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

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.


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.


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)


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!
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.
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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  • Wendy K

    I actually have a washer. It’s a terrible top loader with an agitator and it’s KILLING my diapers. I used to have a front loader (LOVE!) but we had to sell it and move and now we’re staying with my dad so we use his. It’s literally destroying my diapers– 2 inserts have come out looking like a dog ripped them apart. I’m considering just getting a bucket and a plunger because I’m tired of them being ripped apart. This post made up my mind– I can’t wait for the exercise. =)

  • Jayme

    thank you!!! we are in the same situation and I was debating on getting a Panda washer or the plunger…. or both. It may be “labor work” but that is what humans were designed for and just like cloth diapering- its the Labor of Love!!!

  • charlotte

    Thank you. this really gives me hope. I have a washer and dryer and love them dearly but we are moving to an apartment that doesn’t have the taps/space for the washer. I will be washing the cloth nappies and everyones clothes by hand (that’s four people loads of clothes) but at least I have a dryer which is fantastic as the new place doesn’t have anywhere to hang clothes (nor a dryer, which might go on the kitchen table). Least I’ll be getting exercise.
    Thank you for the advice, really thank you

  • sudspenser

    What a hard way of taking care cloth diapers and baby.

  • Ally

    Now, one question I have in mind, would you actually have to cool the water down for the stomping part if you had a pair of dedicated stomping rubber boots? no more foot burns 😛

  • Stephanie, Mom of Four

    I did this 5 years ago, only I used my hands, not a plunger or feet. Apartment coin laundry wasn’t worth doing cloth, so I worked around that! I gave it a good run, but eventually decided my time was better spent with the kids, since this was taking up too much of my limited free time with them.

  • May’s mama

    I second the octopus dryer hooks from IKEA! I think they are $5 apiece and are GREAT for small spaces.

  • Jenny

    If you can’t stomp grapes might as well stomp cloth diapers! This is awesome. My feet may take a trip to an imaginary warm-weathered vineyard this winter…

  • Sarah

    My issue is the amount of detergent. I can’t seem to get it right. I’m going to try going back to my rubbermaid tub instead of my bathtub and see if that fixes it.

  • Nicole Bear

    My washer pump just broke. Luckily I go the extended protection plan and it will be replaced for free, but in the mean time I have to find a way to wash during the few weeks until the part arrives and it can be replaced. I jokingly told my sister I would be “stomping my diapers like grapes”!! I guess it really works! I already have a tub like yours, so I think I am set.

  • Mtbakergirl

    I commend you for making the best of a tough situation, but I am not sure this counts as a “green” option. Following your method would seem to use approximately 70-80 gallons of water (assuming a 17 gallon tub filled up about 2/3 with water every time). An old top loading washer uses on average 40-50 gallons and a front loader uses only 10-18 gallons. If someone else was looking to do this buying more flats and washing less frequently at a laundromat would probably be a much more environmentally sound option, particularly of you livening a drought prone area.

  • Jessica Johnson-Gammon

    I may have missed it, but what kind of diapers are you using? Would this be feasible with pockets & microfiber inserts? I can’t afford to completely revamp my stash, but I have a bucket just like that just begging to save me a crap load of money…

  • Greenmachine

    I do this every other day. My mom is from jamaica and lived on a farm and this is how they washed diapers. But they boiled them in a massive pot reserved for diapers only. If you absolutely cant do cloth diapering and wash em by hand because ypu are scared of poop and pee, then be greatful you live in the future because in the past, you could have never been a capable mother.

  • reynelle87 .

    I love the breathing washing :). Thanks to ur informative post I actually ordered it a couple weeks ago and have already tried using it. I’m amazed at how well it cleaned 🙂 and it’s such a great arm workout!!! I wash mine in our utility sink so no bending over for me. And then I do a final rinse and spin in the washer to wring it out for me. Bkuz man it’s hard to wring out well by hand 🙂

  • Natalie D.

    I am so ready to do this! I’ve got my octopus hangers, breathing mobile washer, tub, and can-do attitude! I hate the washer and dryer my apartment came with. The washer mangles my clothes and the dryer takes FOREVER to dry even the smallest load of lightweight clothes. Plus, using the breathing washer and/or stomping my laundry is multitasking. Now I don’t feel bad about not going to the gym! Thanks for all the great tips! 🙂