To a newbie, some articles on cloth diapering make it seem like an insurmountable task. Only use a teaspoon of specially formulated diaper-safe detergent! Wash on cold then warm then cold and two extra rinses on cold, exactly 48 hours apart per load! Line dry ONLY because if you put your diapers in the dryer the disintegration of the PUL will cause time and space to warp and create a black hole in your laundry room!
To a newbie who lives in an apartment, these exaggerations can scare them off of cloth diapering before they get very far into their search. I know, because I once was a newbie who lived in an apartment. But now, as a cloth diapering veteran who still lives in an apartment, I can safely say that NONE of the above is true (though in fairness to all you physicists out there, I will not entirely discount the existence of quantum mechanical black holes).
Here are some of the common concerns about cloth diapering in an apartment and my experiences:
1. You can’t do laundry when you want to!
This entirely depends on how your apartment deals with laundry. If there’s no laundry on site, then having to lug your dirty diapers to a laundromat can be a pain in the butt—doable since you’re making laundromat trips anyway, but understandable if you want to avoid it. If there IS laundry on site, then there are pros and cons. One, there are often multiple washers and dryers. This means you can do more than one load at a time, unless the other cloth diapering family in your building has the same idea, then the War of the Dirty Diapers may progress as you fight over usage of the laundry machines. However, in the first apartment we lived in, there were 3 washers and 3 dryers for a building with 30 units in it and we rarely ran into a situation where we absolutely needed to wash diapers and there were no washers or dryers available. We never once got to a point where we completely ran out of diapers because we couldn’t wash them. You may have to find a time of day where the fewest people in your building are doing laundry, but it’s doable! Just be flexible on your laundry times.
2. It’s more expensive! My quarters!
If you are cloth diapering to save money, you will have to calculate the cost of doing the extra laundry. Keep in mind that while newborns go through 10-12 diapers a day, older children go through half that, so the frequency that you have to wash may go down over time. Even paying for washing 3 extra loads of laundry a week ended up being cheaper than using a diaper service or disposables, but this will vary from area to area. We still ended up saving money versus using disposables, but you’ll have to calculate the price for your area.
3. Ew, there will be poop in the shared washing machine…
One, unless you are handwashing, there will be poop going into whatever washing machine you are using. Two—if another resident expresses this sentiment…well, ask them if they handwash their underwear. Or if they expect you to handwash any baby clothes or blankets that get vomit or poop on them as well. Gross bodily fluids end up in washing machines all the time, and not just from kids. If there is poop in the washing machine after running a load of diapers, then call maintenance because that means something is wrong with the washer—not you!
To make things easier on yourself, though, consider using biodegradable liners once your child starts eating solids—you can just flush the solid poop, liner and all, down the toilet. Or try a diaper sprayer to get off as much poop as possible before you wash.
4. The dryer will destroy the PUL on my covers!
Look, I don’t doubt that tossing covers in the dryer on high heat for 3 hours every day can kill the PUL over time. However, 20 months and 100+ diapers later–drying on high heat in a commercial dryer–I have had exactly ONE diaper delaminate on me, and that was a diaper from a known bad PUL batch. Line drying is great, eco-friendly and all. But it’s harder to do that in an apartment, and the idea that your covers will be ruined forever because you tossed them in the dryer once is just a myth. If it does seem your covers are looking a bit worn, go ahead and try a lower heat setting. But they’re diapers, they are made to take a beating. Don’t worry about it too much.
5. I’ve been using my apartment laundry room for a while and my diapers stink. Since I don’t want to spend $10 in quarters doing extra rinses and I can’t clean out a commercial washer…help?
Honestly, this was the main problem I ran into while using a shared laundry room. First of all, fabric softener and cloth diapers are mortal enemies—fabric softener will coat the diapers and make them less absorbent and smell weird—so double check for this before you run a load. One specific washer in my building never emptied its liquid fabric softener slot fully, so I would have to wipe it out to avoid getting residue on my diapers. Sometimes people don’t pull out their fabric softener sheets from the dryer, either, so check before you chuck all your diapers in there.
Second, you may simply have to play around with fabrics that work for you. For us, all-cotton items (and fleece liners) never held stink and worked well with our baby. Stay-dry suedecloth occasionally smelled a little weird but it was never enough to cause issues or make us want to stop using it all together. Bamboo fabric was awful. It always stank even if I rinsed it beforehand and I grew to hate it because it never looked or smelled clean. If you run into stink issues, try different combinations of fabrics to see if the issue goes away. You may also need to simply try another detergent. If you really get frustrated and feel you want to stop—do so! Or try only cloth diapering part time. Cloth diapering isn’t worth it if you are angry every time you need to do the laundry!
Cloth diapering in an apartment may take slightly more time and work than if you owned a washer and dryer. However, it is completely doable and, in my opinion, totally worth it as well!