The 4-Day Laundry Plan (How to use cloth diapers and have a job without losing your mind)

Welcome to the January 2015 Carnival of Natural Parenting:
Household Chores

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama. This month our participants have shared stories, tips, and tricks on tackling household chores. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.


I have an eight-month-old daughter who wears cloth diapers all day and night.  I have a full-time job outside the home.  I’m a naturally chilly person, so I wear layers of clothes, including two to four pairs of socks, every day in the winter.  I use cloth handkerchiefs, cloth personal wipes, and cloth menstrual pads.  I hang-dry almost all my laundry instead of using the dryer.  How the heck do I get all that laundry done?!?

I worked out a good system when my first child was a baby, and I’ve been working my way toward getting back onto that system; with the addition of a few more diapers to our stash, it’s finally starting to work really smoothly.  Here are the key components of my laundry routine.

Divide and delegate.

I don’t have to do all the laundry in the house.  My partner Daniel launders his own clothes, the household linens (towels, sheets, blankets, cloth napkins), and the cleaning rags; he tries to get his laundry done during the day while he’s working from home.  Our ten-year-old son Nicholas launders his own clothes every Thursday after school.  That means I’m only responsible for baby Lydia’s and my own cloth items, and I usually have access to the washing machine when I’m ready to use it in the late evening.

It also means that I have to let go of control over how the guys do their share of the laundry.  They both prefer to use the dryer for most items, which bothers me when I think about the electric bill that I am paying…but when I compare those few dollars a month to the “cost” of having to do all that laundry myself, or even just the hassle of having their stuff always crowding the clotheslines I’m trying to use, it’s not so bad.  Also, this way I don’t have to listen to any griping about how I folded their stuff the “wrong” way!

Hang laundry indoors.

This is crucial to my success: In winter, most of the hours I’m at home are hours when it’s dark outside, so using an outdoor clothesline would be really difficult.  Also, if my laundry was hanging outdoors, I’d have to rely on Daniel to rescue it when the wind whips up or the rain starts falling.  Although I survived two years of hanging laundry on a covered balcony–where at least the rain didn’t fall directly on it, and it usually didn’t blow away–indoor clotheslines are really the best option for people who are out of the house all day.  Mine are in the basement, next to our laundry machines.

Wear some things more than once before washing.

Sweaters, jeans, and other outer garments usually don’t get all that dirty in one day’s wear.  (My job is an office job, very neat and tidy aside from the occasional Liquid Paper misadventure.)  At the end of the day, I put some of my clothes in the laundry basket but drape the rest over the bedroom chair to air out for later re-wearing.  This reduces the total volume of laundry.

Lydia does get a complete clean outfit every day, more often if she gets messy.  Her clothes are so small, they don’t make much difference in the laundry volume.

Follow the Four-Day Plan!

The key to this plan is that I run one load of laundry through one machine every night.  It’s a doable amount of work instead of a huge, time-consuming chore to be done all in one day–a day that easily could get delayed and delayed, as other things fill my schedule!  If I stick to the four-day plan almost all the time, I’m able to take a night off every once in a while (when we don’t have a full load in the designated category) without falling behind.

Day 1:

  • Take the big wetbag full of used diapers and cloth baby-wipes out of the diaper pail.  Make sure that Lydia’s diaper has been changed recently, and collect any used diapers from the diaper bags, so that the maximum possible number of diapers will get clean.  Put diapers and wetbag in the washing machine and start pre-soak cycle with cold water.  Go do something else for at least 20 minutes.
  • Add detergent and baking soda to washing machine, and start wash cycle with hot water.  (This step can be done while holding the baby.)  Go do something else for at least 40 minutes.
  • Hang up diapers and wetbag to dry.

Day 2:

  • Sort contents of my laundry bag (in master bedroom closet) and the basket in Lydia’s changing room, and fill my laundry basket (the one I carry around the house) with dark-colored clothes.  Put baby socks, bibs, nursing pads, hankies, and other small items in a zippered mesh bag.  Collect cloth wipes, and any cloth pads, from both bathrooms in another zippered mesh bag.  Put these mesh bags and the dirty clothes in the washing machine on a cold wash cycle with detergent.
  • Take light-colored clothes off clothesline, fold, and stack in laundry basket, sorting them according to where they will be stored.  Go up to the first floor and put away Lydia’s things in her changing room.  Go up to the second floor and put away my things in the master bedroom and cloth wipes in the bathroom.  Go back to first floor and listen at top of stairs–is the washing machine done yet?  If not, do something else until it’s done.
  • Hang dark clothes to dry, in categories: socks over here, shirts over there, cloth wipes on the drying rack….  This will make the items easier to sort when taking them down.

Day 3:

  • Take diapers, cloth baby-wipes, and nursing pads off the clothesline and put them in the dryer on no-heat cycle to fluff them for better absorbency.  (When life is going smoothly, this is the only time I use the dryer.)  Go do something else for at least 20 minutes.
  • Empty dryer and put the things away.

Day 4:

  • Sort laundry, as on Day 2, to collect a basket of light-colored clothes, plus small items in mesh bags.  Put them in the washing machine on a cold wash cycle with detergent and baking soda.  (Baking soda is supposed to brighten whites.  I think it works…and it also helps things smell fresh, and it doesn’t cost much.)
  • Take dark clothes off clothesline, fold, and put away.
  • Hang light clothes to dry.

Since Lydia was born, I have always managed to have clean diapers when we need them, but sometimes that’s been more confusing than I’d like: I’ve often had to wash again on Day 4, and we’ve often run out of dry diapers on Day 2 and had to put the clean-but-damp ones in a heated dry cycle.  We had 36 diapers, which didn’t seem to be quite enough to keep Lydia comfortable for 4 days, and I certainly don’t want to make her wear a wet diaper any longer than she wants to, since that encourages rashes and discourages her from being aware of wetness (important for toilet-training).

Therefore, my only Christmas present to my daughter was a nice new big wetbag containing 8 new cloth diapers!  I had fun indulging my desire to sample some of the “fancy” diapers instead of just more of the same kind we already had, spending a few dollars extra because this was a gift.  At 7 months old, she was delighted to get a bag of fluffy things to throw around.  I figured I might as well start now teaching her to appreciate practical gifts. :-)  After all, other people gave her plenty of toys and books and other “fun” stuff.

It takes time. It just does.

Hanging up a load of laundry takes about 10 minutes longer than throwing it into the dryer.  I’m used to it.  It can be a pleasant experience, doing simple work that produces visible results.  (One reason I like having diapers and wipes in a variety of colors is that it makes them more fun to arrange on the line!)  Handling cold damp things while standing in the chilly basement is refreshing in the summer, and in the winter it becomes a nice excuse to relax with a hot drink afterward.

While I may be a cloth-diapering supermama, I must admit that I often get through my daily laundry (and bottle-washing and actual hands-on parenting) only by staying up ridiculously late. I’m not perfect, and I tend to relax for a while now and then whether I mean to or not, and I like to stay up late–I just don’t like to get up early!  Life is still a balancing act, even with this schedule, but having the structure definitely works for me.

Visit Waste Not Want Not Wednesday for more ways to use your resources wisely, and don’t miss my post featured there: DIY Instant Oatmeal: Ditch the Packets!


Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

  • Seven Tips for Decluttering with Your Clutterbug — Do you have a child with hoarder tendencies? Help them declutter before the Legos and stuffed animals take over your home. Charlie of Three Blind Wives, guest posting at Natural Parents Network, offers some expert advice.
  • Chores, Chores, ChoresLife Breath Present talks about how her family divides chores, and how Baby Boy joins in to keep their home clean and running smoothly.
  • Of Toddlers & Housework — Holly at Leaves of Lavender talks about some of the ways she lets her not-quite-3-year-old son help out around the house.
  • Whistling While We Work: On Kids and Chores — Dionna at Code Name: Mama realized recently that she often feel resentful when she carries more than her share of the household load. And so several weeks ago, she brought a laundry basket upstairs and had the kids start folding. Thus began a regular series of household responsibilities for her kids.
  • The 4-Day Laundry Plan — Becca at The Earthling’s Handbook line-dries all of her laundry,
    including cloth diapers, and stays sane while also working full-time outside the home. She’s sharing her tips!
  • Chores Don’t Have To Be Drudgery
    Jennifer at Hybrid Rasta Mama discusses how she gets the whole family motivated in the daily care and maintenance of maintaining a home. After all, chores do not have to be drudgery.
  • Morning Chores and Weekly Chores
    Kellie at Our Mindful Life can get anything done, so long as she gets her morning chores – and her weekly chores – done!
  • A place for everything and everything in its place — Make it easy to tidy up by having just enough stuff for the space you have. Lauren at Hobo Mama talks about this goal in her own home and gives tips on how to achieve it in yours.
  • Cleaning With Essential Oils — What essential oils could add a boost to your cleaning routine? That Mama Gretchen has a round up of what you might like to consider!
  • Montessori-Inspired Sweeping Activities — Deb Chitwood at Living Montessori Now tells how her children helped keep their house clean and shares ideas for Montessori-inspired sweeping activities.
  • 9 Natural Cleaning Recipes for New Mamas — Dionna of Code Name: Mama, guest posting at Mama & Baby Love, shares recipes for safer, natural homemade cleaners that
    parents can make with ingredients they trust. Leave a comment on the post for a chance to win a copy of Homemade Cleaners – a book packed with tons of natural cleaner recipes!

About 'Becca
author of The Earthling's Handbook, about the environment, parenting, cooking, and more!

27 Responses to The 4-Day Laundry Plan (How to use cloth diapers and have a job without losing your mind)

  1. This sounds like a really good system! I use to line dry a lot, too, though that was before we had a working dryer. I have to admit I like the convenience of that now… But I agree there is something meditative about simple, useful tasks like that. It’s like how I used to relish washing the dishes by hand (before we had a working dishwasher, so that’s another thing I no longer do!). Laundry is still one of my jobs in the household, and I have to say I really like it. Not the putting away, but the strategizing of getting things clean, and on time for everyone to use. I feel like a clean-clothes fairy, gifting everyone in the family.

    • 'Becca says:

      Yeah, I kind of miss washing the dishes, except for the time it took! We have a dishwasher, and washing the pots and pans is a chore that Daniel took over when Lydia was born. I used to read magazines while washing dishes, by propping them on the windowsill above the sink using a thingy that’s designed to hold a recipe card. Now I’m getting behind on all my magazines….

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  6. Life Breath Present says:

    That really is some routine. It sounds like it works ridiculously well though, so kudos to you! We have a line outside, but I haven’t used it yet (winter and all) and only passingly thought of getting/making an indoor line. I think if I did that, I just might need to wash Baby Boy’s diapers a bit more frequently (in smaller batches actually) than the every 3 days almost all the diapers way I do now.

    Your method gives me ideas for when we do add to our family, because more people=more clothes.🙂

    • 'Becca says:

      Right: I am washing only slightly more than half the diapers each time. That works out well because, although our washing machine is very tolerant of huge loads, for diapers it really does a better job if they’re not packed in too tightly and have plenty of space for the water to circulate!

      • Life Breath Present says:

        Great point! I know once it starts getting warmer I’ll probably have to ‘experiment’ with my washing routine to include the diaper/clothes drying on the line. I’m actually kind of excited about this, does that make me weird? lol

  7. codenamemama says:

    I also do laundry almost daily. Granted, I’m doing most of the laundry (my husband often helps), but I agree that doing it in smaller chunks helps it feel more manageable for me. Also, I find laundry to be one of my preferred chores – it gets me away from everyone, smelling fresh, clean clothes, and doing mindless work that I can stare off into space and think about other things while I’m working.
    I do have a question for you about drying indoors – you mention that you have your clothesline in the basement. That’s where our laundry is, too. We have an unfinished basement, and when I’ve tried to dry down there, I feel like the clothes get musty. Even when I’ve tried running the dehumidifier. What’s your secret to non-musty clothes?!

    • 'Becca says:

      Our main secret is that we bought a house whose basement did not “smell like a basement” when we were looking at the house–it was one of our top criteria. It’s an unfinished basement but is above ground in the back (because we’re on a hill) so that probably helps keep it dry. We also have forced-air heat, with the ducts for the first floor running along the basement ceiling, and that dries the air in the winter.

      The apartment building where we lived just prior to this house had a damp, smelly basement. I did use the clotheslines down there, but I struggled with the musty smell. Some things that helped: Detergent with a strong (plant-based) fragrance. Getting the basement as clean as possible. Taking down laundry as soon as it was dry rather than letting it linger. Using essential oils to make a pleasant scent in closets and drawers: Drip oil on a tissue and rub it on the closet light bulb (when it’s cool) and along the undersides of drawers and shelves where it won’t touch the clothes, just in case it’s an oil that would stain.

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  9. Holly S says:

    Very admirable! We did cloth diapers with my son (although he’s been out of diapers for almost a year now), and I can’t imagine line drying them all! But then, we generally got by on about 2 dozen; I imagine another dozen or so would make all the difference there. We live in a small apartment, so we honestly wouldn’t have room to line dry much of anything (we could use the balcony, and probably should since we live in San Diego, where it’s warm and sunny most of the time…. hmm… maybe I will look into some kind of drying apparatus…). But when we eventually move back into a permanent home of some sort (I would love to buy a town house once my husband gets out of the military!), I will have to try to figure out room somewhere for clothes lines. You have inspired me!

    • 'Becca says:

      The link about hang-drying laundry in the first paragraph takes you to all my articles about how to find the right system for your home and lifestyle. It might be possible to hang clotheslines inside your apartment, high up or in the corners, so that you walk under or past them. When I lived in a 7’x12′ room, I had clotheslines all around my bed, and just hung the shorter things together in one section to make a “doorway”! It actually made the room seem bigger by dividing it into two zones, the bed and the other space. If you have any trouble with dry air in your home (scratchy throats, electric shocks) the moisture from the laundry will be helpful.

  10. My hubby has a really demanding job and has some other tasks he does around the house, so I fairly took on the laundry. I let it pile up way too often. I like this idea of doing a little bit at a time! Thanks for sharing! And it is awesome that your 10 year old does his own laundry🙂 Way to teach them young!

  11. LOL, cloth diapering super mama! Love it! Yes, you are! And the fact that you took the time to write out such a detailed and helpful post, is a super hero feat in my opinion too. I hang all of my clothes to dry (always indoors, even in the summer, some in my laundry room and some in my living area-which kind of drives me insane, I wish it was in one spot where I could close the door) and I love it. I actually love doing laundry and hanging it up. Mind you, I have one child, who is past the cloth diaper stage (but I did almost 100% cloth diaper with her when she was a tot!) You may think this is insane but I started loving laundry after going to a homeopath for something unrelated (depression after a miscarriage) and the homeopath asked all kind of random questions to help narrow down the exact right remedy for me. One of the questions was do you hate laundry? And I was like, “Yeeeeesssss! With a passion! After the remedy, not only did I feel better emotionally, I started loving laundry! So crazy!

    • 'Becca says:

      That’s very interesting! Evidently the homeopath’s questions were not as random as they seemed but based on experience with people who have a certain cluster of symptoms that seem unrelated but all respond to the same remedy. I have sometimes had that experience with doctors, like the neurologist who asked, “Do you ever feel that your ears are cold when the rest of you is warm?” and “Does it sometimes seem like objects jump out of your hands?” to narrow down exactly what kind of headaches I was having.

  12. Wow, that’s hardcore! My mom sewed our cloth diapers when we were babies, and I *like* to think I’d use cloth ones for my one-day-future children, but my mom only worked part-time and had two full sets of grandparents babysitting. I can’t imagine doing it working full-time! But that’s a great system, and thanks for sharing it on Waste Not Want Not Wednesday, Becca🙂

    • 'Becca says:

      It really is just not that hard! Remember that disposable diapers can require extra trips to the store and handling a bulky package, and that it is far more complicated to go shopping or to carry anything when you have a baby with you. I am well satisfied with the convenience of cloth diapers.

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