How to Hand Wash Cloth Diapers Quickly + Easily

“EW!  There is no way I am going to hand wash poopy diapers!”

This was my reaction when my mother suggested a vacation washing method.

Continue reading to find out how I overcame my disgust, what I did to learn more about how to hand wash cloth diapers, and my personal hand washing routine.  Plus all the benefits along the way!

Why Even Consider Hand Washing Cloth Diapers?!

A couple weeks back, I mentioned that we were on a little mini vacation.  It ended up not being as relaxing for my husband as it should have been, but we made it work and had some family fun in the end.

The vacation was spent at my parents' cabin.  A cute little 900 square foot house with, basically, nothing finished inside.  In fact, on our first day there, the cabin was flooded with electricians and a plumber working to get a few things operational for us (hello, bathtub!).

So, when we started planning this little trip – it's only 20 minutes from home – of course I wondered what I was going to do about diapers.

My Options

  • Disposables.  Really not even an option for us.  I've used them on occasion when Sweet Girl had a terrible rash, and a few in the newborn stage.  Every time we use them I cannot wait to get back to our “regular” diapers, as my husband calls them.  We just prefer cloth.  Not to mention the money saving and trash issues!
  • Leave them 'til we get home.  Realistically, this probably would have worked since we were only going for 4 nights.  I could have left the soiled diapers in a pail to soak and thrown them in the wash as soon as we got home.  After hearing horror stories of maggots, ammonia, and just plain stink, this really wasn't an option either.
  • Run up to my parents, or home, to wash.  Mom and dad's place is only 10 minutes up the hill, and, as mentioned, we're only 20 away.  It would have been possible to run up once during our stay to do a load of diapers.  Since they take close to 3 hours to wash in a machine, this would take some planning.  It also would cut in to our leisure time at the lake!  Not really worth it to me.

Am I Really Considering Hand Washing?!

So, at a loss, I turned to my favourite sounding board – Pinterest (follow me)! Honestly, I can't remember if a post popped up on my front page, or if I searched it, but I came across one, then another, then a whole bunch of posts about how to hand wash cloth diapers!

After reading through quite a few blogs and hearing experiences from women who hand wash their cloth diapers full time (by choice!), I decided it really can't be that bad.

Once I got through all the benefits of hand washing, I felt ashamed and embarrassed that I hadn't tried it sooner!  As someone who considers herself an environmentally conscious individual, how had I not realized how much better it is to hand wash?!

Yes, I'd always felt a little sick about how much water and power it took to wash a load of diapers, but I justified it with the fact that we weren't using ‘sposies.

Until you hand wash your first load of cloth diapers, you will never fully be impacted by how little water you need to clean them.

Then the CRAZIEST THING Happened!

Never wanting to admit that my mother was right, this next realization knocked me on my ass!

I was excited to learn to hand wash!

But, I was just trying it to see if it was really as great as the blogosphere said.  Not because I thought it was going to be a permanent fixture in my home.

It was research for our upcoming vacation.


No, I was honest-to-goodness excited to get set up to hand wash poopy diapers.  Bleh!

The Benefits of Hand Washing

*Related post: A New Homemaker's Cleaning Routine + How to Start Yours

  • You'll save money!  By not using near as much water, power or detergent, you're saving your household loads of money over the span of your diaper washing career.  It also saves on the life of your machines and taps.  Added bonus.
  • It's environmentally responsible.  Again, using less water and power will help to reduce your carbon footprint.  Even just hanging your diapers out to dry instead of running your dryer will help a little bit!
  • You get a workout.  Seriously.  All that plunging and wringing is sure to help tone your arms.  Us home-makers don't always get a change to do structured exercises, so we have to take what we can get!
  • You get a better clean.  By being able to feel when the diapers are rinsed thoroughly, you'll prevent detergent build up, meaning less stripping!  They also come out feeling softer when they have a thorough rinse.
  • It's better for your diapers.  You determine how rough or gentle the diapers get agitated.  Especially if you have a top-load machine with a center agitator, your diapers can take a serious beating over time.
  • It's more enjoyable!  The satisfaction of cleaning something is second-to-none if you're a house wife.  Not to mention the wonderful sight of hanging diapers, and the smell of fresh-off-the-line laundry!  Heaven.

What You Need to Hand Wash Cloth Diapers

Although there are some fancy options for hand washing on the web, all you really need is a plunger and a 5-gallon pail.  Unless, of course, you plan hand wash ALL your laundry.  Which would be totally AWESOME of you!

The wringer is something I'd like to try out.  I'll explain why in a bit.

If you have a half-decent 5-gallon pail or other bucket kicking around, use that. Don't worry about buying a new one!  Just make sure you're able to get it clean enough to do your hand washing.

Pick up a regular ol' inexpensive plunger at your local hardware store.  I paid around $6 for mine.

Then, grab your drill and get to work.

How to Make a Hand Washing Plunger

So, after my research, I decided I was going to take my plunger, drill a few holes in it, and call it a day.

I used the biggest bit in the box – 1/2″.

Then I drilled holes all the way around the rubber plunger.  Mine has 7 in total.  Somewhat evenly spaced all around.  It is a bit tricky to get the holes started on the slippery rubber, but I know you can do it!

It works great the way it is, but if I ever have to do it again, I'd probably make smaller holes, or less of the big holes.

This set up will work for any clothes you want to hand wash.

You're Ready to Plunge!

Now that you've made your plunger and gathered your pail, you're ready to hand wash!  I'll outline my personal hand washing routine, as well as add in some extra points to ponder.

My Hand Washing Routine for Cloth Diapers

A nice alternative to machine washing, especially in the summer, is hand washing!  I had always hung my diapers out to dry in the warmer weather, but never considered hand washing.  I honestly didn't even know it was a “thing”.  Now, it is a powerful tool in my home-making tool box!  I just wish I would have discovered it a year ago!

First, A Few Quick Tips

  • Don't over-load your bucket.  I use a 5-gallon pail, without a lid.  I find it best to hand wash every second day.  Any more than that and I end up with poopy water all over me!  Bleh.
  • Set up in an area that you don't mind getting wet.  I use my laundry sink, but a bath tub or shower would work just as well.
  • When you are plunging, try to keep the plunger submerged.  You will get better suction and won't end up covered in gross splashes.
  • Start with less detergent than you think you need.  You can always add more, but you'll likely still use too much!  It's amazing how little you need to clean a few soiled diapers when you hand wash.
  • Try using cold or luke-warm water instead of HOT.  It's better for the diapers and the environment.
  • Better yet, set up your station outside and use your well water, if possible. Our hose bib comes straight from the well, so the water is not Reverse Osmosis like the rest of the house.
  • Don't be afraid to smell the diapers.  This is more for those new to cloth diapering.  Us seasoned mamas are always getting caught sniffing the [clean] diapers!

Back to the Hand Washing Routine


  1. Place your diapers in your bucket.  Fill with cold water to a couple inches over your stash.  Like I said, I use a 5-gallon pail and find it works great since we don't go through a lot of diapers these days.  If you have more than one in diapers, or your baby is still going through a lot in a day, you might want a bigger wash tub.
  2. Agitate with your plunger 30-40 times.  Let soak 20 minutes.  If you have some particularly yucky stains, let them soak the night before in a stain remover, or for a couple hours ahead of time.
  3. Come back and agitate 50+ times, depending how much poop there is.  Make sure you're in a comfortable position – it takes some muscle!  Dump out the pail.  You may need to repeat the pre-rinse if you find there's still a lot of waste in the diapers.  If you don't want yucky water on your lawn, head over to your shelter belt, back alley, or street drain.


  1. Put 1-2 tablespoons of detergent in the bucket and fill with warm water to the same level as the pre-rinse.  Put diapers back in.  Agitate 20-30 times and let soak for 20 minutes.
  2. Come back to the pail and agitate 50x or more.  Be sure to move your plunger around so all the diapers are rotating through.  You shouldn't see the same one on the top the whole time.  Dump out the pail.  Once you have soapy water, you probably shouldn't dump it outside, unless it's in a bush or waste area.  Detergent can harm plants and grass.


  1. Individually rinse and wring out all articles.  Depending how soapy the diapers feel (you'll be able to feel the slippery soap if there's too much detergent), I'll do a rinse cycle in the bucket.  This involves putting the diapers in the pail, filling with cold water, and agitating about 40 times until the water seems to be cleaner.  Then I'll go back and do the individual hand washing rinse.  Other times, I'll throw them in the washer for a rinse and spin cycle if my hands aren't up to the wringing out.  See why I've been considering a wringer?


  1. Hang your diapers out on the line for absolute freshness!  The sun also acts as a natural bleacher, turning dark stains lighter, and light stains white!  Be sure to bring your load in before the dew sets, or you'll be left to use your dryer or hang them out again tomorrow!

Congratulations, You're Ready to Hand Wash Your Diapers!

Whether you decide to hand wash full time, once in a while, or just when absolutely necessary, knowing how will save you some money and time.

I can usually have a load done in about an hour, start to finish.  This was probably my most pleasant surprise about hand washing cloth diapers.  What would normally take 3+ hours in the machine I can now do on my own in 1/3 the time!  Plus I get a bit of an arm work out.  Bonus.

This content was created by original creator of this website, Katelynn Hegedus.

Let me know what your routine is.  Do you hand wash full time, part time?  Never in a million years?  I'd love to hear your feedback!

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