6th Annual Flats and Handwashing Challenge- Day 4: What Is Your Washing Routine?

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On the 4th day of the 6th annual Flats & Handwashing Challenge we’ll be discussing our wash routines. This can be helpful as we compare notes, discuss what works for us and what doesn’t, and create a written tutorial we can refer to in the future if we don’t make handwashing our regular routine but find occasion to do it in special circumstances. Side note: Handwashing is my favorite way to wash my dog’s bedding, the machine just CAN’T get it fully clean and all that fur gets gunked up and I end up having to wash the interior of my machine anyway. By handwashing it’s quicker and more effective, and everybody is happier. I’ve also noticed a lot of our participants this week are suddenly questioning the effectiveness of their machines as handwashing routines are cleaning their babies’ diapers better than ever.

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First off, let me congratulate you on reaching day 4, which means we are halfway through the challenge! The first few days are always the hardest as new endeavors are intimidating, but the more you practice the easier and more routine it becomes. Some participants find flats and covers to be so effective and easy to care for they end up selling off their stash of pockets and all in ones, preferring their challenge pieces. While I love using a variety of diaper styles for different occasions, I will always keep a small stash of flats and covers on hand for emergencies, unexpected diaper changes, and general preparedness.
One thing I love about handwashing diapers is how simple the routine is. There is no need for testing your water hardness, contemplating 5 dozen brands of detergent, weighing your load, submitting laundry questionnaires to self-appointed experts in hopes of a fool proof personalized instruction book, and fretting over whether your child’s diapers are “clean enough” if they don’t come out of the wash looking and smelling like a laundry detergent commercial. With handwashing, all you need is some determination, a little time, and a little manpower.

With this being my fourth year participating in the challenge, I feel like I’ve pretty much got it down. First I rinse any solids off the flats and covers with a diaper sprayer. Then I load my laundry into the bucket and fill it with enough cold water to cover everything. At this point I make sure it’s secured in a spot my babies can’t get to it, and I let it sit for half an hour to soak. This seems to really cut down on labor for me, so if you’re struggling with the “butter churning” portion of the job, make sure you’re giving your diapers a chance to soak first.

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At this point my diapers are ready to be washed so I slip on some gloves and dump the dirty water. This can be done in your bathtub for convenience, but the weather is so nice in my town I prefer working outside while my kids play with their toys. I make sure to dump any dirty water in a section of the yard that is fenced off from them, where there is just dirt and weeds. Since I gave the initial rinse inside, there are no solids to worry about. So once I have emptied the bucket, I refill it, with hot water if possible but cold works well enough and line drying will sanitize your diapers just as much as hot water if not moreso. I add a small amount of laundry detergent (any brand will do, I’m using Molly’s Suds Cloth Diaper Powder) and turn off the water when the bucket is about half full. I then add the flats, and if I have a good amount of very soiled flats I do this step in stages, adding the dirtiest flats first, and adding the less soiled flats and the covers after I’ve had time to work over the worst of the lot. I use my mobile washer to churn the laundry, adjusting angles and direction to ensure all the laundry is well agitated. Time is more important than severity of stroke, so if you have some fun music playing you can focus on the music to ensure you give your laundry a full wash. Once I’m content all flats are fully clean, I add the covers and continue to wash until I’m certain they are clean, too. This way my flats get an extra scrubbing. You can pull a piece of laundry out with your gloves on and examine it (look, smell, touch) if you prefer, but once you’ve done it a few times you just kind of know. If the water seems especially dingy at this point I may add a “second cycle” by removing the laundry, dumping the water, and adding a new bucket of water and soap for a second go around, but this year I’ve not needed to do this.

At this point I am ready for a rinse cycle, I remove each piece individually and give it a quick squeeze over the bucket to release some soapy water, then set it aside (if I’m indoors I just set it on the floor of the tub, outside I have a plastic storage bin that works well). I dump the soapy water, rinse the bucket, and then refill it with clean water and no soap. Then I return the laundry to the bucket and churn until the diapers appear well rinsed. If needed I can repeat this step but by my initial squeeze I’ve cut down on the amount of suds I had to rinse. When I’m convinced my diapers are well rinsed and clean I remove each piece individually and take my time squeezing out excess water. This helps with dry time but also ensures there are no suds hiding (if I find bubbles or slick soapy water I can rinse again) and then it is time to hang them up to dry.

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When I collect my dry flats they can sometimes seem a bit stiff, but bringing them inside and rolling, shaking, snapping, and folding them seems to soften them up quickly. You can also iron them, and though that is too labor intensive for me under most circumstances, it is also an excellent way to finish drying a damp flat that is needed immediately (just a reminder in case we have newbies among us, DO NOT iron your PUL covers. Just, NO. Don’t even think about it. If your cover is damp, wipe it down with a towel or dry flat. For most of us that seems like the “Warning, coffee is hot” label but I have heard horror stories).

I find I have less laundry to do this year compared to last year when I had two in diapers, and so far I’ve only done two loads of laundry. It doesn’t seem to take too much time out of my day, since it is time I would normally spend playing with my girls and they are content if I am nearby. In years past I’ve used babywearing as a tool to keep them close and happy while I wash, it seems this year they prefer to keep each other company, but I’m happy to know I have the option in my back pocket should I need it.

How does your wash routine compare? What is your favorite tip or trick to expedite the process or make life easier? What is your favorite part of this process? I think mine is seeing all that beautiful clean laundry swinging in the breeze.


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