$2.00 for the prewash, $2.00 for the main wash, $1.50 to dry…washing cloth diapers in a laundromat can get expensive fast. If you don’t have access to washer and dryer hookups, a portable washing machine can be a convenient, cost-effective solution that pays for itself in just a few months. There are two general categories of portable washers — electric-powered, which do the hard work for you, and hand-powered ones, which are basically fancy camp washers that rely on human energy. FL&CDS members report good results cleaning diapers in both electric and hand-powered portable washers. Some washers hook up to your sink to fill with water, which others are filled manually.
Warning: electric portable washers may be against the rules in some apartments or co-ops, due to the possibility of leaks and water backing up into other tenants’ sinks. We suggest checking with your landlord before purchasing. If electric portable washers are a no-go, you may still be able to use a hand-powered washer, or use an electric washer that is manually filled.
The table at the bottom of this page shows various portable washer and dryer options and costs.
Electric portable washers
Full-sized electric portable washers are usually about three feet high by 2.5 feet wide, so the footprint (and capacity) is smaller than a regular washer. Smaller models look like an oversized blender and sit on top the counter. The machine plugs into a standard wall outlet. Many models allow you to connect a hose to a kitchen or bathroom faucet. These machines usually drain via gravity into your sink, tub, or toilet.
FL&CDS members give the Haier portable washer consistently good reviews. Though somewhat expensive, it cleans efficiently and it’s large enough to wash a day or two worth of diapers. Typically, you can find the best deal on this machine at Wal-Mart (currently $229 for the 1.0 cubic foot washer and $269 for the 1.5 cubic foot washer, with free shipping). The Haier washer connect to your sink to fill, and drains via a hose placed in your sink or tub.
Haier wash routine:
1). Before washing, spray, dunk, or scrape soiled diapers.
2). Prewash: Line 1 detergent (or line 2 if using free and clear or plant based detergent), quick cold wash.
3) Main wash: Line 2 detergent (or full cap if using free and clear or plant based detergent), normal or heavy duty wash hot. Add 1/4 cup borax or 1/2 cap Calgon if needed for hard water.
Panda makes several different models of portable washers, ranging from small countertop washers that can wash about 10 diapers at a time, to larger portable models with built in spin dryers.
Panda mini (5.5 pounds/19 liter capacity): This is a small countertop electric washer that stands about 19 inches high and can hold about 10 – 12 diapers in a load. You fill it with water manually using a pitcher, diaper sprayer, shower head, etc. After running a wash cycle, it drains automatically into a sink, toilet or bathtub. Apartment complexes that prohibit portable washers that hook into your water supply may permit manual models like this. The drawback to the panda mini is that it doesn’t spin water out, so you have to manually wring out diapers by hand, or buy a separate spin dryer. Some people will use the Panda mini for a daily prewash, then do the main wash in a coin operated washer. Follow the Wonder Washer suggested Routine.
Panda Compact (6 pound or 10 pound capacity): This model comes in two different sizes, 6 lbs and 10 lbs, and has a double tub, with one side for washing and the other for spinning. The Panda Compact can be hooked up to a sink to fill, although many users say it’s faster to fill it manually. Like the mini, you drain it through a hose into the bathtub, sink, or toilet. The addition of a built in spinner makes dryer faster — no hand-wringing necessary. After doing the wash cycles, you’ll need to transfer the laundry into the spin tub. Laundry will come out damp, but with most of the excess water spun out. Follow the Haier suggested routine, adjusting detergent based on machine size, and transfer laundry into the spin tub after.
Panda Fully automatic (11 pounds or 15.6 pounds): Similar to the Haier, this is a fully automatic, single-tub machine that automatically fills, washes, and spins. The Panda Fully automatic plugs into an electrical outlet, hooks up to a kitchen sink to fill, and drains though a hose into the sink. Follow the Haier suggested wash routine.
The Wonder Washer (not to be confused with the Wonder Wash below) is a mini electric washer that stands just 13 inches tall and looks a little like a large blender. With a capacity of 1.75 gallons , the Wonder Washer can clean about 6 diapers and inserts at a time. One of the less expensive options ($60 on Amazon), the Wonder Washer gets mixed reviews, but many FL&CDS members successfully use it to clean diapers. Other members use it to do a daily prewash, then do the main wash once or twice a week in a Laundromat.
Wonder Washer suggested routine:
1). Before washing, spray, dunk, or scrape soiled diapers.
2). Prewash: Add diapers to Wonder Washer, and add water to make a “stew” level. Set machine to run for 15 minutes. Dump out water and wring out the diapers.
3) Wash #1: Add 1 tablespoon of detergent (and water softeners if needed), and water to “stew” level, and set again for 15 minutes. Dump out the water then rinse the diapers under the faucet.
4) Wash #2: Add 2 tbs of detergent (and boosters or water softeners) then fill up again until you have stew, then set for 15 minutes.
5) Rinse: If needed for excess suds, dump out the water and wring out the diapers before doing a last water only wash. It may be necessary to do another final rinse after this.
Human powered portable washers
The WonderWash is an egg-shaped, hand-cranked washer with a 5 pound capacity. Since it requires no electricity, the WonderWash is great for off-the-grid living, camping, RVs, etc. It should also be permitted in apartments that prohibit portable electric washers. However, like the bucket and plunger method, it requires some elbow grease. Some members say that they prefer to use HE detergent because the heavy agitation of the hand-cranking can create a lot of suds. For ease of filling and draining, members say they like to set the WonderWash in the bathtub.
WonderWash suggested routine:
1) Before washing, spray, dunk, or scrape soiled diapers.
2) Prewash: Add diapers and water to stew level. (Optional step: Soak for 15 to 30 minutes). Spin for about 75 turns, switching directions periodically. Dump water.
3) Wash #1: Refill with water, 1 to 2 tablespoons of detergent, and water softeners if needed. Spin for about 75 turns, switching directions periodically. Dump water.
4) Wash #2: Repeat step 3
5) Rinse: Refill with water. Spin for about 75 turns, switching directions periodically. Dump water. It may be necessary to repeat this step.
The Gira Dora is a foot pedal portable washing machine. It is currently in development and not available yet for purchase.
Some portable washers, such as the Haier and more expensive models of the Panda, will spin out excess water from the laundry. However, others will leave laundry clean but dripping wet. You can wring out excess water by hand, but this is somewhat time and labor intensive. Another option is to purchase a laundry spin dryer.
Nina spin dryer: This electric spin dryer receives very positive reviews. It stands 24 inches tall and uses centrifugal force to remove about 90% of water from laundry. From there, diapers should dry in about 1 – 3 hours.
The Laundry Alternative Mini Countertop Spin Dryer: Made by the company that produces the electric Wonder Washer, this 2.2 pound capacity electric spin dryer receives mixed reviews.
Clothes Wringers: Old fashioned clothing wringers may be used for prefolds, flats, and inserts. However, they shouldn’t be used on pocket diapers shells, covers, or all in ones, because they can damage snaps. Because they’re so thin, covers and pocket shells will dry quickly even without being spun or wring, so you could use the winger for inserts and hand squeeze pocket shells or covers.
Once diapers are washed and excess water is wrung or spun out, the final step is drying. Most people like to machine dry cloth diapers or hang them on a clothes line outside (sunning is excellent for removing stains). However, if you live in an apartment or community that prohibits outdoor clothes lines, or if the weather doesn’t cooperate, here are some alternatives.
If you know that you’ll be hang drying diapers inside, you might want to avoid certain brands of all in one (AIO) diapers that are known to be slow to dry, such as Nicki’s bamboo AIOs or Happy Flute overnight bamboo AIOs. Synthetic AIOs such as Alva or Happy Flute charcoal bamboo AIOs or bumGenius Freetimes tend to be faster drying. Because they are so quick to dry, flats are an excellent choice for line drying inside. Flats can be used folded around the baby, padfolded and laid in a cover, or padfolded and used as a pocket diaper insert.
Panda portable ventless dryer: Similar to a regular clothes dryer, this electric machine heats and dries clothes. At about $260, it’s not really any cheaper than a standard dryer, despite the smaller capacity and longer dry time. However, it doesn’t require standard venting, so it can be the next best alternative if your home doesn’t have a functional dryer hookup.
Ikea Pressa dryers: These octopus shaped clips are popular for drying cloth diapers. They’re retractable for easy storage, and each one accommodates 8 diapers or shells.
Retractable clothes lines or drying racks: Many apartment dwellers get creative, hanging retractable clothes lines in the bedroom or setting up drying racks on patios or in living rooms. Positing the wet laundry in front of a window or box fan will help speed up the drying process.
Portable washer and dryer options
The following table lists several washer and dryer options. This is not a complete list of all available portable washers and dryers, but it represents the ones that are most popular among FL&CDS members. The price listed is the cheapest price found on an internet search and includes shipping; however, cheaper prices may be available.
|Name||Model||Type||Price (including shipping)||Cheapest price found||Power source||Water source||Capacity||Spin dry?||Notes|
|Haier||N/A||Portable washer||$229||Wal-Mart||Electric||Sink hookup||1.0 cubic feet||Yes||Top pick|
|Haier||N/A||Portable washer||$269||Wal-Mart||Electric||Sink hookup||1.5 cubic feet||Yes||Top pick|
|Panda||Mini||Countertop washer||$85||New Egg||Electric||Manual fill||5.5 pounds||No|
|Panda||Compact||Portable washer||$175||Amazon||Electric||Sink hookup||6 pounds||Yes||Laundry needs to be transferred to spin tub|
|Panda||Compact||Portable washer||$230||Amazon||Electric||Sink hookup||10 pounds||Yes||Laundry needs to be transferred to spin tub|
|Panda||Fully Automatic||Portable washer||$315||Amazon||Electric||Sink hookup||11 pounds||Yes|
|Panda||Fully Automatic||Portable washer||$420||Amazon||Electric||Sink hookup||15.6 pounds||Yes|
|Wonder Washer||N/A||Countertop washer||$60||Amazon, New Egg||Electric||Manual fill||1.75 gallons||No|
|WonderWash||N/A||Countertop washer||$60||Lehman's||Hand cranked||Manual fill||5 pounds||No|
|Nina Soft Spin Dryer||N/A||Spin dryer||$145||Amazon||Electric||N/A||12 pounds||Yes||Top pick|
|Laundry Alternative||N/A||Spin dryer||$88||Amazon||Electric||N/A||2.2 pounds||Yes|
|Panda||Portable dryer||$280||Amazon||Electric||N/A||8.8 pounds||No|