Offsetting the Water Used to Wash Cloth Diapers

I often hear people say that cloth diapers are no better for the planet than disposables because of all the water used to wash them.  This argument has never made too much sense to me.  Water is a renewable resource, but the trees cut down to make disposable diapers are often harvested unsustainably.  The plastic used on each diaper is a petroleum product-definitely not a renewable resource.  Then there’s the whole landfill issue. . . .

Not to say that I don’t care about wasting water.  If you wash diapers every other day in a top loader, you’ll use a whopping 7,200 gallons water a year.  Do you use a wet pail to soak your diapers?  That’s 360 more gallons a year, for a grand total of 7,560.  The good news is, it’s not necessary to blow through that much water.  I estimate that I use under 1,200 gallons water a year washing diapers.  I have a front loader that uses 12.4 gallons per wash, and I wash diapers every four days instead of every other day.

Line Drying Trouble-shooting

Yesterday, Joy wrote  about saving money and reducing carbon emissions by line drying clothes.  I lived without a dryer for three years, which forced me to hang all my clothes on a big indoor rack, over the radiator, or out on the balcony.  Later, I lived in an apartment with coin-operated dryers, but I was so used to line-drying that I continued doing it.  Then, after about five solid years of dryer abstinence,  I started using the dryer again.  I felt guilty about it, but it was just so much easier, especially in during those nine rainy months of the year.

So why do people give up on line-drying?  Here are some of the biggest line-drying problems you may encounter–and how to solve them.

Using a Drying Rack to Fight Global Warming

Do you own a solar powered dryer? If not, they’re available for under twenty bucks and can save loads of emissions in their lifetime. Yes, I am talking about the humble drying rack.

Whether you live in an urban apartment or sprawling acreage, anyone can handle erecting a drying rack and letting nature do the rest. You won’t need dozens of clothespins to hang each sock, baby t-shirt, or undergarment.  Just flop the clothing on the rack in the morning and take it off later in the day.

In the summer I bask in the glory of sun dried clothing.  I hang the sheets, towels and adult clothing on the line while my toddler helps (somewhat sloppily) by arranging dishtowels and diaper covers on our drying rack.  


Washing Cloth Diapers in an Apartment: Eco-friendly or Totally Nuts?

On our recent article “Cloth Diaper Recommendations for a Complete Novice,” one of our readers asked if it would be worth investing in cloth diapers if she lived in an apartment with coin-operated laundry.  In my opinion, based on number-crunching rather than personal experience, it would be worth a try.  Even if you have to pay to run the washer and dryer, you will save money using cloth diapers.  As long as your washer and dryer work reasonably well and you don’t have to keep feeding it quarters to make them properly wash and dry your diapers, it should be a better choice for the environment, too.

Save Water, Energy, and Money Washing Diapers with a Front-loading Washing Machine

Our old clunker of a washing machine came with our house.  A typical top-loader from the 1970s or ‘80s, it probably used about forty gallons of water per load.  Another downside of this appliance is that it did not even get the clothes clean.  Dark clothes (i.e., all my clothes) came out with streaks of lint, clumps of detergent, and the dirt and grime they had before “washing” them.

A positive pregnancy test motivated me to replace my washing machine.  I wanted to try cloth diapers and figured pre-baby was the ideal time to switch.  I knew a good front loader used just ten gallons of water per load, but I was disappointed that they cost so much more than top-loaders.  The cheapest one I saw advertised was $800.  Knowing I could save hundreds of gallons of water, not to mention all the energy used to heat the water, I convinced myself it would be worth it.

The Cheapest Eco-friendly Laundry Detergent

Right around when Joy wrote her post about diaper-friendly detergent I was in the process of phasing out my conventional laundry soap. I hadn’t switched over to an eco-friendly brand because I kept getting hung up on the price. Imagine my shock when I discovered that eco-friendly detergent can be cheaper than conventional detergent! I no longer have any reason to use a mainstream brand.

Laundry Detergent–from cheapest to most expensive

T.J.’s powder  / $5.49 / 40 loads / $.137 per load

Biokleen laundry powder / $13.99 / 100 loads / $.139 per load  BEST DEAL

T.J.’s liquid HE  / $8.99 / 64 loads / $.14 per load

All (not eco-friendly)  / $14.00 / 96 loads / $.145 per load

Green Breakthrough: Save Energy by Washing Diapers in Cold Water

I’d always heard that diapers needed to be washed in the hottest water possible.  After two years of washing diapers in hot water, a post on Treehugging Family made me think about whether I could wash diapers in cold.  Peggy writes about saving 72 pounds of carbon dioxide in one month just by washing four out of five loads in cold water.  Keep that up for an entire year and you’ll save $60-100 on your energy bill. 

front-loading washing machine for cloth diapersBut doesn’t washing in hot water kill germs and bacteria?  Everything I read said no–unless your washer has a built-in heater, the hot water in your machine does not get hot enough to kill anything.  Most water heaters are set to 120 degrees.  You’d need a temperature of 160 to kill anything and 212 to actually sanitize your laundry.  Jennifer (Peggy’s co-blogger on Treehugging Family) pointed out that the dryer does get hot enough to kill bacteria.

Works for Me Wednesday: Finding Diaper-Friendly, Earth-Friendly Detergent

I remember the day we made our first eco-friendly Trader Joe’s detergent purchase. We loved the smell of our fresh laundry and basked in the green glow of our new standby.  While the large plastic container was an environmental downside, the price was reasonable and the lavender essential oils gave it a crisp, clean scent.


 Roscoe helps with the laundry

We wanted to switch to a greener detergent for our family’s health and the environment. Green brands don’t contain optical brighteners, chemicals which bond to the skin with traditional detergents. We also liked the fact that scents are often plant-based rather than petroleum-based, which tends to cause less skin irritation. As if that weren’t enough to convince us, natural detergents biodegrade easily in water and don’t contain phosphates, which are very harmful to aquatic wildlife.


Washable vs. Disposable—Environmental Debates to Ponder

Both Joy and I are committed to cloth diapering our offspring. First of all, we’re cheap, and our cloth diapers are much cheaper than standard disposables. We were also under the impression that cloth diapers were better for the environment than disposables. Well, we looked into it. It turns out that a major diaper study completed by the British Government in 2005 determined that the environmental impact of both diaper systems is more or less equal. How could this be? In a nutshell, disposable diapers harm the planet during their production and disposal while cloth diapers take a toll on the environment by sapping up water and energy.