How to Pack Clothes So They Don’t Wrinkle

By Laura Lopuch
Packing in the Setout Divide

You can’t show up to a meeting or a wedding looking like you slept in your clothes. Even the most rugged backpacker wants to look good sometimes.

Packing clothes so they arrive at your destination wrinkle-free is tricky. No one wants to iron on a trip.

Which materials are the best at avoiding wrinkling? Does rolling clothes prevent wrinkles? How can you keep clothes from wrinkling in your backpack or suitcase? Keep reading for the answers.

Wrinkle-Free Travel Clothes

The easiest way to avoid your clothes getting wrinkled is to buy clothes that don’t—or even better, can’t—wrinkle.

Wrinkle-free clothes don’t need to be made from synthetic materials. If you prefer natural fibers, you aren’t out of luck.

One of the primary benefits of “technical” or “performance” clothes is wrinkle resistance. Most clothing that’s wrinkle-resistant will also offer other benefits like being anti-microbial, quick-drying, and moisture-wicking.

Wrinkle-Resistant Fabrics

Synthetics Fabrics

Synthetic fabrics like polyester, nylon, and lycra are made to be wrinkle-resistant. Thankfully, synthetics now look and feel nearly as good as natural fabrics while offering comparable or better performance. They’ve come a long way from the first wrinkle-free dress shirts that felt like plastic.

  • Polyester: Polyester isn’t the devil-fabric it’s made out to be. Most performance fabrics and travel clothing has at least some mix of this miracle fiber. Which is a good thing, because it’s super wrinkle-resistant.
  • Nylon: Nylon is now commonly found in higher-end performance clothing alongside or in place of polyester. You’ll also find nylon blended with other materials, like merino wool, to increase durability.
  • Lyocell aka “Tencel”: A semi-synthetic form of rayon, Tencel is a huge improvement on the easy-to-wrinkle original. It will still wrinkle in your bag, but those wrinkles come out easily by hanging your clothes up.

Natural Fabrics

If you aren’t a fan of synthetic fabrics, check your tags to make sure your clothing is made of a natural fabric like cotton or wool.

Even if an item isn’t marketed as wrinkle-resistant, a quick look at its fabric can help you figure out if it’ll crease or not when you travel. These fabrics don’t wrinkle:

  • Merino Wool: The ultimate travel fabric. Merino wool insulates, breathes, fights odors, and doesn’t wrinkle much.
  • (Other) Wool: Other wool blends have the same wrinkle-free qualities, but without the soft texture of Merino.
  • Denim: Jeans and jeggings make great travel clothes that get even better when you mix in a little spandex. I usually wear travel jeans with about 4% spandex in the blend for an active stretch, but you can get blends with higher percentages of spandex if you really like to avoid wrinkles.

Blended Fabrics

Blends can be a good option to combine the wrinkle resistance of the fabrics above with the benefits of the wrinkle-prone fabrics below.

For example, you can find wrinkle-resistant t-shirts made of a 60/40 cotton/polyester blend or a cotton/polyester/rayon tri-blend. Either will offer the wrinkle-resistance of polyester with the more natural hand feel of cotton.

Wrinkle-Prone Fabrics

For wrinkle-free travel clothes, avoid 100% cotton and linen, both of which wrinkle easily. Denim is made of cotton, but the heavier weight of this fabric helps to avoid the wrinkles you’ll see in a cotton t-shirt.

Cashmere can also wrinkle when you pack it, but the creases release if you hang your clothes for a few hours. So, cashmere isn’t great right off the plane but can still travel fairly well.

Not sure if the fabric is prone to wrinkling? Try a quick test. Grab a corner of the fabric and crush it in your fist for 30 seconds. If the fabric didn’t wrinkle or the wrinkles shake out after a minute, you’ve found a good option.

How to Pack Clothes to Avoid Wrinkles

After you choose your fabrics and clothing, the next step is packing. Below are our tips and tricks for packing clothes so they don’t wrinkle. Use the approach that best suits the garment type and fabric.

Rolling Clothes

Should you roll or fold your clothes? This is the classic packing debate.

My favorite packing method is rolling. Rolling is the best way to keep your clothes wrinkle-free since your clothes are tightly rolled without any hard creases.

To avoid creases, fold your clothes along the seams and smooth out any wrinkles. Then roll your clothes. Don’t skip the middle step of smoothing out wrinkles. If you roll and pack wrinkly clothes, you’ll have wrinkly clothes at your destination. Read the full article to learn how to roll clothes for packing.

Bundle Wrapping Clothes

Bundle wrapping your clothes is an unintuitive, but effective, strategy. Business travelers and anyone packing dress clothes will find it useful.

The bundle rolling method involves wrapping your wardrobe around a bundle of wrinkle-resistant clothing with the most delicate clothes—like a suit jacket—on the outside. Think of it as large-scale origami for your clothes.

One Bag has a great overview:

Clothing is wrapped in a particular order, so that larger, more tailored, and more wrinkle-prone garments will end up on the outside of the bundle (where the wrapping has a larger radius of curvature), with less easily wrinkled pieces closer to the core.

Bundle wrapping is easier to show than to tell. So here’s a video from NBC News showing the process:

But does it work?

Christine Sarkis of Smarter Travel put it to the test.

After stowing the bundle in an upright suitcase for 24 hours, the clothing emerged looking pretty good. The items around the outside—a jacket and some shirts—were, predictably, the most wrinkle-free, showing only a few creases where I had folded the arms around the bundle. Items closer to the center showed slightly more wrinkles, but still looked significantly better than they would have if I’d rolled or folded the items and stacked them individually in the suitcase.

Verdict: A solid choice for business travelers and anyone else hoping to keep wrinkle-prone shirts and pants separate and looking relatively pressed without much effort.

Folding with Tissue Paper

If you hate wrinkles so much that you’re willing to give up some packing space, fold your shirts and pants with a piece of tissue paper between each item. Adding the paper reduces wrinkles because it cuts down on the friction that causes wrinkles.

Dry Cleaner Bags

Plastic reduces friction, thereby eliminating wrinkles from your clothes.

Take advantage of this trick by using dry cleaning bags. Pack one outfit per bag then arrange those bags into your luggage. 

Melissa Klurman at Fodors road-tested this trick. She says, “Clothes arrive in a perfectly preserved state. Really!”

How to Keep Clothes from Wrinkling in a Backpack

With a backpack, you are more likely to create friction which will cause your clothes to wrinkle. A soft-sided travel backpack is more prone to being smushed and jostled.

For specific road-tested advice on packing wrinkle-free in a backpack, I turned to the pros: cyclists who brave peak traffic hours biking to work before changing into a neat business suit and tie.

Commenters on Ask MetaFilter suggest three methods:

  1. Bundle Wrapping: One forum user recommended using a dry cleaning bag between the layers of clothing you don’t want to get wrinkled.
  2. Packing Folders: Fold your shirts against the plastic sheet then close the folder around your shirts.
  3. Three Steps: Roll and fold your clothes loosely, put your clothes on the top or outside of your bag to avoid pressure on your clothes in the pack, and unpack as soon as possible.

How to Get Rid of Wrinkles

You’ve arrived at your destination and unzipped your backpack to find a mess of wrinkled clothes. Here are a few options, depending on what you have at hand, for removing those wrinkles and keeping yourself looking sharp.

  • Hang your clothes as soon as possible.
  • Use a travel steamer or iron.
  • Hang your clothes in the bathroom while you take a hot, steamy shower.
  • Dampen the wrinkles with water then smooth the fabric flat. Then hang.
  • Throw the clothes in a dryer for about 15 minutes. Add a small, lightly damp towel.

Conclusion

You can arrive at your destination with wrinkle-free clothes, even if you packed in a backpack, provided you did the right prep work before traveling.

Choose wrinkle-resistant fabrics for clothes, especially anything that might noticeably wrinkle like a dress shirt. Roll or bundle pack your clothes to avoid adding wrinkles. Hang and, if possible, steam your clothes upon arrival.