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Tuesday, May 10, 2011

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Washing Diapers After A Natural Disaster

My husband and I recently visited my family in North Alabama. We arrived two days after 180 tornados hit the area, killing hundreds of people. The day before we arrived I called my mom and asked if she thought I could wash my diapers. They didn't have power or hot water so washing in the washing machine was out of the question.

Truth be told, I was seriously contemplating buying disposables to bring with us. I even called my husband and asked him to pick up disposables. I have been cloth diapering for over 6 months and had put disposables behind me. I wasn't about to raise the white flag on cloth. I called him back and told him to forget the diapers, I would figure out how to wash them by hand at my mom's house.

After receiving great advice on Facebook from Stacy at, I was confident I could wash them. My diaper stash consists mainly of pocket diapers, a couple of fitteds, hemp inserts and cotton prefolds for stuffing. I don't use microfiber inserts at all due to a sensitivity.

We traveled by train from Newark, NJ to Birmingham, AL. By the time I arrived at my mom's house there were plenty of dirty diapers to be washed. The next day, Saturday, was a beautiful sunny day and the temperature was predicted to reach 85. Perfect for line drying!

My mom and I gathered supplies: two empty storage bins, a big spatula, Dawn soap, kite line for hanging, and two plastic garbage bags. I started by filling up one bin with cold water for rinsing the diapers. I laid one of the garbage bags on the ground and separated diapers from inserts. I added the diapers to the rinse bin and left the inserts on the bag. While the diapers were soaking, I filled a huge stock pot (think lobster pot) with water and heated it on the stove. I preferred hot water to really wash the diapers, but I understand that in a desperate situation you can wash everything with cold water. Thankfully my mom had propane gas running through the house so we were able to cook and get hot water.

While the water was boiling, I stirred my soaking diapers a few times. I left the diapers and started working on the kite line. The back porch was very large and had full sun all day. I tied one end of the kite line to a patio chair and tied the other end to the porch railing. I pulled it tight because the weight of the diapers and inserts would definitely make it droop.

After that, I filled the empty bin with the hot water and soap. I added a tiny bit of cold water because I didn't want to melt any of the snaps on pocket diapers. That would be bad. Next, the rinsed diapers were added to the hot soapy water and stirred with the spatula. I let them soak while I emptied the dirty rinse water and refilled with clean, cold water. I added the inserts and repeated. The tricky part about this was I needed to rinse the soapy diapers, so the garbage bags really came in handy as a holding spot between washing and rinsing.

Everything was hung to dry on the line.At the end of the day we pulled the diapers and the inserts off the line and they all smelled clean, even the dirty diaper. The inserts were a little stiff from line drying, but I don't believe it affected the absorbancy.

My husband was really helpful here because he was able to squeeze the water out of everything better than I could. My mom was amazing too because she never once thought I was crazy for doing all of this instead of just using disposables. In fact she was very supportive of it all.

My heart goes out to the Alabama families that lost their homes and their loved ones.

By Shanon Tranchina

Shanon Tranchina is a stay at home mother to 10 month old daughter Reilly and wife to Dennis. She is the author of the blog I'm That Mommy,, where she writes about cloth diapers and other mommy things.


Eliza Rae said...

I've washed my diapers by hand lots of times. I just wanted to let you know I don't think you can melt snaps with just boiling water. I always just poured the very hot boiling water over my diapers without adding any cooler water to it. None of the snaps have melted.

Kelly said...

I love that you received so much support from your mom and husband. My mom and mother-in-law didn't blink an eye when I said I was thinking of CDing my baby 7 years ago. I think it helped that they both used cloth diapers.

Corri Beth said...

I live in North Alabama, and our power was out for 5 or 6 days after the storms. I handwashed in the sink everyday and hung them out to dry (although I almost always hang out my diapers.) It wasn`t as bad as I thought it was going to be, except since I was washing them in the bathroom sink, I was doing them one at a time and it took FOREVER! Glad your family came through the sotrms okay!

Amber H. said...

What a wonderful post! It's nice to know that in a pinch, I'll be able to wash my pocket diapers by hand if I absolutely had to.

I'm That Mommy said...

I've heard horror stories so I wasn't going to take a chance at all!

Elyse said...

You are awesome for doing this! We usually do a pre-rinse in our bathtub because we use coin-operated machines for our laundry. We soak all the diaper inserts in hot water, squeeze them out, then drain the tub. It definitely helps the inserts get cleaner in the wash. We also hang dry our inserts outside. They are definitely stiffer, but adding some vinegar helps a little bit. I might try handwashing my diapers completely this summer to save some money -- it sounds like its not too hard!

Natural Momma said...

Do you think that washing pockets by hand could be easier than this? Are there any alternatives?

Natalie Adkinson said...

I had to wash my entire stash in the tub this weekend because our washer died. I do not think you are crazy at all. I did everything I could to avoid putting my daughter in disposables. I love my cloth and was very happy with the way that they turned out after washing them in Dawn in the tub!

Flower Mommy said...

i also wash my diapers on sanitize temperature, the snaps don't melt... what would you do if you didn't have a way to heat up the water?

Laura said...

I would probably worry about the PUL with boiling water though. It might make it break down faster.

Dreaming Mama said...

Great post! I have wondered what I would do in this situation. Thanks for the insight.

Darcy Davidson said...

Wow - great job! My heart also goes out to folks to have lost so much.

I'm guessing it would be easier (less to wash?) if you only had prefolds and covers, right?

Interesting that you just used Dawn - how much did you use? When I use it to strip, I have to rinse and rinse and rinse to get it out.

Anyway, great job - you're a trooper! I will remember that the next time we go out of town and I am inclined to buy sposies, and try it out!

I'm That Mommy said...

Thanks everyone!

I just used a small squirt of Dawn because I was told that it would be easier to get out than Tide. It worked very well.

The rinse bucket had to be dumped twice because it did get sudsy, so you definitely need plenty of cold water. I used cold water rinses instead of my usual warm/warm rinse. Maybe if I had to hand wash longer than a weekend I would do this, but it worked well for the time being.

If you can't heat the water, I think you can still wash on cold, but you may need to use something like bac-out, but I'm not too sure. Luckily we had the propane to heat the water.

Lissydoll said...

Wish my mom was as supportive in my cloth diapering as yours! It's good to hear that it wasn't too hard to wash diapers by hand.