Flats and Handwashing Challenge

Flats.  I have no flats in my fluff stash, but I will probably have to at some point.  Next year, when Baby is about 8 months old, Teddy and I will be traveling to India to visit family.  As of right now, I am planning to cloth diaper the entire trip.  The very VERY rough itinerary is 3 nights in Bangalore (staying in a hotel), 3 nights at the family home in Kerala (with a washer/dryer), 2 nights on a houseboat in the Alleppey backwaters, and 4 additional nights in Kerala.  Plus, of course, the flight to and from India, which tacks on approximately an additional day each way.

The days and nights in Kerala are easy, because my in-laws have a washer and dryer.  But there are the 3 nights in the hotel and 2 nights on the houseboat, and those periods are worrisome, because cleaning will be an issue.

Enter flats.

Flats are the simplest form of cloth diapers.  They’re flat squares or rectangles of single-layer fabric.  People buy items advertised by stores as flats, but they also use flour sack towels, burp cloths, t-shirts, really anything.  Because they’re a single layer of fabric, they easily handwash and hang dry.  They do need a cover, just like a prefold, and can be closed with a Snappi, pins, or Boingo (again, just like a prefold).  The flat is folded into a diaper shape, making it more “work intensive” than some other forms of cloth diapers.

Coming up next month is Dirty Diaper Laundry’s 3rd annual Flats and Handwashing Challenge.  It’s a challenge some cloth diapering families take to use only flats and covers for one week, and to only handwash and hang dry for the week.

It sounds crazy, but if you think about it, THIS IS WHAT PEOPLE USED TO DO.  Before disposables, before washing machines, before modern “conveniences,” people used this exact method to diaper their kids.  Your grandparents probably did this.  In some parts of the world, people still do this.  My husband, who was raised in India in the 1970s and 80s, was raised with this method, because they didn’t have disposable diapers available (according to my MIL).

But this challenge isn’t just a throwback.  Flats and handwashing is a feasible diapering alternative for modern American families struggling with financial difficulties, and the challenge draws attention to this option.  Flats are cheap.  Covers can be cheap.  Handwashing is cheap and do-able in an apartment setting, even with limited space.  A “washing machine” can be made out of a five-gallon bucket and a new, clean plunger.

Seriously, a box of disposable diapers can cost $50.  For the same price, you could have what you need to diaper your baby.  For a family struggling financially, it doesn’t make sense to spend money on diapers when there are so many other things babies actually NEED.  Babies do not need disposable diapers.  They do need to see the doctor, and clothes, and safety devices around the home, and car seats.

Here’s a post from a mom who handwashes – not as part of the challenge, but just what she does.  And here’s Giving Diapers, Giving Hope, a national non-profit that provides cloth diapers to families in need.  Did you know that no federal assistance programs provide assistance for diapers?  Families on WIC or food stamps cannot use their benefits to purchase disposable diapers!  That makes cloth diapering a viable option – maybe the only option.

For at least part of our trip next year, we’ll be without easy access to a washer and dryer, and I think the best choice will be flats.  And maybe we’ll participate in next year’s Flats and Handwashing Challenge, too.  After a trip top India, it’ll probably be a breeze!


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