How to fold clothes for packing – for wrinkle-free results and to free up space in your case
Take the stress out of packing by learning how to fold clothes the right way
Whether you’re traveling for business or pleasure, the last thing you want to worry about when you reach your destination is the state of your clothes. Knowing how to fold clothes for packing so they remain neat and wrinkle-free will take that stress away, and should free up a bit of space in your suitcase, too.
When it comes to packing, the ‘sitting on the suitcase’ trick is a common go-to for cramming a few more items in. We’ve all been there, no judgment. But take it from us, learning how to fold shirts, sweaters, pants, even socks, the ‘proper’ way is far more productive.
Do it right, and you may even have space left for a few souvenirs… now there’s an incentive for you!
How to fold clothes for packing
When organizing clothes of any kind, settling on folding techniques that suit the type, size and material is the best way to maximize space. Just like the garments themselves, there’s really no ‘one size fits all’ approach.
‘When it comes to packing clothes, it’s essential you consider different methods for different types of clothing. Rolling clothes has been a real game-changer for me. It saves space, keeps my suitcase organized and helps prevent wrinkles. That said, rolling might not be the best option for all clothing types. It’s worth experimenting a little to see what works best for you, but a combination of both usually works best,' says Jennifer Kropf, Editorial Director and Expert at Healthy, Happy, Impactful.
From shirts to socks, we’ve put together step-by-step guides on how to fold clothes for packing. Always start by laying the item out flat and smooth out any wrinkles, regardless of what you’re folding and how you’re folding it. That’s step one across the board.
‘I always roll casual shirts when packing to maximize the space in a suitcase and make unpacking a breeze’, says professional organizer Shannon Krause of Tidy Nest.
You'll find 5-star hotels roll towels for neat, tight storage and a crease-free finish. It's the same premise.
- Fold the sleeves in towards the center of the shirt so they’re just touching.
- Starting with the collar end, roll tightly and evenly up toward the bottom edge, stopping just before you get there.
- Take the roll and gently tuck it underneath the bottom edge, securing it so it doesn’t unravel.
‘Shirts or blouses of a more delicate nature (think silks and chiffons) should be folded with tissue paper to prevent wrinkling’, adds Liz Ho, travel expert and founder of Camping Guidance.
Shannon Krause is a Certified Professional Organizer who holds a specialist certificate in Brain Based Conditions from the National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals (NAPO), and is a Certified Reiki Master which she incorporates into her work with clients. Tidy Nest has helped dozens of clients bring order into their lives and has won local awards recognizing their work.
- If it has sleeves, fold them in towards the center of the dress, along with any excess skirt material, so you have straight sides.
- Fold the dress in half, or in thirds, depending on how long it is, until you have a neat, flat square.
- You can either leave your dresses like this or roll them into a cylinder shape, depending on the material, and whether you want to stack or file fold them in your suitcase.
Pants and shorts
When packing smarter suit pants, folding is recommended – a few creases are inevitable, but done properly, you can keep them to a minimum.
- Fold the pants in half, so the legs overlap.
- Fold the pants in half vertically, then in half again, so the waist meets the cuffs. You will end up with strategically positioned creases across the knees and thighs, but this is preferable to random wrinkles – a quick iron should sort them out.
‘When packing pants, alternate waistbands when stacking, so they don’t create an unnecessary mountain of fabric’, advises Shannon Krause.
When it comes to jeans or less wrinkle-prone pants – think leggings and gym gear – you can usually get away with rolling. Repeat step one, then roll, starting from the waist.
Socks, underwear and swimwear
Smaller items such as these don’t pose too much of a problem when it comes to space in a suitcase, so folding isn’t usually necessary. Instead, experts advise using a small packing cube to contain them, or alternatively, a plastic bag.
'Separating items by type into clear bags will cut down on time spent searching for them, and you can squeeze all the air out to create a "vacuum" effect, which is great for saving on space. It also protects items from any leaks – I usually put my toiletries into clear bags, too, to be on the safe side!’ says professional ‘packer’ KK Robbins, host of popular podcast, Travel Talkk.
While standard zipper bags work well, there are a number of amazing compression bags you can buy, like these, from Amazon, that are designed specifically for space-saving travel.
KK Robbins is a professional speaker and host of the Travel Talkk podcast. Having explored over 100 countries, KK empowers others to find their true place in the world.
Is it better to roll or fold clothes for packing?
As we’ve already touched on, this really depends on what you’re packing. When it comes to softer, lightweight, more casual garments, such as dresses, t-shirts, pajamas and bathing suits, rolling is generally the preference.
It’s quick to do, space-efficient, and – if you’re savvy with your packing skills – you can position them tightly alongside each other, making them less likely to unravel and easier to view. That’s not to say you can’t fold these items, but the chances of creases are pretty high. Unless you’re a pro at pleats (which most of us aren’t, let’s face it).
There are, however, certain items that do lend themselves to folding. Bulky coats, jackets and jeans are fairly wrinkle-resistant anyway and need to be compressed as much as possible to avoid taking up excess room. There’s no ‘special’ folding method for these, but we would advise you to position them at the bottom of your bag to save on space. Or even better, wear them!
Overall, we’d say a mix of the two will glean the best results, but good rolling methods are probably the better thing to master for a successful suitcase.
What is the most space-efficient way to pack clothes?
Arguably, the most space-efficient way to pack clothes is to cut back on how much you’re packing in the first place! It takes some discipline, but according to Jennifer Kropf, utilizing the 54321 packing method can be extremely helpful.
‘It’s such a smart way to pack light – simply limit yourself to just five tops, four bottoms, three pairs of shoes, two outer pieces and one swimsuit or accessory. Of course, you can adjust the numbers to fit your specific needs and trip duration,' she says.
While good in principle, we appreciate packing light isn’t always practical (or preferable, for that matter). Luckily, there is another savvy space-saving hack you can try, that also comes expert-approved.
‘I personally love packing cubes (try these, at Amazon) and use them on all of my trips,' says Shannon Krause. ‘Not only are they great space-savers, but they also keep everything neat and tidy, which of course we love. Our recommendation is to go with mesh top cubes so you can see what’s inside and so your clothing can breathe. Start with a range of sizes – the small ones are perfect for socks, underwear and swimwear, while the larger sizes are great for bulkier items.'
How do you fold and pack clothes for moving?
If you’re folding clothes for packing on a more permanent basis, such as when decluttering to move house, the experts at Bellhop Movers advise neither rolling or folding.
‘Wardrobe boxes, at Amazon, are the way to go,' says Nick Valentino, VP of Market Operations. These are one specialty purchase that are well worth the money. You can fit your hanging garments with room at the bottom for things like shoes and other closet accessories.
Consider tightly rolling items like t-shirts, jeans and shorts, anything you store in a dresser, and leaving them in the drawers. Remove them from the dresser, then replace them once on the moving truck, ensuring they are securely closed. It’s efficient, and will save you the effort of unloading the other side.'
So, as we’ve established, there really is no one size fits all approach when it comes to how to fold clothes for packing. Whether you roll, fold or use a mix of both, don’t forget to implement a few of our space-saving packing tips to free up as much space as possible, if not the 54321 method, then at least the packing cubes. Happy travels!
For 10 years, Tara King worked as a Content Editor in the magazine industry, before leaving to become freelance, covering interior design, wellbeing, craft and homemaking. As well as writing for Ideal Home, Style at Home, Country Homes & Interiors, Tara’s keen eye for styling combined with a passion for creating a happy – and functional – family home has led to a series of organization and cleaning features for H&G.
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