Greening your Camping – Cloth Diapers

We just got back from our annual Memorial Day camping trip with friends. We’ve been camping together since before any of us had kids and now some families are up to three kids. To us camping is about going out into nature and appreciating the beauty and wonder and at the same time hanging out with good friends. Of course you want to put your best green foot forward when you camp, but as we were preparing for this trip we realized the many things we do that are actually less environmentally friendly when camping, than when at home.  There are lot of green things you can do when camping – and a lot of not green things that some people do.  See our Greening Your Camping Series for lots of ideas on going green when camping.

cloth diapers drying on a clothes line in the woods with a tent in the background

Cloth diapers drying at our campsite

Here we were, preparing for the trip with 2 five year old kids and a 10 month old in diapers.  At home we use cloth diapers on our baby and wash them in our front loader Energy Star washing machine and most of the time even line dry the covers and some of the liners.  Even though we practically took the kitchen sink (Alicia only does car camping – when the kids are older I’ll take them backpacking some weekends), I wasn’t going to fit in the washing machine.  We only have a 2 day supply of cloth diapers and we were going camping for 3 days and 3 nights.

So, we faced a conundrum: Do we go disposable for camping or find a way to wash the diapers while camping?

Alicia did some research and asked around and we got several suggestions from fellow cloth diaper users and some encouragement that it could be done, so we gave it a shot.  In complete honesty, we did have a stash of disposables that we keep around for emergencies in the car in case we needed them, but fortunately they never left the car until we were unpacking at home.

How to manage cloth diapers while camping?

Depending on the style camping you are doing, you may need to modify this approach to suit your specific needs.  We were at a location with running water (flush toilets) and trash disposal.  The bathrooms by us had only cold water.

TIP: Use flushable liners, especially when expecting poop.  This helps avoid having to swish in the toilet, and we didn’t have our handy power sprayer along.   It’s also helpful to have a mother-in-law around who doesn’t mind taking the poopy diaper up to the bathroom to toss the solids while you finish diapering the baby.

We kept the dirty diapers in the diaper bag in the tent, but they could have been stored in the car if smell had become an issue.

camping stove with a pot of boiling cloth diapers

Boiling Cloth Diapers
NOTE: do not boil the covers/pockets!

After turning off the heat I rinsed the diapers and liners in batches to get the little bit of soap out. This was the hardest part as it took a fair bit of time and I had to replace the rinse water a few times because it got a bit soapy and too hot to work with.  Before hanging the diapers on the line to dry, I did my best to ring out the water.When it was time to wash, I got out our two camping stock pots and filled them about half way with water.  I put the largest one onto the camping stove (fire would have worked as well, but the stove creates less black soot on the pot and gives you a better angle for working with the “laundry”).   I brought the water to a boil and added some laundry soap (biodegradable & phosphate free).  Then I added the diapers and liners and boiled them for about 15 minutes to kill any bacteria stirring occasionally to agitate the diapers. I used a big set of clean tongs to stir and pick transfer the diapers as they were too hot to handle.  The cleaning part was easy.

The sun and wind did the rest.  I recommend doing this in the morning right after breakfast so you have all day to let the diapers and inserts dry.

While this was definitely more work than using the disposables it felt so right and we’ll definitely do it again for our next camping trip.  Here we were appreciate nature and not adding to the ever growing waste stream with diapers.  We have some other fun and interesting green camping ideas to share in subsequent parts of this series, stay tuned.

So, the next time you are considering traveling or camping think about what you can do to make the trip greener.  Be sure to check with your friends and ask other cloth diaper users about ways to manage.  If our parents and grand parents were able to figure out camping with cloth diapers, we certainly can manage it as well.

Happy Green Camping!
Jon & Alicia

Warning! Do not boil any pockets or covers with PUL (polyurethane laminate) as it will damage them.  Thanks to Katherine and Christine for pointing this out.  I think this explains why some point after this trip we had the PUL delaminate on some of our pockets, but not all the ones we used camping.

For travel and other cloth diapering tips check out the Real Diaper Association

Other articles in our Greening Your Camping Series:

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  1. Wow! Kudos to you for doing what you felt was right even though it was more work! Such great info. for fellow cloth-diaperers!

    Very interesting series…looking forward to the next installments!

  2. Anonymous says

    is that pot now demoted to ‘diapers only’? I’d be a bit hesitant to eat of out if after diaper boiling..

  3. The enamel coated pot is rarely used and is for camping only. It was washed out very well with hot soapy water and rinsed thoroughly, but no it is not regulated to only diaper duty going forward.

  4. We used cloth diapers on our oldest son. I’m visiting from MBC. I signed up to be a new follower. Stop by my blog when you get the chance.

  5. This was a great post! To be totally honest, we’ve never had to wash diapers while camping – we haven’t camped long enough to run out of diapers yet. We just bring home the dirties, well, dirty. But I love this can-do attitude. If we work our way up to a longer camping trip, I’ll definitely be using your advice, though I’ll probably also bring flats and covers just to make the washing / drying even easier… Thanks!

  6. Can you boil covers/pockets with PUL????

  7. We boiled our FuzziBunz and BumGenius pockets with PUL and we did not have any ill consequences. To be clear, we did this once or twice and we have not tested it on a daily basis. I question whether boiling is absolutely necessary, since you do not normally need to sanitize your cloth diapers, but on the occasional camping trip it makes sense to me.

  8. why do you need to use soap if you are boiling the diapers? Are there bacteria that would still survive that?

  9. I think i would have to designate the pot as the diaper pot. My husband who is against cloth diapering would NEVER allow that. Even though I know what boiling water does. Were not even pregnant yet but im trying to collect as much info as I can… He might not ever come around. Thanks for the info though. 🙂

  10. This is great, Ive done the same before and it felt wonderful to continue on with the routine of cloth nappies. With regards to boiling – I made the horrid mistake of washing my Fuzzibunz nappies on the hot cycle too often, and the PUL has cracked and now leaks. I think most cloth nappy manufacturers recommend not going over 50degrees. Its ok to boil inserts though 🙂

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