Anyone Hand Wash Cloth Diapers?

Updated on May 06, 2009
K.M. asks from Vancouver, WA
24 answers

We are expecting our second little one, and have decided this time around to use cloth diapers. While I am really excited to be doing so, I'm a little concerned about washing them. A diaper service is out of the budget, and with my husbands fluctuating hours lately, wonder if we can always afford the coin-op machines in our complex. While 2.25 per load might not sound like a lot to some, it can be for us, especially if we have to wash every other day. The machines also do not offer a pre rinse option. We are planning on using prefolds with wraps if that matters....but any suggestions on washing and caring for them would be greatly appreciated.

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So What Happened? baby's not here yet, but I've gotten some really great advice, as ususal from you ladies. Definitely gonna try to use the washing machine as much as we can, and just start saving all our change to convert into quarters when funds get low. Line drying in the summer will help save some money as well since our back patio faces south. If things get really tight, maybe I can convince one of the grandparents to let us run a load or two of diapers through their machines. Thank you all so much.

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answers from Portland on

Well, there are some cheap apartment sets...ones that will fit in a small space, etc. I can't imagine hand washing them...sorry.

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answers from Portland on

Hi K.,

I am the owner of Punkin Butt and I am happy to help you figure out some solutions to your problem. First, I admire your commitment to your child's health and the environment even though you are facing some challenges. Now, we just need to figure out a solution.

First, a machine will wash them better than doing them by hand if you are using prefolds. If you do use prefolds and are limited on the number of cycles and washing, you should use standard ply and not premium to allow them to wash and rinse easier since they are thinner.

Second, any prep you can do before washing them will help tremendously. Rinsing the diapers and ringing them out will help you cut out the need for the prerinse in the machine. If you do a soak method, just soak the diapers and not the covers. I like to use Bac Out on my diapers. It is a natural stain and odor remover that contains good strains of bacteria that eat away the bad bacteria leaving just carbon and oxygen behind. If you use a dry pail, which is easier to lug around especially in an apartment, then I would spray Bac Out on the poopy diapers where you see it is needed. Don't soak the covers because bacteria in the pail will work into the cover and around the elastic part of the legs and waist and it's difficult to get out and will cause diaper rashes.

On Sunny days, make sure you hang them outside or even in the window. The sun will both bleach them and kills bacteria and yeast. A natural sterilizer.

Also, with shared machines, inevitably someone will be using fabric softeners in the washer or dryer. Before using the machine, take a washcloth and wipe down both machines with vinegar to remove any residue. This will minimize any transfer of softeners to your diapers. If possible, run a load of regular clothes prior to doing your diapers too. This will help wash and remove any softeners from the machines as well.

If you find you must handwash some or all of the time, then you will want to look at flat diapers. One layer of cotton or hemp that must be folded to fit your baby. Because they are only one layer, they are easier to wash and dry. Make sure when washing them, you smell them to see if there is any odor. This will tell you if they are clean or not. If you smell any odor, wash them again. Some parents will boil them in a huge stock or soup pot once a month to ensure they stay clean and sterile. Never use bleach. It will deteriorate your diapers and if not rinsed thoroughly it can cause severe burns and rashes in some children and it can be difficult to rinse out completely.

For flat diapers, if you can sew, I recommend getting some yardage of flannel at JoAnn's (you can use their 40% off coupon in the newspaper or online). Get as much yardage for that cut as possible. You will want to do a rolled hem or serge the ends to avoid fraying. I would be happy to help you with the sewing and show you how to fold the diapers too.

Second, you will want to purchase wool covers. These are very easy to wash by hand and are the healthiest option for hand washing. Wool naturally inhibits the growth of bacteria and if there is just urine, you can air dry it and reuse it for about 1-2 weeks before washing it depending on the number of covers in your rotation. If you get poop on it, then it needs to be washed. I like using a wool wash that has lanolin in it which keeps the cover water repellent and minimizes how often you will need to lanolize the cover. After washing the cover in the sink (with Eucalan Wash I literally just let it sit in warm water with 1 tsp of Eucalan for 20 minutes to overnight) drain the water and gently press the water out. Lay the cover on a towel and roll the towel with the cover inside pressing gently, not twisting or agitating in any way. Unroll and it should feel lightly damp or nearly dry. Lay it on a dry towel and let air dry the rest of the way. Depending on the cover, some are ready to be used again and some need to sit several hours to dry.

If you have any other questions, I am happy to offer advice or suggestions.


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answers from Portland on

Well, there's a lot of thorough and expert advice in the responses.

I'd just add that maybe you could pick up some more diapers and wash every third day, soaking the diapers. You could do some math to figure out what costs you less in the long run. Babyworks has a calculation method in their catalog, if you want an example.

I use vinegar in the final rinse on my son's diapers. It gently removes any soap residue and mildly disinfects. Removing the soap residue helps them dry faster also.

Actually I just thought of something else, if you're up for it. Diaper free baby! There are books on how to do early-start potty training, starting at about 6 months. Of course at that time it's a lot of attention to the baby, but by 1 year it's supposed to be pretty smooth. I know it's hard to imagine because in our culture we use diapers for so long, and don't believe we should potty train until a child is "ready." But, all around the world there are millions of people who don't have access to disposable diapers, and not enough water/machines to keep up with cloth. So, they do the elimination communication. There are resources on the web and at the library.

Good luck!

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answers from Seattle on

We kept a bucket with some water (with a lid) in our baby's room and washed every other day (we had 24 cloth diapers). In the beginning I could just drop the diapers in as they were as his poop was very runny anyway, but we went through them quickly. I didn't use any liners at that age, but recommend it once they start eating solids. No need to use bleach, my diapers never got stained. And even if they did, who care. Just wash them on the highest temperature setting. I also recommend getting a pair of rubber gloves :) Eventually we were washing them every 3 days and if the water in the bucket was changed daily it NEVER smelled. My friend used the dry pile and I smelled it in her whole house... I used Country Safe powder detergent and it lasted forever too. I had only 5 covers and I washed those usually by hand.
Rinsing diapers you will just use more water and with the web pile and I don't believe you need to use any other chemicals. Some of them (like bleach) will apparently take away from the absorption of the diaper.

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answers from Portland on


Good for you on the cloth diaper thing.

Mother Nature's is a great store in SE Portland that can give you great advice even if you don't buy anything there - they are the only place I know in Portland to get cloth diaper supplies

Check out the Potty Pail, made in Portland - really cool contraption to get poop off diapers

fleece liners make all the difference - for cleaning ease and to decrease rashes

check out cloth diaper purchasing on ebay - you can often get AMAZING deals on large numbers of cloth diapers there

I did dry pail and it was fine, no stink

don't use petroleum-based creams for diaper rash or your diapers will not be as absorbent ever-after

I have to concur that Charlies' soap (you can get it online or at Mother Nature's) was the best for cloth diapers

both mine potty trained for poop at 7-9mo - it's totally doable if you just pop them on the potty when they are starting to poop as soon as things start to firm up - they just learn that's where poop goes - mine grunted and looked at me to tell me they needed to go :) Much less cleanup that way.

The pocket diapers with fleece were my personal favorites but each baby has a different body shape so different types work better for different babies (thus the cheap ebay option)

rinse first if you don't have a second rinse option, and know that front loaders dont work because they don't use enough water!

I also like bac out for stains and odor :)

Good luck!


1 mom found this helpful


answers from Portland on

Wow good luck with this hand washing would be very hard without being able to agitating it may not come clean.
I understand the 2.25 each load, you can go 3 days in the early stages if you breast feed but you may need more diapers.
Good luck

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answers from Portland on

I did cloth diapers and they worked out well. I saved a lot of money and felt like I was doing right by my daughter and the environment, but I had to tweak what I did all the time until I found a system that worked for us. One thing I didn't see mentioned in the posts was to use a micro fleece liner. I went to Joanns and got some clearance microfleece. I may have bought half a yard and that was about all I needed. I cut them into rectangles (like a sanitary napkin) and would place one next to my daughter's skin on top of the diaper. These allowed the urine to pass through, but kept the solids contained. The solids then rolled right off into the toilet. That was a saving grace for my laundering and made life so much easier. I wish you the best of luck!

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answers from Portland on

Well, at least you can use a good detergent, like Seventh Generation with enzymes that actually breaks down urine and feces, you can find it at Fred Meyer and probably Target. Don't ever use bleach it weakens the cloth.



answers from Eugene on

My mom used to rinse the poopy diapers in the toilet then wash the load by itself with hot water, bleach, and ivory snow soap. This was in the days before disposable diapers, and we're all alive and healthy. When the weather is nice, you might line dry them to save money.



answers from Richland on

It's been awhile, but here goes. I used a "Diaper Duck". It was a clamp that held the diaper in the toilet for rinsing off. Then I had a covered, locking pail next to it with an Arm & Hammer solution. After the pre-soak, I took them all to the washer & used a sensitive baby soap. Worked fine and no diaper rash. We had the diapers with the inside liners, the elastic and velcro pants, and the plastic covers.



answers from Portland on

I live in an apartment complex with no washer/dryer in my unit. We have coin/op and I cloth diaper my 16 month old twins. We started having issues with yeast infections because the washers would not get hot enough to thoroughly wash the dipes. I started looking around and found an option using your dishwasher (assuming you have one). I know, it sounds really gross, washing dirty dipes where you wash your food, but it actually worked. I would do a wash load without anything in the dishwasher before and after washing the diapers just to make sure that it got rid of anything left over. We did rinse the dipes in the toilet as well before putting them in a 'wet' bucket with vinegar. And then we would take the dipes to the coin op dryers. We went from spending 60.00 a month doing dipes to about 20.00. I hope that helps.

Another option to look into is a washer/dryer combo that connects to your kitchen sink and doesn't require a dryer vent. I started looking at those about 5 years ago and am finally splurging with my taxes to buy one. It hooks to your kitchen sink just like the old dishwashers back formt he 60's and I think even some in the 80's used that process. One company that has been around is Thor Appliances. I believe the cheapest one they have is 1300.00 and then the portability kit is an additional 130.00. Thor is a company down in LA and has been in business for close to 100 years. But you can do your own research. My husband and I are buying one since the total of doing all of our laundry is close to 100.00 a month and that doesn't count any 'oops' or puking incidents the twins may have. When we did the math the amount that we are putting out for coin op is the monthly breakdown of buying the washer/dryer. So that is what sealed buying it this year.

Sorry for the long post.




answers from Seattle on

By the time you get done paying for the laundramat, the bleach and soap... the diaper service will be affordable, believe me.

If you had your own washer and dryer at home, with no pre-soak cycle on your washer, I would suggest that you fill your diaper pail with warm water and dissolve Biz pre-soak in the water, then place your dirty diapers in the pail, washing them every other day. When you place the diapers in the pail, be sure to rinse out any bm in the toilet, taking care to remove as much as possible. Then before you place them in the washer, rinse them out in the Biz water, rubbing to loosen any stain.

Use HOT water with Biz and Dreft laundry detergent. If you have the opportunity for a second rinse, then add a 1/4 cup of white vinegar to the first rinse. This will remove any soap residue and all that sticks to it. Your diapers (and do this with any of your baby's laundry) will be whiter, brighter as the soap residue is gone. Especially with their pj's, they're flame retardant and soap like Ivory Snow has a tendency to build up a residue on these retardant treated fabrics, the vinegar maintains the integrity of the retardant.

The diaper service really isn't that expensive when you take into consideration all that goes into care and upkeep on diapers. The wraps, you buy from them or find at garage sales, friends or at a store. The two hours you'll spend in the laundry room is two hours that you could be doing other things in your apartment/house while the washer and dryer are working their magic. You'll find that you'll be multi-tasking a lot for the next 18 or more years!!!

I sewed my own diapers. And my Mom and Dad got me diaper service for the first two months, so I could adjust and keep up as your baby will go thru about 12 diapers a day, in addition to all the other laundry.

Take good care and enjoy!!



answers from Seattle on

I am so glad you have made this choice. I started cloth on my son when he was 22 months and it has gone great. Although we wash ours in the washer, it can be done by hand.
I would get some good rubber gloves (the few times I have needed to wash by hand it hurt very bad when I didn't have the gloves), and just go from there. I would check online, there is a lot of info out there. If you have a myspace I can invite you to my cloth diapering group. The ladies in there are great and have lots of info.
Good luck!




answers from Seattle on

Gotta love cloth! I think if you are using prefolds with covers that hand washing is totally doable. And don't worry too much about stains. In the summertime you can hang them outside and the sun will bleach out any staining you may have. The sun works like magic!

You will definitely want to make sure that you rinse all the detergent out of the diapers. Diaper residue can cause irritation on your sweet little babies bum. It can also cause the diapers to hold odors. So it might be a good idea to try to wash the diapers in the coin-op machines once per week.

Good luck mama! If you ever need additional advice there is a website called diaper pin that has a lot of information and support for cloth diapering families.

Congratulations on the baby! I hope you like cloth as much as I do. The added bonus is that babies look so cute in cloth!



answers from Seattle on

I don't know if you can still purchase them or not now, but when I had my son, I had to use cloth diapers for part of the time. Because I too couldn't afford a diapering service, I had to hand wash some and wash some via washing machine. There was these thin cloth like strips (looked almost like stripped up dryer sheets) that Gerber had that you could place in the cloth diaper for #2s. They helped tremendously. I also used a plastic fitted "diaper" that was made to go over cloth diapers to protect against leakage. Not sure if this helps, but hope it does! :)



answers from Eugene on

i highly recommend that you check out "elimination communication," it is an amazing wonderful way of relating to your baby, the benefits of which go far beyond having fewer diapers to wash. ( is a good resource to start with). you can start from birth, tuning in to baby's signals and using a potty. this is the natural way that mothers have cared for their babies for thousands of years. you will of course need a few diapers but won't go through nearly as many. it will greatly enhance your communication and connection with your baby, will help baby feel empowered, will eliminate "potty training" problems later, and you will also be helping the environment! i recommend flat cotton (preferably organic) diapers, you could make them yourself. and use only natural soap to wash them, and air dry. you can do it!



answers from Portland on

we have 30 prefolds and at the peak of washing we did diapers every 3 days. with an almost one yr. old, we have been doing them once every 5 days for a few months now. for washing, we simply spray the diaper with bac-out, stick it in the pail, and dump the pail in washer and run a regular "hot" load. if the poop is especially massive, we have a toilet wand that sprays it off. for those diapers, we have a small wet-pail in the bathroom, with 2-3 Tbl. bac-out and a few gallons of water. for these, we put the whole thing (bac-out mix + soiled diapers) in the washer and do a spin cycle, then add the rest of the normal "dry" diapers and do a regular wash load.
we love washing our own, and it is SO easy. good luck!



answers from Portland on

I pre-rinse my diapers in the toilet. I know that sounds disgusting, but really it isn't. It's a trick I learned from my mother. Once the substantial diaper dirt is gone, I put the rinsed diaper in one of those trash cans that has a lever to lift the lid. When the can is full, I do a load of laundry. And you can fit a lot of diapers in a load. My diaper pail/trash can doesn't even fill half the washer.



answers from Portland on

I do not think that you can hand wash your baby's diapers without a great deal of effort. When I was growing up hand washing was still being done. Many people could not afford a washing machine and there were no coin op machines. As I recall my mother used a very large wash tub. She prerinsed the poopy diapers after each changing in the toilet. She did the washing outside because it was very messy. She used very warm water and a plunger to get the water and soap to go thoroughly thru the diapers. She used a wash board to get stains out. She then rinsed them several times in boiling hot water, discarding the water on the ground each time. She used bleach somewhere in the process.

After all of that her babies had frequent diaper rashes. My parents saved and borrowed from relatives to purchase a ringer washer. Washing with a ringer washer was similar to the wash tub process except that you had a container with fins with which to wash and rinse the diapers. You rang the water out of the diapers between each step, emptied the machine (it did have a pump) and then filled the washer again using a hose attached to the wash tub faucet. After using either method the diapers were hung on a line outside to dry.

I remember my brothers having frequent diaper rashes. Sometimes they bled and always my brother cried from the pain. We used a diaper ointment with every change. (this will add to the cost of your diapering)

Also, parants did not have or use prefolded diapers. Prefolded diapers have several layers stitched together which would have made getting bacteria and chemicals found in urine and poop more difficult to get out. It's next to if not impossible to agitate the diaper enough to get the water swished thru the layers. And next to impossible to get the diaper dry.

My mother purchased flannel and sometimes birdseye cloth and made her own diapers. This cuts down on the initial cost of the diapers.

How will you dry several dozen diapers inside your apartment? Even if you are able to wash diapers every day you will have at least a dozen to wash and dry each day. They will not get dry overnight.

With hand washing, there are two very important but difficult tasks to accomplish. The first is to successfully wash out all of the urine and feces and the bacteria from the diapers. The second is to successfully wash out all the detergent or soap which is very irritating to a baby's tender skin.

Not only is hand washing very difficult it is also very time consuming. Because of the difficulty in washing and drying them, parents changed diapers less frequently which caused serious infections on baby's bottom. Because cloth diapers do not wick the moisture away from baby's skin they need to be changed more frequently than disposable diapers. Remember baby's skin is new, tender, and sensitive.

I strongly recommend that you find a way to use a washing machine or that you use disposable diapers. I've been in the homes of hundreds of babies and have not seen any that wore hand washed diapers. Hand washing is just not practical!

A suggestion is to look for ways to find inexpensive disposable diapers. Ordering on line can reduce the cost. There may be charities who would help you get disposable diapers.

If you receive state assistance talk with your worker. If you don't receive state assistance apply for it now. Using food stamps and a monthly stipend will free up some money for diapers. Because you are pregnant you will be able to be on WIC if you aren't already.

The hospital in which my first grandchild was born arranged to have a community nurse vist them for the first year after they went home. The nurse asked my daughter if she needed diapers. My daughter gave the nurse diapers which did not work well for her baby to the nurse who then gave them to other mothers.

I don't know which would be less expensive, disposable diapers or putting quarters into the coin operated machine at your apartment. If you do use a coin operated machine, be sure to use a cholorox type bleach in each load to help keep the diapers from picking up the germs from previous users.

Parent with a washer and dryer wash 1-2 loads/day. You will have clothes to wash too. Babies spit up and urine and feces seep out of diapers which require a change almost every day.

Finally, could your husband work a second job during his off hours which fluctuate? Has he looked for a job with more consistent hours? Is he trained to do a skilled job? You also may be able to get state assistance while he trains for a skilled job.

My granddaughter's father was given that option which he refused. He then moved out of state. I then babysat while she entered and completed the job training program. I suspect that there is less assistance available now and that there will be less in the future. Now is the time to investigate possibilities.



answers from Eugene on

Hi, glad to here more people doing this. So much easier on the budget and the landfill.
What helped me was to have a pail full of water/bleach mix next to the tiolet where i rinsed them. I also had enough to get by for about 3 days before needing to wash more. the bleach water kept smell and germs from spreading. I hope this helps you. I can only offer what i have tried. Good luck.

About Me: I am a mother to five children two are by me and three are my hubbies. They are 21,20,18,14,10. I love them all the same. My dear husband too.



answers from Seattle on

Good for you! I wanted to do cloth, but I knew my husband would not be patient enough for the extra work of pinning and rinsing. I think that even with paying the cost of the machines that you will save money, even the really cheap diapers add up to a lot of money over the time you have to use them. You have some really great advice from the other moms.



answers from Portland on

You could always try infant potty training. If you do it full time, you might be able to wash less often. No guarantees (I'm not consistent enough with my son to save that many diapers), but it might help, and in the long run, it might result in an early potty-trained baby. And what's better than NOT having to wash diapers anymore??? :) My son almost never poops in his diaper anymore, though, which makes life MUCH easier! (He's 3 1/2 mo)

I just had an inspiration about how you could wash the diapers. A while back they had this TV reality series called Kid Nation, on CBS, I think. Anyhow, at one point they got the choice of coin washers or these hand-agitator ones. They chose the hand ones. You put the clothes in, water, detergent, and rock this handle back and forth. Those who were on laundry duty REALLY appreciated not having to scrub with the scrub board anymore! This might be an option, if you could find one...



answers from Seattle on

Kudos to you! I waffled about cloth for months, even during the period we had diaper service. Now we do a mix of both, depending on whether I'm working or not.

I don't know anyone who completely hand-washes diapers - I think it'd be really hard to get them totally clean (although you could probably handwash the wets only if need be). My set-up is totally machine based, other than using a sprayer to get rid of poop (which I recommend!), but I do have a friend who does her own pre-folds with a hand-wash step (and definitely uses less water and energy than I do with my machine-heavy version). For all dirty dipes, she flushes the poop and then does a quick hand-wash in the sink (wraps too if they're messy) before dropping the dipe in the pail ("dry" - she doesn't soak 'em, neither do I). She'll also rinse wet dipes if it's going to be a few days before she can get to washing them. Then she does a machine wash (single cycle - as they've been pre-washed by hand) and, as much as possible, air dries outside. If you don't have the ability to totally air-dry (I don't - it all goes in the drier at my house), you can always run one dryer cycle on low and then just air-dry to get rid of the lingering dampness rather than running another cycle for more $ - it's actually better for the diapers to air dry as much as possible, with sun is even better. Ikea has a great metal folding drying rack for about $20 that lies almost flat agaist a wall but opens to dry a TON of diapers (or other things).

I second the thoughts of people below that the extra rinse at the end of the cycle, if you can do it, is really important, as is your soap choice to ensure you're not leaving a lot of build up in the dipes. We use Charlie's soap for all of our laundry and use vinegar in the rinse (you can use a Downy ball for that if you don't have a dispenser for fabric softener). My friend uses Arm and Hammer powder. Also, when/if you use diaper cream, a little barrier (like a piece of flannel receiving blanket) between it and your diaper will help the cream from building up in the diaper and reducing its absorbancy.

Finally, while it's great to use cloth (for any number of reasons), I found it to be really overwhelming (to the point where I quit for a few months) when my daughter was first born. I'd have some disposables (if you're concerned about eco-issues, 7th Generation are pretty reasonable to buy online by the case, and has really good deals on all kinds of diapers) on hand and give yourself permission to use them as-needed to make your life a little easier!

Good luck!!



answers from Seattle on

You might also want to consideer looking for a service that helps mothers find affordable diaper alternatives. If you nurse as opposed to formula-feed, it will help with the washing because breastmilk BMs rinse out easily.

Personally, I would avoid sharing machines with cloth diapers. We always used a special soap with ours (Charlie's Soap--purchased online) that rinses completely clean and is all natural. Mainstream commercial laundry detergents and fabric softeners are loaded with residue-causing ingredients which can transfer to the diapers (even if you aren't using them, they coat the basket of the washing machine) and decrease absorbency.

Think of it this way, 2.25 per load, you'll be doing a double-rinse, PLUS the longer time to dry prefolds (several layers of cotton all on top of one another), 2-3 times a week... it might make $70 per month for a diaper service seem reasonable!

If you do hand-wash the diapers, get an oxygen-bleach to have on hand, a stiff bristled scrubber brush, rubber gloves, some bio-degradable and fully rinsing soap (Country Save can be found in stores and is a good one), a DRY BAG to store the soiled diapers in until ready to wash, some baking soda. In the summer time, you can dry diapers in the sun and it whitens them well.

Good luck! It will require a lot of effort (daunting with a newborn), but if you are determined to make it work--you will.

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