Just so you know, this post may contain affiliate links. If you click on a product link on this site and decide to buy it, I may earn a small commission.
Woman holding laundry basket

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

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.

16 thoughts on “Wash cloth diapers with a portable washer dryer: lower your power and water bills”

  1. Tia K Eberhardt

    Thank you I am in early research phase but wwe have an HE washer dryer and for the cold rince, Normal wash extra rince our washer runs for almost 1hr and 25min and doing that nightly or even every other night seems like its going to cost us. We are looking for a more cost effective way to make this work my older daughter is going to be 10 when we have this baby but I used disposables with her and she had diaper rash all the time I was still changeing her constantly when she was 16/17 months old becasue I couldnt figure out how she had such horrid bleeding sores on her poor bottom she was potty trained at 18 months and as soon as she stopped wearing disposables the rash was gone at night she wore a pair of underware and I folded a wash cloth and put a pair of old school rubber pants on her (she was a bed wetter) and still even if she sat in a wet washcloth all night no rash and THEN her peditrician seggested she was probably to sensitive for the CHEMICALS in disposable diapers I was 21 Chrmicals in diapers had never crossed my mind so this time I am 4 months pregnant and have decided we ARE cloth diapering not to make it cost effective not just healthier!!!
    Thanks for the great Artical!!
    Mom of many (3 step kiddos one of my own and one on the way!)

    1. Diaper Changing Jane

      Lots of health to your growing family!
      Feel free to ask if you have any questions about cloth diapering once the new one is here! 🙂

  2. Dominique

    Great blog post, thank you! My love and I have been discussing our options for cloth diapering here in the Bronx and portables seems like the way to go. Though I’ve found a few cloth diapering services, they’re wildly expensive and I have no way of knowing what chemicals they’ll actually be using though they claim to be ‘green.’ I’ve found a few great deals out there, but I just have one question: How long do these machines usually last? Has anyone used one for years?

    1. Diaper Changing Jane

      Hi Dominique,

      These portable machines are surprisingly durable. Unlike full sized washing machines there’s less moving parts that could break and there aren’t any hoses/pipes that can get clogged. I only used mine for a couple of years and it was already a second-hand machine. I did some googling and it seems that these machines are popular with campers and RV’ers who say their washers have lasted 5-10 years.

  3. Achu

    Hi Jane,
    Appreciate your detailed post.. My baby is due in two months and i’m considering cloth diapering.. And also considering a portable washing machine to be able to efficiently wash the cloth diapers without them having to sit for long in a pail..
    I have a lot of questions about cloth diapering and corresponding laundry..

    1. What kind of cloth diaper is most healthy : organic cotton/bamboo/hemp or microfiber/synthetic material?
    2. Which is better : TPU or PUL diaper covers? Are there any other less processed diaper cover alternatives?
    3. Can i feel the cloth diaper options at a brick and mortar store before i buy ( i live in nj and do not know anyone using cloth diapers)?
    4. Can portable washing machines handle hot water?
    5. Which would you recommend : a single drum washing machine, a twin drum washing machine, or separate machines for washing and spin-drying?
    6. Can diaper covers and the inserts be washed together in hot water?
    7. Can you wash say 10 cloth diapers, corresponding inserts and cloth wipes – all in one load – using a 5-7 pound capacity machine? And how long does it typically take you?
    8. Is it possible to include extra rinse cycles automatically or does it involve any manual work?

    Any help, answers or pointers is highly appreciated.. Thankyou for your time and effort..

    Thanks from a mom-to-be

    1. Diaper Changing Jane

      Hi Achu,

      Sorry for taking so long to reply!

      1. I perfer cotton or bamboo to microfiber. I don’t like that microfiber feels ‘tacky’ or sticky all the time, it seems like there’s always some kind of residue clinging to them.
      2. I don’t really have a preference for either TPU or PUL. They’re both man-made materials and I feel that as long as you lay out your inserts so that they don’t stick to your baby’s skin, that they’re fine.
      3. Most big box stores don’t carry cloth diapers. I do know that http://www.greenbeanbabies.com/pages/contact-us in Maplewood is happy to set up a consultation so you can feel and see the different types of diapers in person.
      4. You can use regular hot water from your tap. I wouldn’t recommend anything crazy like pouring a pot of boiling water into your washer though!
      5. I would recommend a separate washer and dryer. The combo machines never spin fast enough to wring out most of the water and they’re prone to breaking.
      6. Yes! There’s no reason to separate your inserts and covers as long as you do a good pre-wash rinse.
      7. For a newborn you should be able to wash 10 sets of diapers in one load. This number will go down as your baby grows and the diapers get bigger. I usually do two 10 minute washes with hot water. The first wash gets rid of most of the gunk and the second rinse makes sure that everything is washed out. Then I throw everything in the spin dryer and finally hang everything up to air dry.
      8. It will probably depend on your washer model, but mine has a timer for 10-30 minutes. I throw everything in the washer, set the timer and let the machine do it’s work. After the cycle is over, I go back and add more water and set the timer again.

  4. Sarah


    Can you make a current recommendation of the washer and dryer that you would buy if you were starting out. I have clicked on the links, but they go to a big list of options, and I’d love to know which washer and which dryer you would recommend.

    Thank you for all of your advice! This is really helpful!

    1. Diaper Changing Jane

      Hi Sarah,

      I prefer this panda washer as it’s the most portable model and you can just hook it up to your sink or bath tap.

      As for spin dryers, I really like this one by The Laundry Alternative. It’s not the cheapest model, but the less expensive model isn’t strong enough to spin away a lot of the water, especially from inserts and prefolds.

  5. Zaynab

    I love this article! Thank you so much for all the great information. How much detergent do you use per load of diapers?

    1. Diaper Changing Jane

      I use about 2 Tbsp. sized scoops for a large load.

  6. Rachelle

    I just got a Panda washer and tried it out for prewashing my new diapers. One concern that immediately struck me is that without a spin cycle between the wash and the rinse, it seems like you will not get all the detergent out even with two rinses–unless you do something like take everything out, wring it, and put it back in, which is making this whole process a lot more complicated. Thoughts on this?

    1. Diaper Changing Jane

      Hi Rachelle,

      I have to say that I’ve never had a problem with detergent build up. When I used to use a spin dryer to dry my diapers, I could see from the water that came out of the machine if there was any detergent or residue left but the water would almost always come out clean.

      I think the trick is to find just the right amount of detergent for your situation. This will vary for person to person depending on the type of water you get, the number of diapers you use, and how much you pre-rinse/spray your diapers (or not at all!).

      1. Rachelle

        I guess I will experiment–thanks for the reply!

  7. Alice

    Hi, I have been trying to use a larger Panda (one of the twin tub machines) to wash my cloth diapers. I saw above that you use 2 tablespoons of detergent. I’m finding that even with what seems to be a very tiny amount of detergent, a pre rinse, wash, and two rinse cycles (spinning between each cycle), there is still a ton of suds in the water after each rinse! I kept reducing the amount of detergent thinking I was using too much, and then my diapers were not coming clean. Could you write up your routine perhaps, or share how you get more detergent out of the diapers? Thank you very much.

    1. Diaper Changing Jane

      Hi Alice,

      The difference might be that you have soft water in your area! We have *relatively* hard water (lots of soap scum and buildup of minerals on our taps) so we need to use more detergent to compensate. If you have softer water in your area, then you can certainly get away with using less detergent.

      Another difference might be the type of detergent you’re using. Which detergent are you using? We use Rockin Green and other ‘natural’ detergents so we have to use more compared to regular detergents like Tide. If you’re using conventional detergents you will definitely need to cut down on the amount! If I remember correctly, the right amount of conventional detergent is 1.5 T for a medium load in a full size washing machine, so the ratio of detergent:water is 1.5T:30 gallons. The twin tub Panda washer should hold about 12-15 gallons of water so you might want to cut down the detergent to 1/2 Tbsp or 1 tsp.

      Since your diapers are coming out dirty when you reduce the amount of detergent, you might want to try pre-rinsing with more water or pre-rinsing twice. This should get rid of most of the gunk so you don’t have to deal with rinsing out a lot of detergent.

  8. Leila

    Hi, I’m researching cloth diapers but I’m worried about travel, I love to hike and visit new countries and I want to take my baby with me, what do you to kae care of the diapers? Does water temperature matter? Is hand washing effective? How many diapers did you invest in?

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *