Staying Clean

Keeping yourself & your clothes clean when overlanding

It’s a cruel fact of life that sometimes, we have to wash our own underwear.  By hand.  When we’ve not showered for three days.

You may find your sartorial elegance compromised when overlanding.  Ordinarily, I wouldn’t be seen dead in a pair of lightweight quick drying comfort slacks, but I learnt to my cost that jeans aren’t easy to hand wash, and rarely dry overnight.  They also aren’t the choicest item of clothing for a long drive day.

Keeping yourself (relatively) clean when bush camping isn’t too tricky, but will probably involve some compromise!

Bunk house, Kyrgyzstan. No shower but a wonderful thermal spring.


In ordinary life, I cannot abide wet wipes.  I can see they have a purpose in some situations, namely babies faces/bottoms/hands.  But otherwise, you’ll be hard pushed to find a wet wipe near me, except when I’m overlanding.  Then it’s all about the wet wipe!

Cleaning your body when camping

Wet wipes quickly become part of your everyday life when you’re bush camping, and you can’t imagine a day without them.  Although I still maintain I think they are the work of the devil and do nothing good for your face except move dirt and grime around and give you bad skin.

We were able to pick them up very easily in every country we went to.  They seem to be a universal item.  Get a big stash and accept that you will loathe the smell of them within a few days!

In addition to this spray deodorant, aka shower in a can, or a ‘body spray’ can help get you through your a day. If time allows, you might have an opportunity for a flannel wash in your tent.  It all depends on the climate.  When it’s hot and dusty in the desert, don’t bother.  And definitely don’t bother breaking out a clean shirt or trousers/dress etc.  Waste. Of. Time.

Cleaning your face when camping

I have fairly good skin, occasionally it grumbles at me but not often. The worst it’s even been was in the first few weeks of bush camping.

Wet wipes are not your friend – at least, not for your face. Much better to invest (and it is an investment) in some micellar water and good cotton wool. My favourite is Bioderma, others of note are by L’Oreal, and Garnier.

I wear contact lenses and found ‘washing’ (and I use that term very loosely) with wipes not only felt like it was smearing suntan lotion, sweat and dirt around my face it felt like I was smearing it over my eyes as well. This meant my eyes were often irritated through the day and very uncomfortable. Another reason not to use ‘cleansing’ wipes on your face.

I found it was hard to wash my face with a wash and water, combination of resources (water isn’t to be wasted), time and facilities. In the end, I found this solution worked best for me and I could do it easily and simply on the road. In fact, I did in the truck!

I used the following:
1. Clarins Pure Melt Cleansing Gel   This starts as a gel and turns to and oil as you rub it onto your skin. I felt this worked better than a balm which is too oily and heavy, or a cream. It lasts ages.
2. Muslin or very thin flannel, you need something that can dry quickly but is cotton.
That’s it.

Apply the cleanser to dry face, I found it could be used over my eyes no problem, massage until it becomes and oil. Dampen/wet your muslin or flannel from your water bottle or swill it in a little water in a bowl.
Wipe off.
Dampen muslin again and wipe off.

This meant my eyes were clean when I put my contacts in. So too was my face.
I then applied a little of face oil, moisturiser or just suntan lotion.

This was quick, could be done en route without spilling water and through the day my facecloth dried.


Travel is where ‘quick drying’ and lightweight merino wool clothing comes into its own.  Okay, hell may well freeze over before quick drying zip off trousers/pants are on the catwalk, but you can’t beat them for being able to do what they say: dry quickly.

I’ve lost count of the nights I’ve spent lying awake in a cheap hotel with a variety of wet clothing strewn around a room praying the air-conditioning will dry them by the morning.

Soap Options

Chances are you’ll start your trip using a liquid detergent designed for travel.  It’s highly concentrated and rinses easily.  When this runs out you’ll move on to whatever you can a) get your hands on b) is in a small packet c) you can read the writing d) has the least chance of bleaching or disintegrating your clothing.

Powder is good, but it’s worth keeping an eye out for a solid bar of laundry soap.  Something like Sunlight.  You may find variations of this on your travels.  Good for tackling stains and erm….particularly fragrant areas of your clothing.

Sink or Washbag?

I took a Scrubba wash bag with me but found in the end that I preferred the hotel sink or bath (back breaking!).  If it’s acceptable to store on the truck it’s worth picking up a plastic tub to hand wash in when you’re camped up for a few days  – and water is plentiful.

Laundry Service

When we stayed in a hotel many of us crumbled and sent clothes out to be laundered – with varying levels of success.   Often the cost was fairly low to have your clothes laundered by the hotel or a local laundry service and if you’re only in Lhasa for a few days don’t waste an afternoon scrubbing your smalls!

If it’s an item you’re particularly keen on don’t risk it to someone else, items of clothing can get damaged.  It’s a risk, and a fellow traveller had a favourite t-shirt returned with a bleached imprint of a hand on the shoulder! On the whole there were few problems and returning to your room to see a pile of freshly laundered clothes stacked on your bed is worth it.  Until you realise many hadnt been washed, just lightly ironed!  Grrrr….!

Laundry Kit

My suggested laundry kit is:

1. A twisted elastic washing line with hooks.  The sucker pads are rarely strong enough to hold a line of wet washing, and the hooks can be used to tuck into the line to alter the length and tension.  As its twisted you can tuck you clothes into the line so no need for pegs.

2. Two x universal basin plug in 2 different sizes, you’ll leave one in a hotel, for sure!

3. Concentrated travel wash – you need a small amount and it rinses easily or bar of laundry soap and a container for it, but it’s usually very easy to find laundry powder on your travels.

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Much of the information and advice expressed on this website is the personal opinion of the writer. If you choose to follow any advice you do so at your own risk with no recourse to the writer or Adventures in Overland.