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Cloth Diapering (and other laundry) Water Usage  RSS feed

 
Nicole Alderman
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Location: Pacific Northwest
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I just realized something. People often mention the environmental impact of washing diapers, especially when comparing the environmental impact of cloth diapers versus disposables. "All those loads of laundry!" They say. Well, let's say you wash a load of diapers every other day. That's about 60 gallons, maybe a bit more or less depending on if you prewash, etc. A high efficiency machine probably takes less. 

Now, think about using the toilet. Each flush is 3.5 gallons if you have a high efficiency toilet. An average person uses the toilet 6-7 times per day. Let's round that up to 8 for potty trained kids. 8 x 3.5 is 28 gallons. That's in one day. Two days of potty usage is 56 gallons. It takes almost just as much water to flush the toilet than it does to wash the diapers!

This really stunned me. Obviously, the people complaining about the environmental impact of that water (not talking about the electricity to heat it), really should stop complaining because it works out to be about as much as them using the toilet (because I'm pretty sure the people saying we should use disposables because they require less water, are not people saving their pee in buckets to water their plants, or letting the yellow "mellow" and only flushing the "brown," or using composting toilets, etc).

This also makes me wonder about ways in which we can reduce the amount of water--and electricity--to wash diapers and other laundry.

(1) Hang drying clothes to dry, rather than running the dryer.

(2) Using flat diapers, rather than prefolds or other inserts, because they come clean easier and don't require as much washing. I seriously have a really hard time keeping diapers free from ammonia build up, and the inserts are the first to get it.

(3) Using flat diapers, rather than prefold or other inserts, because they DRY a lot faster. If you have to use the dryer, they reduce the drying time a lot. And, if you only have a short amount of good drying weather due to your climate, they can actually dry outside in time (for instance, during a lot of the year, the sun set behind my trees around 4:00 or sooner. One that happens, the dew sets in and get my diapers wet again. So, if the diapers can't dry in a few hours, I have to finish them in the dryer, which is a pain.)

(4) Using cold water to wash. I don't know about you, though, but the cold water does not really get my diapers clean.

(5) Looking into diapering materials that require less water and electricity to produce. I'm thinking that PUL covers probably require more resources than wool ones (especially wool ones purposed from old sweaters), but I could be wrong.

Anyone else have thoughts on water conservation and laundry?
 
Judith Browning
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Location: Arkansas Ozarks zone 7 alluvial,black,deep loam/clay with few rocks, wonderful creek bottom!
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Nicole, my oldest just turned 42 so this is a stretch to remember diaper washing.  I agree that the flat one layer ones were much easier to get clean and to dry on the line.  We didn't have running water, just a small creek and a spring.  We (my husband washed them also, not just 'helped') would use a minimum of water for the prerinse after scraping the poo off...and then washed with a small amount of dr. bronners if we had it or ivory snow, in a big double tub set up to drain on the hill side above the garden.  I think I used washing soda some.

I think the most important thing to getting them clean was lots of water for the final rinse...using as much clean water as possible and then lots of sun to dry.  We had the same issues with sun as you I think and I would sometimes have to bring them in to dry hanging around the house (we were off grid for thirteen years during that time)....I remember having a problem with mildew off and on with those prefolded diapers.
Probably shouldn't admit, I do remember taking them (and sometimes our clothes) to our little creek when it was running well and rinsing there.

I remember really wanting a wringer and finally found one that clamped on to the edge of the tubs...and now thinking back I wonder what happened to it?

We were washing all of our clothes by hand then except for during non stop rainy weather where we would make a run to the nearest laundromat...

I just remembered that when we went to visit parents up north, if they got ahold of the diapers they would bleach them like crazy.....

I have a washer now (still no dryer) and line dry everything and am stubborn enough that if they don't finish drying outdoors they hang around the house until they are dry.

As far as using less water with a washer, I think using less laundry soap is a start.  For summer clothes I often use just some baking soda for the wash, as all they really need is a rinse to remove sweat and then a hang in the sun.

Thinking about it, I probably used much more water hand washing than my maytag uses.  I still appreciate the spin cycle a lot as everything else isn't so hard to do by hand.


EDIT to add...I don't listen to that whole argument against cloth diapers.  I think it's just so folks can justify filling the landfills with more crappy plastic...you notice they're not arguing that we all wear disposable clothes.  Washing cloth diapers takes some dedication and I think many don't have room in their lives for that kind of chore.
 
Roberto pokachinni
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I don't listen to that whole argument against cloth diapers.  I think it's just so folks can justify filling the landfills with more crappy plastic...you notice they're not arguing that we all wear disposable clothes.  Washing cloth diapers takes some dedication and I think many don't have room in their lives for that kind of chore.
  I think that Judith nailed it right on the head here.  People are always trying to justify their garbage, their excess, and their reasons for keeping up with the Jones'. 

Also, I remember the enormous amount of work that goes into hand washing diapers, and I think those critics just didn't have it in them to take on the task.  I'm not saying that they are lazy, but sometimes, in some people's lives, having a baby can be a big enough job... and a task like that... might push them over the edge.  It's not a terribly pleasant task, especially in the early stages, especially if all done by hand.
 
 
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