Washing diapers by hand? Did we jump back a century?
Actually hand washing clothes, including diapers, is gaining popularity among families looking to save a ton of money at the laundromat.
Personally, hand-washing wasn’t a consideration until cloth diapers replaced our disposables. At the time, we had a functioning washer, but the drain pipe was damaged… and badly. Our house is well over 100 years old, let’s just leave it at that. So when we made the switch to cloth, I couldn’t wait until the end of the week and tote diapers to my dad’s house to do laundry in bulk as I had been doing naively with the rest of the laundry.
I had to learn how to wash them by hand, a concept which admittedly freaked me out at first. But I quickly fell in love with the simple and very effective process of hand washing; so much so that I began washing all the laundry by hand. I began cloth diapering my at-the-time youngest while in my third trimester with my fourth baby. In spite of being swollen and sore, washing diapers never seemed to bother me in the least. In fact, it was one of my favorite household chores… I like laundry, I know I’m weird.
So how does one hand wash diapers?
Its quite simple and seems like a process, but really isn’t too bad. I find it takes me an average of 12-15 minutes to handwash a day’s worth of diapers. Honestly the process would go quicker if my water pressure wasn’t so pitiful. If you’re a visual learner, you’ll benefit from this video I posted on YouTube during the Flats & Handwashing challenge this past May, where I walk through my wash routine. I use the bucket and plunger method, but you can use your hands or even your feet to agitate the diapers if you want. You can also find the free PDF download for a booklet on cloth diapering that illustrates how to hand wash, but if you just want to see a fine-tuned illustration, here it is:
This is for washing one day’s worth of diapers, so anywhere from 6-12 diapers. Typically I use powder detergent because I find it easier to measure out more accurate amounts, but liquid detergent is fine. I use either Gain or Tide, both work with my hard water really well. I wouldn’t get dirt cheap detergent for diapers. It really is worth the extra few bucks to get name brand and, honestly, one $6 box of Gain Powder lasted me several months. I love using the bucket and plunger for laundering (I do not use a lid with my bucket because I’ve never felt it was necessary). Some people drill holes in their plunger… I find a small hole to keep the plunger from suctioning to the bottom of the bucket is useful, but otherwise, holes only contributed to premature wear on my plunger. Dollar tree plungers never held up long enough for me, as well. They always tore for the first, sometimes second, use. Its worth going to a hardware store, you can find a decent one for as little as 3 or 4 bucks that will do the trick. Mine has a plastic handle, which can be a little slippery, and my old $13 plunger had a metal handle with a grip on it, which, while nice, eventually rusted (within a year). Talk about disappointing. And while you’re at the hardware store, grab a 5 gallon bucket. The $3 it may offset you is worth not having to fill your entire tub and use more detergent than necessary. If you plan to wash your diapers every few days, then by all means use a large rubbermaid tub or storage tub, or just your regular bathtub! While I don’t recommend manual hand washing plungers like the Wonder Wand for washing in a 5 gallon bucket (there just isn’t enough space in the bucket to make them efficient), they’re excellent for washing larger loads in a bigger tub. My sister currently has mine I got from amazon here, although it’s currently unavailable. It was very affordable and still being used regularly by my sister who loves it as much as I do! As far as hardware goes, you need your detergent, bucket, and plunger. It definitely warrants mentioning, though, that a good set of rubber gloves from the dollar store is a worthy investment. Wringing isn’t all bad, but can be brutal on your hands! Also, if you’re squeamish or have horrible cracking skin issues like I do, then gloves are your salvation! With that, onto the process…
Your prerinse is to get the bulk of the urine and residual stools out of the diapers to make the detergent more efficient during the actual wash. I find that, when hand washing, detergent in the prerinse is unnecessary simply because hand washing, by nature, lends much more thorough agitation that does an excellent job drawing out mess into the water. This water can be dumped down the tub drain, but I favor dumping it straight into my toilet bowl after wringing out the diapers of the messy water. This is mainly because my drain is ridiculously slow. This way, one quick dump and straight down the drain it goes. How long or how many times you “plunge” or “agitate” is up to you to decide how much is enough and how much is too much. Some people go by time, but the way I see it, a slow moving person won’t agitate their diapers the same number of times as someone who moves faster. And considering I would sometimes really work that plunger fast, I figured a definite number to shoot for made for a quicker process without worrying about how much my diapers were agitated. Overthinking? Maybe. But I never found it necessary to plunge more than 50 times for the presinse. Water temperature isn’t too much of a concern with either your prerinse or final rinse. It isn’t even technically a concern for your main wash, either, since modern detergents work very efficiently even in cold water. But I prefer hot water for the main wash, and speaking of which…
The actual wash is usually done with warm or hot water. With my elementary science brain, I figure warmer water=faster moving particles=quicker and more efficient clean. For me it’s a psychological thing. It’s really not necessary but I use hot water, as hot as my faucet gets. I also add the detergent before adding the diapers back into the water to make sure the detergent is completely dissolved first. How much detergent you need is a science in and of itself, contingent on factors like water hardness, soil level, number of diapers, how much water you use, etc. I found, using Gain or Tide powder, for my water, that 1 teaspoon for every 5 diapers was usually sufficient. I keep one of those formula scoops in the small detergent container. They are usually 1 Tablespoon scoops, which is 3 teaspoons. So for, say, 8 diapers, I’d use about half a scoop. This is a great way to make sure I don’t go overkill with detergent because too much detergent is actually a bad thing. That’s right, bad. It means you’ll be rinsing for ages and, if you don’t get all the detergent out, it can build up in your diapers and create issues with repelling. Often times, you’ll hear “mineral build up” in cloth diapers, when it’s sort of a misnomer in a way considering usually the issue is detergent build up (detergent works by binding with minerals, dirt, etc, so it’s sort of true). You can always add more if you need to. How can you know? Well, even HE detergents create suds (albeit much less). If you see a few suds on the surface of your water, you can know you still have “cleaning power” left in your water. Too many suds means you went overboard with detergent. No suds means you may want to add more detergent to make sure your diapers are adequately cleaned. A thin film on the surface with a few suds along the rim of the waterline means you’ve met that euphoric perfection in proper detergent amount. And because the amount of detergent really hinges on numerous variables, namely soil level and water hardness, I consider this a starting guide, not a one-size-fits-all routine. So after detergent is in and diapers reintroduced into the water, I then agitate about 100 times just to make sure all is good and clean. Soaking isn’t necessary either, and I often only soaked diapers when I got called away from diaper laundry. Otherwise I move right through the process, soaking isn’t really necessary for routine laundry. Then onto…
Rinsing! If you’ve hit that perfect spot on detergent, you can get away with just a single rinse! Most of the time I end up rinsing twice as I typically err on the side of caution with how much detergent I use. Detergent is so concentrated, though, that even half a teaspoon makes a world of difference in how much rinsing needs to be done. If you find you went way overkill with detergent, you can add a splash of vinegar to your initial rinse water (like perhaps a tablespoon) which can help cut through the remaining detergent. Don’t worry about diapers smelling like vinegar, they certainly won’t. If anything, worry about your warranty. Some manufacturers warn not to use vinegar with their diapers, as it can be hard on the PUL and the elastics. So if you feel you need to use vinegar to aid rinsing, pull out any pocket diaper shells or covers if you can before doing so. You know you’re done rinsing when your water no longer has a soapy film on the surface. Don’t stress yourself out being super scrupulous, though. If your water is sudsy yet, you’ll know. When you stop agitating your diapers and the resulting bubbles mostly subside, you can tell if there are still suds on the surface of the water. If you’re like “wow, suds!”, rinse again. If you’re staring at a bubble or two wondering if it’s suds… it’s probably not. Again, a key indicator will be a filmy surface on the water. You want the water to be pretty much clear. Some people find that they need to rinse 3 or four times. Personally, I believe the need to rinse more than twice indicates too much detergent used. As far as how long I agitate for a rinse, I usually only agitate maybe 20-30 times for each rinse, and cold water is all I use here!
Next step is wringing the diapers. This is one reason I love flats: they’re super easy to wring out compared to other diapers! You can even use your shower curtain bar as leverage to twist the diapers on if you want! I normally just use my hands. For other diapers that are more difficult to wring, you have a couple other options. You can wrap the diaper(s) in a towel and roll it up to press out the excess. You can use a machine or a salad spinner even to spin the water out (I’ve used a salad spinner sometimes for my wool covers!). You can whip quite a bit of water out of diapers, giving them a good snap. This is normally what I do in conjunction with just using my hands to wring. You can even pile the diapers in the tub, put your 5 gallon bucket on top and sit on it to press the water out! Pretty much your imagination is your friend here. I stick to “wring and whip”.
At that point, they can go into a dryer or hang to dry almost anywhere using almost anything! I line dry everything all the time. I’ve used a drying rack, laundry line, clip’n’drop laundry hanger, camp line, hangers, chairs, baby gates, I’ve even laid diapers right onto a table in the sun before! The sun is great for whitening those stains, by the way! And that’s all there is to hand washing diapers!
If you have any questions or would like clarity on anything in my post, please don’t hesitate to comment below! I or another mom would be so glad to help you! Thanks for reading!