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Friday, January 22, 2010

The Easiest Way to Wash Cloth Diapers at Home

For the first three weeks of Eddie's life we used disposable diapers and wipes. Partly it was for my sanity during the recovery--I wanted life to be as easy as possible while we adjusted to living with no sleep and while I physically recovered.

But mostly it was because the cloth diapers were so big that they covered his belly button, rubbed the scab, and made it bleed. So we waited until it healed.Before he was born I compared the cost of using cloth diapers (with a service or laundering them myself at home) to using disposables. The local diaper service charges about $20/week, plus you have to buy the waterproof covers yourself. The cheapest disposables available are from Costco. A box of about 200 costs about $30--so a box will last you about three weeks, depending on how often you change the baby and how often he soils diapers.

BUT if you own your own supply of cloth diapers and covers and launder them yourself you can save tons of money. Especially if you save them for your next baby. (From all my research on cloth diapers, it sounds like you should be able to diaper two babies and maybe three with one set of diapers before they wear out.)

We have 12 covers ($14 each) and 24 cloth diapers in each size (~$60 worth) and we have two sizes, which should last us until Eddie's at least 1.5-2 years old. So that's only $456 and we can use them again and again and again. The cost of the soap, Oxyclean, water, and electricity is practically nothing (especially when we use the clothesline). For the same cost you'd get about 15 boxes of Costco disposables...or about 45 weeks' worth.

Of course, that means we have to deal with cleaning them ourselves...and that means dealing with poop. Eek! But really, it is just poop. And poop is really just processed food, right?

Eddie's poop doesn't really gross me out--at this point he is exclusively breastfed so his poop smells like sour milk. But it'll be a whole 'nuther story when he starts eating solids...

So here's our system for washing cloth diapers and wipes. We have a front loading "h-e" washing machine (high efficiency).

At the changing table:
  • Our diaper pail is a Simple Human garbage can with a Bummis waterproof diaper pail bag inside of it instead of a garbage bag. These garbage cans are completely odor proof (and seem to be dog proof, too) when closed. We have two diaper pail bags so we can use one while the other is being washed.
  • Wet diapers are thrown directly into the pail.
  • Wet covers (just pee, no poop) are usually hung up on the towel rod to dry to use again later. After a few times of this they stink too much so we toss them into the pail.
  • Poopy diapers and poopy covers are sprayed with Bac Out, an enzyme solution that keeps the odor down, then they are tossed into the pail. I make sure to fasten the Velcro tabs on the wash tabs before putting the covers in the pail. Otherwise all the covers will attach together in the washer.
  • For older babies with solid poop, just shake the poop into the toilet (assuming your diaper station is in the bathroom like ours is). Or set it aside while diapering the baby and then use toilet paper to pick off the chunks of poop (lovely image, I know) and toss them into the toilet. Then spray the Bac Out onto the skid marks. (Gross!)
To wash the diapers (3 steps):
  • We pull the entire diaper pail bag out of the garbage can and take it into the garage.
  • To load the diapers we empty the bag into the washer by putting the open end of the bag into the washer. We push the contents into the washer by pushing on the bottom of the diaper bag--essentially turning the bag inside-out:
  1. Diapers are washed in a cold water wash without any soap (we use the "heavy" wash option but "normal" works, too).
  2. Diapers are then washed in a hot water wash with regular detergent and a big scoop of Oxyclean. We don't bother with fancy baby detergent--we use Costco's "free and clear" (no scent or dye) liquid detergent. I've also used the Costco powdered stuff and it works fine, too. I would NOT use scented detergent because I've found that it causes the pee stink to stay on the washed diapers (probably because the perfumy chemicals bind whatever is in the urine that smells bad). The Oxyclean is less harsh on the diaper fibers than bleach is and the bleach residue can be worse on a baby's skin.
  3. When they are done washing we take out all the covers and the diaper bag and hang them to dry on a drying rack or on the clothesline. In the house they dry in about an hour. The diapers and the cloth wipes go in the dryer for 60-75 minutes on high. DO NOT use fabric softener or drier sheets--these work by coating fabric with chemicals and will reduce absorbancy of the diapers. Besides, you don't want to have chemicals on your baby's tush.
Sometimes the yellow poop stains the diapers but I don't worry about it. The Oxyclean gets most of the yellow out and they smell clean.

I REALLY prefer the front-loading machine to the top-loading ones--you have to manually shake out the diapers as you add them to the top-loading machines. If you don't then sometimes they stay crumpled up and don't get washed. (Ew.) The front-loading ones wash by "tumbling" so the diapers uncrumple automatically--this means that you can shove all the diapers into the machine using the bag and not worry about it. You don't have to touch the dirty diapers at all because you can use the outside of the diaper sack to shove them into the machine.

We've been doing this now for about 5 months and it has been great. We always have some disposable diapers and wipes on hand for traveling out of state but use cloth the rest of the time. When we go up to Gualala or to Livermore we use cloth and just plan on washing diapers while we're there.


Heather @ Green Baby Green Mama said...

This is a really great post about washing cloth diapers! I wanted to tell you that laying your diapers in the sun should take away any leftover stains. Great job!

steph.kelley said...

What an interesting and useful post, Julie. You are resourceful and conscientious in a big way. Go mom go! xoxoxo

huntfamily said...

only a Levie would refer to a place where you change diapers at home as a "changing station" :)