Woman holding laundry basket

Wash cloth diapers with a portable washer dryer: lower your power and water bills

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Surprise! Our First Month Of Cloth Diapering

I remember how shocked we were when we received our first month’s electricity and water bills after we started using cloth diapers. At that point we hadn’t refined our system yet and were doing 5+ more loads of laundry every week just to clean our diapers.

Imagine our surprise when we opened up our bills to see a $100 and $40 increase in our electricity and water costs!

What good were the cost savings over buying disposable diapers when all of that money went to our utilities?

The first step to wasting less water and electricity when cloth diapering

After a while we discovered that being more organized meant that we could cut our loads of laundry down to just once every 3 days.

Two easy steps made a dramatic difference in what it cost us to wash our diapers

  1. First we made sure to spray off any poo with our shower head into our toilets and soak our diapers well before throwing them into the washing machine. This made sure that one wash cycle was enough to get rid of all yuckiness and buildup.

    If your shower head doesn’t reach your toilet, you can attach a sprayer like this to your toilet.  They’re super easy to install and great for rinsing off other messes too.

  2. Then we switched to air drying with a dehumidifier turned on instead of using the dryer.

These two tips cut down our utility bills by a half the next month.

However I was still worried about the environmental impact of doing so much laundry and keeping a dehumidifier on for so many nights. Did you know that an average American washing machine uses up to 50 gallons per load! And while our dehumidifier is more energy efficient compared to using a dryer, we still had to keep it on for 6-8 hours after every wash or the diapers wouldn’t dry in time.

There had to be a better way of washing and drying our cloth nappies that’s more energy efficient and didn’t use so much water.

A More Eco-Friendly Way To Wash and Dry Cloth Diapers

That’s when I remembered how I used to wash and dry my clothes back when I was younger and living in a jail cell sized apartment in the city.

Naturally I didn’t have room to keep a full sized washer or dryer nor was it allowed by the landlord. Finally I got sick of lugging my clothes a mile away to the laundromat and spending over $1000 a year just on laundry.

I went on craigslist and stumbled upon gold. I found a washer/dryer set consisting of a portable washing machine (like this) and a portable spin dryer (like this) for just $100.

There was no need to have a hose hookup or any special plumbing for the machines to work. They were the size of a dehumidifier and I could keep them in the corner of my kitchen.

The capacity for these machines is about 5 pounds which is perfect for one bed sheet, one or two outfits, or washing other small items such as socks or… a couple cloth diapers!

The machine below is the panda washing machine, which is similar to the one I had.

Portable Washer For Cloth Diapers

This is what a portable washer looks like. It's the perfect size for diapers and baby clothes.
This is what a portable washer looks like. It’s the perfect size for diapers and baby clothes.

A small portable washing machine such as the Panda can wash one day’s worth of cloth nappies and is both energy and water efficient. You only need to add 1-2 gallons of water for one load compared to the 50 needed for a full sized washer. The wash cycle finishes in 30 minutes and as long as you don’t overload the machine with large heavy pieces, everything rinses out cleanly without buildup.

You’ll still want to rinse off the diapers with a sprayer before dumping them in.  This way it only takes one cycle to clean a day’s worth of diapers.

Use A Portable Spin Dryer To Speed Up Diaper Drying

A spin dryer works by spinning out all the water in your clothes. It only takes 1 minute and is gentler on fabrics than heat drying.
A spin dryer works by spinning out all the water in your clothes. It takes only a few minutes and is gentler on fabrics than heat drying.

Afterwards I just throw everything into the centrifugal spin dryer. I love this dryer more than the washer and even use it to dry my regular clothes, not just my diapers.

One of the biggest problems with washing cloth diapers is how to get them dry fast enough so bacteria and odors don’t develop. This is a problem especially with thicker diapers like Kushies All-in-ones and Fuzzibunz diapers with microfiber inserts. A regular hot air dryer works but it usually takes 2 or 3 spins to dry really thick soggy diapers. This is crazy energy intensive not to mention horrible on the fabrics.

A centrifugal dryer works by spinning your clothes around really fast to fling off all the excess water in the clothes. It’s basically like a super strong salad spinner.

Spin dryer removes detergent build up.
Watch all the icky residue come out.

It only takes about 2-3 minutes of spinning to remove more than 75% of the water in your diapers. What’s surprising is that not only will you see the excess water drain out, but also lots of icky residue left by your washing machine.

This stuff is leftover poop residue and detergent build up.  This muck would build up over time and never come out if you dried your cloth diapers with heat in a regular dryer.

After spinning, the diapers are not 100% dry but pretty darn close. A 3 minute spin is equal to 30 minutes in a conventional heated dryer but 100 times more energy efficient. I just lay the diapers out on a drying rack to air dry and everything is completely dried in less than a day.

So basically I’ve cut over 2 hours of energy use and water wasting laundry time down to a just over 30 minutes in the eco-friendly portable machines. Air drying after going through the spin dryer takes about 2 hours depending on how humid it is that day. However that’s still much better than the 8 hours it used to take straight out of my conventional washer.

Energy And Water Cost Of Running A Panda Portable Washer And Spin Dryer

I’ve cut over 2 hours of energy and water wasting laundry time to a just over 30 minutes in the eco-friendly portable machines

Because these are really small machines I have to wash our diapers everyday. However we are still coming ahead compared to using our full sized machines.

Our electricity and our water costs have dropped back to pre-baby levels! It’s amazing how water efficient the portable washer is, but makes sense when you consider that one load of laundry in the Panda uses less water than 2 minutes in the shower.

Cons Of Using A Portable Washer And Dryer

The machines are small so that means almost daily laundry. Thank goodness the cycles are only minutes long though so that’s not something I mind too much. I just load up the machine with clothes, water, and detergent and go on facebook for a while.

Depending on your machine make/model you may have to manually pour water into your washer. Some machines can hook up directly to your shower or sink faucet though.

A centrifugal dryer works by spinning your clothes really fast and this may cause delicate or gauzy fabrics such as silk or nylons to stretch. On the other hand, a spin dryer is a godsend for regular fabrics like cotton or microfiber!

On that same note, once the dryer starts spinning it can get really loud for those 2 minutes. Some people say it helps if you load the machine evenly instead of dumping everything in as a giant lump. I just close the laundry room door for a couple minutes.

Where In The World Do I Find These Portable Washers/Dryers?

I no longer have the machines I found on Craigslist, but I’ve found almost the same units on Amazon. I really like the Panda machines as they’re what I used in the past.

Some models are larger than others, but I find the standard 5-6 pound size perfect for daily diaper washings.

You can find the 5.5 pound Panda washer here. You’ll have to see the first video on the review page to really appreciate how small this machine is! 😀

The centrifugal spin dryer like the ones here are too tall to put on your counter, but at about 14″ wide it’s perfect for hiding away in room corners. Just be sure you don’t forget the plastic tray to catch the runoff.

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