Imagine yourself on your knees, scrubbing a cloth diaper on a washboard in the bathtub. There are suds everywhere: on the tub walls, on the floor, in your hair, in your baby’s hair. Sweat is pouring, your hands are calloused, and every stain is stubbornly resisting your efforts. You tirelessly lather, rinse, repeat.
Finally, you stand up, wipe your bubbly, sweaty brow, and proudly admire your clean, off-white (because they’re organic), stink-free cloths. The baby claps, the dog howls, and your partner scoops you off your feet in adoration.
Sounds fulfilling, doesn’t it? Almost romantic, like a Viking kind of romanticism. Or Amish romanticism, if you’re into that sort of thing.
There’s a lot to be proud of in doing chores with hard work and determination. Lots of integrity and self-sufficiency. But let’s face it. Nobody wants leathery hands and an aching back from hours of kneeling over a tub. We spend enough time cleaning up after our babies, and after they’ve gone to bed we just want to let our sluggishness overtake us. Especially when The Walking Dead is dying to be binge-watched. No pun intended.
Benefits of Hand Washing Cloth Diapers
Sounds like hard work, but my hand wash cloth diaper process has many benefits. First, when you get used to it, it becomes a sort of meditation. I find my zen with (or take out my anger on) my cloth, and it really can have a calming effect.
Second, if you think you can’t cloth diaper because you don’t have a washer and dryer, you might be surprised to find out how simple it can be to wash them by hand.
Third, hand washing conserves energy and water from not using the washer and dryer, and thus it saves you a bit of money. Now, you might say time is money, and hand-washing seems like it takes up quite a bit of time. But it doesn’t have to be that way!
So, I’m going to give you my easy-peasy, no sweat, lazy ass hand wash cloth diaper routine. You, too, can feel like a Viking while still having time to watch Vikings.
Hand Wash Cloth Diapers Materials
- Bathtub (that’s a given)
- Several 5-gallon buckets: I use red Firehouse Subs buckets [$2.00] for poopy diapers and white buckets from Walmart [$2.50ish] for pee-pee diapers)
- Bucket lids to keep your wash baby-free.
- Rubber gloves: I use Playtex Living Drip-Catch Cuff™ [$2.00+] – they seem to be extra sturdy, and heat and cut resistant.
- Cheap plunger: If possible, drill 1/4 inch holes all around it to help prevent backsplash. Or, if you feel like getting fancy, there are Breathing Mobile Washers [$20.00+] that are sorta meant for this thing.
- Washing detergent (I use Tide® Original or something similar)
- Borax or washing soda
- Distilled white vinegar
- Washing board (I got this Behrens one for less than $20)
- Laundry soap (I use Fels Naptha)
Some people use a bucket lid with a hole in it to stop splashing. I find this limits my plunger’s mobility and efficiency, and this method I employ is (usually) splash-free…lazy, remember?
Hand Wash Process
First, please put your gloves on, because no one wants to shake your hand when they find out you hand wash cloth diapers.
Then comes the soak. I’ll put in about ten diapers at a time (simply because that’s how many my drying rack will hold, but it also keeps the diapers from becoming crowded). Unfold, unstuff, or undo whatever type diapers you have. At the very least, take the baby out of them.
In whatever temperature suits you, soak poopy diapers first, or at least give them a prior rinse to get any stuck-on turd stragglers. Add and soak pee-pee diapers. There’s really no time limit, though I let mine sit for at least 20 minutes. This is to just get the pee out of the cloth and make the detergent work better later.
After the soak, pour the water out, preferably down the drain. (If you’re like me, you might think about reusing it to water the flowers. I’d recommend using the rinse water for this.)
Gently squeeze the water out of the diapers, fill bucket with hot water, then add diapers, detergent, and as much borax or washing soda as you deem necessary. These really help combat stains and stink, and you just can’t say Na to sodium compounds.
Now, give the diapers a good swish and plunge with the plunger. Agitation is great…but we have other factors on our side. So, don’t swish and plunge too much! Twenty or thirty thrusts is good enough to get the detergent going, but don’t work more than a minute.
Basically, as I learned from the GreenMountainDiapers.com pamphlet, the four factors for cleanliness are Temperature, Agitation, Concentration, and Time, or TACT.
- Hot cleans better than cold
- Agitating fabrics helps get dirt and stains out
- A higher concentration of detergent cleans more effectively
- A longer washing time means a cleaner outcome
If you cut down on one of these factors (e.g. agitation), then you need to up one or more of the others. This is why we use the hottest water possible, a stain-busting team of detergents, and also a…
Very. Long. Soak.
Soak them overnight. Soak them during the day. Take the bucket out of the tub when you need to shower and soak them for a week for all I care. Just soak them for a good long while. Remember, this is the lazy way to hand-wash! Not the timely way. If you need to wash them quickly, just throw them in the machine.
After the wash, wring the diapers and simply rinse until the bubbles come out, wringing gently between each rinse. I use warm water the first time to get the detergent out, then cold water and some white vinegar in the second rinse to really trap out the detergent from the fabric. A third and final rinse usually does it for me, but you can even skip this third one if you wish.
Wring and hang, and you’re done! Sunlight does wonders for sanitizing cloth, but I hang mine up at night in front of my floor fan.
If you really want to deep clean your diapers, or my version of stripping them, you can use a washboard and some Fels Naptha bar soap to really scrub the stains out. But I’ve only had to do that once since hand-washing, and it doesn’t really fit with our lazy mentality, now does it?
A Job Well Done
When all is said and done, I’ve spent 20-30 nonconsecutive minutes washing my diapers. Is this time worth it? Maybe. Maybe not.
But why do yoga when you can sit on the toilet lid, bent at the waist between your legs, and stab at and wring diapers like they are your enemies’ throats?
Why rely on a machine when you can teach yourself and those around you determination, confidence, and endurance?
You could be washing diapers one day, and constructing a small livable hut out of clay the next! You could plant your own cornucopia of crops, or fashion a hunting spear out of a branch! Make that wildcat fur coat you’ve always wanted! Take a field trip back to the Viking-era and learn your worth through hard work.
But don’t forget to be really lazy about it, because Game of Thrones needs to be rewatched.