Flats and Handwashing Challenge: Handwashing Tips from a Semi-Pro

Before you start thinking that this preggo mama is going to handwash diapers for a week, think again! But since I did spend the better part of last year handwashing, I thought I’d share a few tips that I learned along the way. This post is edited from the archives, but only edited because I’ve learned a few things since then. Edits will be seen in bold and italics. Enjoy!  

What do you do when your washer goes out? Or when you don’t have daily access to one? What do you do with your cloth if you’re in a natural disaster? Handwash? Use flats? Maybe even pins? Don’t worry. Not one bit. Because this Sister can hand wash her diapers…and so can you!

I don’t know how many of you heard about this little thing called the Flats Challenge. For the record, when it started, Kim Rosas from Dirty Diaper Laundry had maybe 30 people sign up, and she thought it would be little. By the time the challenge started, she had a good 200 or so participants! For more information on last year’s flats challenge, you can visit Dirty Diaper Laundry here, where the links for each day of the challenge are at the bottom and look here for the survey results.

For the Sisters, using flats was the easy part. We even use pins! It’s not that we’re afraid of Snappis, necessarily. We just prefer the fit of pins.


Snappi (loose fit)


Pins (tighter, neater fit!)


Another great thing about flats is that there are lots of great folds to try out! I did a lot of the origami fold when Abby was first born. But then I found that I enjoyed my flat bikini fold (the pinned fold above) more. And since the challenge? I’ve used the diaperbag fold pretty much exclusively! (Okay, part of that is due to her getting too big for the other folds. But I really do love this fold!)

Here is the link to the Diaper Bag Fold. It seems hard, but it isn’t. Why do I like this fold? It gives a LOT of leeway in fit. And I can make it smaller or larger. Or even turn my rectangle on its side to have a wider fit. I especially love that it has a super trim fit! (I still use this fold almost exclusively. Seriously. It’s that good.)


Diaper Bag Fold on Abby. SUPER trim!


Now for the really fun part. Or maybe it’s really the super hard part of the challenge? Eh, whatever. Hand washing flats and covers!!

Let me start of by explaining our situation. We have a washer and dryer, but our washer is not hooked up to a hot water heater. So at first that meant cold washes and extra rinses. I even tried baking soda and vinegar to try to get all of the detergent out! Once we switched to handmade laundry detergent, it helped some. But Abby’s diapers still had a funky odor to them, and nothing was working, not even a good overnight soak. Enter the Flats Challenge.

As I was preparing for the challenge, I saw several methods being used for hand washing. Buckets, camp bucket/washers with plungers, bath tubs…sinks. I finally decided to use the bath tub. That was hard! I basically kneaded the diapers in the water, which took a lot of upper body strength. It got them clean, though. About halfway through the challenge, I decided to use a bucket instead. I’m glad I did because as long as my “load” was relatively small, I could easily wash it with enough water without filling my ginormous tub!

Wednesday came, and my hands were super dry from all that washing. So I started using yellow rubber gloves (the ones usually used for washing dishes). Worked like a charm! Now I could get my diapers clean without making them dry or even touching the poop! It also helped me to get the poop out of the diapers better because I wasn’t scraping my hands with the cloth and was able to add extra friction without scrubbing off the top layer of skin.

Now, the one thing I did not do well during the challenge was rinsing. I used too much detergent for too little diapers, and I don’t think I got all of the detergent out once! My little girl, who usually never breaks out in a diaper rash, had a fairly bad one. Once the challenge was over, so was my resolve to not use the washing machine! Once I’m done rinsing and washing my diapers by hand, I let them rinse out in a regular wash in the washer. Nothing more, nothing less. Not even the baking soda or vinegar! And no more doing several rinses, either! My daughter’s diapers come out of the washer and go into the dryer…and they’re clean!

Two more things have helped me stick to hand washing. Unfortunately, I did neither during the challenge. The first is the wet pail. I’m sure some of you have heard of them while looking up cloth diapers…and then realized immediately that most people use the dry pail and breathed a sigh of relief. But when you’re hand washing diapers, the wet pail is your friend! I just add a little baking soda and water to the bucket, dump the diapers and cloth wipes in, and my little wet pail helps the poop and the urine break down while I wait for a little while (sometimes an hour, sometimes a few, sometimes overnight). An hour works just as well as overnight, but it depends on when I can get to it. (Sidenote: My little girl isn’t crawling yet, so I just leave it out in the bathroom. If she were more mobile, I would definitely either have a lock on it or put it somewhere she couldn’t reach.) The wet pail has saved my arms from having to do a lot more work, and I’m glad I found it! (If you’re using hemp, be careful! Soaking any natural fabric for long periods will cause more damage than good, and I highly recommend using the wet pail for shorter amounts of time. Soaking, especially with baking soda, can also ruin elastic and PUL, so avoid soaking covers for very long if at all.)

The second thing I tried after the challenge was a plunger. Using a plunger really helps agitate the diapers well enough to get the yucky out, and it definitely kept me from spending so much time trying to get the diapers washed well enough! I have a cheap one from Wal-Mart…which proceeded to rip from the super suction. There is a tear in the rubber now, but I really appreciate the fact that the suction isn’t nearly as strong. I like my torn plunger. :) (You can also avoid this by drilling holes into your plunger. All 3 plungers I used while hand washing tore at one point or another, but I have a feeling that if I had drilled holes into them, they wouldn’t have.)

Oh, one more thing that I found out during the flats challenge: if you wash your covers, put them in a towel, roll it up, and press. I found that kneeling on the towel worked great. Your cover should be nearly dry. This is great if your cover gets pooped on and you have a limited supply. Or if you just really like a certain one and want it usable again. Of course, now that I rinse in the washer, it really isn’t an issue, but if you’re line drying it helps a lot!

Here’s my routine again, in condensed form:

  1. Soak in wet pail (cold water, use plunger to agitate a little) with baking soda for at least an hour.
  2. Rinse the diapers (warm water, use plunger to agitate again) before washing
  3. Wash the diapers (hot water, use plunger to agitate a LOT)
  4. Quick rinse in warm or hot water (can use plunger, but it doesn’t really matter at this point)
  5. Throw into the washer, usual rinse with high agitation
  6. Throw in dryer
  7. DONE!

Now, if you’re doing the flats and hand washing challenge, obviously using the washer and dryer isn’t an option. Make sure your diapers are rinsed out fully (no bubbles!) to prevent rashes!

In the Bucket


So there you have it. My hand washing routine. It may be a little more involved, but it takes much less time than it used to. And my diapers get cleaner! If only I’d remember to take them out of the dryer…

Maybe you aren’t about to start hand washing your diapers all the time, but do you think you would if your washer went out, if you were in a natural disaster, or even if you were on vacation? Why or why not?



About Jeniffer

Jeniffer is planning to homeschool her children and is enjoying teachable moments with her 1-year-old and 1-month-old daughter. She loves sharing about her parenting journey, from breastfeeding to cloth diapering to pregnancy and beyond!

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