The whitest diapers on the block

Today a sweet blackbird was serenading me as I was hanging my clothes out on this warm, sunny, (rare) wind-less day.  I was enjoying the music, the sunshine and enjoyed watching the clothes hanging on the line and started to think (a dangerous hobby, as my husband claims) about other times of hanging out clothes.

When I was young (many, many years ago), diapers were made of cloth, not plastic and paper.  At that time, it was a daily chore to wash them for reuse (youngsters, diapers CAN be reused, not thrown away!).

I had two daughters that were both in diapers so my daily chore was doubled.  As you know, diapers can become stained with the “stuff” that comes out of even the cutest little one, and it’s hard to get that brown stain out of white material.

We lived, at that time, in Australia, where dryers were a luxury, not a necessity; so everyone hung their clothes outside unless it was raining (not much snow where we lived).  When it rained, you could either use a drying closet (a metal box with racks in it and an electric heater on the bottom to help dry the clothes faster) or you could use a clothes rack in the house.  We had a gas fireplace to heat the house so we hung our clothes near that to assist the speed of drying in the rain.

Women prided themselves on their white whites when hanging clothes on the line. And I was no exception.  I wanted to be proud of my whites but was struggling with those stained diapers.

Now, on a side note, the Australian women used terry cloth for diapers (called “napkins” or “nappies” there).  When I first saw a baby – a newborn, yet, wrapped in a huge terrycloth nappie, I thought the mother had run out of diapers and was using a dishtowel as a substitute.  I had brought a lot of diapers with me when we moved to Australia, as I had one child at that time and was hoping to have a second one while there.  However, the diapers started wearing out and I was desperate for more.  But I refused to put my child in “dishtowels,” no matter what the general public thought about them!

The diapers in the US were of nice soft cotton but I couldn’t find anything similar in Australia.  I considered having my mother send some “real” diapers from home but they would have cost too much in shipping to be worthwhile.  So I found some nice heavy white flannel material, cut and hemmed it to diaper size and was happy as a clam.  These (and replacements along the way) made great diapers (although I finally learned to call them “nappies”) for my two girls.

But still, I needed to find a way to get them WHITE.  When we first moved to Australia, we purchased a used washing machine that had the agitator in one small tub that would hold up to one sheet and the spinner in the other tub.  I would wash a load of white clothes, move them to the spinner and spin them out, put them into a laundry tub and wash a load of dark clothes with the same water, spin THEM out and put THEM into a tub.  Then I would change the wash water and rinse the whites, spin them out and hang them up; put the colored in and rinse them, spin them out and hang THEM up.  If I had heavier, dirtier clothes, I would use the rinse water for them and perhaps wash them twice.  It worked well but as I got heavier into pregnancy, it became harder for me to do the moving from tub to tub, especially with the dripping wet clothes that had to be spun out.

We saved our money and paid over three hundred dollars (!!) for a semi-automatic washer – the automatic ones that were very, very luxurious were over twice that price.

We put the semi-automatic washer in the bathroom.  (Another side note – the bathroom had only a sink and bathtub and separate shower; the toilet, the “loo” – “water closet” “wc” was in a separate room!)  The machine was the size of most automatic washers we have today.  We ran cold water into the tub of the washer with a hose from the sink.  I put the clothes and soap in and set the time for agitating up to an hour at a time.  It had a suds-saving / water-saving ability so the soapy out-going water would be spun out into the bathtub to be saved for the next load of clothes.  The rinse water could be put in and the clothes could be spun dry for hanging out.  The soapy water could then be sucked back into the machine and reused for the next batch of clothes.

The machine also had a heater so you could heat the water before agitating, if you wanted warm or hot water for washing.

My plan for those stained diapers, then, was simple.  A pre-soak of cold water, bleach and soap, a bit of agitation, then heat added.  The diapers could cook / boil for up to an hour, depending on how long I felt they needed it.  Then that was spun out and I re-washed them with warm / hot water and soap and rinsed with cold water.

The diapers sparkled in the sunshine!  I had, indeed, the whitest diapers on the block!

Well, to be truly honest, they were the ONLY diapers on the block!  My neighbors had either grown children or no children.  But *I* was proud of them, to be sure!

About cpthegreat

Connie (aka Spinning Grandma) lives on Ash Lane Farm in southwest Minnesota. She is an expert on spinning, weaving and knitting and a former history interpreter.

4 thoughts on “The whitest diapers on the block

  1. I used to hang my clothes outside during the spring and summer, not because I had to, but because I loved the springtime freshness and sunny brightness I got when I did. Not very many women were doing that anymore, but it gave me something to do while my kids were playing in the backyard. the sun would brighten the diapers and linens too. Nothing was as refreshing as climbing into a bed made with sheets fresh off the line.
    As for diapers, I was the only mom around that still used cloth diapers. I couldn’t afford the paper ones, and the one time I tried them, my daughter tore it off almost as fast as I got it on her. I didn’t mind washing them, although I didn’t have the time consuming chore that cpthegreat had when washing her clothes. I had a modern washer and dryer, so I could just pop my clothes in the washer and then in the dryer if it was raining, or I didn’t have time to hang the wash.
    I was lucky though, by the time my third baby was born my husband and I could afford a diaper service. Now that was living.
    All I had to do was put them in a diaper pale which the service provided, and they picked it up every few days as they delivered the clean ones. I must admit, that my kids never had a diaper rash.
    I think that moms are hesitant to change their babies more often when using paper diapers because they cost so much, and when you run out you have to get to a store right away. Also, you might not realize the baby is wet when they’re wearing disposables, because they don’t always seem wet. Also, it seems like wearing paper would be slightly uncomfortable. When a cloth diaper is wet, you know it! So you change it more often. I can’t deny the convenience of disposables, but they are not good for the environment.
    Its a shame that people don’t have the time to wash cloth diapers, or hang their wash outside while their kids play. Now, because of the necessity of the two family income and the desire for women to be more than housewives, they barely have time to be with their children or do their own housework, not that many of today’s women would want to, but don’t knock it if you haven’t tried it.
    I do want to add that I’m not a mom from the 50’s, my two older kids grew up in the late 80’s and my younger two grew up in this last decade. I guess I am kind of old fashioned though. I found it very rewarding to be at home with the kids. I’m glad we could afford it. My heart goes out to the women who want to stay home, and can’t.

  2. I’m glad that there are women out there that still use cloth diapers. It gives me hope for the future. I know there are many, but they seem to be pretty silent about it to the general public. I wonder if others would be willing to switch back if they know that they were not alone?

  3. Connie, your story was riveting to me, as the mother of 2 young children. But something struck me as I read about trying to get the “brown” stains out of white material. So, who says diapers have to be white? If you make your own (as many frugal young mothers do), couldn’t you make them out of brown, navy or even black material? LOL …