Q: “I have stains on my diapers, how do I get them out?”
A: “Oh, just put them outside in the sun for a while. It will bleach them to white again!”
This is great advice, unless you don’t have a yard and “putting them outside” will result in them being stolen, eaten by a stray dog passing by, or run over by a city bus three minutes later. What are us apartment dwellers to do?
Thankfully, the sun is pretty much everywhere. I suppose if you are trying to cloth diaper a child in Antarctica, sunning may be impossible for several months of the year, but then your kid is probably out frolicking with penguins as you read this, so I’m actually jealous.
The most common response to “How do I sun my diapers indoors?” is simply, “Put them in a window!” I wish it were that easy. We’re about to get a little scientific here, so bear with me a moment. Sun bleaching works because the sun’s ultraviolet rays disrupt and break down/change the chemical bonds that the ultraviolet rays hit (remember from 5th grade science class, all color we see is just our brain’s interpretation of light being absorbed or reflected off objects). This is also why your plastic outdoor toys fade in the sun; the chemical components that make a plastic slide red are slowly destroyed by ultraviolet rays over time and the bright red slide fades to a weird light red-orange color. Of course, those powerful rays also lead to sunburn, skin cancer, and a host of other issues for humans over time, so in the interest of public health, companies have tried to develop ways to reduce our UV exposure in our daily lives.
Unfortunately for us cloth diapering apartment folks, one of the easiest ways to reduce daily UV exposure is to put a thin, imperceptible-to-the-naked-eye UV blocking film on windows. While very good for not contracting sunburn inside your home, it does mean that you can plop a stained diaper in front of a window for days and see almost no difference in stain reduction. Doubly so since, in the interests of energy conservation and noise reduction, many apartment buildings have double or triple paned windows installed, further reducing the amount of UV rays that enter your room. If you live in an older building, you may be able to sun in front of a window, but if you are in a modern building it may be almost impossible. My current apartment building was built a year ago. We get sun in our living room from mid morning until almost sundown. I have left a clean, wet, stained diaper on the ledge for three days and all that happened was the cat napped on it and my daughter spilled apple juice on the ledge and used the diaper to wipe it up (at least she cleaned up her own mess, right?). But the stains remained.
What, then, are our options? Are apartment dwellers doomed to a life of stained diapers, forever inferior to our house-dwelling neighbors?
Do nothing. Really. Stains don’t hurt the function of your diapers. If you are planning to resell your diapers when you are done with them, there are some buyers out there who only want stain-free diapers, but really, as long as you disclose the stains beforehand most people won’t care and will go sun them on their own when they buy them anyway.
Borrow a friend’s yard. Whenever we visit family, since we cloth diaper while traveling, I stick the diapers outside to dry after washing. Hooray, they are now bleached for a while. It does also out me as “that hippie, cloth diapering friend/relative who insists on line drying her diapers when she visits even though our dryer is perfectly functional” but most people already know I’m not particularly mainstream.
Open a window. The easiest way to remove a pane of glass in your way is to…open the window. Since from my experience living in multiple city apartments, there are approximately 5 billion different styles of windows and ways to open them, this may or may not be doable in your specific unit. But if you’re lucky, open up that window and stick the diapers against the screen. Alternatively, if you have a porch or balcony, put the diapers out there for a while, even if you don’t get direct sunlight. Some UV rays will reach the diapers anyway and help reduce stains.
Use your car. No, really. Car windows generally don’t have the same UV protection that home windows do, so you can dump your diapers on the inside dash of your car, on the seats, wherever light hits, and have neatly bleached diapers after a couple of hours. Clearly this works best if you park on the street, and not so well if you park in a garage. I suppose that immediately after washing some diapers you can
run off for an hour at the spa drive your kids to the playground, make sure to park in the sun and lay your diapers on the seats and let them bleach away while your kids play, but that’s a lot of work and bound to get some weird glances from other folks. Of course, if you don’t care, go for it!
Sunning your diapers while living in an apartment may be harder for you than it seems like it should be, but if you don’t mind some stains on your diapers it’s actually not a big issue at all. And there’s always your friend’s yards to borrow!