Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Flats and Handwashing Challenge - The Good the Bad and the Ugly

I have to say, I admire all those blogging moms that on top of their regular activities, washed all their diapers by hand and blogged about it. That last part was too much for me. So instead of a daily report on my adventures, I'm writing a single post that sums them up.

For unfamiliar people with such challenge, here is everything you wanted to know about it and never dared to ask: http://dirtydiaperlaundry.com/3rd-annual-flats-and-handwashing-challenge/

Why Bothering?

I learned about the challenge when I started reading Dirty Diaper Laundry, about the time I decided to make the switch to cloth (about 7 months ago). Although I saw the point, I never imagined myself doing it. Here are my reasons for not doing it:

  • We're broke. Not only do we spend more than I earn, but whatever money I make is taken away before I see a penny due to my disabled husband's child support obligation. So I really could not have the luxury of buying a whole set of inserts and a hand operated washer, cheap as they are.
  • I'm wimpy. I have the weakest hands ever. Playing piano and dancing ballet since early childhood may have improved their strenght, but all and all, they are still weak. On top of that, I have arthritis in the shoulders, so any repeated motion like pumping or turning that involves them results in severe pain.
  • Tiny Guy doesn't like prefolds. He gets wet too fast and starts screaming. Having him in cotton 24 hours around the clock I thought would result in some 10 changes or more per day. (that was my weakest argument, due to stay dry fabrics).
  • My husband is disabled. That means I have to take care of 3 people and try to make and save money at the same time. This was a big burden I did not have to put on top of my shoulders.
So, on May 19th, at 10:30 PM, I went on and signed for the challenge, without preparation, without any purchase and without any useful connection (did it from my smartphone, pointing to the window and holding it high, because the 3G barely reaches here). Was I crazy? Yes, I've always stated that I am. So here's my reasoning for doing it:

  • I may be broke, but I am not poor. Those two things are different. In Spanish we have 2 different words for the verb to be. One is for a temporary status, like I am broke. The other describes you: I am Mexican, I am tall, I am a mother and I am not poor. The house I am at the moment ( I  live in an apartment) is fully equipped with a handwashing station in the basement. My husband has several old t-shirts that he cut the sleeves off and uses around the house, and they are almost in rags, we need to replace that stash at some point anyway, and I did have covers and snappis with me. So I really did not need to spend any money.
  • I was behind in laundry. Diapers take a whole day for washing, I have to make at least 4 trips to the basement to wash them and the washer is barely used, so there was some buildup in it. I started noticing smells on them and rashes on Little Guy, so I needed to do something different while we stayed here.
  • We have a salad spinner that we never use (I buy pre-washed leafy greens), and we miss our spin dryer badly, so I wanted to test if that could be a substitute.
  • When hurricane Sandy hit us, I spent almost an hour the day before buying diapers. That was one of the decisive moments that made me switch to cloth. But although we were stuck and locked in for several days unable to get out due to gas shortages and the subway being closed, we only lost power for a couple of hours. We were extremely lucky, my husband's family in New Jersey was powerless for close to two weeks. I do not want to be panic shopping and I do not want to be helpless if power goes down. So I decided to improvise given those situations and diaper my boys with whatever I could find.I did also set myself to use less water than I use for the washer and tried to find creative ways to do so. I will later post about water and why it concerns me. 
  • As a last thing, I'm very active online and dragged some moms into doing it, how can I convince somebody else to do something if I don't do that myself? If a wimpy mom with two children and a disabled husband can diaper her boys with no money, anybody can!
My Own Goal

From midnight May 20th to midnight May 27th follow all the DDL challenge rules linked above plus minimum water usage and no money or donations (improvise with what I already have).

The Stash

8 t.shirts, 2 boxers, 1 pair of small baby pants, 1 table individual mat, 2 snappis, 4 white velcro covers, 3 pockets and 3 thin square white face tissues.
Tiny Guy is diapered full time, Little Guy only at nights.
1 Salad spinner, 1 hanging rack, 1 Dr Bronner's bar soap.

The Good

Anything can be a diaper. I used some 6 or 7 very old t-shirts, a couple of my husband's boxers, an old and stained pair of baby pants, some white face tissues as liners (my step daughter had used them as chain links to rescue Rapunzel and tied them all together). I was tempted to use an old set of sheets for twin beds, since we don't have any, but it was not necessary. .

The Jo fold for T-shirts is fantastic. It looked trimmer than my AIOs, I don't think anybody outside of the house could tell he was wearing cloth. And they last for a while. Unlike prefolds, he doesn't seem to be uneasy with the moisture and the only rashy part was his legs, due to the fitting inside the cover.

I still remember how to hand wash. I ended up just doing it the old fashion way, with a bar soap and the tremendous help of a high pressure hose and an amazing hot water boiler that we installed 3 years ago. 

As for the wringing, believe it or not, I just did it and it was not a nuisance as I thought it would be. 

I caught up on laundry, which was piling up. Even did some bedding wash and some curtains too.  

I like my improvised liners. Unlike the flushables, I can wash them in 2 seconds by hand, and I can use any diaper rash cream (yes, purists are going to scream to the roof, but I have never had a problem using zinc oxide with a liner).

No stinkies! Even with some ammonia build-up due to my wimpy washing, I just took the soiled stuff downstairs and almost washed everything immediately. No wet bags dancing around.

I did spend the week as any other. We went out, visited thrift stores, went to friends' houses, had guests, it's not like I did not have time to enjoy my life because of the challenge. Quality time with my bundles of joy is always a priority. 

I did not feel like I was overtired or that it was a huge amount of effort. Certainly the diapers were not as sparking clean as they should have, but my washer here is not doing better than me. I did not want to stop at day 2 and just took it as it went.

The Bad

I have to say it: I don't like handwashing. Which is why I got a tiny washer in my appartment. Before my Panda, I used to put all my skirts, blouses and pants in a laundry bag and bring them here every time we came. 

I was all ready to use the salad spinner, but it just didn't work. The disk's attachment to the lid is not strong enough to hold when more weight is put into it and kept getting off. I tried several combos and approaches but I ended up just using it to soak mostly the poopy diapers.

I started to have ammonia build-up by day 5. So I'm not as strong as of taking those things away by scrubbing. I need to figure out a way of stripping without a washer if I ever find myself in a 2 weeks without power situation.

Little Guy got a rash from the only point in which the liner was not touching his skin when using a pocket as a cover. Thin cotton liners are easier to wash than attached cotton velour ones.

My index finger on my right hand, just where I scrubbed the most, started having wrinkles, peels and everything else. 

I fell behind yesterday because my lovely husband closed the main faucet without telling me, so most of the day there was no water downstairs. 

I had a couple of morning leaks, one was definitely because I had decided to experiment on a new fold and it backfired. Another was plain and simple wetness, because I put the night diaper on an hour before bedtime instead of when he was already asleep.

The Ugly

One simple word: poop. 

I am very fortunate that Tiny Guy is a very light pooper. I also should consider myself one since he started with solids and most of it comes in one single piece, although a very sticky one. But, there is still a lot of watery colors coming from this beautiful sack of potatoes.

So, after a very uneventful first day, to which I had said to myself: "yeah, I may be able to do this for more than a week", Tuesday came, and a big fat explosion accompanied. I'm glad to say that it was all contained, and he was wearing a pocket as a cover, so I had more fun stuff to scrub! 

I took it down and hosed it pretty good. Then I took the bar soap and did some general scrubbing, followed by spot targetet. I left it soaking with Murphy's oil soap. 

Later that day, I came back. No change. More scrubbing. Murphy's directly on the spots. More soaking.
Next day, no change.Some stains would become lighter, but still be there. I just forgot about the problem and left it soaking in clean water until new notice.

Tiny Guy pooped again on Friday morning, but it was a much smaller one and it all came off with one scrubbing and a tiny little spot was sunned away.

On Saturday, I decided to sun the rest of the spots and it did not come out totally clean, but it was good enough for usage the next day.

So, guess what? same shirt, Sunday morning... KABOOOOOOOMMMM yep, as of 5:09 PM on Monday (a.k.a. right now), it's still soaking. I still have some 2 t-shirts to catch up with, so I would say, I'm not totally done with the challenge.

The other ugly part was the noise Tiny Guy was making when being changed. He was like a little mandrake! And not only I had to change a diaper, it was putting on a snappi that he would take off within 3 seconds and then putting on a velcro cover that he would pull in 3 seconds more and finally a pair of pants that would prevent him from the prior 2.

The Cute Stuff

Most of the used t-shirts had something on them, some drawings were by ink, but others were glued and ironed in. I didn't want Tiny Guy's bum to get rashes because of it, so I used those shirts inside out. That ended up showing the tag just where a nice designer diaper would be: centered in the back.

The t-shirts were primarily white and dark grey. But there was a pair of boxers with blue squares that looked adorable (sorry, no pic for that one). By the way, old boxers make great flats, and old baby pants make fabulous doublers.

One of the t-shirts was grey with a Spider Man stamp on it, but I just couldn't figure out a fold that would show it properly,

The Flaws

First, I must confess, one of the diapers ended up in the washer by mistake. I made it up by hand washing the Sunday night ones (still used flats because I didn't know where I had left the cotton usual stuff). If that disqualifies me, it does. It was not intentional but definitely my mistake (I was actually looking for it all over the place not realizing it was in the washer getting a good agitation).

As for the not spending money part, well, I would not have survived with my covers and snappis. Certainly, I did not buy them for the challenge, but they are CD items nontheless, so I cannot say that you can "fully diaper a baby" without those two. You can indeed function without a snappi, using pins, laces, knots with the clothes, or the cover itself; that's another story. You can leave your child coverless at home, but nights and outings are hard without a waterproof layer. The only available option is to improvise with waterproof materials at home, which won't be very breathable (shower curtains, plastic bags, etc) and those would have to be kept away from baby's mouth.

What I Learned

I learned to improvise with whatever I can find and make a diaper out of it. Anything and everything can be a diaper.

It is empowering to set us up with seemingly impossible tasks just for the sake of it.

Believe it or not, T-shirts work better without sleeves  The t-shirt fold using sleeves for fastening gave me trouble all the time. The Jo fold with the sleeveless turned upside down (the waist behind and the top on front) worked much better.

The older and thinner the cotton, the faster it dries (plus you don't worry about stains that much) and the less stinky. Plus, if you don't have a hand operated washer, scrubbing hard to get the ammonia out will eventually create holes, so it only makes sense to use old t-shirts for diapers and the new ones from the thrift-store for what they were originally created to.

Salad spinners make terrible hand.powered washers and wringers (or at least MY salad spinner).

Everything is easier when you are part of a community supporting you and doing crazy things at the same time.

Blogging every day' is extremely hard when you don't have a hi-speed connection.


I enjoyed your stories, your folds and the community environment', but I won't switch full time.

See you later beautiful ladies.

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