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Washers and Dryers for Campers: The Ultimate Guide to On-The-Road Laundry

We can very nearly feel like our campervans are a second home, but the lack of home appliances can often feel like a barrier to independence. Fridges are a necessity, and thus there are lots of campervan-specific options available. There are also many options for ovens, and dishwashers are easily substituted by hand washing. Washers and dryers for campers are a grey area - they're big, heavy, and use a lot of power and water. This article details the options and technicalities of installing washers and dryers in your camper, helping you to come to a decision.

 

Shane has been teaching people to convert campervans for years; he's the author of Roaming Home; The Comprehensive Guide for Converting Your Van Into a Campervan, writer of The Van Conversion Newsletter, instructor of The Van Conversion Course over at Udemy, and a full-time vanlifer for 4 years!


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Note: Did you know that you can get a free electrical wiring diagram by signing up to The Van Conversion Newsletter.

 

To Cut to the Chase

Our top pick for a motorhome washer and dryer is this campervan-specific combination unit from Splendide.

A combination washer and dryer that's specifically designed for campervans is the best we can recommend for washing and drying laundry on the road. Combination units take up half as much space as separate units, and a model specifically designed for RVs will be lighter, more compact, and energy and water efficient. It's important to understand, however, that the high electricity usage when drying clothes means that this kind of appliance can only reasonably be used when connected to an electric-hook up.

 

Why Consider a Washer and Dryer for Your Motorhome?

Everybody needs to wash their clothes. Many vanlifers rely on laundrettes (laundromats in North America) or campsites with laundry services. Laundrettes can be found almost anywhere, as they're somewhat of an essential service. However, they're not always to be found exactly where you are, and thus require planning and driving out of your way. Many campervan users choose the lifestyle in order to be less tethered to place. Installing a washing machine in your campervan can add crucial independence to your experience.


A dryer for your campervan can seem more necessary. Not all laundrettes have dryers, and drying clothes in a camper is inconvenient. You don't realise how small your van is until you've tried to festoon the whole interior with a full wash of clothes. Moisture buildup becomes a concern, especially in cold weather when you don't want windows open. Drying outside is fine as long as it's warm and dry, but the weather doesn't always cooperate. Shane and the author of this blog have both wished for campervan dryers before, especially when trying to dry bedding inside the campervan on a rainy day.


Types of Washers and Dryers for RVs

If you're seriously considering buying a washer and dryer for your motorhome, you have a number of options to choose from. We'll go over the general categories here.


12V vs. 230V/120V

The first major split in the market for washers and dryers for campers is 12V versus mains voltage (230V in most of the world and 120V in North America). 12V systems are ubiquitous in cars and vans, and this system therefore forms the basis for campervan electrical systems. These appliances are designed for use in campervans and boats, and will thus draw less power. This makes them kinder on your batteries, but might result in more modest performance.


Mains-powered washers and dryers exist in a wider array of options, as they're what people have in their homes. However, they require an inverter to run off a 12V campervan electrical system, and will have a considerably higher power draw: a 12V washer designed for campers will draw around 250W, whereas mains washers draw between 300W and 500W. Meanwhile, a 12V dryer pulls about 800W - 1200W, compared to 1800W - 3000W for a mains-powered one.


Our article on campervan air conditioning goes into the difference between 12V and 230V/120V appliances in more detail. The article is air-con focused, but the same principles apply for washers and dryers.


Combo vs. Separate

Washers and dryers can either be bought separately or as a RV washer combo. The benefit of having separate units boils down to performance, capacity, and flexibility. Separate, dedicated machines may perform better than a combined machine, both in the washing and drying department. Further, RV washer combos often have a smaller capacity than separate units, as there are more components packed into a machine of the same size. Finally, with separate machines, the breaking of one doesn't prevent you from using the other. Meanwhile, if the wash function of your combined washer/dryer breaks, the drying function will also be out of action until you can get it serviced.


However, in the context of campervans, the main consideration is space. A combined unit takes up half as much space as two separate units. The above factors are worth keeping in mind when you think about how you use your washer/dryer, but unless you've got a truly enormous RV, having a combo unit is going to make the most sense.



Portable Units

Washers and dryers for campers are often marketed as 'portable'. These are generally smaller, lighter, and don't have a fixed water inlet valve or drain hose. They also often have handles so they can easily be moved and stowed when not in use. They're generally top-loading, with a smaller capacity, and need to be hand-filled with water before use. Some incorporate two drums; a wash drum and a spin drum. Moving the laundry to the spin drum allows you to run a spin cycle before the final rinse cycle, and can also be used to spin dry the clothes (imagine a big salad drainer). 12V, campervan-specific washers generally come in this format, though many mains-powered models also exist. They work a bit differently to your washer at home, but their small size, lack of complex plumbing, and low power draw make them ideal for on-the-road use.


Portable dryers in a similar format also exist. They're smaller, top loading, and don't have a drain hose. Their power draw is still significant, at 800W - 1200W, but much less than models intended for home use.


Non-powered Washers

There are human-powered solutions to the laundry problem that bypass the need for electricity. An interesting and well-regarded example is the Scrubba wash bag. This is a waterproof drybag with an integrated washboard. Fill the bag with clothes, water, and detergent, and scrunch it with your hands and feet to agitate and get dirt and grease out of clothes. You can't do big washes, and of course you do the work yourself, but the bag only weighs 150g and uses far less water than a washing machine.


Other innovative solutions are hand- or foot-cranked washing machines. These are small, highly portable units which incorporate a hand crank or foot pedal. These are again simpler, smaller, lighter, and use much less water than a powered machine.



Cost and Value Analysis of RV Washers and Dryers

Installing a washer and dryer for your camper necessitates changes to your electrical system. The important numbers to consider are the wattage (expressed in watts, W) and the electric charge usage (expressed in amp-hours, Ah). A larger wattage results in a larger charge usage in Ah, and these two specifications affect your battery capacity, charging system, inverter size (if using a 230V/120V washer or dryer), shore hook-up unit size, cable guage, and the rating of your fuses. Let's take a look at some numbers.


Power Usage of RV Washers and Dryers

Looking at the average specifications of different kinds of washers and dryers, we can come up with some numbers for power draw and charge usage.

Appliance type

Power draw

Average

Charge usage per hour

Average

Fixed washer

300W - 500W

400W

25Ah - 45Ah

35Ah

Portable washer

100W - 300W

200W

8.5Ah - 25Ah

17Ah

Fixed dryer

1800W - 3000W

2400W

150Ah - 280Ah

215Ah

Portable dryer

800W - 1500W

1150W

70Ah - 125Ah

98Ah

These numbers assume 12V appliances connected directly to the leisure battery. If you're running mains appliances through an inverter, you'll need to factor in inverter efficiency, which is less than 100%. This will slightly increase the power draw and charge usage by 5 - 10%.


Upgrading an Electrical System for Off-grid Use of Washers and Dryers

Let's take a look at upgrading a couple of example off-grid electrical systems to allow for the use of washers and dryers.


Here we have the spec of a medium power usage, off-grid electrical system.



It's usually a good idea to spec a battery bank based on being able to spend 2 full days off-grid at a time, with no charging from solar or battery to battery chargers. This essentially means that to get our required battery bank size, we multiply our estimated daily usage by 2, then factor in the fact that batteries should only be discharged to 50% charge. This gives us a daily usage that is about a quarter of our total battery capacity. You can read more about campervan batteries in our article on the subject, which includes a free load calculator for calculating your electricity needs.


If we assume one use of a one hour wash or dry cycle per off-grid period, we see the following necessary increases in battery capacity:



Base system

With portable washer

With fixed washer

With portable dryer

With fixed dryer

Electric charge usage per 2-day off-grid period

100Ah

117Ah

135Ah

198Ah

315Ah

Required battery bank capacity

200Ah

234Ah

270Ah

396Ah

630Ah


In the case of adding a portable washer, we see a modest increase in overall battery bank size. A jump from 200Ah to 234Ah probably wouldn't necessitate an increase in solar and battery-to-battery charging power. This means that we also don't need to upgrade the solar charge controller. Increasing the size of the inverter to account for the 200W power draw would depend on whether you could live with using no other appliances whilst your wash is running. All in all, this upgrade is quite modest, adding perhaps £200 - £300 to our budget.


Adding a fixed washer changes the calculation. Increasing our battery bank size from 200Ah to 270Ah would necessitate an increase in solar charging power, from 300W to around 350W. Depending exactly on the setup, this may well necessitate a slight increase in the capacity of the solar charge controller. Adding 400W of power draw would require us to increase the capacity of our inverter from 500W to at least 700W. This is a significant upgrade, but still feasible overall, adding around £500.


Adding dryers changes things significantly. Even a portable dryer with a comparatively low power draw doubles our necessary battery size. A 400Ah battery bank would need more like 500W of solar to charge it effectively, and probably a more powerful battery to battery charger. All this would require a significantly higher spec charge controller and at least a 1500W inverter. All in all, we'd easily be looking at doubling the cost of our electrical system to around £4000.


Trying to power a domestic dryer from a leisure battery bank is doable, but we're looking at a different scale for this kind of electrical system. A 630Ah battery bank is possible, but would need to be based on lithium batteries, as any AGM battery bank bigger than 400Ah is too big and heavy to be practical. We'd need solar charging in excess of 750W and an appropriately sized charge controller. Meanwhile, only a 3000W inverter would be appropriate, which is approaching the upper end of what's available for campervans. This system could easily cost in excess of £8000.



Upgrading an Electrical System for Campsite Use of Washers and Dryers


If you'll only be using your campervan washer or dryer when connected to a shore hook-up, the upgrade process is much simpler. A battery charger connected to a shore hook-up outputs mains electricity, so you can easily power a high-usage mains appliance. The only thing you need to pay attention to is the current rating of your battery charger. Your mains appliances each have a current rating measured in amps (A), which, added up, determine the required current rating of your battery charger. Below is a cost breakdown of the range of battery chargers from one manufacturer, ordered by current rating.



You can see that the price difference isn't big, even between the smallest and largest capacity battery chargers. If you're happy only washing and drying your clothes when you're parked up and connected to shore power, you won't require major upgrades to your electrical system.


How to Install a Washer and Dryer in Your Camper

Having chosen the kind of washer and dryer you want in your campervan, you're ready to install your appliance. This involves physically installing the machine in your camper, and connecting it to your electrical system. A fixed washer will also need to be connected to water. We'll provide a general outline of the installation process below. Before we get started, make sure you have a basic understanding of campervan electrics. We have a detailed article on electrical systems and wiring, including a complete downloadable wiring diagram.


Installing Fixed Washers and Dryers

  1. Choose the location of your unit. This should ideally balance out the weight of another heavy appliance in your van. The closer you can get your appliance to your water tanks, the less complex plumbing you'll have to do. Make sure there's space for the door to open.

  2. Mount the unit. The most important things are making sure that the appliance is flat, and that it won't move. This means securing it solidly at the front and bottom, as well as on both sides to ensure it doesn't shift whilst the drum is spinning.

  3. Connect the unit to power. Refer to our electrical diagram linked above. This will be different whether you'll be running your appliance directly from your battery (in the case of a 12V appliance), from an inverter connected to your battery (for off-grid installations of mains appliances), or a battery charger (for shore hook-up connections of mains appliances). You'll most likely be connecting the unit to a busbar in whatever case. Make sure your appliance is appropriately fused – read more here.

  4. Connect the unit to water. If it's a washer, you'll need to make sure the inlet valve is connected to your clean water tank via a pump. Washing machines have a minimum water flow requirement (published by the manufacturer and measured in L/min), so make sure your pump is able to supply this. Read our guide to campervan water systems here.

  5. Connect the drain hose. Washers (and dryers with a drain hose) need to be connected to your waste water tank. Make sure the pipe you're using is on enough of a slope to ensure waste water drains downwards freely into the tank.

  6. Test the unit. Run a full wash or dry cycle, to ensure no fuses or circuit breakers flip during any stage in the cycle. Pay attention to how the appliance stays put during vigorous spinning and secure it more tightly if necessary. Check that water gets into and out of the unit without any leaks or backflow.


Installing Portable Washers and Dryers

A portable unit won't be fixed in one place, making the installation process much simpler. Decide where you're going to store it when it isn't in use, and whether you'll be running it inside or outside. You'll most likely be plugging your appliance directly into a mains socket. If not, follow the same process as above for connecting it to power. You'll need water containers or a hose for getting water into your portable washer, and something for it to drain into, as you often can't drain waste water directly onto the ground. Test the unit as detailed above before use.



Who are Motorhome Washers and Dryers For?

The decision to install a washer or dryer in your campervan depends on your budget, setup, and use case. We can break things down as follows:


You're a fully off-grid vanlifer with a large camper and a big budget: a fixed washer (like this one from Splendide) could be right for you if you're after complete independence and the convenience of washing clothes as if you were at home. A smaller, energy-efficient washing machine will demand upgrades to your electrical system, but won't break the bank. Water tank capacity and interior space will be an important concern.


You're a budget-minded, fully off-grid vanlifer who wants more independence: a portable washer is a modest investment in cost, interior space, and energy usage. If you truly feel limited by the need to visit laundrettes regularly, a portable washer can give you more flexibility between big washes.


You're an off-grid vanlifer who keeps it simple, but you want to spread out your visits to the laundrette: manual washers can give you added flexibility at a very low cost, requiring no modifying of your electrical system, and taking up very little space. These will allow you to wash smaller items like socks, underwear, and t-shirts, meaning you won't be caught short with no clean essentials.


You spend some or most of your time at campsites and are after home comforts: power usage isn't important when plugged into a shore hook-up, so a RV washer and dryer in one is a viable option in this case. Not all campsites have laundry facilities with clothes dryers, and it's not always convenient to air dry your clothes. If you really want your home on wheels to feel like your house, a motorhome washer and dryer (like this one from Pinnacle) might be the last thing missing.


The Most Popular Campervan Washers & Dryers and Our Top Picks

Campervan Combination Washer and Dryers

Our top pick for a campervan washer and dryer would be this combo unit from Splendide.

It's a combo unit designed specifically for RVs, meaning it's compact, light, and water and electricity efficient. The ventless design means there's no need to cut another hole in the side of your camper. We recommend a compact combination washer/dryer for campsite campervan use as the efficient use of space more than makes up for any shortcomings you'd encounter compared to separate washer and dryer units.


Campervan Washers

Off-grid vanlifers with high-specification electrical systems and lots of space could consider this campervan washer from Splendide.

Like the combination unit above, this washer is designed specifically for campervan installation. The difference, of course, is that it's a simple washing machine, with no drying function. This drastically reduces power usage, making it a potential option for off-grid use.


Portable Washers

For off-grid vanlifers who want the flexibility and convenience of having a washer in their home on wheels, we recommend twin-drum portable washers. This one from Tangzon is a good example.


There are many examples of such appliances, and all feature a similar design. They're lightweight, compact, and use little electricity. This one pulls 280W during the wash cycle, which is around the peak draw of a campervan fridge and much less than the draw of a campervan induction hob, for example. There seem to be issues with reliability with all of these portable washers, but this one sits at a good price point and has far fewer negative reviews mentioning the user experience.


Manual Washers

For electricity efficient off-grid vanlifers, manual clothes washers are a very good choice. We've already discussed the Scrubba Wash Bag.

The Scrubba Wash Bag is easy to use and performs well. It's light, compact, and very affordable. It won't replace trips to the laundrette, but it'll allow you to wash socks, underwear, t-shirts, and other smaller items in between these trips.


Another great example of a manual clothes washer is the Dezitrek wash bag.

The Dezitrek uses a plunger rather than your bare hands to agitate and clean your laundry. It's less compact than the Scrubba, but the large version allows you to wash 2kg of laundry, which is the equivalent of two queen-sized bed sheets.


Final Thoughts

We hope that this article has given you some insight and food for thought on the subject of washers and dryers for your campervan. The deciding factor is mostly going to be electricity usage, with water usage also being important. If you do go with a washer, it's important to be responsible with your dumping of waste water. Biodegradable and all-natural laundry detergents are worth looking into, but depending on where you are, it might still be illegal or irresponsible to dump your water in nature. Make sure you read up on laws ahead of time, and use your common sense.



Laundry doesn't have to be a burden when you're living in a campervan. For many, it's simply part of the regular van chores that have to be done. Combining a trip to the nearest town for a food shop, refuel, and laundry can be perfectly agreeable if only done once a week. Drying clothes can be a challenge, but is manageable with innovative use of clothes lines. Shane's exhaustive article on full-time van living goes into more detail on the subject. At the end of the day, living in a campervan is a trade-off between freedom and convenience. With laundry, it's up to you to decide on which side of the balance the scales fall.

 

Don't forget to subscribe to The Van Conversion Newsletter for everything you need to get started with your own van conversion (We'll send you a free wiring diagram when you join).


If you're looking for some guidance with your van conversion, you might be interested in Roaming Home; The Comprehensive Guide for Converting Your Van Into a Campervan. In the 380-page book (or ebook), you'll learn directly from Shane how to convert a van into your dream home - no prior experience needed!


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Until next time.

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