Cloth Diapering in an Apartment

Kyle and I are cloth diapering our new baby DPR despite living in an apartment with no washer/dryer hookups. I met another apartment-dwelling new mother recently who is using a cloth diaper service because it hadn’t even occurred to her that she could try washing her own cloth diapers, so I decided to share our solution here.


DPR modeling "Albert."

DPR modeling “Albert.”


Our six-unit apartment building has a coin-operated shared washer and dryer in the basement ($1 per machine each load). Using those machines, it would cost us $4 and possibly the ire of our neighbors to wash each load of cloth diapers, so that didn’t seem to be a viable option. Same goes for using a Laundromat.


Instead, we purchased a portable washing machine and a drying rack. (Money Beagle added a great point in the comments – check your lease for prohibitions against additional appliances before purchasing anything!)


Why Cloth Diapers and Which Cloth Diapers


Our two primary reasons for cloth diapering are the smaller environmental footprint and the lower cost.


We used disposable diapers for DPR’s first couple months while she was gaining weight (our one-size diapers have an 8 lb minimum) and we were getting our washing/drying system set up, and the sheer bulk of diapers we disposed of in that time was shocking and troubling to me. I feel much better with reusable diapers.


We didn’t run a detailed cost analysis on disposables vs. cloth (like these from: The Simple Dollar, iHeartBudgets, and Man vs. Debt), but cloth is pretty clearly less expensive when used consistently over multiple years and especially multiple children. Nearly all the costs are one-time/up front and also not necessarily unrecoverable; there is a surprisingly robust resale market for cloth diapers and their accessories.


Other reasons people cite for using cloth are that they are supposed to function better (fewer leaks/blowouts) and be healthier for the baby, but I’m not convinced of those. Some people are also won over by the cuteness factor of the bright colors and patterns on cloth diapers.


As for picking out which cloth diapers to use, I was initially totally overwhelmed. How was I supposed to know which type of diaper would fit my baby and our lifestyle the best (prefolds, pockets, AIOs, hybrids… just the vocabulary was daunting!)? I found this comprehensive review helpful to get a handle on the various diaper types, but the best thing was really to get a short tutorial from a cloth diapering expert-mother, which thankfully we had close at hand in our neighborhood/church.


From this mother, I learned that we didn’t have to commit to one cloth diaper type from the outset (not sure why I made that assumption to begin with…), so we bought about four each of an all-in-one (Bumgenius Freetime), a pocket (Thirsties), and a hybrid (Flip) diaper to try out. Our plan is to buy more of whatever we like best. Even just those twelve diapers keep DPR’s bum covered for nearly two days, which is about as long as we want to go between washings, anyway, so we only have to buy a few more.


Washing the Cloth Diapers


Did you know there is such a thing as a portable washing machine? Kyle discovered them and obsessively researched which model was best for our situation. In the end, we bought a used Haier washer from Craigslist for $125 (an older version of this model) and added wheels to it for about $25. We plan to resell the washer when we move to a place with its own washing machine. (Runner up: This crazy little number.)


We keep the washer in our hall closet when we’re not using it. When we want to do a load of diapers, we just wheel the washer into our bathroom on top of a bath mat. The input hose hooks up to our bathroom sink and the output hose goes into the tub. The washer also plugs into the electrical socket in the wall.


Haier washer in our bathroom

Haier washer in our bathroom


The tricky part for us was to affix the output hose in our tub so that we were sure that the water would go down the drain. We were very nervous about the hose coming loose and spraying the bathroom with water. Our solution is totally jury-rigged but it works. We bought a shower caddy that extends down from the showerhead and suctions to the wall. We added a plastic U-bend device to the hose and hooked it to the shower caddy with a plastic hanger. Yeah, I know, it looks shoddy. Like I said, it works great for us!


output hose into the tub

output hose into the tub


Each load of cloth diapers actually has to be washed three times: one quick warm wash with a small amount of detergent, one heavy hot wash with a normal amount of detergent, and one cold quick wash with no detergent. That would be $3 in our coin-operated washer!


Drying the Cloth Diapers


The best thing for cloth diapers is to be line-dried in the sun, but 1) we have no yard and 2) we live in Seattle. For the first couple loads, we just flopped the diapers over the shower and towel rods in our bathroom and turned a fan on them (similar to our hang-dry laundry strategy). This was effective, but we’ve since bought a proper drying rack. There’s plenty of room for all the diapers on it, and we can move it around the apartment as needed. We keep a fan pointed at the drying rack when it’s inside, but we can also move it onto our front stoop when there is a patch of sunshine. (Is that gauche? There’s a tree that mostly blocks the spot from being viewed from the road.)


Our drying rack and fan with cloth diapers. Inserts in front, covers in back.

Our drying rack and fan with cloth diapers. Inserts in front, covers in back.


We were concerned that the super-absorbent diaper material wouldn’t air-dry quickly, but we’ve been pleasantly surprised. Our all-in-one diapers dry within a few hours, and the rest of the inserts are completely dry within about 8 hours.


We’ve only been clothing diapering for a couple weeks now so we’re by no means experts, but this system seems to be working very well so far. The biggest hurdle was simply deciding that we could make cloth diapering work despite our lack of washer/dryer hookups. I hope this post shows other apartment-dwellers that it is possible – you just need a bit of creativity!


What diapering system did you use for your children? Have you ever had to find a creative solution to achieve a frugal ideal? Are you frugal for environmental as well as monetary reasons?


Written by

Filed under: family, frugality · Tags:

13 Responses to "Cloth Diapering in an Apartment"

  1. Just want to give a plug for Elimination Communication. Combining that with cloth diapers and disposables was awesome. Especially since our DC2 got really horrific diaper rash. (We have a couple of posts on our blog about it… here’s one: )

    1. Emily says:

      I’m quite interested in EC – thanks for the link!

      1. The earlier you start, the easier it is! (but you can start any time)

  2. p.s. We only did two washes with our dryers (per the instructions): a rinse cycle and a hot cycle. What is the third cycle supposed to do?

    1. Emily says:

      Hmm, I think it’s further rinsing to make sure all the detergent has been removed. I can’t remember if I found that from the instructions of one or the other of the diapers or from an online consensus of other cloth diaper-ers. I’ll double-check.

  3. Carl says:

    Even though we have a washer/dryer, we’ve used a cloth diaper service for our two kids (our 20 month old is still using it). It’s probably the most expensive option, but it’s super convenient. Also, once solid food starts, things get a lot…worse…

    Our day care provides diapers and uses the same diaper service company, so we can drop him off and pick him up without having to switch to disposables.

    1. Emily says:

      That’s awesome that you found a service that coordinates with your daycare!

      We have our diaper sprayer and ricochet-blocker ready for when DPR starts solids!

  4. Using cloth diapers is really cheaper. But you gotta be used to it especially when washing.

    1. Emily says:

      It took us a few weeks to work out our wash protocols but I’m happy with the results so far.

  5. Money Beagle says:

    The only thing that people should be careful of is to make sure that you’re not violating any rules. Many apartment leases strictly prohibit the use of washing machines, especially if you’re on an upper floor where any leaking could be very messy for units below. Just something to keep in mind.

    1. Emily says:

      Great point! We did check our lease before we bought our washer and are suuuuuper vigilant about preventing leaking/spray from damaging anything. I’ll add this to the post!

  6. […] took us a couple months to switch from using disposables to using cloth diapers, but now that we have our system up and running it’s going really well. People tend to be grossed out by the idea of using cloth diapers, but […]

Leave a Reply


CommentLuv badge