Feb 15 2010

Using cloth diapers without your own washer/dryer

I’ve heard from readers wanting to know if I tried using cloth diapers while living in an apartment without an in-unit washer/dryer.

Here’s a more current post on the topic (and here’s my old post). Oh dear, this is going to be long. I hope it’s helpful to some of you.

To the point, no, I did not try cloth diapers for my son when we lived without our own washer/dryer. Keeping up with the regular laundry was enough of a challenge, and that I didn’t want to use cloth badly enough to make it work.

Instead, I took  advantage of drugstore deals to collect six months + worth of diapers. When Johnny was 6 months, we moved to an apartment with its own washer/dryer and I bought cloth diapers soon after. For awhile, Johnny was wearing cloth all the time. He’s now back in disposables at night because the only leak-proof cloth diaper I’ve been able to use for him is ginormous and uncomfortable for him. I’m going to test one other cloth option for nights.

Looking back, I’m glad I cut myself a break. Using cloth would have been too much for me to handle. However, if you’re really determined to make cloth work for your family, it can be done.

Baby diaper phases:

– – – I am told that stools from 100% breastfed babies are different than stools from a baby who has had formula. Supposedly, you can put a soiled diaper in your pail without doing anything else to it, and the mess will come out in the wash. This is just what I’ve heard — my son was eating solids when we started cloth so I haven’t seen this first-hand.

However, I have had plenty of diaper blow-outs during that phase, which required me to rinse his clothes/sheets/whatever by hand in the sink. The mess really did come out, and I used Oxyclean to remove lingering stains. Laying items in the sunlight is supposed to bleach stains out naturally, but if you’re in an apartment you may not have a place to do this. I don’t.

– – – During this 0-6 month no-solids/no-formula phase, you’re going to go through a lot of diaper changes per day if your baby’s bowel is anything like my son’s was. We’re talking 10-15 changes in a 24-hour period, easily.

– – – Once you introduce solids, your baby’s stools will change. They’ll no longer be fairly unoffensive. No no, they’ll be sticky, mucky and smelly. You WILL need a diaper sprayer and possibly a scraper/spatula to remove the muck. For this phase, I strongly suggest using flushable diaper liners. You lay a liner over a diaper and once dirty, you can peel it off the diaper and plop it into the toilet.

With Johnny, this disgusting phase lasted 3-4 months. It would have been shorter if he ate more solids. I think.

– – – Once your baby gets beyond the mucky phase, using cloth diapers will be substantially easier. You hold the diaper over the toilet, give a little shake, and it just plops! There’s a little skid mark, sure, but it’s not terrible. I even do the “plop” when he’s in a disposable because that just seems less gross to me.

THIS is the phase that would be easiest on the cloth-diapering-sans-washer mama. Your baby will be using fewer diapers per day. Johnny uses oh, 4-6 in a 24-hour period at 13 months of age. Fewer diapers + ploppable poops makes it all-around easier.

If you do want to give cloth diapering a try from the beginning, I would suggest trying a diaper sprayer on all dirty diapers, even if you don’t have to.

Other things:

  • Plan on doing at least two wash loads per cycle. Coin-op machines are a pain since there usually isn’t a “rinse-only” or soak setting. You’ll probably have to do two (or maybe three?) cycles to get them clean.
  • Your neighbors may not appreciate knowing your baby’s dirty diapers swirled around in the communal machines. Yes, they’re clean now, but they may not like the “ick” factor.
  • Look into a portable washing machine that hooks up to your sink. This wasn’t allowed at my old apartment, but if you can get one, this’ll save you a lot of hassle!
  • You’ll use diaper-approved washing detergent of course, but your neighbors probably won’t. Their Tide or whatever could create a residue inside the machine, which in turn has the potential for latching onto your diapers. Soap in diapers = stink issues and absorbency problems. I run a “sanitize” cycle on my machine at home using bleach and hot water (it does have a setting for this purpose) and I still see suds — and I use Country Save in all my loads!
  • Unless you’re doing laundry only when both parents (or a helper) is home to stay with your baby, you’ll need a good sling to keep your arms free for laundry-doing.
  • Hang diaper covers to dry to prolong their life. Prefolds and inserts can also be hung to dry, but they might be crunchy.
  • Depending on the diapering system you use, you can add bleach to sanitize your diapers. Generally, this would be a prefold-only load. Also, for any type of diaper, consider adding a few drops of tea tree oil, as this is a natural antiseptic.
  • In theory, you could get by with washing diapers once or twice per week IF you have enough, and IF you use a prefold + cover system and hand-wash your covers in between machine washes. If you wait more than three days, it’s going to smell really foul.

Which type of diaper to try?

Go with a prefold + cover system. It’s cheaper than pockets or all-in-ones and washing them ought to be easier. This is the type of system diaper services typically use, and for good reason. Diaper services wash those diapers once per week. I don’t know how many times they’re washed or how they’re processed, but they make it work!

Contrast that with a pocket or AIO. Those things need to be washed every two days (possibly stretching to three days) or you’ll encounter more challenges. The ammonia from pee can start to break down diaper elastic (I think) if you give it enough time to fester. With a pocket, you’ll use one outer + one (or more) insert per change. You’ll probably want two dozen or more of those types to get you through two days of use. That’s a larger-sized load, thus could take longer to get clean.

Circling back to a prefold + cover, you can get two dozen prefolds or more per size, plus 2-3 covers per day. You’ll probably go through more covers during the explosive newborn stool phase. If some poop gets on the cover, you gotta wash it. Realize, though, that you can hand wash it and hang it to dry and it would take just a few minutes.

Indian Prefolds cost $1 for premie size all the way through $2 each for “premium” on Cotton Babies. Absolutely get the high-quality Chinese or Indian prefolds from a diaper company such as this one. You can use the thinner Gerber ones you’ll find at Walmart or Babies R Us (we have some of those too) but they aren’t as absorbant and wear out faster.

You can use a Snappi to secure the prefold around your baby if you want. We don’t. It was just too much work for us. Plus, I caught one of the Snappi’s teeth on my finger once and it hurt! Instead, we do a “newspaper” fold and lay it inside the diaper cover. It’s easy and the diaper stays reasonably together.

I made a video to show you how we do it.

We have tried two types of diaper covers: Thirsties Duos and Flip. The Duos are a two-size option — size 1 is for 6-18 lbs. and size 2 is 18 – 40 lbs. We have size two only. This cover is nice, but sadly I’ve had quality issues with three of them. Velcro came unstitched, a snap separated from the fabric, and one had a spot wear out so it was no longer waterproof. The first two problems happened within the first 90 days of purchase so I received a replacement at no cost.

You might have better luck with yours. My general advice for it now is to read others’ reviews and form your own conclusions.

A few weeks ago, I purchased one Flip diaper cover. This system came out after we started cloth. It’s a one-size cover and appears to be well-made. The “stay dry” insert that comes with it is soft and nice but it can easily get bunched to the side (and cause a leak). We have been happy using prefolds inside of this cover, though the stay dry insert isn’t bad. I would like to get their organic cotton insert and combine that with a hemp doubler to see how that holds up overnight.

Flips also have disposable inserts for sale. We have some but haven’t tried them yet. It’s probably cheaper to use a regular disposable instead.

You can get this diaper (and others) for a great price on Diapers.com — $25 off $50 with free shipping. Check out this post to find out how.

Of course, there are plenty of other diaper covers and diapering systems out there. Have your cloth diapering friends show you theirs and read reviews to figure out what might work for you.

Finally, you may love prefolds just fine, but I like to use pocket diapers if we’re out running errands. I’d suggest a pocket over an all-in-one for you mamas-without-washers because they ought to be easier for you to get clean and dry.

Bottom line advice:

  • Don’t make parenting a newborn harder on yourself than it needs to be. There’s no shame in using disposables.
  • If you try cloth at first and it’s too much work, switch to disposables until your baby reaches a new poop phase. If it’s still too much work, sell ’em off and pat yourself on the back for trying.
  • You probably can make it work!

Cloth-diapering parents of all washing situations — what would you like to add?  And more on the topic: Trent says the cost savings of cloth go way down if you have to pay per wash. I disagree — I think you’ll have to run the numbers yourself on this one.

12 Responses to “Using cloth diapers without your own washer/dryer”

  1. Oh boy. Thanks so much for the great info, but this is overwhelming! I want to try cloth diapering so much, and we’ll have a washer and dryer in our apt (we own the washer/dryer here, so we’re only looking for places with hook-ups). SO many people just tell me I won’t be able to do it. I hate when people say things like that!

  2. I think it’s so funny that both Karen and I read this whole thing and were baby-less for the time being! ;)

    I just wanted to say: technically, you are supposed to put ALL poop, even from disposables into the toilet so it’s not in the landfill, but how many people do that?!

    Good job, Kacie! Great tutorial. :)
    .-= Mrs. Money´s last blog ..How to Make Mouthwash =-.

  3. Karen — Believe me, I know it’s overwhelming! The info is overwhelming — the actual process isn’t so bad. I promise to hold your hand through the whole cloth diapering thing if you give it a try. I think you’ll find that it really isn’t that hard, especially with machines in your apartment! If people are telling you that you won’t be able to do it, I’m betting that they haven’t actually tried cloth diapering a baby in the last 2-3 years. The modern diapering things really seem to make the job a lot easier!

    And really, diapers and their contents are gross no matter if you use cloth or disposables. You get over the ick factor pretty fast (especially when it’s your own baby!). Some people swear that cloth dipes have less explosive blowouts than disposables. I didn’t get the opportunity to test that theory this time around, but I do think it has merit. Johnny had plenty of explosions in disposables, and if you’re doing all that laundry anyway, why not just wash the diapers too?

    Mrs. Money — I know you’re supposed to do that and I wonder how many others do, or if they just throw it all away. I just think plopping makes for less smell in your trash can and is more sanitary and better for ground water and stuff.

  4. Thanks for sharing your experience with us. I don’t have babies but I live in an apartment complex with shared washers and driers so I always use hot water to wash my clothes because I never know what other people are putting in there.

    All the best on your cloth diapering…it sounds like a lot of work at first, but once you get into the routine it should be okay.
    .-= Lulu´s last blog ..How I Save Money At CVS: Valentines Day 2010 =-.

  5. Cloth diapering scared me at first, with all the info and products and stuff out there, but it really isn’t so bad now. One thing I did was find a brand I liked and stuck with it, and tried not to get caught up on having an opinion about *every* option out there.

    I will say, I don’t have a diaper sprayer and I’ve never sprayed Savannah’s diapers. We’re still in the breastfed-poop only phase. I just throw them as is in the wash and and they come clean. (I do have to do two wash loads, though.) I’ve noticed that Savannah’s blowouts are definitely a lot more contained than with disposables, which is nice.

    I would echo your point that there is no shame in disposables. I didn’t start cloth until Savannah was 8 weeks old because of moving in between that time. Sometimes I wish I could switch back – they’re so much more convenient, so much less laundry, and clothes fit better! But I’m committed to the cloth. :-)
    .-= ashley @ twentysixcats´s last blog ..I guess it’s naptime =-.

  6. We cloth diapered from 1 month on (exclusively Happy Heiny’s – a pocket dipe – with cotton prefolds) and never had any problems with exclusively breast-feeding poop going straight into the washer. However, we have our own machines, and I would really fear being “caught” putting poop into public machines.

    When you start feeding solids, invest in bananas. As long as your baby doesn’t have any problems with constipation, half a banana a day will make for nice, solid, “plop” poops. This should also cut down on diaper rash, because the poop comes off baby’s bottom easily.

    Tide is the recommended detergent for Happy Heiny’s, and I’m just now considering stripping my dipes for the first time because of a smell. (My son is 28 months old.) I would worry more about the fabric softener and fragrance residue from other people’s clothes in public machines. A quick spray bottle treatment with vinegar and a towel wipe-down might go a long way to solve this problem.

    I would recommend line drying covers or pockets whenever possible. The elastic in our dipes needed to be replaced after about a year when they were mostly dryer dried. That’s a fairly simple, cheap repair (less than a dollar per diaper), but it would be very difficult without a sewing machine.

  7. LOVE posts like these – I would LOVE to try cloth diapering, but don’t have a washer/dryer hook up in our apt. so I’ll be running down to the laundromat or the shared laundry room.

    I’d love to hear anyone’s thoughts as to the cost effectiveness of cloth diapers when you have to pay $.50-$1.00 per wash! Running diapers through twice will get even more expensive.

    Also, my friend actually made this sprayer for her toilet to help her in cloth diapering – maybe that will help someone: http://gidgetgoeshome.com/2008/08/25/diy-tutorial-make-your-own-diaper-sprayer/
    .-= Laura´s last blog ..The Frugal Map =-.

  8. Laura — I responded in a big way. See the next post! Hope it helps ya.

  9. Kacie,

    Thanks again for the advice! I think I mentioned this, but want to put it out there for others… We decided to go with trifolds and covers. First, they are so much cheaper, easier to wash (we live in an apartment with no washer or dryer), and I personally love the diaper covers out there. I also knit/ crochet and am looking forward to trying to make some wool covers. Plus there are some really cute ones on Etsy.

    Maybe I’m being too optimistic, but I really think this will be doable.

  10. Hi! Great post, and great advice. I have been cloth diapering my 9 month old son since he was about 6 weeks. We always planned to use cloth but found it way too bulky when he was a newborn, even with the smallest prefolds. Now we use a cotton terry contour diaper with snaps (mother-ease) along with thirsties and blueberry covers and LOVE this sytem. I think they offer the best of both worlds. I have a few pockets but I don’t love them. Our dipes can be bleached and they are a one-size dipe so the cost is much lower.

    I wanted to add that cloth diapers are SO easy. Most people really have no idea. They are an extra load of laundry every few days and you don’t have to iron, fold, etc. And using cloth wipes saves a ton over buying those, too. But once you get into it, there’s almost no difference in ease of use except that when you are low on diapers, you don’t have to go to the store, just run the wash!

    We bought almost all of our mother-ease diapers for about 70% of retail on craigslist and they were brand new, never used. A lot of people decide to try it and change their minds – so always check the deals online! I have also bought 4 pockets and almost all out covers, plus wetbags and wipes, on clearance and sale online for 50-80% of retail. You can get the top brand diapers for half price if you don’t mind having last year’s colors and patterns and styles.

  11. Thanks for the comment sending me to your post – I love seeing other cloth diapering mamas looking at the option of cloth in an apartment. As I said in my own post, it’s totally realistic to do cloth diapering in an apartment without an in-suite washer/dryer. In addition, I’ve found cloth surprisingly easy, once I sorted through all the info on brands and washing instructions. I think it’s worth the investment. Worse case scenario, if you don’t like it then sell the diapers and go back to disposables.

    We bought a dozen Bummies Prefolds (cheap), some covers including a couple wool covers, a Drybees, Kissaluv and AMP fitted diaper each for overnight (so I only have to changer her in the morning), and 6 Bum Genius one-size pocket diapers for outings etc. That covers us for 3-4 days, easy. We wash every 3 days or so in the basement laundry room by putting the diapers through 2 cycles with Country Save soap.

    All in all, it’s no big deal.
    .-= Accidental Pharmacist´s last blog ..Cloth Diapering In An Apartment =-.

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Hey! I'm Kacie, wife to Shane and mother to Jonathan (7), Vivienne (5) and Amelia (2) . I write about my family's finance: how we save money, improve our spending, and plan for the future.

I hope I can inspire and encourage you to improve your situation. See disclosure.

I'm adopting a much slower-paced posting schedule, and treating this as a hobby blog now.

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