When I talk about cloth diapers to people that aren’t currently using them, I often get questions about how it’s possible to use cloth if you don’t own a washer or dryer. I also have many people concerned about how much it costs to start cloth diapering – even after I tell them that they can save $1,300 by the time their child is 2 years old!
In light of this question and concern, I want to talk to you about the Flats and Handwashing Challenge. Last year my kiddos were still in diapers and I joined Kim Rosas of Dirty Diaper Laundry in using flat diapers and handwashing them for one straight week. I have a hard time expressing all that I learned from this challenge but I will try to summarize it here.
First of all – what is the Flats and Handwashing Challenge? For one week, limit yourself to using flat diapers or single layer fabric folded into a diaper along with covers to diaper your baby/babies. During this week “unplug” from your washer and dryer and turn up the elbow greese and wash those diapers by hand! While this may seem like a silly challenge to many at first glance, I assure you, it is not. Below, I will explain why.
This challenge, in combination with discussions with Heather McNamara of the Real Diaper Association, made me realize that most any absorbent material can be a diaper. If you think you have to spend money to join in this challenge, I challenge you to use only what you already have! Do you have receiving blankets? Do you have flour sack or single layer dish towels? Do you have some old tshirts? Cut them in half (at the side seam) and you have 2 diapers! Have any old sheets you aren’t using? Cut them into squares! All of these items make for great diapers.
Flat diapers (what my grandmother used) are the easiest diaper to wash because they are only one layer of fabric. They dry the quickest as well, making them perfect for this challenge. Flats can also be folded to accomodate for different wetzones, absorbencies, and body types which makes them a great choice for families with more than one child in diapers.
This challenge does more than teach you that you can upcycle items in your home into a diaper. It also teaches you emergency preparedness. What if we had no electricity? What if there were no gas and stores were shut down and you couldn’t buy disposables? What if you had a limited water supply? Did you have to make some diapering changes during the recent hurricanes on the east coast? Ever wondered how to travel with cloth? Ahem… flats baby!
I used flats confidently on our trip to Mexico last year after having practiced during the Flats Challenge. I washed those diapers in the hotel sink like a pro! They dried on our balcony in less than 12 hours. I also took flats on a camping trip! Give me a bucket, a faucet, some detergent, gloves and half of an old tupperware meat marinade container (the little pyramid bumps on the container made a great washboard) and I’m set!
And…. I was able to put a combination of two flats, a trifolded washcloth (in the wet zone) and a fleece liner together for a nighttime diaper that worked for both of my twins! SCORE!
So, back to the original question. Can you use cloth diapers if you don’t have a washer? Yes. You can hand wash your diapers, take them to a laundry mat twice a week or use a diaper service. It’s totally doable. As for how much it costs to get started, you can buy an inexpensive cover for less than $10. Buy 6 covers, some diaper closures like pins, Snappies, or Boingos and upcycle some materials I suggested above and you can diaper a baby full time for under $100. If you want to get fancier over time, go for it, but you have the basics and will never have to buy a disposable diaper again!
P.S. I had a good time doing the actual handwashing also. It was therapeutic in the same way that most physical labor is. I also plugged my earbuds into my Kindle and blazed through a book that week while washing away. It was me time.
If you are interested in joining the Flats and Handwashing Challenge it runs from May 20th-26th this year! I highly recommend it. Even if you don’t complete the challenge successfully the experience is an amazing educational foundation! Cheers to Kim for dreaming up such a great educational experience of a challenge!
Here are links to the posts I wrote while taking last year’s challenge!