Laundromat Challenge: What We Learned

Laundromat Challenge: What We Learned

Last Fall Real Diaper Association many volunteers and circle members took on the Laundromat Challenge: Wash your diapers in a shared, coin operated laundry facility for one load or more.

But why?  Well for three reasons: 

1. To gain first hand experience, 2. To provide better support to families who wash using shared coin-laundry machines, and 3. Because we enjoy a good challenge!

Our goal was to use the data collected to create a Tip Sheet that would share an evidence based wash routine and advice for/from real families using coin-operated, shared machines. Many times lack of in home, private laundry facilities are listed as a reason that cloth is not a viable option; whether on vacation, during a transition or in daily life. These results will help put these myths to rest.


Challenge participants used shared, coin operated machines in various settings: local Laundromat, apartment complex laundry room, and hotel guest laundry facilities. They collected the following information on each wash/dry cycle:


•type of machines offered for public wash and dry use

•length of time per cycle

•cost per cycle

•wash routine used

•diaper stash

*thoughts, suggestions, and advice on doing cloth diaper laundry in a public facility.

So what did we find out?


•Average wash cycle: 36 minutes

•Average cost per wash cycle: $2.5

•Average cost to dry: 50 cents per 10 minute

•Most people used a combination of machine and hang dry


We found that one-week of washing at Laundromat costs: $7-$10 (depending on drying options and local costs) compared to average of $15 per week for disposable diapers  *This does not account for the initial investment into a cloth stash. If you invest in $300 worth of diapers, you will save approximately $500-$900 over disposable, depending on drying style and local costs. 


All types of diapers were washed successfully, although flats and prefolds were the most common. All types of fabric were washed successfully, although cotton was the most common.

The majority of respondents found success with pre-rinsing diapers at home in toilet/laundry sink/bath tub, to help reduce number of cycles needed at Laundromat.

Every respondent said using a shared, coin operated facility was a viable option for cloth families and most recommended planning ahead like: knowing your services and machines available, time management, ensuring you have a place to hang dry (if you want to,) and focusing the cloth diaper stash on easy to wash/use flats and covers.


We used these results and respondents’ comments to create a recommended wash routine for families using shared laundries. This routine is based on laundry science and the WATCH formula which came out of a collaboration between the RDA and Steven Tinker, Senior Vice President of Research & Development and Marketing at Gurtler Industries, Inc., former president of the American Reusable Textile Association and a founding member the Healthcare Laundry Accreditation Council.

Wash Routine


1.Dump solids in toilet.


2. Rinse/wring out soiled diapers in tub/sink prior to going to facility. Adding little detergent to your rinse can help lift and release top layer of soiling. We suggest 25% of amount used in main load it rinsing all diapers at once. 


3. Wash on warm with enough detergent to clean your load size. Industrial washers sometimes heat water internally and may heat above 150* on Hot. Choose the largest capacity washer that will fit your load. Adding a couple of towels can help increase agitation.

4. Rinse: Most industrial machines will do 3-4 rinses for each wash cycle, so no need for additional rinses. If you are using a standard machine, like could be found in an apartment complex, add an extra rinse.


5. Hang dry at home to save time (and money.) If you choose to use a machine start with 20 minutes on low heat and add time as needed.



Our challenge respondents had some additional tips and advice for those using shared machines: 


  • If rinsing after each change, store diapers in open pail or open wetbag to help prevent mold. 


  • Use a bath towel or two to help bulk up the load and increase agitation in front loading machines. 


  • Check the detergent dispenser. If you can see residue you might want place detergent directly in drum, even with liquid. This helps to prevent residue and gunk from other detergents and laundry additives transferring to your diapers.


  • Wiping out the inside drum with damp cloth before wash cycle may reduce the transfer of unwanted detergents or soaps used by others. 


  • Build a diaper stash with diaper fabrics and styles that are easier to wash: like cotton and hemp, and flats or prefolds with covers. 


  • Wool covers and boosters are a great addition to your stash since they do not require machine washing. 


  • Be sure to build a stash with enough diapers to last between trips to the laundry facility. 


  • Use everyday household items like t-shirts, flour sack towels, or other cotton items to help increase your stash size and stretch time between trips to the laundry. 


  • Some facilities offer Top Loading machines: HE Top Loaders (with reduced or no agitator) can hinder creating an adequate amount of agitation. Refer to the RDA’s Watch Formula to see how to make possible adjusts to your routine. 

Many families wash in shared laundries successfully on a regular basis, in emergencies-like when your washer breaks- or while on vacation. If you find yourself in using a shared machine, we hope these findings will help you clean your diapers.

If you have washed cloth diapers in a shared facility, what tips or advice do you have for other families?


- Emily Kuhn

Real Diaper Circle Leader & RDA Board of Directors Member

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