Washing and Drying Your Clothes on El Camino

Tips and Tricks

Washing your clothes is a very important point during the Camino, but drying them efficiently is even more so. As I only had three sets of clothes with me, I had to wash them at least every other day. These clothes had to dry even in rainy weather, so that I had something to wear on the way. Here are some tips in connection with that, which can make your life easier.

At most places, there’s a washing machine, which you can use for 2-4 Euros (plus an extra 1 Euro for the washing liquid, so it’s worth having your own liquid). The tumble dryer can usually be used for 3-5 Euros. In most cases, you have to drop the coins into the machines, but sometimes you just have to give the money to the receptionist and they do the rest.
If it was possible, I washed some clothes with my hands upon arrival, and hung them up on the courtyard to dry. The only case it doesn’t work is if it’s raining, but then you can still save money by washing your clothes manually, and then use the tumble dryer together with some fellow pilgrims. I usually washed the larger items, such as pants, in the washing machine (but these didn’t have to be cleaned every day), and if the temperature was below 30 degrees, I had them dried in the tumble dryer, and so I didn’t have to carry them wet. It wasn’t a big problem, as it was enough to wash my pants on a weekly basis. Beside that, if its leg parts can be zipped off, you have the option of washing only those. It will shorten the drying time drastically, since it’s the upper part – pockets and waist - that dries slower. Legs can be dried during one night hanging on the side of your bed, because these are usually made of fast-drying fabric.

By the way, the trick is that tumble dryers are more expensive everywhere than washing machines, since you can wash your clothes manually, but you can’t dry them with your hands.
My washing liquid for the El Camino proved to be fantastic
Wilderness Wash by the company Sea to Summit was great for both manual washing and washing machine. I brought a 89ml bottle with me, and it was just enough for the adventure, there was even some left in the bottom of the bottle. A huge advantage of this stuff is that it’s citronella scented – not only is it insect repellent, but you can also wash your dishes and take a shower with it. I didn’t use it much for the latter, just took a shower with it once, when I left my soap in the bedroom. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t the reason I’d bought this liquid.
In most albergues you can find a smaller bowl in which you can do your washing. I put some liquid (the size of a pea) in it and filled it up with water. In most hostels, there’s only cold water available in the laundry room, but it didn’t bother me much: I went to the bathroom or the kitchen, filled up the bowl with nice, warm water, and then went back to the laundry room to wash my clothes. Of course, I tried not to draw attention to what I was doing, but I wasn’t sneaking, either. And then, for the last rinse, I went back again for warm water, so that my clothes get dry faster.
Usually you can dry your clothes in the courtyard, in many cases there’s even a roof above the drying rack, which is very useful, due to the unpredictable weather changes. What I’m very proud of is that I brought a 4m long rope with me – it was thin, but light and strong nylon. Throughout the 30 days, I put my clothes on this one about five times – either because there wasn’t enough space on the drying rack provided by the albergue, or because it was raining and I had to dry my stuff indoors.
I had 6 of this strong, but light plastic cloth clips, and 6 pieces of  safety pins. These are very useful, and six of them each is pretty enough. One set of clothes consists of one T-shirt, one pair of underwear and a pair of socks – to put all of them on the rope, six clips or pins are sufficient. Because I had six of them each, I could dry two sets at the same time. Beside that, I had to wash my towel every few days, since these microfiber towels get smelly quite quick. For the same reason, you also have to stretch them out after use, on the side of the bed, or on the rope.
Usually, hostel staff is not really happy about guests drying their clothes in the rooms, but you’re allowed to do so in some places, and other times it’s just necessary. If my clothes didn’t dry by sunset, I took them inside and looked for an alternative location to put them on the rope. In many albergues, the owners aren’t even there at night, so nobody will tell you off for ’guerilla drying’, and you’ll be on your way in the morning, before anybody could notice it.
On the way, I also dried my clothes putting them on my backpack. In such cases, using safety pins is advised instead of cloth clips, if you don’t want to lose some of your clothes. Having some waterproof bags on you is also a good idea, because in some cases, your clothes won’t get dry in time, and it also might be raining on the way.  In such cases, it’s best to put your clothes into bags when leaving the hostel, and then put them out on the rack upon arrival at the new place.
Boots on the roof
You have to be careful with your boots getting wet. You have to take out your insoles, squeeze them out, and hang them to dry. (I also washed them with my washing liquid, as they were already wet.) The next thing you should do is put newspaper balls into your boots, and if the weather is good, then put them out in the sun.
Drying your wet boots with newspaper balls
This is a very efficient method, as paper soaks up the water from inside the boots. I kept changing the paper balls every hour till I went to bed, and then once again, right after I got up. It was enough to use them the following day. It is also a useful method if your feet tend to sweat a lot. Wet boots are highly unhealthy – they can cause bladder infection, water blisters on your feet, and are a perfect home for funghi.

Thanks for sharing!

Some more useful things to read:

About the accomodation - Tips and tricks
Choosing the right backpack
Choosing the best boots for El Camino
Planning the trip to El Camino