Some links in this article are ‘affiliate links’ which means we may earn a small commission if you chose to purchase something from the link. Don’t worry, it costs you nothing extra. Learn more.

You know how cruisers say that cruising is just fixing your boat in exotic location? I’d argue that when you’re cruising with your family, cruising can turn into ‘doing endless amounts of laundry in exotic locations’. Don’t let THAT boat be you! There are steps you can take to tame the laundry beast so you can enjoy your time cruising with your family.

1. Go naked = less stuff to wash.

  • Ok, not really…

1. Make smart clothing choices.

Help yourself even before doing your first load. You can make choices that will help you save resources and, overall, do less laundry.

  • Choose dry-fit clothing. Yes, they are not the cheapest choices, but find them on sale and they will become your favorite things for your crew to wear. They are light weight and take almost nothing to wash and dry, and THAT is the true winner my friends.
  • Bathing suits work as clothing in tropical climates. Train your kids to take off their PJs in the morning and put on a bathing suit. Period. It’s probably hot and they’ll soon be in the water anyway. Why dirty a set of clothes? Embrace wearing bathing suits.
  • Redefine dirty. Depending on your land laundry habits, this might be a tough one. Think about this…if everyone in your crew wears one outfit a day and PJs at night, that’s two sets of clothes per person per day. How much laundry do you want to do on your family adventure? You’d rather be enjoying family activities and making memories rather than doing laundry, right? So…if it doesn’t smell and it doesn’t have stains, it’s fine. Promise.
  • Designate ‘project clothes’. Project outfits are the ones that are ok to get nasty. These are the ones soaked in sweat and other stinky things. These are not clothes you wear to go meet people. These are the clothes in which you get stuff done. Each crew member should have an outfit, and when the outfit gets even too nasty for project clothes, make it into rags. 

2. Towels, bedding, and dish towels. Oh my!

As you know, laundry isn’t just clothing, and this category of laundry can drive you mad on a boat.

  • Dish and hand towels.  On land, you probably had some kind of rotation for washing these. Same thing on a boat, except, dish towels especially, tend to smell if not dried after use. Thankfully, it’s a simple problem to overcome. Clip the towel to the lifelines and let it bake in the sun and blow in the wind until dry. That’s it! Of course, every so often, you still have to wash them, but hanging them extends time between washings.
  • Towels. During our first year, ‘towel’ was a dirty word. Every towel was always in some stage of dampness because anything with a little bit of salt water on it will never dry. Not ever. Eventually we found a solution. Each person has two towels: a beach towel that is deemed an ‘outside towel’, and a bath towel that stays inside for fresh water showers only. Learn from our ‘towel hell’ and set up a towel system early. 
  • Bedding. How often did you wash your sheets on land? It is probably more often than you’ll wash them on your boat. If it helps, know that everyone will usually be really clean when they go to bed because they’ll have had a freshwater deck shower after their day of fun. Sheets are big and difficult to wash well without a land-type washing machine. It is possible though, and you can use your jib sheets to hang them dry. Just make sure you have clothespins that open large enough to clip on sheets, but close tight enough to hold on to lifelines too. These are my favorites, but admittedly they’re pricey, so I use what I have, and when I need more, I replace them with the good stainless steel ones.

When we reach a destination with a decent laundromat (that won’t send us to poor house – some are crazy expensive), it is usually THIS category of laundry that sends me there. A good hot washing and drying of your towels and sheets will seriously make you want to hug the machines when you’re done. Sleeping on fresh sheets is magical, isn’t it?

3. Choose your method.

Things to consider before choosing your laundry method: Do you have access to plenty of fresh water, like a water maker? If not, your method of choice will need to focus on water conservation. Do you have enough space for a device or machine? If not, your method will need to use something collapsable or multi-purpose. Do you have sufficient solar to power an electric machine? If not, your method will rely on ‘elbow grease’.

There are more methods and devices out there to do your laundry than the following recommended ones, but a) I’ve tried it and I wouldn’t recommend it, b) I haven’t tried it because it’s too yucky, or c) I haven’t tried it because I don’t have the device.

  • The bucket method. I do not love this method, but it’s the tried and true cruiser classic, and it gets the job done. Carolyn from The Boat Galley has already written a post explaining how to do this, so here is a link to her post. I also encourage you to let your kids help you agitate the clothes in the bucket, especially with a one of these hand powered clothes washing wands. I took Carolyn’s advice, purchased it, and we love it. The kids even think it’s a fun thing to do…for awhile.
  • The boat washing spindryer machine. This is the method I choose most often. We were blessed with an old AC Daewoo Washer Spindryer already installed on our boat when we bought her. We have enough solar and an inverter to power it, a watermaker to fill it, and space to house it in our spare cabin. (P.S. THIS is what helped me understand that, contrary to popular belief, charter layouts really are better. I’ve met some cruisers who have repurposed a spare bathroom to a laundry room. You have options when you have the room.) A washer spindryer is a good machine: few moving parts and does what it claims. It’s very similar to this one on Amazon and for $100 (and currently free shipping), it’s a great buy. Here are a few tips when doing laundry with a washer spindryer:
    • Follow your manufacturer’s guidelines, which are probably available online.
    • When you start a cycle, make sure your tub setting is closed so you don’t mistakenly pour precious freshwater, literally, down the drain.
    • Using minimal detergent is best. We only use 1/4 cup liquid detergent and the setting that agitates clothes for 12 minutes. Plenty of time.
      • The beauty with this method is that while the machine’s cycle is agitating, you can be doing something else! 😁
    • During your rinse cycle, you should have very minimal suds. If you still have some, you’ve used too much detergent (just do an additional rinse and use less next time).
    • We love the spin dryer! Work in small batches. 3 minutes of spinning gets our stuff almost completely dry. It takes ~3 spin dry batches per load of laundry for my machine. Hanging everything on the lifelines for another hour in the sun and you’re golden. 
      • The only exception is towels. I worry about their weight in the spin dryer and, instead, wring them by hand. Towels take exceptionally longer to dry.
    • I don’t recommend doing more than one load of laundry a day. You’ll run out of drying room on your lifelines.
    • Take advantage of sunny mornings. You never know if you’ll have enough sun and wind later to help the clothes dry before dinner.

Can you just save your laundry to do on land?

Depending on what type of cruiser you are, you might have access to good, affordable laundromats often, and if you do, take advantage! We, however, don’t and consider laundromats a luxury. 

With a family’s worth of laundry, you can easily spend +$20 for a few loads at a good laundromat, but I’ve paid +$40 to wash and dry three loads at a not-so-nice establishment, but they were the only place in town, and the sheets and towels could probably have walked to the laundromat themselves, so it was time. 

Don’t misunderstand. Laundromats are a necessity that we all must visit eventually, but the fewer times we visit, the more money we have to continue cruising with our families.

P.S. Sign up to receive more shareworthy info and tips about living on a boat via our weekly newsletter. And don’t worry. I won’t SPAM you. I don’t share your email address either. I only send you an email once a week that shares notables that every cruising family can use with top posts and timely tips that don’t necessarily get published on the site. Let us help you save time. We’ve done the work so you can just do what you love…spend time cruising with your family!

More Doing Laundry On A Boat Resources: