The Cloth Diaper Initiative strongly believes that cloth is a viable option for parents who are struggling with the cost of diapers. If they are made aware of the option and have it accessible, they won't have to leave their baby in a wet diaper for many hours.
To this end, and in honor of the flats challenge, I asked a lovely woman named Melissa (let me know on the contact form if you'd like her e-mail address for questions!) to give us some hand washing tips. While she hasn't hand washed diapers, she did spend quite a long time hand washing her clothing, so I thought some advice from a handwashing expert might be useful :) Here are her thoughts:
Handwashing by Melissa
I want to thank the Cloth Diaper Initiative for the chance I've had to write this blog post. My husband just proofread it and said he thinks he could now hand wash laundry, so hopefully it is easy enough for everyone to start.
First I want to give some background on myself. I am relatively new to the cloth diaper scene. I have a newborn and have used cloth for approximately two months. I did research on cloth diapering for about 4 months before we decided that it was something we would commit ourselves to.
We didn't know anyone personally that cloth diapered, so when we bought our first few diapers, we got a variety. After we felt we had given each diaper a chance, I approached the topic of buying the rest of the diapers we needed, with my husband. He said he wanted covers, because they worked best (keep in mind that is our experience, others have great experience with pockets and all-in-ones). I preferred flats, pre-folds and covers from the beginning, so I was glad we agreed. With the exception of our two pockets, all of our cloth is natural fibers. This is important to me because of how I think about laundry (as you will understand later).
I recently heard about the "flats and hand-washing challenge". I was a bit confused as to why they had it. I learned that it is a week-long challenge for people to only use flats, and to not use a washer or dryer. I learned that people do it to see if they could really use flats, if they could diaper without a washer and dryer, to educate themselves, to prepare for an emergency situation, and to advocate inexpensive cloth diapering for people that might not be able to machine launder cloth diapers. That is awesome! Having worked with transient, low income, and at risk families, I believe there are a number that could benefit from a low cost, reusable diapering system.
I lived in a location for 15 months of my life where I exclusively hand washed my laundry. It was also a location where natural disasters and power outages were common. I lived without electricity for up to 3 weeks at a time. Expecting these things as part of life. Because of this, I approach things from a "what if" standpoint so I can be prepared for a non-ideal situation.
With this thinking, I chose flats because:
- They are cost effective
- They can be used in a diaper a gazillion ways
- They are light and take up little space in case of an emergency evacuation
- I will know how to use them, in case I need to use something like a blanket or cloth napkin on the go or in case of an emergency
- For covers, fleece blankets and clothing, wool, PUL, even a plastic grocery bag can be used in a pinch or emergency.
- They are the easiest to wash and dry both in a washer, and by hand in case of a power outage or emergency. They also are more likely to clean thoroughly if there is a diaper rash or medicine used.
- Can be used as a burp cloth, rag, handkerchief,or wipe if needed
- No special laundry care needed.
My clothes had never been so clean before or since I hand washed. I expected hand washing to wear out my clothes faster because of regular scrubbing in areas like armpits, but they actually lasted longer. A washer washes everything equally, but hand washing lets you focus on problem areas.
Now here is a disclaimer: I have never hand washed my little one's diapers. But if I needed to do so, here is how I would do it. I recognize that other people have different thoughts, that is great, this is just one way of doing it that would work for me. Hopefully it helps someone else.
Things to consider:
- Woven cloth tends to dry faster than knitted (think cotton button up shirt vs tee shirt) depending on the type and thickness, but generally true.
- Soap choice: I am sensitive so I had to find a soap that wouldn't tear up my hands.
- Tools: buckets, brushes, wash boards, rubber gloves? Whichever work best for you.
- Location: are you in a bathroom, patio, yard, other? Space, temperature, splash factor, and sanitation should all be considered.
- Special laundry care? ( for example, I only use my pocket diapers as a last resort because I have to be conscious of a different laundering routine to make sure their synthetic fabrics get clean). Imagine having a load of whites but you also have one new red shirt and one tan shirt that needs the delicate cycle. It gets frustrating if one or two common items require special care. - That is why I use natural fiber diapers and PUL. I can keep a very easy wash routine.
So here we go. If I were hand washing flats, I would:
1. Dump solids in toilet and spot clean or rinse each diaper immediately after each change. Some people soak their diapers at this point and that is fine. I can't do the ick factor of that, so I would rinse each diaper do a quick spot scrub if needed, quickly wring it out and toss it in a wet bag ( a plastic grocery bag could work. I would double it up).
- if my cover was soiled, I would spot scrub in cold water and toss it in the bag as well.
2. When I decided to wash the flats, I would use 2 water containing contraptions. I have used tubs, totes, buckets, plastic tubs, small trash cans, large yard garbage cans, huge bowls. Whatever you might have.
I personally, in my current position, would use two small totes or buckets and put both in the bath tub. I would fill both with water and would dump all the diapers in bucket 1. In bucket 2, I would put my laundry soap and some bleach, and mix until the detergent dissolved. Usually laundering diapers and using bleach cause a great debate. However, when hand washing, the water is unlikely to be at a sanitizing heat so bleach is probably necessary. Also, as long as you are using natural fibers you should be fine because the bleach should wash out of one woven layer with ease.
On that same note, flats are much less likely to get build up of hard water or soap. Use any soap you want with natural fibers. This is one reason to not use synthetic fabrics, it makes the whole load more high maintenance. Bleach will bleach anything that is unbleached. My experience is that PUL is okay, but if you have a wet bag, or a fabric covered cover, the normal fabric is very likely to get bleached. If you are concerned about your baby's skin or the soap causing problems with your covers, just do some research on what you feel is best. (Also keep in mind, that even if you choose not to use bleach, if your child gets a yeast diaper rash, you might seriously consider using bleach and possibly some other things to make sure the yeast is off the diapers, covers and wet bags).
Note: Dirty Diaper Laundry recommends an iron to help sanitize hand washed diapers. The sun also has disinfecting properties, so these may be used as an alternative to bleach for normal handwashing. Bleach should definitely be used if diapers smell of ammonia or bacteria, or like the author said, in case of a yeast rash.
3. Bucket 1 is your pre-wash rinse. After about 5 minutes of soaking use your arm to swirl and agitate the flats (this is what the washing machine does when twisting, a plunger bucket also does this; you can use a stick or something else if you prefer), grab each flat, quickly scrub it against itself, dunk it, wring it out and drop it in bucket 2. When empty, dump out the water in bucket 1 and wash out the bucket thoroughly.
4. Now the real work begins. I use a laundry bar as well as the laundry soap already used. You can find some online, in cultural markets, and I hear there is even a brand available at local marts. Starting with the covers and wet bags (because they most likely are more sensitive to soap, bleach, and water). With plastic, I would try cleaning without the bar soap. Grab it in both hands and scrub it against itself. Focus on any stains, occasionally dipping back in the water. If stains won't come out, try wetting the laundry bar and lightly rubbing until some soap is on the cover, then scrub with your hands again. When clean, wring out and drop in the empty bucket 1 ( I would not use a brush or wash board with plastic covers or wet bags.)
5. Do the same thing with the flats as you did with the covers, only feel free to scrub with the laundry bar, use a brush, or wash board. I don't prefer using a brush or washboard. I just used my hands.
6. There are 2 ways to rinse:
- When bucket 1 has about half the load in it, you can put it under a faucet with a light but steady flow. As it flows in the bucket it rinses the flats and when it is full, the suds just flow out the top
- When all the laundry is in bucket 1, you can fill the bucket, swirl everything around, then dump the water while keeping the flats in the bucket. Repeat this until there are no suds in the rinse (approximately 3 or so times).
7. Remove each item, wring it out well, hang to dry. The sun can also help sanitize and bleach any stains that might remain.
8. Treat cloth wipes like flats.
9. Wash all your tools, including your arms and hands thoroughly.
There you have it! You just washed your child's dirty diapers by hand! You have just reached a whole new level of awesome. Very few things should intimidate you now! You rock and don't forget it!