Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Washing Cloth Diapers in a Small Apartment

So you like the idea of cloth diapers, but you don't have a washing machine. You live in a tiny apartment, and the closest laundromat is six blocks away and costs $4 per load. Are cloth diapers an option for you? Or are you stuck with spending $60 a month on disposables that will fill the landfill for the next 100 years?

Never fear, apartment-dweller: you, too, can use cloth diapers.

After all, our great-grandmothers all used cloth, and none of them had washing machines.

If the financial advantage of cloth is one of its main attractions for you, then you'll want a washing solution that's inexpensive, too. The cheapest way for you to wash your own diapers is by hand, but there aren't many people these days who dare to attempt such a feat (and really, I can't blame you!). However, if you're brave enough, you can wash your diapers is with a bucket and a clean (unused) toilet plunger. Put the plunger in the bucket or tub along with your dirty diapers, and add water and detergent. Agitate the diapers by moving the plunger up and down in the water. This method works best if you let the diapers soak for a while first (your wet pail could even double as your washing bucket) and if you use hot water. Also if you have strong arms. There's definitely a gross factor, though: you have to dump out the water by hand and replace it with clean rinse water. And you have to wring the diapers dry.

Not quite up for hand washing diapers? How about a handmade washing machine? Lifehacker has a plan for building a hand-powered washing machine out of wood and netting. The innovative design is made to agitate clothes (or diapers) without letting them get bunched up or tangled, and it can clean a load in about fifteen minutes. You still have to dump the dirty water out and refill with rinse water by hand, but you can use the machine to spin some of the water out and make drying easier.

If you can't handle the thought of dumping dirty water into your toilet or bathtub, then your best bet is to purchase an apartment washing machine. This doesn't have to be expensive; you can buy a hand-powered mini washing machine for around $50. You still have to agitate by hand, but with the efficient crank, most of these machines will wash your load in less than ten minutes. A hose allows you to drain and refill, preventing the need to dump the water out, and you'll use less water than you would with the bucket method. And you can still wash diapers even if your electricity goes out.

If you really want the convenience of a traditional washing machine but simply don't have the space for it, you can get an apartment-sized washing machine. Most of these hook to your sink, so you don't need a laundry hook-up. Prices usually run between $150 and $300, which sounds like a lot until you realize that you could easily spend more than that on disposable diapers before your baby hits six months old.

No matter which washing method you choose, be aware that you're not sanitizing your diapers, just cleaning them. (But most washing machines don't sanitize either, unless they have a very hot sanitary cycle.) However, sanitizing diapers isn't necessary, at least not for every wash. If you're concerned about germs, consider adding a disinfectant to your wash water such as tea tree oil, vinegar, or even bleach (not recommended for most types of diapers, so check with the manufacturer). You can also boil your diapers after washing them: just put them in a pot of boiling water for ten minutes.

What about drying your diapers? If it fits in your budget and your tiny living space, you can buy an apartment-sized dryer to match your little washing machine. But if space and money are tight, a simple folding drying rack will serve you just fine. Hanging diapers to dry may be a little time consuming, but it's actually the preferred method for most diapers: they'll last longer when hung to dry. If you have a porch or a balcony, then put your rack of drying diapers outside when you can, since direct sunlight will disinfect them and bleach out any stains. If it's raining, or you just don't have any outdoor space, then put the rack in your bathtub to catch drips.

All this might sound like a lot of work. But in the long run, cloth diapers can actually be a lot more convenient, even in a tiny apartment. After all, how long would it take you to run to the store every time you ran out of disposable diapers? And how far do you have to carry your trash? When you consider all the factors, you may discover that five minutes of turning a hand-cranked washer isn't so much work after all.

Lisa C. Baker is a full-time mom and part-time writer in Atlanta, Georgia. She writes about green parenting topics at Organic Baby Atlanta and teaches workshops on cloth diapers and elimination communication.  She's been a mom since 2008 and has never bought a disposable diaper; she hopes she'll never need to!

Photo by simplyla, used by creative commons license.


Hippie_Mama_Kat said...

I hand-washed all of my cloth diapers (my way of doing is posted in my blog). It was SO worth it. 20 minutes of actual work every morning. It just became a normal part of my routine.

Janine @ Alternative Housewife said...

Great post! We did cloth diapers while camping and hand-washed in the camp showers for a week. It wasn't super easy but I would still choose that method over disposables. :)

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