Photo: Alex Bascuas/Shutterstock

The Cheapest Ways to Get Your Laundry Done During a Cruise

by Morgane Croissant Apr 12, 2024

Packing your suitcase with more clothes is hardly the best way to avoid spending money on laundry during a cruise. What you’ll pay in extra weight and luggage fees at the airport could easily cover the price of getting most of your items of clothing washed. There are affordable ways to get your clothes cleaned and pressed while cruising, so that you can keep your luggage light, can continue wearing all your favorite items of clothing during your trip, and won’t need to haul dirty, stinky clothes in your suitcase all the way back home.

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Look for the onboard laundromat

Some cruise lines, Oceania Cruises and Princess Cruises among them, offer self-service laundromats, equipped with washing machines, dryers, ironing boards, and irons. While some cruise lines offer the use of the laundromats for free, detergent included, others require the purchase of tokens for both the use of the machines and the soap.

While nobody wants to be doing laundry or ironing while on vacation, using the onboard laundromats when available is the cheapest way to get your clothes clean and pressed. Even if you have to pay for a few tokens to wash and dry your clothes, it’ll cost you a lot less than using the onboard laundry service.

Before embarking on a cruise, it’s always a good idea to look closely at the ship’s deck plans to see if there are any laundromats on board. That way, you can pack accordingly by bringing fewer items of clothing with you and even include some easily packable laundry detergent or fabric softener strips if you want to save a few bucks.

The best times to use the onboard laundromats are on sea days, but that’s also when the facilities are at their busiest. Look at the hours of operation and be there at opening time, setting a timer on your phone for when your load ends so you can transfer it all into a dryer and free the washing machine for a fellow cruiser.

Don’t try to wash your clothes by hand

There may be a retractable clothing line in your cabin bathroom, but you should really only use it to dry your damp bathing suit, or hang a humid rain jacket. Washing clothing by hand and hanging it in the windowless bathroom will only result in perpetually dank, mildew-smelling garments. If you have a balcony, don’t attempt to dry hand-washed clothes on the outdoor furniture, there’s a good chance they’ll get blown away and contribute to polluting the world’s oceans.

Examine all the laundry options at your disposal

The cruise lines that don’t offer self-service laundromats usually have a laundry service. A laundry slip hanging in your cabin closet displays all the options at your disposal which generally go as follow:

  • Per-clothing-item dry cleaning
  • Per-clothing-item laundry
  • Laundry by the bag or by the bundle

In my cruising experience, laundry by the bag is the most cost-effective option. Depending on the cruise line and the destination, laundry by the bag costs between $20 and $40 and includes pressing.

On Holland America ships, per-clothing-item laundry charges $2 for a bra and a piece of underwear, $3 for a swimsuit, and $4 for a pair of jeans, while you can get an entire bag of dirty clothes cleaned and pressed for $25 ($35 on high-demand sailings.) Note that there are no self-service laundromat on any of Holland America’s ships, but that unlimited laundry and pressing packages are available.

The laundry bags provided by cruise lines are usually either cotton bags with a draw string or stiff paper bags, measuring around 15 inches in width and 23 inches in length. You can pack as many items of clothing as you wish, as long as they fit inside the bag.

MSC Cruises has a different system, offering a variety of Back Home Clean packages which range from $31 for 10 items to $54 for 40 items. MSC’s laundry packages can be purchased in advance of the cruise. MSC’s ships do not have laundromats on board.

How to pack a cruise laundry bag in the most cost-saving way

To save on space, use this simple folding technique. Photo: Morgane Croissant
Five pairs of underwear take very little space if folded properly. Photo: Morgane Croissant
The laundry bags provided on cruise ships are approximately the size of this drawstring bag. Photo: Morgane Croissant

I like a challenge, especially when it comes to saving a few dollars, and I’ve developed a technique to fill cruise laundry bags à la Mary Poppins. First, lay all your items of clothing flat and pile the similar ones on top of each other, i.e. underwear, boxer shorts, t-shirts, pants, etc. Once you have a flat pile of 10 shirts or 15 underwear, fold it up very tightly. Then, stuff the laundry bag with the bigger items first, and add the smaller ones like balled-up socks, underwear, etc. in the nook and crannies that are left. I have packed over 65 items in one single bag in this manner, saving myself the price of another load of laundry.

Be rewarded for your patience

It is very common for cruise lines to offer a laundry-by-the bag deal midway or late in the cruise, reducing the price by $5 or more. If you’re patient enough but act fast when the offer pops up, you can save even more of your hard-earned dollars.

Pack a garment steamer

If your problem is not clean clothes but wrinkle-free clothes but there’s no laundromat on board and you don’t want to pony up for the outrageous pressing fees that cruise lines charge, consider packing a garment steamer with you. Just make sure the cruise line you’re traveling with allows it as some consider such items fire hazards. If not, purchase a bottle of wrinkle-release spray.

Purchase a STNKY laundry bag

If you are determined to not spend money on laundry during your cruise, but also don’t want to stink up your suitcase will all your dirty clothes, get yourself a STNKY laundry bag. STNKY laundry bags allow you to separate your dirty clothes from the clean ones and seal away the moisture, odors, and germs from unclean items.

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