“You WHAT?!” Handwashing Cloth Diapers Full Time, The Why’s and How’s

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I’m so thrilled to be sharing this post with you today and grateful to Sara for sharing her story.  Sara has been handwashing her cloth diapers for about 2 years.  She explains the why’s and even the how’s.  This is such a wonderful and informative post.  Thank you Sara!  

“You WHAT??”

That is the general reaction when people find out that not only do I cloth diaper, but also hand-wash and line-dry said cloth diapers. Some think I’m crazy, others think I’m some sort of domestic goddess. I assure you, I am neither. I am a stay at home mama of two little’s, who has a very limited budget and no washer or dryer to speak of.

When I first started hand washing, it was out of pure necessity. We had no money for disposables and no money for a Laundromat (at that time we also hand washed our clothes). So, I began on a mission to find out the best way to wash our diapers (and clothes) without a washing machine or dryer. First, I came across those portable washers that fit in apartments. Those looked great, but again, money was an issue. After some more research I came across something called “The Breathing Washer” (editor’s note: I have one of these, it is great for handwashing). It is a hard plastic plunger that creates a push/pull of the water through your clothes. This worked much better than the bucket/regular plunger option, and it was WAY cheaper than the portable washers. So, for nine back breaking months, that’s how I washed my daughter’s diapers. Time went on; I had my son, and moved into a house with a washer and dryer. Those 4 months of modern convenience were GLORIOUS! Sadly, we had to move again, and ended up in the apartment we’re in now; which is GREAT, but didn’t come with a washer or dryer.

Now we were back to hand washing, and my Breathing Washer had broken in the move (major sad-face!). We are in a better financial place then when I first started hand washing. We technically could afford ‘sposies if we wanted to but we would have to give up the very small wiggle room we now have in the budget. We like being able to afford a coffee out now and then. And, in my almost 3 years of cloth diapering, I have grown to detest disposable diapers. So, I was back to square one. I needed to wash my diapers by hand and didn’t have a way to do it. . Or so I thought. One of my genius friends told me about how she stomped her diapers clean in a round plastic bin. THAT’S IT! It was perfect. I had an old, cracked round tub from Wal-Mart that was just begging to be reused as a “washing machine”. Although stomping is easier on the back than using a plunger or washboard, it is still a lot of work. When you have a washing machine you take a lot of the washing process for granted. You just put the clothes in, add detergent, press the button and walk away. You don’t need to worry about the amount of detergent you added, if it was too much, just turn on the machine again and give it another rinse, no problem. But, when your feet, hands and back are the washing “machine” it’s a whole different story. If you put too much detergent, you will be lost in a sea of suds for days; if you put too little, the scent of semi-clean pee-diapers will haunt you for weeks….trust me, the stench will knock your socks off. When you are the “machine” you are responsible for the water temperature, the agitation speed, and the length of the cycle. . . it can be overwhelming at times.

All of this may have your head spinning and you may have the urge to close your lap-top and run to kiss your washing machine. You might be thinking “WHY would anyone ever willingly do that??” Well, I’ll tell you why (my reasoning, anyway). The foremost reasons are cost and the environment. We don’t have a washer (or dryer) so our options are either buy disposables or use the Laundromat. While I am not totally against disposables as a concept, I cannot wrap my head around pouring thousands of dollars into what will ultimately become a chemical-stuffed landfill. As for the Laundromat, with the amount of money we would have to spend to get the diapers clean, we might as well just buy a washer. (Which we currently don’t have the funds for). The two aforementioned options just didn’t set well with me. I don’t want to add to the landfills and don’t have the money (or time) to use a vending washer. So that leaves me with hand washing. And you know what? I am totally ok with that.

In the grand scheme of things I don’t mind hand washing. I like that I control exactly how much detergent goes into the wash. I can tell when the diapers are all the way clean and rinsed well. I especially like that I’m getting a work-out as well as cleaning the diapers. To me, it’s a win-win. I even enjoy line-drying everything. The diapers come out smelling fresh and are stain-free thanks to the sun (nature’s bleach). As with anything, hand washing requires some trial and error and what works for me, may not work for you. Below is what worked for me and how I currently hand wash my diapers. But just because this is the way that works best for me, does not mean that it is the only way. Keep that in mind as you embark on your hand washing endeavor.

How I do it:
In order to stomp-wash your diapers you will need:
• Large Plastic Tub
• Water source(I use my shower/tub)
• Detergent(I use Ajax liquid laundry detergent)
• Plunger or Breathing Washer
• Latex gloves
• Your feet
• Dirty Diapers

1. Put your plastic tub in your bathtub (or your yard) and throw all of your dirty diapers into it.

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2. Fill it up with the hottest water you have, swish them around a couple of times with your plunger and then let them soak (this helps dislodge/dissolve any poop on the diapers). When the water cools down considerably (usually a half hour or so) dump out the dirty water into your bathtub. –I do this at least twice. You don’t HAVE to, but I’d recommend it since it takes for less work getting them clean later on.

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3. After you have rinsed the diapers to your liking, fill the tub up again with hot water (the temperature is up to you, whatever you are comfortable sticking your feet into) and add a small amount of the detergent of your choice. I use Ajax liquid laundry detergent and fill it up to the very first line.

4. Now here comes the fun part, stomping! Stomp or run in place to agitate your diapers. I usually do it at 5 min intervals for 25 mins or so. Or until you feel the diapers are thoroughly washed.

5. Dump out the dirty wash water, fill it back up with lukewarm water and stomp/rinse until the water runs clear(you will most likely need to fill and dump 2-3 times)

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6. After the diapers are all rinsed, put your gloves on and wring the water out – if your hands get tired, or you don’t feel like wringing them out you can place them in a dry towel and roll it with a rolling pin to express the water.

THERE! Now your diapers are all clean and wrung out. Time to hang them on the line!
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I use these “octopus” hanging dryers from IKEA. They are perfect for drying diapers and are a wonderful option if you are like me and only have a porch to hang your diapers from. If I’m sunning my diapers, I lay them out on an old quilt to dry. Usually I’ll sun them for a couple of hours them hang them to dry after the flats are dry.
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Congratulations! You have now successfully washed your diapers sans washing machine or dryer! Give yourself a hug, you deserve it!

Tips and Tricks
*Smaller loads are easier to get clean, so you may want to wash every other day or so
*Less is more when it comes to detergent. Just because you aren’t drowning in suds, doesn’t mean the diapers aren’t getting clean
*It’s better for the elastic in pockets and covers to lay them out first to dry a bit before you hang them. That way there is less stress on the elastic and they last longer.

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Kim Rosas began Dirty Diaper Laundry in 2009 out of a desire to help more parents understand modern cloth diapers. She lives in Florida with her husband of 5 years and her two boys. Even though none of her boys wear diapers anymore she is still just as committed to promoting them. In her spare time Kim enjoys video editing, photography, and coffee.
  • Monica Madsen

    Wow! This is great!! I would like to try it some time. Now that spring has finally arrived, I look forward to hanging my diapers outside. Without a line outside yet, I think I’ll look for the octopus hanger. Thanks!!

  • Michelle K

    I love this! Like many others, at first I thought, “No way, Jose!” But after reading your steps and actually analyzing my own, I realized I’m probably way better off using your method. Because I tend to be a bit obsessive about stains I essentially wash my babe’s diapers before putting them in the washer. So why waste the extra energy and water? Thanks! Looks like I have a new way to obsess over them now! :)

  • Carissa Joslyn

    When I first started out Cloth Diapering, when my Son was 6 months old, I was living in a place that had no washer/dryer hook up. I had to hand wash for the first 6 months, until my son was 1. I started out by just washing them in my tub, with a plunger. Then my friends mom who is my facebook friend ended up surprising me and buying me one of those breathable plungers. The change was drastic! Diapers were so clean, took a lot less time to wash as well! I was a beyond thrilled! Never thought about stomping though! I only had a 5 gal bucket to work with. But when my son was 1 we moved to a place where I could have a washer/dryer. I still line dry my diapers, but having a washing machine is heaven and definitely something you take for granted! But I am glad that if something happens to the power and I’m unable to use the washing machine, I have the stuff i need to be able to get them clean still! I still use my breathable plunger for the poopy non plopable diapers! :p


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