In one of my recent private in-home consults I spoke to a lovely couple - the wife really wanted to cloth diaper their baby due in a couple of months, and the husband was a little skeptical, but wanted to support his wife. They were brand new to cloth diapering so even though the husband kept asking me about laundering, I asked him to be patient as I went through my entire presentation which addresses laundering at the end. At the end I found out why he was so concerned about laundry - they didn't have a washer/dryer in their condo and had to pay $1.25 per wash and dry cycle in the community washing machine that was at least 20 years old. For the typical cold pre-rinse, hot wash, cold extra rinse, then dry cycles this meant one load of cloth diapers would cost them $5 each time. This was an immediate deal breaker. :( And for good reason. But this doesn't rule out cloth diapering in a community washer/dryer. Here are a couple of things that should be evaluated prior to embarking on this.
So, if you're like this couple and have to spend $5 per load then unfortunately, if cost is the driving factor for you using cloth diapers, then this will stop you dead in your tracks. But, if your laundry facility charges maybe a third of this then cloth diapers still ends up being cheaper than disposables. A simple Google search on "cost of cloth diapers vs disposables" will yield a variety of cost comparison analyses on the matter, including the cost of additional utilities all yielding the same results - cloth is cheaper than disposables.
Isn't That Inconsiderate for Other Users?
The biggest question I get from people with this problem is they think it inconsiderate to have their child's poopy diapers in the same washing machine as other people's clothes... or vice versa - they don't want to have their child's diapers mixing with whatever stuff might be in other people's clothes. This is a pretty easy one to address. I liken this to washing clothes in a college dorm laundromat - we all did it and we had no clue what other people were doing in the privacy of their dorm room... I mean, it was college. So what do you do? May I suggest a little vinegar. Vinegar is a natural disinfectant. So try wiping down the inside of the washing machine with a vinegar solution (50/50 vinegar/water solution) prior to, and maybe even after use.
What about Fabric Softeners & Dryer Sheets?
Yes, we all know that fabric softeners and dryer sheets are a no-no for cloth diapers. And we can't control what others are putting into their wash loads. This is a tricky one but the answer is simple - vinegar. Thoroughly wipe down the drum of the washer with a vinegar solution, and if the machine has a fabric softener dispenser put some of this solution in the dispenser to help break up any build up in the dispenser. I would suggest doing this with your own clothes on a regular basis and not just with your baby's diapers. As for dryer sheets I would so the same thing, wipe down the inside of the dryer prior to placing your clothes or baby's diapers to help eliminate any chemical build up caused by dryer sheets. And as usual use dryer balls in everyone's clothes.
Here's a tip that will save you money and eliminate the dryer sheet issue - if your condo/apartment gets some sunlight on a balcony, and your neighbors or condo association won't be too annoyed, hang your cloth diapers out to dry. The sun will dry your diapers for free while removing stains at the same time.
Don't you hate it when people come in and take your clothes out of the washer or dryer because they can't wait? Cheap fix - Get an egg timer and be sure to beat those folks to the machine!
Diaper laundry service
Here's another option. If the whole thing is just too much work, but you really want to cloth diaper for all the right reasons, then find a diaper laundry service in your area and get on their program. Diaper laundry services are highly regulated and are subject to meeting compliance standards. Samples of diapers have to be tested on a regular basis for bacteria and fecal matter and are rated accordingly.
Bottom line, as usual, where there's a will there's a way. So if you really want to cloth diaper, but don't have the convenience of your own washer & dryer, there is a way to get around that. Weigh the pros and cons of cost and convenience for your family to see if cloth diapering will work for you.