Flats are frequently mentioned when discussing economical cloth diapering options because they generally have the lowest cost per diaper change (if you make your own flats from receiving blankets or tee-shirts that you already own, they can even be free!) But I recently discovered that an additional benefit of using flats in place of other diapering options is that they can help lower your water and power bills! Here’s how to make it happen!
Turn Down Your Water Heater
When my stash was comprised of a variety of diapers (including a LOT of microfiber inserts) I needed to have the water heater turned up as high as it would go in order to get the diapers clean. Once I swapped out most of those diapers in favor of flats (and ditched ALL the microfiber!) I was able to turn down the water heater by two notches! (I have no idea what that means in terms of actual temperature change or energy use, but hey! Every little bit helps, right?)
The important thing is to make the change slowly and systematically so that you can pinpoint exactly what works and what doesn’t (you might not have stink issues after 2 days using warm water instead of hot, but it might take repeated washes for any problems to become apparent). My method was to turn the temperature down by 1 notch and leave it there for 2 weeks. If that seemed to be working, I would turn it down another notch and evaluate again after another 2 weeks. When we suddenly developed a problem with ammonia in all of the diapers, I turned the water temperature back up 1 notch. The ammonia problem cleared up, and I knew I’d found my water temperature sweet spot!
You can certainly try doing this even if you use other kinds of diapers, but the results are probably more dramatic with flats (since they are a single layer of fabric and therefore easier to get clean).
Line Dry Your Diapers (At Least Some, At Least A Little Bit)
I admit that I initially had an “all or nothing” mindset in regards to line drying. I thought I needed the perfect drying rack in the perfect location, and that I’d have to expend a ton of time and energy to make sure that all of the diapers got completely dry in time to use them again. I almost didn’t attempt line drying at all. Then I realized that even if they only got moderately dry on the line, it would still save more money to dry them the rest of the way in the dryer than it would if I didn’t line dry them at all! (In hindsight that seems obvious, but sometimes I manage to overwhelm myself with tiny details!) Even if you can only dry them briefly outside, that’s still a little bit of energy (and therefore money!) that you can save.
My second self-imposed hurdle was trying to figure out what method I would use to get them dry (an actual clothesline? A specialty folding rack or umbrella-style drying device?) and where I would do it (the only area we had with direct sunlight was on the side of the house without anything to attach a line to, and the ground was uneven and would be difficult to set up any kind of portable device). Once my husband pointed out that the diapers didn’t HAVE to be in the sun to get dry, I looked around and got creative. Our back patio has horizontal poles that are attached to the roof, and while I’m not sure what their original purpose was, they’re now where I hang my diapers! I attach 2-3 diapers to a hanger, and hang that from the pole.
These days I wash my diapers overnight (I set the delay timer on my machine so that they’ll be done when I wake up) or first thing in the morning. I hang them up to dry as soon as I can get around to it, but I don’t stress about it if that doesn’t happen until later in the afternoon for any reason. I take them down at night before it gets dark and put them in the dryer for a little bit (I do a cycle with the heat set to “low” and the dryness sensor set to “less”, so it uses the least amount of power as necessary). This fluffs up the flats and prefolds (as they tend to get stiff when dried outside) and makes sure that the things I didn’t hang up (like the pocket diaper shells and the cloth liners and wipes) as well as the thicker diapers and fitteds are completely dry (they’re usually damp when I take them off the line). The dryer cycle is obviously shorter if the load is mostly flats that had a chance to dry completely outside, but even if it was a load of fitted diapers and All In Ones that didn’t get hung up until late afternoon, it still means less overall time in the dryer than if I hadn’t dried them outside at all!
Costs And Savings
My initial up-front costs were fairly minimal and spread out over a few months. I spent less than $5 to buy clothespins and additional hangers, and my only other expense were the flats themselves. I tried a few different brands/sizes over the course of a few months and then purchased more of the ones I liked the most to replace other diapers in our stash that I liked less (I found that toddler sized flats provided far more absorbency than standard sized flats, and that the Cloth-eez brand sold by Green Mountain Diapers maintained the best shape/size after being prepped. If anyone is looking to try flats for the first time, I highly recommend that brand). All in all, I ended up purchasing a few dozen flats so that I could replace all of my microfiber inserts and still have plenty to use padfolded or fastened with a Snappi.
Our savings were immediate and more impressive than I’d thought they would be – on average, our utility bills are approximately $100 less than they were prior to making these changes (though it should be noted that once we got on an energy saving kick, we also became more conscientious about turning off lights and electronic devices when they weren’t in use, and powering down the computers at night instead of putting them into sleep mode. Some of our savings were likely attributed to those changes as well, though it’s impossible to quantify how much). Results will obviously vary across regions (i.e., how much electricity, gas, and water costs per unit where you live) as well as from home to home (e.g., what kinds of appliances you have installed in your home and how much energy/water you were already using or saving each month). Turning down the water heater and drying the diapers outside obviously didn’t ELIMINATE our utility bills, but I think a 20% decrease in our monthly water/electricity expenses is something to be excited about! It’s certainly a greater change in our budget than I’d expected to see, and it took far less time and effort than I thought it would.
Note: When Tara wrote her “If I Could Cloth Diaper TWO All Over Again” post, she mentioned that because All In Two diapering systems take up less space in the pail/wet bag than other diapering options, they enabled her to go longer between washes (which saved her money on laundry expenses). I’ve found that, because flat diapers take up more room in the pail/wet bag than other diapering options, I’ve ended up having to do laundry more frequently. However, despite doing more total loads of laundry per month, we were still able to decrease our monthly utility bills by doing so at lower water temperatures and line drying as much as possible. If you can find a way to combine each of our approaches to saving money, you’ll have the best of both worlds! (And you should definitely let us know, so that we can benefit from your tips and tricks, too!)
- How to Save Money on Diapers Series – Use Prefolds and Flats
- My Amazing, Portable, and FREE Drying Rack