One of the biggest deterrents to trying cloth diapering is laundry. Like many others, before I got into cloth diapering, the mere thought of putting a poopy diaper into my washing machine was horrifying. In addition, I did not believe that I could keep up with the extra loads of laundry that cloth diapering would entail. I worked a busy full time job, often with very long days, and figuring out what we were having for dinner each night was a challenge in itself. I had no time to deal with extra laundry, let alone poopy laundry.
As it turned out, once we transitioned to cloth diapers, the laundry was not as onerous as I had expected. We lived in a condo at the time, and the time that it took to haul our garbage bag of disposable diapers down the elevator to the common garbage room and come back up (approximately 5 minutes) was about equal to the time that it took to walk down the hallway to our washer and dryer, dump out the dirty cloth diapers from our wet bag into our top loader washer, scoop in some laundry detergent and push a few buttons. Our wash routine consisted of: 1. Cold rinse; 2. Hot wash with laundry detergent; 3: Cold rinse; and 4: Second cold rinse. The only additional inconvenience is that prior to placing soiled diapers in the wet bag, we had to properly dispose of poop in the toilet (although for environmental contamination reasons, poop in a disposable diaper should also be dumped into the toilet before tossing the diaper into the garbage -- but seriously, who do you know actually does that?). However, there are many ways to deal with poop that will get the poop into the toilet, without requiring you to touch the poop. Our preferred poop-rinsing tool is the diaper sprayer. It's great for rinsing out potties too!
For our second child, the stinkies surfaced a little earlier, when she was about 3 months of age. There were some changes in our laundry circumstances. By then, we had moved to a new home and we were using a different washing machine (albeit still a top loader). In the past, we had randomly picked the diapers that we used at any given time, and therefore cycled through all of them pretty evenly. Now, we were letting our oldest pick out the diapers for her baby sister. Like many three-year-olds tasked with the responsibility of making important decisions, she was opinionated about which diaper we were to put on baby. At night, we were only permitted to use appropriately themed night time diapers, namely, the blue starry one or the black planets one. It turned out that those night time diapers were our most problematic to clean since they were saturated night after night with concentrated night time pee--our youngest was a much better sleeper than her older sister and so she wore her overnight diaper for 11 to 12 hours straight. Again I did some tweaking, and found that soaking the diapers for 1 hour in hot water and 3 tbsp non-chlorine oxygen bleach and laundry detergent prior to starting the wash cycle generally worked to eliminate the stink. Also, when our three-year-old wasn't looking, we'd swap out the baby's diaper with one that wasn't one of the pre-approved night-time options. This helped cycle through the diapers more evenly and gave the blue starry or black planet diapers a rest from potent night-time pee. Again, problem solved, without having to make any drastic changes or follow a 20-step, 8 hour long procedure.
No matter which detergent you end up using, I think it's important to make an informed choice. While washing machines generally do a great job of rinsing out detergent, trace amounts can and often do remain on your clothing. Much of this residue comprises chemicals that aren't even necessary for cleaning -- such as fragrances and optical brighteners. They are formulated to stick to your clothes (and your washing machine, and everything else they may come into contact with) to make you think that your clothes are getting cleaned. Even detergents which are labelled as "fragrance-free" can contain synthetic musks, which mask smells and are suspected to be endocrine disruptors. If you care about reducing your family's exposures to unnecessary carcinogenic or endocrine-disrupting toxins, there are many great resources that provide information about the composition of laundry detergents. Some of them are here and here.
Washing cloth diapers doesn't need loads of time or a hefty instructional manual to figure out. If you do run into a problem, tackle the issue early on, tweaking your routine by adjusting one thing at a time. And once you have a routine that works for you, stick with it!
If you'd like to learn more, please visit our page here to see our class schedule and to sign up for a free cloth diapering workshop, or follow our Facebook page to stay in the loop as to our upcoming events. We have lined up some fun and informative workshops for this month's School of Cloth, including "Diapers and Donuts" on Oct. 17 with a workshop on diapering the heavy wetter and cloth diaper laundry, "Fix that Diaper/Make that Diaper" on Oct. 24 on cloth diaper repairs and how to make cloth diapers, in addition to our monthly Cloth Diapering 101 workshop on Oct. 25.
For additional cloth diaper laundry information, please check out the Real Diaper Association's article "Wash, Wear, Repeat. Cloth Diaper Laundry Made Simple" and the other articles that are part of the School of Cloth blog hop listed below.