Flats and Handwash Challenge, Day 5: What I Have Learned This Week

I am taking part in the Second Annual Flats and Handwashing Challenge hosted by Dirty Diaper Laundry.  For 7 days I will be using only flat cloth diapers and handwashing them in an effort to prove that cloth diapering can be affordable and accessible to all.  You can learn more about the rules and why this challenge was started by visiting the announcement post.  This year there are over 450 participants from all over the world! 

‘There are still 2 more full days left of the challenge after today, and I will continue to participate, but I will be taking the weekend off from blogging (I also have a diaper-making workshop to run tomorrow!), so this will be my last post about the FHWC (until next year, assuming my baby doesn’t potty-learn by then!).  Although I participated in this challenge last year, I changed things up this year (partially due to what I learned from last year) and made even more discoveries!

  • So, first of all, I learned that handwashing diapers takes even less physical labor than I thought — and this is after already participating in this challenge once before!  I was able to get my diapers very clean with just some swishing with the laundry paddle, and a good long hot soak in the tub (<–that always makes everything better, doesn’t it? ;)).  No more standing hunched over the sink, scrubbing away with the washboard.  (I should mention that I have a bad back.)
  • Having less diapers than last year meant I had to wash more often, but that, in turn, made the act of washing take less time (and thus less physical energy).  Even though the blankets I used were much larger than the flour sack towels of last year, the new, lazier 😀 way I washed them made it seem like even less work anyway, so it didn’t matter!
  • By sitting on the edge of the tub with the laundry paddle (like paddling a canoe!), I was able to switch sides when my back started to hurt, thus evening out the strain.  The soreness from the handwashing was not as bad as it was last year at the sink, where I was hunched over.
  • By incorporating a soaking period (which I do even when using the washing machine), it not only required less actual agitation (and no scrubbing!) on my part, but it allowed me more freedom with my time.  It took about 10 minutes to get everything set up for the soak.  Then I was free for a few hours.  Then it took about 20 minutes to do the rinsing, wringing, and hanging.  Then another several hours of freedom.  Finally, another 10 minutes to take them down and fold/put away.  AND, unlike baking bread, you can actually leave your house between the 3 stages of work!
  • I have once again proven to myself that it is very much possible to use cloth diapers very little start-up cost AND no washing machine.  Unlike last year, when I said “maybe” when asked if I would consider doing this full time if I needed to, my answer now is ABSOLUTELY!  This kind of thing can seem so daunting from afar, and I know a lot of people think those of us who are participating in this challenge are nutso, but it really isn’t as bad as they think.  It just takes a little dedication.  And with the rewards of using cloth, no matter your initial reasons (our initial reason was sensitive skin and going broke diapering twins!), what’s not to love?  You are saving thousands of dollars AND helping protect the environment!  I don’t know about you, but those two things are VERY high on my priority list.  A little extra back strain and time out of my day for something I love and think is important?  Of course.  🙂

Click the link below to see what other participants have learned this week!

Flats and Handwash Challange, Day 4: How I Handwash

I am taking part in the Second Annual Flats and Handwashing Challenge hosted by Dirty Diaper Laundry.  For 7 days I will be using only flat cloth diapers and handwashing them in an effort to prove that cloth diapering can be affordable and accessible to all.  You can learn more about the rules and why this challenge was started by visiting the announcement post.  This year there are over 450 participants from all over the world! 

Last year, I used the “sink with hands” method.  This year I have tried something different: the bathtub.  I did a combination of a laundry paddle for agitating, and my hands for wringing.

I am using a “wet pail;” a 5 gallon bucket that I had run some water into.  I keep the bucket in the bathtub and run a little more water into it every time I add a dirty diaper.  This is how I washed them on Tuesday (Day 2):

I dumped the whole thing into the bathtub and let it drain out a bit, all while filling the bucket with clean cold water.

Then, I poured the bucket of clean water over the lump of wet, dirty diapers, as sort of a second “prewash.”  I squished them with my hands to help squeeze the water out.

Then, I turned on the water as hot as it would go, plugged the drain, and added All Free & Clear (up to line 2), about 2 tablespoons of Oxiclean, and a capful of Calgon water softener (we have hard water — my nemesis!).

I used my wooden laundry paddle to swish and stir the diapers around so that the detergent was mixed in well in the water and the diapers.

Then we went on a playdate.  🙂

When we got back, the dipes had had a good soak, and the water had cooled to room temperature.

I’d had my washboard ready, but the nice long hot soak had been sufficient, even for the one dipe that was pooped in (I had rinsed it before tossing it into the wet pail via the “dunk and swish” method in the toilet).  So, I just gave the whole lot a good swishing again with the laundry paddle.

Last year, I scrubbed everything, and it was very hard on my back.  This year, I wanted to find the laziest way possible to get the job done, and I figured that the swishing, soaking, and more swishing would be sufficient for the pee dipes and wipes (and the one PUL cover I used for overnight).  Seems like it was more than sufficient, even for the poopy one!

I then unplugged the drain and let the water drain out, and wrung everything out, plopping it right back into the shallow end of the tub.  I then turned the water on as hot as it would get, re-plugged the drain, added about a cup of white vinegar, and let it fill (about halfway).  Swish again for a minute or so, then let it drain.

Repeat rinse, only this time, no vinegar, and warm water instead of hot (I didn’t want to burn myself when I picked them up in the next step!).

After draining the water out, I picked each item up and wrung the excess water out.  Then I put them all in a basket and hauled it outside to my wooden rack.

I snapped the dipes out, and hung stuff up as best I could, considering that most of the “diapers” are several inches bigger than the bars on the rack.

A few hours later, they were dry, and I could fold them up and put them away.  🙂

This method takes about 5-6 hours from start to finish (depending on how long the soak is and how fast things dry), but the actual work takes only about a total of 45 minutes, divided into 3 different segments.  (It reminds me of baking bread!)  It is less physically demanding than the way I did things last year, so that is good.  Now hopefully we don’t develop a stink, or I will have to tweak this method.  If I was doing this full time, I might boil the diapers occasionally to remove bacteria and build-up.

~ Michelle

*Click below to see other participants’ thoughts on handwashing!*


Flats and Handwash Challange, Day 3: How I Use My Flats

I am taking part in the Second Annual Flats and Handwashing Challenge hosted by Dirty Diaper Laundry.  For 7 days I will be using only flat cloth diapers and handwashing them in an effort to prove that cloth diapering can be affordable and accessible to all.  You can learn more about the rules and why this challenge was started by visiting the announcement post.  This year there are over 450 participants from all over the world! 

So as you may know (from yesterday’s post), I am using (rather crudely) homemade cotton flannel swaddling blankets as my flat diapers.  And, in yesterday’s post, I pretty much told you how I am using them.  But let’s take a closer look:

*This is one method of using the blanket-diapers.  I have to tweak the method depending on the blanket because they are inconsistently sized.*

I have a large square of fabric.  I fold it into quarters, placing it with the edges at the top and one side.

I fold the front corners over so that the wings in back are still at full length(/width?) and the front corners touch the other side at an angle.

I lay the baby on it, and fold the front flap up between her legs.

I gather the sides so that they overlap in the middle, and pinch the flap and wings together between my fingers and thumb.

I use the other hand to put my super awesome, super sharp, locking diaper pin in (I have been holding it in my mouth this whole time).  I secure the pin, through all three sections (12 layers of flannel), and voila!

I pull the wool soaker over it all and we’re done.  🙂

Easy-peasy!

*Click the link below to see how other participants are using their flats*

Yes, You Can Use Cloth Diapers, Even Without a Washing Machine!

“Real Diaper Week” (aka Cloth Diaper Awareness Week) kicks off on Monday!  As the founder and co-leader of my local cloth diaper group, this is very exciting for me!  To wrap up the week, hundreds of locations all over the world are participating in The Great Cloth Diaper Change on Saturday 4/21, when we will attempt to break the Guinness World Record for most cloth diapers changed simultaneously.  The event is hosted by the Real Diaper Association. Click here to find the event nearest you!

***Please take a moment to sign this petition to get WIC to provide recipients with cloth diapers!***

In honor of Real Diaper Week and the above-mentioned petition, I want to share my experience participating in The Flats and Handwash Challenge, a blog carnival that was hosted by Dirty Diaper Laundry last year.  It had approximately 200 participants.

[From my personal blog, entries dated 5/27/11 and 6/3/11 ~Michelle]

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My “Day 5” Entry, with photo tutorial on sink washing…

This week has been interesting. As you may know, I am taking part in the Flats and Handwashing Challenge. Lots of experimenting (but perhaps not enough), lots of aching back muscles. I have found that the actual use of the flats has been no big deal. Sure, they hold less than my fancy dipes and thus have to be changed more often, but that’s okay. Brigit is not used to not having a stay-dry liner, so she “asks” to be changed more often anyway. Always keeping us on our toes, that one!

My stash includes 20 (27″x28″) flour sack towels (which I am essentially pad-folding with an angel wing poo-pocket), 4 medium Thirsties velcro covers, and a big wool soaker (handknit by me) for over the night diaper. (I am also adding a smaller pad-folded Gerber Flat (about 27″x24″) inside the flour sack flat for overnight. No problems so far.) Yes, I am doing this overnight, too, even though the rules state that I don’t have to. 😀 I realize that I could technically have one more regular cover and not count the soaker, but I already had 4 Thirsties covers and the snappi/pins thing just doesn’t work well for us, so my ample supply of soakers and other pull-on covers (like these Dappi ones) was kind of useless this week. Incidentally, I am also including my flannel wipes and washable nursing pads in the handwashing. I chose to only use my Dr. Brown’s nursing pads and none of my Milk Diapers (which I usually use overnight) because they are thicker and I was concerned about drying time, especially if I had no direct sunshine available (which in Florida, with random thunderstorms, you just never know), I worry about mildew from the humidity and too-long drying times.

This is the routine I’ve worked out so far (this may still change if I happen to wash again before the challenge ends):

Pail: wet (also serving as presoak). I’m pretty much keeping it in the bathtub, and running more and more water into it as the day goes on to make sure everything in there stays good and saturated. I’ve also discovered that it makes washing easier if I rinse the poopy ones in the sink (it’s EBF poo, so, not too nasty). I spray 5-6 squirts of half-diluted Biokleen Bac-Out over the mess a few times a day, too.

Wash: I am using my kitchen sink, old fashioned lye soap, and a washboard that I picked up for $10 at our local flea market. So…

1. Dump soaked dipes from pail into right side of sink to drain. Meanwhile, left side of sink is filling with hot water, with the bar of lye soap sitting on the bottom of the sink.

2. Squeeze pail/presoak water out of each individual item and plop it into the hot/soapy sink. Fish out the bar of soap, lather it up (as if washing my hands) then dunk bar and sudsy hands a few times, then place soap bar at the top of the washboard on the soap lip/shelf. Washboard is now perched legs-down in the sink.

3. Agitate the hot/soapy sink fulla dipes with a wooden cooking spoon. Start taking each piece and scrubbing on the washboard. Pee dipes are scrubbed very briefly, as the swishing and dunking in hot/soapy water seem fairly adequate for cleaning them. (I may skip the actual scrubbing of pee dipes next time, and stick to swish/stir/dunk.) Poopy dipes get spot treatment with soap, and extra washboard scrubbing until the poo stains are gone (taking much less work than I expected). As each piece is processed, it is re-dunked in the soapy water, wrung out, and plopped into the right sink (which has been filling with clear, cold water this whole time).

4. Drain left (hot/soapy) sink, spray out soap residue, etc., replug and fill with clear, cold water for second rinse. Swish/knead/stir the dipes in the first rinse water (right side sink). Take piece by piece, dunk, wring, and plop into second rinse sink.

5. Repeat #4 (except don’t fill another sink with rinse water unless you used way too much soap originally — don’t ask how I know that :)). This time, wring extra well, and snap out a few times to get even more water out.

This pic would be my third rinse from day 1 when I used waaay too much soap. *blush*

6. Hang to dry on the wooden drying rack. I have two of them and ended up using both for today’s wash, as I waited a little longer than before and the one rack was pretty crowded before anyway. Place rack in sunshine (not so today — it started to storm just as I was finishing up the second rinse…so my racks are blocking the entryway now, positioned under the A/C vent ;)).

Please pardon the naked 3-year-old in the background. LOL

The whole process takes 1-1.5 hrs and really hurts my back (remember, my spine is a chiropractor’s challenge and is easily strained by moderate physical labor). That, and my baby inevitably started to fuss/whine/cry at some point during each washing session, when I would attempt to employ various older siblings to play with her and keep her happy for just a few more minutes… She did end up on my hip for a few stages of each washing session, which made it take that much longer. I know I could have put her on my back in the Ergo, but…well, I didn’t. I was afraid the double strain on my back by wearing a 21 lb baby on my back while hunching over the sink would end up forcing me to drop out of this challenge. 😦

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These are my (long-winded) answers to the exit survey for The Flats and Handwash Challenge (a lot of the questions did not offer an exact answer for me, so I had to choose the closest answer). [I realize that this part is long and potentially boring, so feel free to skim/skip it; I just thought some might be interested to read.]

General

– I took this challenge because I wanted to prove handwashing is possible for low income families.

– I had never used flats before this challenge.

– One “newborn” participated (well, she’s 6 months old, but not crawling yet, so…)

– The poop situation was “newborn/breastfed” (technically, she’s an early eater, but just barely, so not enough to be considered “peanut butter poop” ;))

– Rashes: we did not have rashes before or during the challenge.

Flats

– How many? I said “20-24”

– What kind? 20 flour sack towels and a few Gerber Birdseye flats used as doublers for night time.

– I estimated that I spent “1-3 hours” (total) researching folds.  I perused different tutorials for a while a few times, experimented with folding, then tried out several folds on the baby in the weeks before the challenge began.

– The fold I used the most was (“other”) the angel fold…basically the pad fold with the top corners pulled out to make a poo pocket. 🙂 However, I did have to make an adjustment to the rise of the dipe, which meant that there were only 6 layers in the very front, 12 right at her pee exit area 🙂 and then about 4 layers at the back.

– The hardest part about using flats was “learning how to use them.”

– Covers: I used “sized PUL covers” (Thirsties velcro, size medium)

– Accessory I feel is a must: “drying rack”.  It was great to have a portable drying rack that I could hang the dipes on straight from where I was washing them (if desired) and then follow the sunlight around the yard if I needed to. (I would have said washboard if that had been an option, because I thought it was really great for scrubbing poo stains out.)

– Estimated value of my flats challenge stash: “$75-100”

$20 ….. 20 dipes (flour sack towels)

$44 ….. 4 Thirsties covers ($11/ea at Nicki’s Diapers)

$20 ….. wooden drying rack (like this one)

$10 ….. washboard (new, from our local flea market…unable to find web link, sorry)

$94 ….. TOTAL

Ideally, I would suggest 25 dipes, 5 covers, and 2 drying racks, which would put start-up costs at $120…and this also does not account for wipes (mine are double-layer flannel, mostly handmade by me out of old receiving blankets, so essentially this could be “free”), and soap (both for wipe solutions and washing the dipes), but I guess people would already have some baby shampoo and laundry detergent on hand…

Washing

– My washing method: “sink with hands”.  I washed in the kitchen sink the most times [described above], but I did try the “bathtub with hands” method once, for the very last washing.

– I disposed of solid waste by: “dunk and swish”.  (Actually, there wasn’t much solid waste, as baby is EBF’ed and having tiny tastes of solids now, but I pre-rinsed the poopy dipes in the bathroom sink to make it easier to scrub the stains off, and “dunk and swish” was the closest answer to that.)

– How hard was handwashing (scale of 1-5)? I said “3” because the actual handwashing wasn’t difficult, in theory, but it was quite hard on my back.

– How time-consuming was handwashing (scale of 1-5)? I said “3” here too.  I found the washing/wringing/hanging to be quite time-consuming, but I tried to compare it to the involvement of resetting the washing machine, adding soaps and such, transferring to dryer, waiting and waiting and waiting…so I figured it’s not that much worse than machine-washing, just that it occurs in a more concentrated time frame.

– How clean were my diapers (scale of 1-5)? I said “5 – very clean.”  Whatever minor staining I did not scrub off with soap and the washboard got sunned out while they were drying.

– I washed “whenever it was convenient, and dried outside.”  I did end up having to bring the racks in to finish drying after sunset a few times, and once, I had to dry inside the whole time because it was monsooning outside, heheh.

– The most difficult part of handwashing: “the physical effort” (with “the time commitment” being a close second).  As I have said before, I have a bad back. ‘Nuff said.

– The least difficult part of handwashing: “getting the diapers clean.” That was surprisingly easy.

Impressions/Opinions

– Do I think others could do this if they had to if they were given the proper education and tools? Absolutely!!!

– If I was in a washerless situation, would I do this full time? As much as possible.  This is one of those things that I feel I can’t answer in absolutes due to differing possible circumstances, like whether there is any money for back-up ‘sposies, etc., because if there wasn’t, I would definitely do this full time, but if there was…well, I might need to give my back a break every now and then.

– The most surprising aspect of this challenge? That my diapers were clean!  I don’t know why this was so surprising; I mean, everyone used to handwash everything and things got clean, duh. I guess I just figured it would take a lot more effort than it did to get them clean…it really puts into perspective how dependent we have become on modern technology, because really, a human can do a better job than a machine for many things (think: attention to detail ;)), getting stuff clean included.

– I washed “10+” flats at one time (once as many as 20! That was cutting it close!).  I think if I were to do this all the time (use flats, I mean, not the handwashing part), I would definitely not want to wait that long…I’d aim to wash every 1.5-2 days (tops), so that I would not be so anxious about things getting dry by the time I needed them (I was totally imagining having baby wear a regular kitchen towel if it got to that!). Luckily, flats dry fast. 😉

– It took my flats “2-3 hours” to dry.  In all honesty, I might have been able to answer “less than 2 hours,” but I didn’t pay that much attention to them and wasn’t checking on them at regular intervals. I just waited several hours (probably 2-3), checked them, and they were dry. The times I had to bring them in because it got dark, or the time I had to dry them indoors completely, it may have taken slightly longer, but again, I don’t really know…(apparently I’m lazy! LOL)

– I washed “2-3” covers at a time, which could be rather nerve-wracking since I only had 4 (my 5th cover was just a big wool soaker for use over the night diaper, was not terribly useful for anything else, since I couldn’t find a fold that worked with pins/Snappis that was useful, absorbancy-wise). I would have to carefully examine the covers before a washing to see which ones needed it most (e.g. ones that had gotten poo on them, which I carefully wiped off so they could be used again before washing time rolled around). Only once did I have to wash 3 at once, and it was nerve-wracking.

– I approximated that it took my covers “3-5 hours” to dry.  The parts that took the longest to dry were the edge bindings and (especially) the front panel where the velcro is, as it is double-layered there. I imagine the Thirsties covers are among the fastest-drying PUL covers, though, as the inner layer is slick and not absorbent (unlike the Bummis covers, for example, which are very difficult to wipe out and reuse in the case of a major poo-splosion, and would, IMO, not be suitable for using in this type of [flats/handwash] situation).

– My favorite thing about the challenge: “storing flats” (i.e. seeing them neatly folded in a stack on the changing table shelves?).  I didn’t really like this question’s answer options (washing, folding, hanging); I wish it had an “other” fill-in-the-blank option, in which I would have said “The sense of good that I was doing, treading lightly on the Earth as well as our pocketbook.” 😉

– My least favorite thing about the challenge: the handwashing (ahem, BAD BACK).

– Will I continue to use flats in my every day diaper rotation? Maybe.  There were many pros about using flats, including the ease of getting them clean due to being one layer, the natural material and single-ply nature of the dipes (which to me would imply that stripping would rarely be needed), the low cost of flats, the versatility of items that can be used as flats (e.g. flour sack towels that I used, or flannel receiving blankets which can be acquired very easily, cheaply, or sometimes free if you have the right hook-up!).

On the other hand, I do enjoy the convenience and cuteness of my pockets (Fuzzibunz) and all-in-ones (Bumgenius), but don’t particularly like the fact they are made entirely of synthetic materials, which make them hot and sweaty in the summertime (and not too Earth-friendly), and they need to be stripped a lot, due to residue build-ups and the resulting stinky smells (which I admittedly use bleach for, occasionally, depending on the severity of the stink). [Haha, in that last sentence I was talking about Earth-friendliness, then mentioned using bleach. Ha. I’m so paradoxical.] The stink, in fact, has in the past caused me to switch entirely to natural materials (cotton fitteds and wool soakers), but our house has been re-piped since then, and a filter installed, so our “bad water” issues are not so bad anymore, making synthetic dipes possible to use again. At this point, though, I don’t know what my diaper stash will look like when baby outgrows her current ones… [Update: the synthetic diapers went away as soon as she started eating solids (and thus making stinkier poo); we are back to cotton and wool!]

Thank you so much to Kim at Dirty Diaper Laundry for organizing this wonderful learning experience!

 ~Michelle

***Again, please take a moment to sign this petition to get WIC to provide recipients with cloth diapers!***