How to Roll Clothes for Wrinkle-Free Packing
Stop, drop and roll (your clothes, that is) for a more streamlined and wrinkle-resistant packing experience
Our editors and experts handpick every product we feature. We may earn a commission from your purchases.
Stop! Before you put a single item in your carry-on bag or suitcase, drop it and get ready to roll. While figuring out how to pack everything in your luggage can be tough—especially if you want to keep pieces wrinkle-free—knowing how to roll clothes for packing will make life so much easier. It’s one of our favorite packing tips for a reason: You can eliminate some of the factors that cause wrinkles, and even save some space in the process.
Does rolling really work? While compiling what they called the ultimate guide to packing a carry-on, the travel experts at Airport Parking Reservations answered the age-old question of whether to fold or roll. “We find that rolling is the best space-saving method,” they wrote. “Clothes stack much easier when rolled, and if rolled tightly, creases are also avoidable.”
We can’t guarantee you’ll be 100% wrinkle-free—not even the combination of rolling clothes and using packing cubes can live up to that promise. But we can assure you a more streamlined and wrinkle-resistant packing experience. So grab your packing list, keep your clothes at the ready and prepare to learn exactly how to roll clothes for packing.
Get Reader’s Digest’s Read Up newsletter for more travel tips, humor, cleaning, tech and fun facts all week long.
RD.com, Getty Images
Rolling vs. folding: What’s the difference?
Let’s get one thing straight: We don’t have anything against folding. In fact, there are many items of clothing, such as jackets and heavy sweaters, that are actually easier to fold instead of roll. And if you’re adept at intricate folds (think Marie Kondo folding), then we say go for it.
But there’s a lot of room for error in folding. If you don’t fold things just so, there’s a good chance your clothing won’t stack properly. Not only do bulky stacks of clothing take up extra room, but they can also shift in transit, even if you’re using the best luggage brands or best luggage sets. This shifting creates friction, which is one of the main factors behind wrinkling.
Rolling, on the other hand, creates equal-size parcels of clothing that you can then tuck together into packing cubes or a suitcase. These uniform rolls help you avoid wasted space and lead to less movement. Think of a canister of potato chips that are nested together versus a bag of chips in which everything is moving, and you get the idea.
Benefits of rolling clothes for packing
Knowing how to roll clothes for packing means you can create equal-size clothing capsules and then nestle them together in a carry-on suitcase or checked luggage. The obvious benefit is that you’ll use more of your interior baggage space and reduce the friction that causes wrinkling. But beyond that, rolling clothes allows you to more easily view what you’ve packed, since rolled clothing stands upright next to each other, instead of stacked with items hidden.
Roll your clothing to:
- Save space
- Reduce wrinkles
- View items at a glance
- Create wardrobe bundles (more on that below)
Which items of clothing should you roll?
Although we’re big fans of rolling for wrinkle-resistant and space-saving travel, not every item lends itself to this method. The best candidates are soft clothing and/or lightweight cotton items.
Rolling heavy or bulky items—think winter coats and thick knit sweaters—would be a packing mistake. You’ll want to fold these and then place them at the top of your bag.
Roll these clothing items:
- Bathing suits
- Casual dresses
- Casual pants
- Long- and short-sleeve T-shirts
- Workout clothes
How to roll clothes for packing
Ready to roll? Follow the steps below when packing for your next trip. And here’s a travel tip: Don’t skip the step that advises you to smooth out wrinkles—starting wrinkle-free helps clothes stay that way.
- Step 1: Lay the shirt on a flat surface.
- Step 2: Carefully smooth out any wrinkles.
- Step 3: Fold about two inches of the shirt’s bottom upward.
- Step 4: Fold the left side of the shirt toward the center. (If the sleeves are longer, you may need to fold them back along the seams.)
- Step 5: Fold the right side of the shirt toward the center. (If the sleeves are longer, you may need to fold them back along the seams.) You should have a long rectangle at this point.
- Step 6: Starting at the top of the shirt, roll down to form a cylinder.
- Step 7: Untuck a portion of the shirt’s base (which you had folded up in Step 3) and secure the roll with it.
- Step 1: Lay the pants on a flat surface.
- Step 2: Fold the pants lengthwise, so the legs are stacked on top of each other.
- Step 3: Carefully smooth out any wrinkles.
- Step 4: Fold the pants in half vertically. You should have a long, thin rectangle.
- Step 5: Roll up from the bottom (tightly) to create a perfect cylinder.
- Step 1: Place the dress face down on a flat surface and smooth out any wrinkles.
- Step 2: If the dress has sleeves, fold them back along the seams so you have squared-off sides.
- Step 3: For long dresses, fold horizontally at the waist or at the center of the dress.
- Step 4: Fold in half vertically to create a long rectangle.
- Step 5: Roll from top to bottom as tightly and neatly as possible to create a cylinder.
- Step 1: Lay the underwear on a flat surface.
- Step 2: Fold the crotch upward to meet the waistband.
- Step 3: Fold the left side over the right.
- Step 4: Roll the right side toward the left.
Shorts, swim trunks and boxer shorts
- Step 1: Lay the shorts on a flat surface.
- Step 2: Fold lengthwise so the legs are stacked on top of each other, smoothing any wrinkles as you go.
- Step 3: Roll from top to bottom into a small tube.
- Step 1: Smooth out the suit and fold it in half vertically to create a rectangle.
- Step 2: Roll the rectangle into a tight cylinder.
- Step 1: Lay the two pieces on top of each other. If they’re stackable and small, simply roll them together. If one piece is larger than the other, use it as the base and lay the other piece on top, in the center of the item.
- Step 2: Fold the sides of the larger piece vertically over the smaller piece. This will create a small rectangle with the smaller piece nestled inside.
- Step 3: Roll the rectangle into a tight cylinder.
- Step 1: Lay the socks on top of each other so they’re both facing the same way.
- Step 2: Roll from the toes up.
- Step 3: Fold the top cuff over the socks, locking them into a tight ball.
Capsule sock burrito
Want to roll multiple items into one small capsule? You can—and it’s easy! This technique works well when you combine one larger item, like a T-shirt, with smaller items, like a bathing suit. It also works like a charm for smaller children’s clothing, creating individual outfit “pods.” If you’re trying to cram clothing into small under-seat luggage, give this trick a try.
- Step 1: Lay a T-shirt on a flat surface. Smooth out any wrinkles.
- Step 2: Layer smaller items of clothing on top of the shirt, placing the largest items first and the smaller ones at the top of the stack.
- Step 3: Fold the left side of the shirt toward the center so it partially covers the items stacked on the shirt.
- Step 4: Fold the right side of the shirt toward the center to create a long rectangle. You should no longer be able to see the smaller items stacked on top of the shirt.
- Step 5: Lay a tube sock (or other large sock) across the top of the T-shirt rectangle. The toe seam should touch the left side of the shirt and the tube portion should hang past the right side of the shirt.
- Step 6: Lay a second tube sock across the top of the T-shirt, this one with its toes touching the right side of the shirt and tube hanging past the left side. The socks should overlap in the center of the shirt.
- Step 7: Roll the T-shirt over the socks, and keep rolling downward. Try to keep the roll as tight as possible.
- Step 8: When you’ve reached the base of the T-shirt, fold the top of the socks back and over the clothing. The sock tops will meet in the middle and create a “burrito.”
Clothing to take on vacation
We can’t talk about how to roll clothes for packing without giving you some of our favorite recommendations for pieces to take on vacation with you. Pro tip: Build a capsule wardrobe to whittle down your outfits and make packing easier.
Starting off with clothes marked “wrinkle resistant,” “wrinkle free” or “no iron” is a helpful first step to having crisp-looking clothes upon arrival. If you can’t find clothes marked this way, shop for products with four-way stretch or those made from stretchy fabrics like elastane, spandex and lyocell.
Mistakes to avoid when packing clothes
Knowing how to roll clothes for packing is a good first step, but there are other actions that’ll have you packing like a pro in no time. For starters, avoid the beginner mistakes below.
- Starting with wrinkled items. Wrinkles don’t magically disappear while in transit (although we wish they did!). Starting with unwrinkled clothing will result in crisper-looking clothes when you arrive at your destination
- Overstuffing. We’re all for maximizing your suitcase space, but if you jam your bag to capacity, your clothes will look like the last mangled chips at the bottom of the bag.
- Putting heavy shoes on top. Shoes should be placed in corners or under clothing, so your clothes don’t get smashed.
- Packing “just in case” clothing. One of the best ways to pack lighter when you travel is to do your homework. Check the weather in your destination and the itinerary for your trip, so you’re only bringing clothing you’ll definitely need. Leave “what if?” items back home. When in doubt, leave it out.
- Skipping packing cubes. These lightweight fabric containers help keep you organized on the road. They’re also great for stashing underwear away from prying eyes should your bag be searched.
- Packing your heaviest items. Free up space in your bag and decrease the weight of your luggage by getting strategic about what you wear on the plane or in the car as you travel to your destination. Dress in your heaviest, bulkiest items (think hiking boots, winter coats and heavy sweaters) instead of packing them.
- Airport Parking Reservations press release