soak for an hour or so. Next I drain the water, put in the dish drainer and start rinsing (the dish drain keeps clothes from stopping up the drain). While I’m rinsing individual items the items below are getting their first rinsing and by the time I get to the bottom of the pile everything has been rinsed pretty well already. Then I wrap them around the faucet and twist until most of the water it out and hang them on the rail.

Using Saltwater for Laundry ~ Being surrounded by water makes you think that doing laundry should be easy on a boat. Unfortunately, salt water leaves a moist residue when not completely rinsed with fresh water, wasting more water than simply using fresh to begin with.

Don’t Try This at Home ~ When my parents and I sailed from Germany to California, when I was in my teens, we didn’t have the luxury of a watermaker. During out Atlantic crossing, I tried doing laundry by putting it into a mesh-bag and dragging it behind the boat. To add soap I drizzled it into the water and hoped it would run through the mesh-bag. Not only did the bag just skip above the surface but I nearly lost all my clothes!


  • For small items I use a carousel clothes dryer. It holds a lot of items, folds down small and is easy to load.
  • Ammonia is great because it doesn’t suds up and is therefore easy to rinse out – it’s also great at neutralizing any unwanted scents.
  • I love the grip clip clothes hangers! One will hold a towel all by itself. Also great for hanging up sarongs to make shade. I bought mine a Fred Meyer’s but they are also available at Walmart, K-Mart and Amazon.


This post was written as part of a blog-hop. Visit the Monkey’s Fist website for posts about this topic written by other cruisers or check out these topics:  

Why do we Cruise
Relationships Aboard
Pink and Blue Jobs Aboard
Leave it or Bring it: Stuff
Swag and Approaching the Natives

6 Responses

  1. Oh neat! Cool idea with the raft up.

    You actually taught me alot with this post. Like I said before I doubt we’ll have watermaker, at least not in the first year, so washing clothes may have to be by rain water when we have an abundance.

    I imagine we’ll try to wear close to nothing during that first year! ha.

    Cool post.

  2. A ‘raft up’! What a cool idea. During our summer cruising we have limited time and I don’t want to spend that time in a laundromat, so I use a tupperware tub with a tight fitting lid and a drop or two of dawn dishwashing soap. I put clothes, water, and soap in the tub and put the lid on, then we go sailing or motoring and the vibration ‘agitates’ the tub. I’m thinking of taking a plunger next time to be able to agitate the clothes without the help of the boat. If we have a full water tank, I’ll use fresh water, but if we don’t I use salt water for the wash, then rinse in fresh water. I like the idea of using ammonia. Maybe I’ll give that a try.

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