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When you're on a budget you're sometimes limited in the decisions you get to make. Take for instance when we were looking for a new apartment two years ago and we really really really wanted an in unit washer and dryer. Like a lot. Unfortunately that was not in the cards. Our apartment complex did have coin-operated washers and dryers on site, but $1.25 per load adds up quick. This wasn't a huge concern until I started considering cloth diapering our second child. We had done the math when Izzy was on the way and discovered that using coin-operated machines to wash our diapers would make cloth diapering more expensive than using disposable diapers.
Each load in the washer and dryer cost $1.25 ea. So if we only ran one load of 30 diapers once through the washer it would cost 8 cents per diaper change. In practice we found we needed to run two loads of diapers through the washer so it cost 12.5 cents per diaper change. That's already getting pretty close to the cost of low-end disposables.
Long story short, I don't give up easy. I had resigned myself to disposable diapering Izzy, but I decided we would do things differently with Johnny. I did the math again and found that even using coin-operated machines, we could break even on our cloth diapers if we diapered Izzy and Johnny from the time Johnny was born until both potty-trained (I guessed 3 years for potty-training). To help boost savings we invested in some drying racks.
After Johnny was born and we were fully invested in cloth diapering, we found that the coin-operated machines weren't cutting it. I had to rinse all the diapers beforehand in the bathtub and had to run a second cycle to ensure all the detergent was getting rinsed out. Even so, our diapers didn't smell clean and our kids started getting rashes. Boo!
I was ready to give up on the washers but I wasn't ready to give up on cloth diapering so I set out to the great internet encyclopedia to learn about hand-washing cloth diapers. A year later I'm still hand-washing Johnny's diapers. The savings have been tremendous and it provides great guilt fodder for the teenage years ;). We cloth diapered Izzy for 6-9 months after Johnny was born and Johnny is coming up on 15 months in cloth diapers. If you include everything we bought to cloth diaper -- inserts, covers, wet bags, small wet bags for out and about, snappis, drying racks, our hand washer, clothespins, cloth wipes, and splurge diapers -- we've probably spent ~$600 for almost two years' of diapers (and we still have 1.5+ years to go!). We spent about $1000 on disposable diapers the 18 months Izzy was in disposable diapers. That's not even counting disposable wipes and rash cream.
The crazy thing is we could have spent less on cloth diapers than we did. Prefolds and covers are a wonderfully cheap and versatile option, but we were intimidated by them. They really aren't as scary as they look though. Because of how frequently I wash diapers (once a day), we could have opted for a much smaller stash too (1/3 the size).
This May we are moving into a house with a washer and dryer finally! I am not going to miss hand washing our diapers, but I don't regret it one bit either. I learned a lot in that year and have compiled it all into a small book on hand-washing to hopefully make the information more accessible. Feel free to pass this along to a friend (or five!) in electronic or print form!
Handwashing Cloth Diapers (no pictures)
Handwashing Cloth Diapers (with pictures)