Washing cloth diapers at home
January 11, 2013 9:15 PM   Subscribe

My husband and I are planning on going from using a diaper service to washing our own cloth diapers. Any advice, or things we might not be thinking out?

Our little buddy is almost 3 months old. He's exclusively breastfed. We've been using a diaper service since he was born, but it's expensive. We have a washer and dryer at our house. Now that we've gotten into a rhythm with him, and have started to recognize some patterns with him, we think it makes sense to save the money by washing the diapers at home.

Any advice from other folks who have done this? Is there some detail we're not thinking about?
posted by Ideal Impulse to Home & Garden (15 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
My favorite bloggers at Young House Love have a very detailed post and hundreds of comments on cloth diapers. Everything you ever wanted to know in one happy post.

Young House Love.
posted by frizz at 9:27 PM on January 11, 2013 [5 favorites]

Best answer: I've lived in 3 homes with washing cloth, so I will especially speak to the hardware, but the basics...

- If you're doing cloth all day (no disposable at daycare) and line dry, you'll need about 2 dozen dipes. (Less if machine drying, but that really reduces the age of the diapers)
- Washing is, more or less 1 cold rinse, 2-3 hot with soap (very hot - have to turn up the water heater), 1 cold rinse.
- if you have a high efficiency washer, it might not be as good as the old style... this is especially true for front loaders.
- the detergent you use matters a lot. I was happy with Rock N Green. But research your diaper brand and washer brand to see what others use.
- the time involved in 'stuffing' diapers was pretty time consuming.
- in babyhood I was doing laundry at least every 2 days, if not every other.

- if I didn't work from home a ton and have a partner also doing laundry, I don't think it would be possible to do all this laundry just after 6pm.

The cloth my kid wore at 1 week was the same he wore when potty trained at 3.5. They're still in good shape.

The extra water bill? Noteworthy. If you live in a desert it might not be worth it.
posted by k8t at 9:28 PM on January 11, 2013

We do this, and it works great. Even though we do a load of diapers about twice a week, it's not really too hard. I don't find it that annoying.

You have to work out your system. Initially we had some problems with the diapers still being stinky and stained after the wash. We solved that problem. Our process is first to spray each diaper with bac-out or similar enzyme cleaner after taking it off and before throwing it in the bucket. Then we wash once on the delicate cycle with 1/4 cup of vinegar (no detergent, just vinegar). This helps cut down the stink. Then we wash on heavy duty/hot water with Charlie's soap. Inserts or prefolds go in the dryer, covers go on the line so they last longer.
posted by medusa at 9:29 PM on January 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

We did a pre-wash rinse in the laundry tub (could also have been done in the machine but that used more water - we pulled the nappy apart, wet went one side, poop got rinsed then onto the pile) then a hot wash with an extra rinse if they seemed to be getting funky/musty. Line dried in the sun when possible. We had about 16 modern cloth nappies (pocket style) and were pretty much fine - we had a tiny machine and did it every day. Definitely doable in one wash at night (which was our routine). The dryer never seemed to work well on the inserts though.
posted by geek anachronism at 9:49 PM on January 11, 2013

Three pieces of advice from our experience.

1. Diaper Sprayer.
2. Diaper Sprayer.

Don't get the FuzziBunz one, it was a leaky piece of garbage.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 10:34 PM on January 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

We use pocket style diapers during the day (with disposables for overnight and excursions). We rinse/clean (with a shot of generic foaming hand soap for stains or anything that didn't want to come loose with just water) immediately after a change, and end up doing laundry every 2-3 days. Setting our dryer to "extra dry" ensures that the inserts don't get musty.

One wonderful addition that has made a huge difference since we introduced it to the routine are liners. You can rinse and reuse the ones from urine-only diapers for 3 or even 4 uses; for poopy diapers, they allow you to simply dump the unwanted material into the toilet with the liner (may not good long-term for a septic system, however). The link goes to the brand we have been happiest with. Once Little Buddy gets started on baby food (and again on food food), the poops will get more interesting.
posted by 1367 at 10:35 PM on January 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

Might pay to gather a dozen or so up and use a full on pay machine commercial grade machine to wash every couple weeks or so, bigger motor, more rinse volume. Maybe have 3 sets, 1. just done, 2. in use, 3. spares, rotate. Nice to have the cloths for other uses, under the baby in the bath, ready to go wipes, burping etc. Toss away products are so silly, my son, now 37, came at a time when cloth was more common and we were poor so it played out well.
posted by Freedomboy at 11:06 PM on January 11, 2013

Seconding liners - they've made a big difference in how intensively we've needed to wash. We've settled on a wash around every other day, storing the used nappies in a lidded pail with a little water and detergent in. We use a cotton wash at about 60 degrees. Using the dryer rather than line-drying makes a big difference in how soft they are and hence how happy the baby is to wear them (but this may vary depending on the climate you're in - it's cold and dull here).

This whole routine fails spectacularly if anything goes wrong with the washing machine (which becomes more likely when you're using it so much) so having some backup disposables in the house is a good idea.
posted by gnimmel at 4:01 AM on January 12, 2013

Best answer: We used the instructions from Diaper-eez which is where we bought them from without any problems.

It's easy while they're breastfeeding. It gets slightly less pleasant once they start solids.
posted by samhyland at 5:01 AM on January 12, 2013

Best answer: I think the most important thing to remember is that washing cloth diapers is much more of a process than washing clothes, and is not something that can really be postponed (due to the fact that you'll run out of diapers, and after a couple of days they start to stink really bad). You may have to run the washer several times, depending on your washer, and you may also have to run your drier more than once to get them really dry. When our son used cloth diapers, I felt like I was running the washing machine all the time and had a hard time keeping most of our laundry clean.

Definitely get a diaper sprayer. Be very careful to turn the valve off when not in use (at least with ours, it would leak if I didn't shut off the valve, and we'd get a puddle around our toilet. We solved this by putting a small bowl under the area where the valve attaches to the water inlet, which saved us many times). Also be mindful that the diaper sprayer is very powerful, and can launch small bits of poo out of the diaper and across the room if you aren't careful.

We bought several of the washable diaper pail liners, and every one we tried started leaking after a couple of months (even though they were never put in the drier, always hung to dry), and eventually we just used cheap garbage bags as our diaper pail liners. They'd get thrown out after each use, which wasn't so great, but much better than dealing with a puddle of aged diaper juice at the bottom of the pail. Make sure you pay a little bit of attention to the pail liners, and if you notice any sign of them starting to leak or feeling wet on the outside, plan to replace them quickly.
posted by markblasco at 7:16 AM on January 12, 2013

There was a crapload of advice in this earlier ask.
posted by Xalf at 8:07 AM on January 12, 2013

We cloth diapered part time, using disposables when the kid was at day care a couple of days a week or with the grandparents. I struggled somewhat with it until I got the right tools and established a system. The liners were a godsend for us. They made the whole clean-up process so much easier. We also found that use of the liners lessened the need for a diaper sprayer, though there were some times when it still would have been nice to have one.

I also used a wet bag (made by Planet Wise, but there are other options out there) rather than diaper bucket, as the bag could just be thrown in the wash, too. It hung on the closet doorknob and I'd just toss the dirty diapers in it (after dumping poop in the toilet, of course). Liners got flushed.

In terms of the actual washing/drying, for each load we did a rinse, then a hot water/soap wash, and then sometimes a second rinse. We used a tiny amount of basic unscented, non-fancy laundry detergent rather than anything just for cloth diapers and didn't have problems with buildup, but I think this is something that will really vary depending on the detergent and your water, so be prepared to experiment. We used diapers with separate inserts, so the covers were washed separately. I usually just threw them in with clothes as needed and didn't do anything special.

I preferred to line dry both covers and inserts outside in the sun but used the dryer when that wasn't an option, and as noted above, it can take more than one cycle to get the inserts really dry.
posted by percolatrix at 7:31 PM on January 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

I've been using cloth diapers for about 18 months and I have to say that the exclusively breastfeeding time was by far the easiest. My kid wasn't so into solids until he was almost a year and during the majority of that time I just threw all the diapers in together in one hot wash. I didn't do any extra prewash or rinse or anything. I also just used a cheap no dye, natural Sun detergent. It was cheapo, but I never had any problems with it. I also didn't sort the inserts out of the pocket dipes until they hit dryer time.

Now that we have poops to deal with I use the liners. I didn't want to install a diaper sprayer in our apartment. The liners do make life a lot easier and I don't use them all day, just in the AM before he poops. I now do a prewash and then wash, but usually that is it. Any diaper that looks stained just gets thrown in with the towels wash or set outside in the sun.

I haven't noticed a significant increase in our water bill, but we don't live in the desert and water is cheap here.
posted by aetg at 6:42 PM on January 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

I answered in the other thread Xalf linked to, and I mostly still do that routine, except when I do the soak before the first wash, I stop the washer filling about halfway so the soak is more concentrated, then let it fill the rest of the way when I'm ready to start the actual wash (this means the water is warmer when the agitation starts, too).

When the baby is still exclusively breastfed, just throw the diapers into the washer, no special routine required. But once the real poop starts, you're going to need tricks to deal with it. I have a good one!

This past weekend a friend told me that when his daughter was still in diapers, they kept a butter knife on the back of the toilet to scrape the poop into the toilet! OMG! So much better than a diaper sprayer. I just wrapped a rubber band around the handle of a cheap butter knife (to tell people not to use it for eating) and keep a supply of wipes on the back of the toilet with it. I use a wipe to rest the poopy knife on between diapers and then just wipe it off at the end. The knifetakes off the poop so well! My son is 25 months old now, and I'm so bitter that I didn't know about the butter knife trick before.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 7:35 AM on January 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

My wife is our cloth diaper expert, I am just the support person.

1) We are using the SmartiPants variety, pocket diapers. Our 2 month old and our 3 year old are in them (3 year old only for night time). My wife purchased ~6 differenty styles and brands and this one seemed to work the best for us. I suggest ordering a couple pairs and see what you like. Also, we just purchased some little ones for our little one on Craigslist. We saves 85% off retail doing it. We just made sure to wash them super good.

2) We have a HE washer/dryer and she uses Nellies powdered soap. That stuff seems to last forever since you need just a tiny amount. We dry the inserts in the dryer if we need them ASAP, otherwise we line dry the liners with the covers.

3) Stuffing sucks. Usually we find it is much easier on us to just stuff them as we take them off the line/out of the dryer. That way they are ready to rock an roll.

4) Diaper sprayer for sure. We purchased three on Amazon. The first two sucked and leaked. I blame the plastics parts and 'One size fits all' o-rings. I finally broke down and spent a good couple hours finding the best one that wasn't $100. We finally found one with a metal body. The comment about a shut off valve is true, our sprayer head leaks if we dont turn it off. Also the water pressure is crazy, so I had to crank down the water valve. Just means the toilet dosnt fill as quick. Also, we only rinse the 3 year old since she eats 'people food'. Little one (Breastfed only) we just throw the diapers in the wash.

5) I find they smell more like 'amonia' than disposable diapers. I am thinking this is due to the chemicals in the disposables that are lacking in the cloth. My wife says she can't smell it.
posted by NotSoSimple at 6:14 PM on January 14, 2013

« Older Big party, Fire theme, lots of $$$   |   Recommend me a mechanic in Vancouver East? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.