We are often asked, "Is it possible to clean cloth diapers if I don't have a washer in my home?" To find out what that would be like, our family participated in the Real Diaper Association's Cloth Diaper Laundromat Challenge, wherein we took our cloth diapers to our local laundromat to clean for one week.
We planned to visit the laundromat two times during the one week challenge to launder our diapers. We accumulated three days worth of dirty diapers before heading to the laundromat for our first visit.
I selected one standard size stainless steel washing machine, and dumped out the contents of our two wetbags into the drum, and also placed the wetbags in the drum. None of the diapers had been rinsed, apart from the pooped-on diapers which had been rinsed with our diaper sprayer to get the poop off into the toilet. I was planning to run a first wash cycle on warm water without detergent to count as our pre-wash rinse, but I got distracted chatting with the friendly laundromat owner while I was loading the washing machine with diapers, and inadvertently poured in my laundry detergent along with 3 tbsp of Oxiclean into the washing machine, before realizing my mistake. I ran the warm wash cycle, with the intention of running a second hot wash cycle with more detergent once the warm wash cycle was complete. The cost for one wash cycle was $2.25. This included an extra rinse at the end (i.e. 2 rinses in total). The wash cycle was 24 minutes from start to finish, which seemed rather short. However, I noticed that the agitation in these machines was much more powerful than our own machine at home. There was a lot of vigorous washing going on in that drum! (If you want one of those babies for your own home, you're going to have to cough up some serious dough --the laundromat owner told us the standard sized machines cost $6,000, while the over-sized machines for comforters cost $10,000.) Once the warm wash cycle had finished, I pulled out a few diapers and gave them my usual sniff test. They smelled clean, so I decided to forgo the second hot wash cycle that I had planned to do, and pulled all of the diapers out and put them into our clean wet bags. I took them home and hung them to dry on our drying rack inside.
Three days later, we had another three days worth of dirty diapers to wash. This time, prior to visiting the laundromat, I spent a few minutes rinsing the diapers in our bathtub before putting them back in the wetbag. My 4-year-old came with me to the laundromat as she was curious as to what I was up to and wanted to help me clean her baby sister's diapers. She put the coins into the slot and selected the hot wash cycle. I poured in the laundry detergent, along with 3 tbsp Oxiclean and 1/4 cup vinegar. Then we read some books while we waited for the 24-minute wash cycle to complete. Once the wash was done, our sniff test came back clean and we transferred the clean wet diapers to the industrial-sized dryers. They looked impressive, and we wanted to try them out. However, we were short on time, as the laundromat was about to close (although the laundromat owner said he didn't mind us staying late) so we put in 2 quarters for 8 minutes of drying time (i.e. it cost $0.25 for every 4 minutes of drying time). The laundromat owner told us that an average load would cost $2 to dry (32 minutes). We let the dryer go for the 8 minutes and pulled the diapers out. They had dried a little, but as expected, were still quite damp after only 8 minutes of drying time. We stuffed the damp diapers into the wet bags and took them home to hang dry.
So - mission accomplished. We laundered our diapers in a laundromat for a week, and we learned that it wasn't that inconvenient, and our diapers came out clean. And we still saved money over the cost of using disposable diapers and kept a week's worth of single-use diapers out of the landfill.