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Sunday, August 2, 2015

The Ghetto Guide to Cloth Diapers, Part III

Welcome back to the last and final installment of this short series, The Ghetto Guide to Cloth Diapers (read parts one and two here). This concluding portion addresses the question of affordably laundering the cloth diapers.

The first thing to keep in mind is that your water usage will increase due to the baby. This is an unavoidable truth, whether you use cloth diapers or not. But, you do have some control over how much it increases.

If you have a washing machine, you will be needing to do a load every two to three days, depending on how much volume the diaper hamper will hold (my diaper hamper is a small/medium size trash can with a lid. The max I can go is three days before overflow and mildew set in. See picture below for reference). If you don't have a washing machine but can access laundry facilities without issue, plan trips accordingly so as to maximize washing (not to mention fiscal) efficiency. If for whatever reason you are unable to access the laundromat, handwashing cloth diapers is your most viable option and the one you have the most control over the water usage on.

My diaper hamper, with my husband's sippy cup and the rocking chair for scale

Regardless of what laundering options are available to you, there is one thing you will absolutely need: laundry soap. Laundry soap comes in the form of a large brick-shaped soap bar, and can be found with names like Zote, Lirio, Fels-Naptha, etc.  You can find them in retailers like Walmart, Dollar General, Family Dollar, etc. They are not expensive and depending on where they are sold, can retail for less than a dollar a bar (Walmart sells Zote for $0.97 a bar). I highly recommend Zote, not just for cost reasons, but also for purity and effectiveness too. If you can't find laundry soap near you, Ivory soap works well as a substitute or you can make your own if you have the time and materials to do it. Once you acquire the soap, simply cut off a chunk from the bar and set near where you will be rinsing off the diapers. Store the rest of the bar in a cool, dry place until needed.

My preferred brand of laundry soap. I've only used white Zote, but I do plan on trying other colors and brands in the near future for comparison. Picture found here
So, you've changed the baby and now have a soiled cloth diaper in your hands. What's next?

First, go to the toilet and shake the poopy part of the diaper into the water in the bowl. Do this to get as much of the crap off as possible, flush, and then toss the diaper into either a designated bucket or into the sink. Fill the vessel with water to cover the diaper, and then rub your chunk of laundry soap into the poopy stain. Stick the diaper back into the water and rub the sides of the cloth together, using the friction and lather to get the stain out. Rinse the lather, then repeat soaping and lathering as needed. When you've reached desired cleanliness, dump the bucket or drain the sink, rinse the diaper under running water, squeeze out the excess water and then hang the diaper to dry either in the shower (or tub) or on the edge of the sink or bucket. Pissy diapers don't need a toilet dunk and can be just thrown into the designated laundering vessel. For pocket diapers, remove the liners first before proceeding to launder the diapers, and then the liners. All-in-one diapers can be laundered as they are.

And, you're done!

If the idea of shaking a diaper into the toilet bowl gives you the heebie-jeebies, you may want to consider a special attachment to the toilet so that you can hose the poop off the diaper directly into the toilet. Some places sell specialty diaper hoses (they resemble mini shower heads), but they tend to be pricy so if you want one, I'd recommend getting someone to buy it for you. The other option, depending on your skill level, would be to rig a hose up and attach it to the toilet like a bidet (see diagram below). Unless someone were to give you a bidet, this would be your cheapest option, as you can cut an old garden hose down to size and get the necessary valves and hardware at home improvement stores like Home Depot.

Reference guide

For those individuals opting to machine-launder the cloth diapers, just soap and rinse to get the bulk of the crap off, and then put the diaper into your designated hamper. Even though the diaper is not clean, this preliminary wash cuts down the dirty diaper smell till laundry day. When I do a load of diapers in my machine, I combine the load with other whites or set the water level to run as a small load if there's nothing else to add to the diaper load. I also throw in a 1/2 cup of bleach and a 1/2 cup of Borax detergent booster in addition to the detergent in the load. Bleach and Borax are excellent disinfectants, as well as cheap (bleach can go for as little as $1 a bottle and be refilled by mixing swimming pool chlorine with water to desired concentration. Borax can go for anywhere between $3.00-$4.00 for a four-pound box) and are readily available at most low-cost retailers. I have no recommendations for detergent, so use what works for you (commercial or homemade).

This stuff goes a long way

I would always recommend letting the laundered diapers air dry. They'll last longer and it's far less costly than using a dryer to dry them (both in the laundromat and the resources needed to operate a home dryer). Living in Arizona, I had my husband string up a clothesline in the yard so the diapers (and our laundry in general) can take advantage of our plentiful heat and sun to dry. If it is not possible to set up a clothesline outdoors due to climate or housing restrictions, an indoor drying rack is a worthy investment. You can also temporarily string up a clothesline indoors if needed, using whatever materials you have on hand (when we first got married, my husband used string lights and clothes hangers to hang our laundry inside our trailer until we could afford to get proper clothesline and a washing machine).

Once the diapers are clean and dry, you'll need to store them someplace accessible. Milk crates work wonderfully for this purpose, but if you have a changing table, you can designate a shelf or compartment for the diapers. Cardboard boxes work too. I use a large basket to store all my daughter's diaper items, which I slide under her crib when finished. Don't feel bad if your storage solution doesn't look pretty or match the theme of the nursery. Just make sure it's functional for both you and your baby.

My setup: a pack of disposables for going out, and lots of cloth diapers for when we're home
Since laundering is the most labor-intensive aspect of cloth diapers, the thought of having to clean poopy cloth diapers on top of caring for the baby can be a real turnoff on using them in the first place. My best recommendation would be to thoroughly launder each diaper as soon as the baby is changed, since a little work each time now reduces the overwhelming feeling that comes with facing a mountain of dirty diapers later. Place the baby in their crib, swing, playpen, etc. after changing them so nothing bad happens while you're away laundering the diapers. Don't be afraid to ask trusted friends, neighbors, or family members to come over for a bit and watch the baby while you take care of the diapers, or have them help you with the diapers. If you have trusted family or friends to watch the baby while you work or go to school, show them this guide or one of the links from the resource section at the end of this entry so that they'll know how to use the cloth diapers while you're away. Whether you're a low-income mother or not, you'll need all the help you can get when there's a baby involved.

Ultimately, despite the work involved with cleaning them and the upfront expenses, it's a far better deal in the long run to use cloth diapers since water companies charge pennies on the gallon compared with several dollars every other week for boxes of throwaways. As with anything involving baby, it will take some adjusting to find the pattern which works for both of you. This may mean some higher than expected utility bills at first or unexpected wet spots due to improperly fitted diapers. And just like anything else involving baby, you will adapt and move forward cuz that's what mothers do!

Thank you for reading this guide. Good luck, and I hope it will serve you well in this aspect of caring for your child.

For further information:

Buy cloth diapers

General information

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