Monday, October 4, 2010

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$5.98 Changed My Washing Routine

While standing in our darkened laundry room, my husband and I shine a flashlight through the front window of our HE (high efficiency) washing machine. We smile and give each other a high five. How did we get to this point? Our story starts about eight months ago when we purchased a new washer/dryer for our home. At the time, I was seven months pregnant with our first child and cloth diaper laundry wasn’t even on our mind. I was still one of those people who thought cloth diapering was a crazy reality I wasn’t ready for, but that’s another story. We’re both engineers who study each purchase we make, but leap at the introduction of new technologies. We were excited to buy a new HE front loading washing machine that promised to be a wizard in our laundry room.

The machine performed above and beyond my expectations. I could wash two full sets of bed sheets in one load! In March, our daughter was born. By May, I became curious about cloth diapers, and by June, we were cloth diapering full time with only two regrets. My first regret was why had I not started cloth diapering sooner? It was so easy, totally cute, and saved us money (my husband’s favorite reason). My second regret was purchasing the HE front loading machine 6 months earlier. Yes, I could wash a huge amount of clothes in one load within the minimal water requirements of the machine, but, and this is a critical exception, one load of diapers became one huge problem for those minimal water requirements. I searched the far ends of the internet and read all kinds of tips to trick my machine into adding more water. As suggested, I added wet towels with the intention of adding more water to the process. I tried different settings, even adding water to the wash basket while interrupting the cycle. I wanted a flowing river and all I could get was the equivalent of the little stream that runs through my backyard after a rainfall.

As engineers, we saw this problem as a challenge. And as new parents, we were anxious to save our budget-minded investment in cloth diapers. After exhausting all the tips online, I decided to call the manufacturer. I spoke with a nice man who informed me that my HE machine weighs the load and then adds the minimum amount of water for that load. Yeah, I already knew that! I informed him that cloth diapers like to suck up water, leaving no measure of rinse water available to them and requiring more water than the usual load of laundry. Obviously, we and many other frugal parents were in uncharted territory with no help from the manufacturer.

Finally, one frustrating evening, we decided to pause our wash cycle and manually dump water into the machine. Of course, we could only add water until it reached the lip of the front door seal. As expected, the diapers came out slightly cleaner than our previous washes. Empowered by our small victory, my husband suggested that we find a way to add larger amounts of water without opening the washing machine door, thus allowing us to avoid water spilling out the front of the machine. My husband had already modified the plumbing in the bathroom to accommodate the addition of a cloth diaper sprayer, so why not modify our washing machine as well?

The next evening, my husband purchased a short hose meant for dehumidifiers for $5.98. He attached the hose to the sink in our laundry room and then positioned the other end into the soap dispenser on the washing machine. I’m sure that the manufacturer would frown on our modification of their HE machine, but water already flows through the soap dispenser at the beginning of the wash cycle, so I felt certain that we weren’t asking too much of the system. We turned on the faucet and watched as a river of water flowed into the wash basket.

Since we started adding water through the soap dispenser, my baby’s cloth diapers have never been cleaner! We’re proud of our search to find a low-tech solution to a high-tech problem and happy that it didn’t deter us from cloth diapering. And every once in awhile, I still turn off the laundry room lights, shine a flashlight into my washing machine, and watch happily as a river of water flows onto my cute cloth diapers.

Please research any methods of modifying your washing machine to make sure warranties are not voided.

By Natalie J.

48 comments:

De in D.C. said...

We have a top-loader HE machine. I can't get a good soak in it, so I soak diaper inserts in a bucket in the washtub with a bit of soap (usually overnight). Then I dump out most of the water, and add the sopping wet inserts to the washer. They're already wet so don't soak up the wash water, plus the added water makes them heaver; thereby adding more water to the load anyway. I never have problems getting things clean this way.

Anonymous said...

I've been doing this for years, but simply with large gallon containers of water that I fill up during the start of the wash cycle and then pour into the soap tray once the machine stops filling with water by its own means.

I'm not even a mom, I'm just a regular mid-twenties guy who likes to get the dirt and sweat off his clothes.... and you don't seem to get that with HE machines (sadly I'm not in control of the machine I use as it's paid for by my landlord).

leslieahardy said...

Wow, Thank you! Can't wait to try this!!! Leave it to the brainiacs to get it all sorted!

Kara - Wife, Momma, Doula said...

Now this is something that I am going to try! I won't even need to spend the money...I have a sprayer hooked up to my utility tub right next to our washer. :)

Minnie said...

Natalie, thank you so much for this article!

I don't have a sink in my laundry room, so I'm thinking about doing this "hack" by slowly pouring pitchers of water into the soap dispenser area.

Approximately how much water do you add to each load?

Laundry Lady said...

I wonder if this would work with my washing machine. We've been having quite a few problems with getting our diapers clean, which is a shame because I love our front loading washer for everything else. I can't add a hose the way they did, but I suppose I could still pour water in through the soap dispenser using some other method.

Dreaming Mama said...

Wow, you are brave! I have an HE washing machine. I was an appliance manager before I had my kids and now I stay at home. I haven't had any problems with my HE machine getting my diapers clean. I rinse first, then use my heavy setting (which has a rinse), then another rinse after that.
We went to visit my in-laws two months ago, she has a top loader. I felt like my diapers didn't get as clean in there. When we got home, my diapers were whiter after their first wash.

Jillian said...

At what point during the load did you add the extra water?? At the beginning? I have a HE front loader as well and would love to try this!

Christina said...

I am so surprised to hear this! I have a front loading machine, and we've never had trouble laundering the diapers. I wonder what brand you had? Ours is a 2009 LG.

thesavingmomparents said...

WOW. Great idea! Thanks. ~Jessica

Sully said...

This is great! but what if, like us, you don't have a spare faucet in your laundry room? Anyone have any suggestions? Just keep running the load until it washes clean? Thanks!

Scenic Pit Stops said...

This is a great idea! I've got the same problem and was soaking my diapers in a bucket then throwing them in the wash soaking wet, but it just hasn't been cutting it! At what point in the cycle do you add the water and how much? Boy, it would be great to be able to wash the diapers in less than the 5-7 different wash/rinse cycles I've been messing around with!

Rose said...

I LOVE it! My dad is an architect, and I, too, have a modifying mind! Cheers to you two!

M and M said...

So...how much water do you use, do you keep it running through the whole wash cycle? It seems like if it weighs the load, we should be able to add weight somehow to get more water to come out? May I ask why brand you have?

LIndseyF said...

I have the same problem wiht my HE!! I have 'toyed' with the idea of gettitng a very cheap top loader just for dipes. I would love more details on how you modified your washer, I am not as handy with things but would love to give it a try!

AllRusty said...

I am SOOO excited for this post. I have face the same problem. I have exhausted every resource and tried every trick in the book, and still have dirty diapers. I've been adding water through the soap dispenser, and it's made a noticeable improvement, but we're still not "there" yet. I just mentioned to my husband the other day that I wish there were a way I could hook a hose up to the sink and run water to the soap dispenser, but I didn't know how to go about doing that. Thank you SO much for this tip! I am hopeful that we may now, after 10 months of cloth diapering, finally have clean diapers and a baby with no rash on her bum!

shinything13 said...

Oh my!!!
I too have this problem with my front-loader!!!! I was so excited to get it. And now I hate the darn thing! I have trouble with certain other loads too~if I add too many clothes, I do not get that clean fresh smell either.
I use Fuzzi Bunz and cannot, for the life of me, get the stink to stay out!! I have even contemplated taking the load to the laundromat at least for one load! (I wash them 3 times.)
I cannot wait to try this!!! I will start with the handy Kool-aid pitcher of water, and go from there! Thanks for the idea!

Alycia said...

What an awesome idea! I love the look and the functions of front loaders but am petrified to actually buy one but now I have confidence!

Randie Sanders said...

How much do you add? Could there end up being too much water? If not I AM EXCITED!

ML said...

How much water do you put in?

Angela said...

This is very interesting to me. I have a Front loader and it never even occurred to me that my diapers could be "cleaner". I have already stripped them once after only a few months but thought this was the "norm". I wonder if by adding water to ours we can get cleaner diapers. I will have to try this.

WiseChixMama said...

I have an HE top loader, which may be a lot different, but I 1st wash my dipes (no pre washing cycles for rinsing as I use my diap[er sprayer) in the "bulky" cycle meant for blankets, etc. It uses the most amount of water, AND I use the "presoak" option which sprays the diapers w/detergent, after getting them all wet 1st, then they sit for a bit, & then they wash as usual. I also do the extra rinse on that cycle, & then I do 1 more cycle on the "towels & sheets" setting, which uses less than the "bulky" setting, but more than the regular setting... the regular setting is worthless IMHO. The bulky setting doesn't spin fast enough to get all of the water out as efficient as the towels & sheets cycle does, so that's why I use it for the 2nd cycle too... I want to make sure the dipes get thoroughly soaked, but I also want to make sure they get thoroughly rinsed & spun.

Actually, I use the towels & sheets setting for all cycles & the clothes get much cleaner. If I try to use the "regular" cycle, there is so little water that there are dry spots on my clothes when I take them out (uhm, YUCK!!) & they get all twisted and my shirts, undies, & other thinner items tend to rip... same w/the rinse only cycle... so I use the sheets & towel cycle, w/almost no issues... AND I still use way less water & 3 times the amount of clothes fit into the drum as my old standard washer. We use family cloth too, so we throw that in w/diapers, so it helps to add to the load... I also lay a prefold in the diaper pail over the stinky dipes every so many dipes, so that helps to beef up the load. BUT, the more you add the more water you need, so adding towels would be self defeating, no??

Anonymous said...

My husband and I are both Mechanical Engineers and have run into the same problem with our front loader. We bought the machine prior to having children and now with 2 in cloth diapers, it sees a lot of diaper washes. For a while it worked great, but now that the kids are older (3 and 1), wet more heavily, have larger bowel movements, we are having troubles with our diapers coming out stinky. We came up with a similar solution (only we use a plastic pitcher to add water through the soap dispenser). We were torn though, because the machines have a delicate suspension system that is tuned to handle specific weights and loads. The suspension system assumes it is handling a specific (lighter) weight and we are changing that by adding a lot more water and weight. I am worried that adding the additional water my destroy our machine (maybe not at first, but quickly over time). So we are still torn - protect a machine that we paid over $1,000 or protect our investment in diapers? I want to protect both, so we are still trying to find a happy medium....

Meg said...

Love this idea—but need more details, please!

How much water do you add? When do you add it?

Kristen said...

My hubby and I did this too! Only we don't have a sink next to our washer, so we actually had to attach a hose directly to the water source that goes to our washer using a T-shaped "thing" (can you tell I am not the one who bought and assembled this?!) that two hoses can connect to! We have a nozzle on the end of the hose that goes to the soap drawer (similar to a diaper sprayer) so we can stop the water flow! It cost us about $20...but saves 2 full cycles each time I was! And about 3 hours of time!

Natalie said...

Hey Everyone,
I wrote this article so I'll try to answer some of your questions. Here is my wash routine:
1. 'speed wash' cold, no detergent (I add enough cold water so the diapers are just covered). My 'speed wash' setting on my machine lasts about 35 min.
2. 'white wash' on hot, 2.5 Tablespoons of RnG (I add enough hot water to cover the diapers). The 'white wash' setting is my heaviest wash setting.
3. another 'speed wash' cold, no detergent (I add enough cold water to just cover the diapers). This acts as an extra rinse to make sure the soap is all gone.

In all 3 steps, I add the extra water right at the beginning. I could probably skip the 3rd step and just add extra water to the rinse portion of my 'white wash', but I don't want to be chained to my machine and watching for it, so it's just easier for me to run another quick cycle and add water right at the beginning.

Lilypond Family Shoppe said...

Thank you thank you thank you!!!! I am quite certain this is why my son keeps getting rashes in his cloth and we had to quit using them. I am going to try this ASAP and hope to get them clean to use again!!

Amy Walker said...

Genius! This is great. I just wish we had a sink in our laundry room...thank you commenter number 2! I'm definitely going to be pouring water in the soap dispenser one way or another!!!!!!!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

that is soo good to know about the new he washers, i have a top loader washer and was looking into buying a new set, so i guess ill have to look further into he washers before i buy. thank you for this information i had no idea, and i love cloth diapers too much to give it up.

Kasper said...

I have an HE Front loader washer and I haven't had problems yet. I put my dipes in wet, do a rinse and spin followed by a pre-wash/ wash / extra rinse combo on the cotton /towels setting and sometimes another rinse if I think about it or have time. I don't know if mine just has more settings or what but there seems like pleanty of washer to get a good soak and rinse.

HollySteffen said...

i tried this. but my washer will stop and drain. it's like it knows theres too much water. i've even tried it with the stupid thing OFF. UGH. SO ANNOYING. i want a TOP LOADER

Lori said...

I know this is going to be the unpopular opinion but I feel this needs to be addressed. I have a bunch of friends that say they use cloth diapers to save the environment, yet has anyone considered the amount of water and energy one family uses to do so? In this article they even say that one load of cloth diapers uses much more water than the average load of laundry. Okay, so we are saving diapers from going into the landfills, which I admit, is a good thing. But are we trading one environmental foul for another?

Avery said...

Even though the washing of diapers takes up more water than a regular load, it is still using less water than it takes to manufacture disposable diapers, not to mention all the other pros.

Hannah said...

Very good! Makes me "glad" to have an old top loader, at least for diapers. I guess when it dies I should replace it with something more efficient but I'm afraid that will complicate my diaper washing.

Anonymous said...

Kasper, what washer do you have?

Sarah said...

I just got a new HE washer/dryer and we're 7 months into CD'ing and my dipes have never been cleaner - no extra water needed for us!

Cheryl said...

I had a similar problem, but with my LG, at least, I was able to adjust the settings sufficiently to add more water. I do the extra water and heavy settings, then pause mid wash for a soak. It drains a bit after the soak when I turn the machine back on, but by then the soap is in my diapers, so it doesn't matter. I still don't use nearly the amount of water that I used with a top loader.

Minnie said...

Lori, here is the statistic you're looking for:

"The manufacture and use of disposable diapers amounts to 2.3 times more water used than in the manufacture and washing of reusable diapers."

Sarah said...

I have an LG HE machine and I love it - no problems so far! I did accidentally add regular detergent once (mommy brain!) and so when I stripped my diapers I took a gallon pitcher and poured water in through the soap tray. Worked great. Other than that, no problems with my washer. It's been great! I think I will try the cotton/towels setting, though, and see what happens!

Anonymous said...

Sarah, what washer/dryer do you have?

Jocelyn said...

Holly - My machine will do that if I add past a certain point. Have you tried adding a little less water (but still more than the machine adds on its own)?

Jocelyn said...

Holly - My machine will do that if I add water past a certain point. It has taken trial and error to figure out the "limit". Sometimes I will still go past it and the thing will drain on me. At least now it takes me 2 mins with the hose to fill it up again instead of pouring all the jugs of water through the little hole and spilling everywhere...

Andrea said...

Yes, yes, yes! Thank you for this blog post.

And for the ladies that don't have a sink next to their washer like me, I'm using a watering can!

Boise Wiebers said...

I just saw your article. I have been adding 3 gallons of water (using a rinsed out milk jug)about 4 minutes into the wash cycle (after the washer is done adding it's water). It seems to be working well.

I have been wishing we had a utility sink with a sprayer hose in our laundry room for years, now it would be even more useful to have since I'm washing CDs in our front loader.

I had wondered if we could add a T to the plumbing for a short term fix. Thank you to the mom who mentioned that had worked for them.

Leah said...

And here I was thinking that I had discovered this! Last year in August I decided to tackle this problem as well (I love the hose idea!!!) I now use a jug and pour water through the soap dispenser, but I'm buying a hose today. I've been telling all my friends about the soap dispenser trick - well done!!!

mommaof2 said...

I tried the same as Kasper with LG front loader and it works great! I use cold rinse & spin, followed by "normal" setting prewash, wash, extra rinse combo. I use rockin green detergent which doesn't leave residue. I think diaper fabric is also important- cotton/natural fiber has WAY less stink issues than microfiber/fleece (I've used both even with top loader and would have to deal with stink issues on the synthetics often). (greenmountaindiapers explains this well.) I would also recommend using Rockin green to soak the diapers overnight (can do this in the tub)- if there is build-up- I did that with my first son's dipes and never had to do a stripping process. It was recommended to me by a friend who had cloth diapered 2 kids exclusively at that point.

Amie said...

Hi Lori,

Not only do you have to consider the amount of energy/water used to manufacture disposable diapers, but you also have to think about the amount of energy/fossil fuels used to deliver those packages of diapers to a distributor, then to a store, and then the energy and money you spend driving to the store to buy them and bring them home, and THEN to be driven to a landfill! So, not only are you saving a truckload of diapers from going into a landfill, you are avoiding a system that is incredibly non-sustainable!

Anonymous said...

sorry but it really doesn't take an engineer to come up with this solution, if you don't have a sink next to your machine take a big watering can for lowers, it will take about 10 cans a 5l but its worth the work:-) use warm not hot water to soak, its more like body temp. and will loosen the crystals