It’s official. I have taken our cloth diapering to a new level of
coolness stupidity. On our last big trip in December, it was a fairly easy decision to travel with cloth diapers, knowing that we had in-suite laundry available to us 24 hours a day.
For our current trip, despite having advance knowledge that we would be without such a luxury for the first week of our trip, and despite knowing that the task of diaper laundry is usually mine to bear, I once again made the decision to forego disposables in favour of cloth.
I thought this would be a good opportunity to “test drive” washing diapers within the constraints of coin laundry, as I have often asserted that we would not likely be using cloth diapers if we didn’t have in-suite laundry at home.
We had access to the condo complex’s communal laundry facilities, which consisted of two washers and two dryers located about 300 feet from our unit. I knew that I would only have to do at most four loads of diapers during this week, so there would be a defined limit to the inconvenience.
By the end of the week, I pretty much had the technique nailed. Here are some of the strategies I used:
1. Wash early. By doing the laundry first thing in the morning while everyone else was getting ready for their day’s adventures, I never had to jockey for use of the meagre two machines. Although this meant we couldn’t get out and about early on laundry days, we would put Oliver down for his morning nap at the condo, and be ready to go (with diapers clean) as soon as he woke up. This had the added benefit of preventing others from seeing us wash our diapers in the communal laundry — some people can be (understandably) funny about that.
2. Choose the right machine. The laundry facility had one front-loading washer and one top-loader. If given the choice, I will always choose a top-loading machine for cloth diaper laundry. Because they use more water than front-loading HE machines, they do a far superior job of removing poop and leaving the diapers relatively stain free. They also tend to have much faster cycles. A soak/wash/double rinse in an HE machine can take as long as two hours to complete!
3. Double wash. Unfortunately most coin-operated machines allow little or no customization of wash cycles. At home, I start with a cold rinse. Then I add detergent and run a 10 minute hot soak, followed by a hot wash (using the same water) and a double rinse. The machines at our complex had very short and basic pre-set cycles, so I felt that the only way to get the diapers truly clean was to wash twice. I ran the first wash as a sort of pre-wash, using a small amount of detergent, and then ran the second wash as per normal. I would have preferred to give the diapers an extra rinse at the end, to ensure complete removal of detergent, but it wasn’t an option. So be it.
4. Create a soak. I found this genius tip on Yahoo! of all places. Since most commercial laundry machines will only operate when the lid is closed, you can create your own soak cycle by propping open the lid after the machine has filled, thereby allowing your laundry to soak until the lid is closed again. The downside of this technique is that it requires additional trips to (or waiting in) the laundry room, but it is less expensive than running two wash cycles.
5. Line dry. At home, we always line dry our diaper shells, but the inserts, cloth wipes and wet bags go into the dryer. Since the weather in Kaua’i is a lot more conducive to line drying than is the weather in Vancouver, we took advantage of the opportunity to save a bit of money (and not be stuck at the condo waiting for the dryer to finish), and we line dried everything in front of the sliding patio door. It worked, and nothing ended up being too “crunchy.” The other benefit of line drying is that it saves heat-sensitive materials (such as elastics and PUL shells) from being exposed to the higher heat levels of commercial dryers.
6. Have a good stash. This doesn’t apply as well to travelling, where minimalism is the key to effective packing, but if I were washing cloth diapers in a laundromat or common laundry room on a regular basis, I would make sure to have enough diapers that laundry days could be safely skipped every once in a while — for example if the facility was especially busy or if scheduling did not permit my staying home for two hours to do laundry.
While laundering cloth diapers in a communal coin laundry facility was inconvenient when compared with using our in-suite laundry at home, it was not as much of a hassle as I expected it would be. With a little bit of tweaking, I think cloth diapers can be quite effectively washed in a laundromat or apartment laundry room — if you’re willing to commit the time. Although I would not want to have to do this on a regular basis, I have no problem with the idea of doing it on future trips and vacations.