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Scrubba wash bag travel review after 4 months in Europe

“Then he started to take back the clothes
Hang 'em on the line
It was January the 30th
And everybody was feeling fine”

—Bob Dylan

The lightweight Scrubba wash bag aims to help travelers and others on the move with their laundry chores. And it works well, as I have found out after using it for several months on a trip to Europe.

Have you ever done laundry in the sink in a Thai guesthouse? Or negotiated for an old woman on a side street to do your washing on a chilly Chinese afternoon? Or found yourself plunking coins into a big row of laundry machines in Croatia, then having to pay and wait for them to dry?

Working the Scrubba in southeastern Latvia.

Working the Scrubba in southeastern Latvia.

I’ve done all these things on my own travels around the world, and while taking care of laundry however you can is part of the day-in, day-out of travel, it would be nice to shave time and expense off of this basic necessity. So my travel partner Masayo and I decided to buy a Scrubba wash bag before we set out for a months-long slog through Eastern and Southern Europe in winter.

The Scrubba when it first arrives.

The Scrubba when it first arrives.

It was a gamble: I don’t mind sink laundry all that much, although it is indeed boring and time-consuming. And the Scrubba wash bag (thescrubba.com) was about $65 (I ordered it from Rakuten, a Japanese site like Amazon). Would it prove worthwhile? That’s a big expense for something that might not save any time or make any difference.

Update August 2016

The price of a new Scrubba on Amazon is currently around $45. If you find it somewhere else, especially a used one in perfect shape, you may be able to get a Scrubba even cheaper. At any rate it’s quite a bit cheaper than it used to be.

What helped me make my decision was the fact that the Scrubba bag is so lightweight: made of thin, green rubber, Scrubba weighs almost nothing and folds down into a rather small shape. Somewhat obsessed with packing light and small, I thought I could handle the Scrubba in my bag.

closing-scrubba-wash-bag-before-laundry

My first test wash

So we ordered it, and when it came we made an evening out of a test wash in my apartment in Osaka, Japan.

How to use the Scrubba wash bag

  1. Put your clothes and soap in the bag.
  2. Add water until it reaches the level marked on the bag.
  3. Fold the top of the bag down 4-5 times.
  4. Squeeze out the extra air trapped inside through the little plastic valve.
  5. Set on a flat surface and rub the clothing with your hands against the little rubber dots inside the bag for 2-3 minutes.
  6. Pour out the old soapy water and add clean water.
  7. Slosh it around to get out the rest of the soap and any dirt.
  8. Pour out that water.
  9. Hang the clothes to dry.
Before the Scrubba, combining laundry and showering made sense. (in Thailand)

Before the Scrubba, combining laundry and showering made sense. (in Thailand)

Basically, this is supposed to mimic old-style metal washboards with their ribbed surfaces, but with lightweight and watertight rubber.

The first load I did was a pair of jeans, and the water was indeed pretty dirty when I finished: a good sign that the Scrubba bag works well for getting things clean.

scrubba-wash-bag-pouring-water-in-sink

My Scrubba wash bag in Europe

So when packing for the Europe trip I threw the Scrubba, along with a supply of Dr. Bronner’s liquid soap to use with it, in my backpack. (The soap also doubled as shower gel, toothpaste, shampoo such as it is, and shaving cream.)

And I took the Scrubba bag with me, all across Estonia, Poland, Hungary, Albania, Norway, and everywhere in between that Masayo and I went. In each place, every few days, we’d do a load of laundry.

scrubba-wash-bag-clasp-hook

It worked well. I was never totally convinced that we were saving money, exactly; we probably would have done sink laundry loads if we didn’t have the Scrubba and not paid any extra. But I think we did save time, which was nice because we were constantly rushing around to see castles, fortresses, lakes, and mountains, and didn’t want to spend too many days sitting around doing nothing but the washing up.

Our clothes seemed to be generally very clean, and I’m proud to report that we avoided being the stereotypical smelly long-haul backpackers. Even better, most of my clothes were quick-drying synthetic items and they dried very fast, even in the chilly European winter. (My magical Bluff Works travel pants dried almost instantaneously, for example, so I didn’t need to bring a second pair.)

My Scrubba's valve, without the slit in it, was useless.

My Scrubba’s valve, without the slit in it, was useless.

Final verdict: Scrubba yea or nay?

Yea. The price tag stretches the worthwhileness of the Scrubba bag, but when I travel again I will definitely take it along with me. Clothes get very clean, and it shaves quite a bit of time off of a self-laundry session. So I say yes, get a Scrubba if you’re planning on doing sink laundry during a budget trip somewhere. It just tiptoes over the line into usefulness and good value.

Keep in mind that there are good points and bad points about the Scrubba wash bag that you should consider before deciding to buy it.

Compact and lightweight.

Compact and lightweight.

Scrubba wash bag: The good points

  • It’s lightweight and packs up small. At a barely detectable 6 oz. (170 grams) you can roll your Scrubba up, clasp it tight, and barely notice it in your bag. More room for insulin pens and test strips!
  • It cleans well. Traditional sink laundry may get soap on everything but doesn’t really scrub your clothes well. The rubber dots in the Scrubba do what they promise.
  • You can pack less clothing. Scrubba is small and is meant for 1-3 days’ worth of clothing, depending on the season and what you wear. But it’s so easy to use that you can do laundry a little more often and thus take fewer items with you. The size of your pack can affect how much you enjoy your trip. Less is always better when it comes to packing.
My Scrubba doubled as a rally cap while watching Falcons games on NFL Game Pass.

My Scrubba doubled as a rally cap while watching Falcons games on NFL Game Pass.

Scrubba wash bag: The bad points

  • It’s expensive. The Scrubba can seem pricy. But if you pay for laundry service, even in cheap places like Southeast Asia, and especially in laundromats around the world, the Scrubba will pay for itself after 10-12 loads or so. If you travel a lot, the expense is worth it.
  • Broken air valve. This is just a problem with the Scrubba I received but it’s still annoying. The air valve is supposed to have a slit in it, but mine was sealed up tight so it was useless. When folding down the top of the bag I have to squeeze out the air manually as I go. Not a big deal, and I barely noticed it after a couple loads, but it sucked anyway.
  • Leaking. The first time I used my Scrubba bag, water leaked out of the main clasp. Since then I learned to fold and close the bag so that the clasp is pointing up. This fixed it but it still means the Scrubba can’t really double as a dry bag because water could get in if it were submerged.
Hanging the Scrubba itself to dry in northern Norway.

Hanging the Scrubba inside-out to dry in northern Norway.

Other points to remember

  • You still have to wring out the clothes and wait for them to dry. This, of course, isn’t Scrubba’s fault but it’s something to keep in mind. (As a side tip, roll your wet clothes in a towel and beat it before hanging up your clothes; they’ll dry faster.)
  • Zippers and buttons can poke holes in the rubber. A Scrubba isn’t super-strength, so be careful. Again this isn’t really Scrubba’s fault but try to not rip the material. Then again, the company says you can repair it with rubber glue or a bicycle repair kit so don’t worry too much.

How do you do laundry when you’re traveling?

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Read next:

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