This blog post by former TCO Advocate and Board Member Erika Salazar was originally posted in 2019.
As soon as we decided to have a baby I knew I wanted to cloth diaper, before beginning any research at all. I had already been using and loving cloth menstrual products for almost 15 years, so it was a no-brainer for me. Looking back, I'm glad I made the decision before beginning my research, because I approached it with an attitude of problem solving.
Right away we knew that our biggest hurdle was going to be how to wash effectively. Good thing I found Fluff Love & CD Science early on in the process! We live in a small apartment in NYC with a not-very-well maintained and expensive shared laundry facility in the basement. The idea of paying $7 per wash day plus the cost and labor to clean the machines to my liking did not appeal to me. We don't have room to store a portable machine, so I looked into hand washing. Happily, it's nowhere near as all-consuming as it sounds!
The basic routine had already been laid out for me on Fluff Love University, all we needed to do was purchase the tools. We bought two buckets from a local hardware store and a plunger and threaded bucket lid from Amazon. We use powdered Foca detergent from the bodega on the corner and the hot hot water from our bathtub faucet (that is included in our rent), which ends up being much more economical than the less-reliable shared facilities available to us.
If you are thinking of bucket plunger washing on a longer term basis, or even just for a week's camping vacation, here are some tips we picked up along the way:
For a child in cloth full-time, expect to wash daily or nearly so. It is some good strong physical labor, so be sure to engage your core when plunging. If you are beginning cloth from newborn days, be sure you have someone who isn't recovering from giving birth do the washing until you are cleared to exercise! I had an uncomplicated birth and my husband did 100% of the diaper washing for the first two months of our child's life; from then until now we more or less split it 70/30 since I stay home during the week.
Consider purchasing a spin dryer-- we bought ours on Craigslist for $20., and knowing what we know now we would definitely purchase one new if we needed to. By far the most tiring part of hand washing is wringing, especially for caretakers who are already using their hands and arms a ton to hold their littles. Our spin dryer gets things so dry that in the winter when the heat is blasting in our apartment, diapers are dry on the line in as little as an hour! Bonus: less wear and tear on the seams of our diapers from spinning dry vs. wringing.
If line dried items feel stiff when dry, you can soften them up by throwing them in the dryer with your next load of clothes or by simply beating them against a bedpost or doorframe. I recommend the latter if you need to get some aggression out or if you have older kiddos who want to "help."
Consider using flat diapers, especially if you live in a humid climate, as they will be the quickest to dry on the line. Remember you can pad fold flats/FSTs and place in covers or stuff pockets; using flats doesn't mean learning to fold around baby (though that is fun in our experience!).
We use the wash buckets as dirty diaper pails, this way we don't even need to use a pail liner as the bucket gets washed with the diapers. If you choose to use a big pail liner, you can wash it inside out with your regular laundry as it would probably take up half of a 5 gallon bucket.
Don't let hand-washing stress you out. If life gets overwhelming you are still saving money overall if you wash at the laundromat every now and then or use disposables sometimes.
Do I wish we had our own washer and dryer in our home? Sure, of course I do, but this is the situation we are in right now and I love cloth diapering our baby, so we are committed to making it work with our lifestyle. No regrets at all! Be sure to reach out if you have any questions, we'd love to hear from you and help make cloth an option worth choosing for your family as well.