Flats and Handwashing Challenge: Over and Done

and this is why
and this is why

For 7 days I, along with hundreds of other families, used flat cloth diapers and handwashed them.  We could only use 5 covers per child, and we had to live without the luxury of a diaper sprayer.  What has this experience taught us?  {if you took the Challenge, please remember to fill out this survey!}

To me the most important lesson from this experience was that it is possible.  Knowing that I can live on less than 60.00$ worth of diapers is invaluable.  I know that I can help others learn how to do the same.  I know that I have learned how to handwash diapers and I can teach that to others.  I’ve learned a myriad of flat folds and I’m sure that if I were given the chance I could teach one or all of them to another parent.  I’ve learned that handwashing isn’t ideal, it isn’t a choice I would make if I could choose between a washer or none, but it is an option if I had no diapers and no washing machine.  In fact, the most personally applicable lesson is that I can handwash my diapers for any vacation situation.

So here is my honest opinion about handwashing diapers.

I didn’t enjoy it. Mainly because I found wringing out diapers to be pretty labor intensive.  If there was a better way to wring out diapers then things would have been much easier.  I didn’t really mind the bucket and plunger washing method at all.  I found that my diapers were cleaner and rinsed cleaner this way than a sink or bath tub.

If I were doing this out of necessity I would…

try to wash them in a washer and dryer at least once every 1.5-2 weeks.  Whether this meant going to a laundromat, a relatives, or using coin laundry in an apartment building.  Especially if I couldn’t sun my diapers I would want to use a washer/dry at least that often.

If I were doing this out of necessity I would…

possibly end up mixing disposable diapers into the mix.  The whole point of this extreme experience was to learn what can be expected of people.  I am a SAHM and I did still find trouble getting diapers washed on occasion.  Some days were better than others.  The worst day came not when my husband was out of town, but while we were in the hotel.  I was on my knees washing diapers with rubber gloves and and the baby started screaming.  I was wringing diapers and preparing for the final rinse.  My husband was yelling at me to hurry and I yelled back that I was close to finishing.  I hasitly rinsed my diapers while I was hearing my baby scream.  Apparently being with Daddy wasn’t enough but I wanted to be done.  I half assed wrung the diapers and flung them over the shower rail.  My husband was insanely annoyed with my absence since he couldn’t hear my yelling back that I would be done soon.  Had he not been there I would have had to stop.  At least I knew he was safe, just pissed.  Without another adult there I would have rushed to his side.  In single parent homes or when the other parent isn’t around, this is every day.  I will say that I had the best success when both boys were watching me wash.  My toddler enjoyed “helping” and I talked to Ev while I did it so that he would be happy.

If I were doing this out of necessity I would…

Use the camp style washer full time.  No doubt about it.  With my bathroom arrangement this just works better.  The bucket doubles as a pail for storing the dirty diapers.  I do know people who have the opposite opinion.  It is all personal preference.

If I were doing this out of necessity I would…

wear gloves for everything!  I learned the hard way that plunging on a wooden stick and wringing out diapers can be hell on your hands.  My old waitressing callouses came back with a vengeance!  When I wore gloves this improved the situation 200%.

If I were doing this out of necessity I would.

and this is why

Yes, I would do this.  I would try my hardest to accumulate enough diapers so that I weren’t close to running out, but I would do this.  Let’s just take cloth diapering for health and environmental reasons off of the table.  For this mental exercise we will say that cloth and disposables are equal.

Cloth still wins on money savings every single time.  When you spend money on a disposable you get x number of diaper changes.  You cannot wash a disposable, you cannot rinse it out, you cannot use it for your next child.

Disposables win in the convenience factor if you are using flats and handwashing.  No doubt about it.  And many low income families are very blessed to receive disposable diapers through various diaper banks.  This isn’t the case for everyone though.

As a community we all have a passion for cloth diapers.  I bet we also all have a desire to make sure that the precious babies in every home out there are dry and healthy.

We can do something.

So here is what I am thinking.  All of us who participated in the challenge, and anyone else who is game, get to Googling. Find out where families in your local area are receiving disposable diaper donations.  Chances are those banks don’t always have enough to go around. Talk to the person in charge.  Ask them if they accept cloth diaper donations.  If they don’t, tell them why they should.  Not all families who need diaper assistance are without washers and dryers so any cloth diaper will do.

If they say they don’t accept them because there isn’t enough demand for them, let them know that that is silly.  One family is enough of a demand to have any available.

Offer your services.

Offer the Diaper Bank, Food Pantry, Church, or whatever it is, your expertise.  Give them your information and tell them that you can personally teach any mother or father how to use cloth diapers and how to use them for under 60.00.  Even if they can’t get cloth diapers for that family, show them that they can get them for very little money.  Or if you are able, show them how to make their own.  Or help them make them.   If you can, why not get some inexpensive business cards made with your name, a title of Cloth Diaper Consultant, and your contact information?  Leave these with the Banks to hand out.  Even if you only teach one family a year this is something.

I know of some advocates who have had success with WIC in teaching a course on cloth diapering.  I am trying to coordinate this myself with little luck in getting calls returned.  I guess we all have to be persistent.

This experiment wasn’t for fun.  It was training.  We have trained ourselves to diaper for little money, with little luxuries, and in good times and bad.  I know it was just a week, but it was Flats Boot Camp.  The extremes of the experience made certain lessons easier to learn.  In real life there are more grey areas.  There are so, so many ways that flats and handwashing can assist families in need.  Use them only when you run out of disposables, or intersperse them with disposables during the week.  Buy enough so that you only need to visit a washing machine once every 4 days, but understand that handwashing is an option in case you don’t make it.

I want to emphasize that I would never tell a family who can hardly buy food for their children that they should get a stash of cloth diapers and slave away handwashing them every day.  I will gladly teach anyone who wants to learn that there is a way to save money and keep a baby in clean diapers.

More importantly, the gift or investment of a modest and simple stash of flats and covers is enabling a family to self sustain.  No more worrying about having to visit a food bank for a possible package of diapers, or spending the last 10.00 they have on a package of disposables.  This simple solution is the proverbial “Teach a man to fish.”

“Buy a package of disposables, diaper a baby for a week.  Buy a stash of cloth diapers, diaper a baby for a lifetime.”

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  • Erica Nicholas

    I am just starting to get into cloth diapers. Getting the stash to start out with is the hard part, we don’t have much money. That’s the only reason we still use disposables. 

    I’m awarding you with The Versatile Blogger award! Please go here http://smileyboyknowsbest.blogspot.com/2011/05/versatile-blogger-award.html to pick it up! 

  • Jeniffer

    My sister-in-law knows a lady who teaches classes to lower-income women. We’re hoping to teach a new class soon: emergency diapering!

  • Rachael O.

    Thank you so much, Kim, for issuing this challenge. Although I personally didn’t partake in the challenge, I loved reading all the blogs about those who did. I also started using flats. They are my new favorite. I do cloth diaper consultations at my local birthing center. I have had several wonderful opportunities to share my knowledge of cloth (most of which, I learned from you!). The flats challenge has given me so many more ideas for my sessions because most of the parents I consult with are in need. So I can point them in your direction (once again) to help them be confident that it is possible to diaper and save money! I hadn’t thought about the WIC angle, but that is a great one.

  • Love this!  Planning to contact my local WIC office ASAP 🙂  I like Jeniffer’s comment about calling it “emergency diapering” or something like that.  It seems much more non-threatening and accessible putting it in that perspective – a skill to keep for when you need it, but not to feel like you have to do if it doesn’t work for you on a regular basis…

  • Leigh

    A salad spinner is great for wringing out handwashing (I have an Ikea one just for laundry)

    • Oh my goodness, if only I would have seen this comment during this past week! That is a great idea. Note to self, I need a salad spinner. 🙂

      • Anonymous

        I wanted to ask someone how well they worked. Good enough to suggest to someone?

  • I wish I knew if there was a diaper bank in hawaii… I goggled to no avail….

  • You are so awesome!

    • Anonymous

      well thank you! lol

  • Hi Kim! I didn’t participate in the challenge myself, however I admire those who did and it was interesting reading the stories – both the triumphs and the struggles! What an important and successful exercise, and great wrap-up post. You continue to be such a leader and visionary when it comes to cloth diapering. Kudos!!

  • Theresa

    I guess I should be happy for my 8% humidity and highs in the upper 90s.  I started out the challenge washing at night, but quickly switched to washing in the morning or during my daughter’s nap because it would take all night (and then some) for the diapers to dry inside.  Outside it took less than two hours, even in the shade and without more than a quick wring and shake to get the worst of the water out.  My husband actually commented on how much faster it was to handwash and line dry the flats than it is to wash our prefolds in the machine and then throw them in the dryer and on breezy days the diapers were just as soft.  While I will admit that there were times (like when we all had the stomach flu) that the washing machine looked awful tempting, for us the handwashing wasn’t that bad.  We will definitely be using our flats and handwashing them while traveling and keeping the bucket washer on hand for emergencies.  The flats have made it into our normal rotation and will probably be seeing a lot more use (DH actually kept on using the flats all day Monday even after the challenge was over because he was so happy with the total lack of leaks.)

  • Thanks for taking part in this challenge and posting about it. It’s inspired me to try the flats that have just been sitting in a drawer. I ended up loving the diaper bag fold. I ended up buying more in hopes of using cloth and hand washing on vacation. (supplemented by disposables.. as it is a vacation!) Rather than just bringing sposies on vacation, and then because of garbage laws there… having to lug the dirties back home again…

    • Anonymous

      I plan on taking mine with me next time too!

  • I have a lot of respect for the mamas that made it through the entire week, and those that do this regularily out of necessity! I personally slacked during this challenge, I was all gung-ho to do it for the entire week but found that I am lazy and the washing machine was just plain easier for a family on the go. I did however, learn that I could do it if I had to. I will do it when we go camping in the summer and feel confident that it can be done.  On the bright side, through my laziness i did find a way to make wringing out the water easier. I used a salad spinner I bought at the Dollar Store. I use it for my wool so thought why not? It cost $1.25 and saved a ton of work!

  • Kristen

    For anyone who wants to donate their flats, covers or any other cloth diaper related item and can’t find a local organization to do so, please consider donating them to @GivingDiapersGivingHope:disqus, which is a national cloth diaper lending foundation for low income families!  www.facebook.com/givingdiapersgivinghopefoundation  Please come “like” us, spread the word, and/or donate to help struggling families around the country!  Your help is needed and much appreciated!!!