Scrubba Washbag Review

16th Mar 2016

washing woman


I usually love washing clothes when I'm travelling.  There is a simplicity about washing next to a mountain stream or pulling on a freshly laundered t-shirt that has dried in the afternoon sun.  Occasionally, I have even ended up sharing a section of river bank with some locals who've taken their own clothes or shared a courtyard in a person's home like the photo above taken in a small north Vietnamese village.  It is a simple pleasure and a great way to integrate with a community when the time is available, and, as is often the case on expedition, the pace of life is slower.

Of course, it isn't always quite so convenient and sometimes I have arrived tired at a destination with no clean clothes and no big inclination to start a washing session.  At those times it would be best if I could just get the job done as quickly as possible.  There can also be problems with the place I am trying to wash in.  I once tried washing clothes in the Moroccan desert and everything, no matter how hard I tried, was getting covered in sand.  At those times a self contained system would have made life so much simpler.   Problems accessing water are common in some places and if you don't have a bucket or sink to wash in then things can get tricky.  I prefer not to wash directly in streams or rivers as I don't want to contaminate them with detergents - my preference is to take some water from the stream into a vessel and then, after washing in that, to pour the detergent water away some distance from the water source.

So, my travel washing system is pretty simple. I add travel wash to a container of water, swish the clothes around, hand scrub any stubborn stains and then rinse, wring it out and hang the clothes to dry.  I also carry a dry bag to collect my dirty clothes in as I go.  If it's a supported trek then the kitchen team can often lend me a washing bowl, but in other circumstances I've sometimes carried small fold away bowls.

Many years ago the idea of a washboard was popular and they are still widely used in many developing countries.  A washboard is a simple metal or wooden plate with corrugations that clothes, once soaked in soapy water, can be scrubbed against.  They work extremely well but are hardly practical to pack for travel.  The ideal for travel and expedition use, then, could be a portable washing vessel with a washboard incorporated.  Of course it would also need to be light, simple to use and it would be even better if it could use minimal water and be used to store dirty pre wash clothes too.  Enter the Scrubba washbag. 




The Scrubba is definitely one of those products which, when you first see it, hits you with that 'now why didn't I think of that?' moment.  A dry bag incorporating a flexible but durable nylon washboard that you can store dirty clothes in and then, when you want to wash them, simply add water and detergent, fold up the roll top dry bag closure, release excess air through the valve at the side and 'knead' the clothes inside by rubbing them over the washboard.  You can then drain out the washing water and add fresh water to rinse.  It is a simple but genius concept - but does it work?

I was kindly sent a Scrubba to test just before my recent Vietnam visit.  I was going to be staying in homestays and budget hotels along with time in rural villages and sleeping in camps.  I was also travelling light and so, with very limited clothing changes, regular clothes washing would be the norm.  I soon got into the habit of storing my dirty clothes in the Scrubba and keeping the dry bag in a corner of my duffle bag.  Alongside the Scrubba I carried a length of accessory cord to make a washing line and some detergent suitable for hand washing.

When it came to wash time I got into a well oiled routine.  I put up the clothes line (check out our top tip about making a secure washing line here), left a reasonable amount of clothing in the Scrubba (I found it best to do more than one load if needed rather than over fill the bag), added water and detergent, sealed up the drybag closure, released excess air through the small venting valve and scrubbed the clothes across the washboard.  You can actually do this scrubbing while holding the bag in your hand (if the ground doesn't allow you to put it down safely) but it is easier to put the bag on a flat surface for the scrubbing process. 

After a few minutes of scrubbing you can open up the closure and drain the water, add rinsing water and rinse the clothes.  The amount of rinsing depends on how much detergent you've added but usually takes a couple of rinse and drain cycles to get all the soap out.  Then, you are done.  I usually set my washing line up in advance and the nice thing about the roll top dry bag closure is that you can then clip the bag onto the washing line and simply pull out the clothes items one at a time, wring them in your hands and hang them on the line.  It is simple.  It is efficient.  A minimum amount of water is needed and it washes the clothes well.  It's a great idea and, although I can't say it is a travel essential, it is really worth the cost if you are going off the beaten track.  

The only thing I think of that could be improved would be the air release valve (which is of the type you find on beach balls and similar inflatables).  It is small, a bit fiddly to operate (particularly when your hands are wet and soapy) and generally feels like it could be a bit of a weak point on the bag.  Having said that, the bag has held up to regular use over several weeks by a group of 14 without any problem so it should serve you well - I just feel like it should be possible to add some sort of more durable press release valve.

Other than that, this is a really great device that works really well.   I'm looking forward to many happy trips together. The Scrubba is available from various sources for about £35 and full details about the innovators behind this product and videos of it in action are on the company website here and a big thanks to Eskimo Agency who provided the product for test.  Their website, which also lists the other brands they distribute, is here.

Posted by Paul

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