You are about to read advice on how many cloth diapers you need from a mama who wants ALL the diapers ☺
Okay, joking aside, it is helpful to make a distinction between how many cloth diapers you actually NEED and how many diapers will make things more convenient. That is, how many cloth diapers are essential to ensure that you will always have a clean cloth diaper on your newborn or infant; versus how many diapers would make life more comfortable.
So, How Many Cloth Diapers Do You Need?
The short and most accurate answer is, “It depends.” The number of cloth diapers you need will depend on a number of factors and will also change over time. A lot depends on the needs of your baby, your diaper style preference, your budget, and your lifestyle.
How Often Do You Do Laundry?
First things first, tell me, how much do you love doing laundry?
How many diapers you need will largely depend on how often you are able to wash them.
The more often you are able to wash your diapers the less you will need. If you are able to wash your diapers daily, then you might get by with just enough diapers for each day, with a few extra. Conversely, the longer you go between washes the more diapers you will need. Visit our wash page if you need a few tips on how to wash cloth diapers.
How Many Newborn Cloth Diapers Do I Need?
A newborn typically eats every two hours, and on average requires a diaper change on that same schedule. A newborn can pee as often as every hour, and I am pretty sure my twins had a bowel movement… every…. single… time they ate. That roughly translates to 12 diapers in a 24-hour period. On this schedule, if you plan on washing your diapers every-other-day you will need 24 newborn cloth diapers to make it between washes and have time for drying.
That being said, there are moms who have made it work with as little as 16-18 diapers.
Drying cloth diapers can take a little time. Some diapers dry more quickly and will be ready for use shortly after laundry, while others have a longer drying time.
Options that will dry faster include: stay-dry, diapers where the waterproof shell separates from the absorbency, and absorbencies that have less layers (such as flats). Organic fabrics, with multiple layers, and all-in-one style diapers will require longer drying times.
If your diapers are quick drying, you may be able to use 16-18 diapers if you are on a daily wash schedule. However, if your diapers take a longer time to dry you will need a few more diapers to carry you through until laundered diapers are ready for your baby.
How Many Cloth Diapers for Infants and Toddlers?
As your baby gets older, he will pee less often and will be able to go a bit longer between changes. Your little one will, hopefully, also be sleeping through the night, or at least most of it, and will not require a diaper change for potentially a 10-12 hour period. During these older stages (6-24 months) your baby might need anywhere between 5-10 diaper changes throughout the day. If you are washing every other day, you will need 18-20 diapers to maintain this schedule.
As a rule of thumb, prepare for the unexpected. Your baby may pee and poop on a less predictable schedule, and things might change from day to day, so it’s still good to have a few extra.
Again, you could get by with less if you wash on a daily schedule, but you will need more if you decide to go longer between washes.
Cost and Style of Cloth Diapering
As you are probably aware, using waterproof covers with inserts, flats, or prefolds is the most cost effective diapering system.
Not only do these diapers cost less but you also need less of them. That is, while you will have to change the absorbency at each diaper change, waterproof covers can be reused for multiple changes, unless they become soiled.
What does that mean? If you are using covers with an absorbent inner, you will need at least 12 absorbencies and 4 waterproof covers per day for a newborn. Covers have the added benefit of being easily hand washed and they also dry very quickly. All-in-two diapers with snap in inserts work similarly to this system.
If you decide to use all-in-ones or pocket style diapers, you will need the total number of diapers between washes.
To Newborn or Not to Newborn?
You will need more diapers during the newborn phase and less as your baby gets older.
I know, I know… that is very counter intuitive. One would think it makes more sense to start with less diapers and then acquire more as you decide which ones you like or, of course, when new prints are released!
Because you will need more diapers during the newborn phase, some families choose to wait until after the newborn phase to start using cloth. Other families use cloth part-time and use disposable cloth diaper liners at night, when going out, at daycare, or on weekends, in order to get by with less diapers during the newborn phase.
If you do decide to use cloth diapers during the newborn phase, investing in newborn size cloth diapers might be an option to consider. Depending on the brand, on average, newborn diapers can fit babies starting from 4 up to 15 or 17 pounds.
There are a few factors to consider if you decide go this route:
- Multiple children: if you plan on cloth-diapering multiple children, investing in newborn diapers can be a worthwhile option.
- Brand: Nicki’s Diapers newborn covers seem to fit a bit bigger and may fit babies past the newborn phase. Of course, this will vary for each baby.
- Absorbency: Newborn all-in-one diapers might not have as much absorbency and if your baby is a heavy wetter, you could end up needing to change more often and consequently need more diapers.
- Resale: If you buy good quality diapers and care for them well, reselling newborn diapers could be a great option. Not only for your family, but also for the family where they will be re-homed ☺
To Make Things Comfortable for Mom When Cloth Diapering
Now that you have some idea of how many diapers you might NEED, let’s talk about how many diapers would make things a bit more comfortable.
Although some folks go several days between washes, the general recommendation is to wash diapers every 2-3 days to avoid stink, ammonia, and mildew. If you are doing laundry every other day, I would recommend having enough diapers for three days.
Being a full-time working mom of twins, I have learned that if things can go wrong, at some point, they eventually do. So, for those days where the power goes out, you have no sun to line-dry, you just don’t make it on time to finish the laundry, or you just don’t have the energy to even click inserts into covers or fold a flat into a square, those “extra” diapers come in quite handy!
For three days of diapers while washing every-other-day, a newborn (0-6 months) will need at least 36 diapers, an older infant (6-15 months) will need 24, and at least 20 for a toddler (15months+). Of course, these are averages and estimates, and a lot will still depend on your baby’s toileting habits.
Unsure About Cloth Diapering?
If you are still uncertain, here is a general rule of thumb to go by: Once you have decided on how often you will be washing diapers, multiply your daily diapers by the number of days between washes, then add a day’s worth of diapers for your total number! Formula for how many cloth diapers your baby needs:
Number of diapers per day x Days between washes + an extra day of diapers
= Total Diapers needed
That’s Nice, but I Have More Than One Child in Cloth Diapers…
Well, so do I! Multiple kiddos in cloth means more laundry and likely more laundry more often. With multiple babes in cloth, you might not be able to get away with longer times between washes.
The upside to all the laundry with more than one in cloth is that you will never have to worry about bulking up your diaper laundry.
Regardless of how many you have in cloth, the same logic would apply. Depending on your little ones’ ages, you will need enough diapers for the stage of each child that works with your wash schedule.
And, yet Another Point on Laundry for Cloth Diapers
The more often you wash your cloth diapers, the more they will show wear and the shorter the diaper life. If you would like to resell your diapers or preserve them for future babies, washing the same diapers everyday or every other day can seriously wear them out.
If your preference is to extend or preserve the life and value of your diapers, you may want to have enough diapers to prevent washing the same diapers too often. Having enough diapers to rotate wear helps to extend the life and value of your diapers.
What I Did When Using Cloth Diapers
I decided I wanted to cloth diaper my twins as soon as I brought them home. I anticipated that my babies would likely be on the smaller side so investing in newborn sizes seemed worthwhile for us. I struck a balance between utility and cost by getting prefolds and diaper covers. I started with 16 covers and 48 prefolds.
Although this worked really well for us, now that I am more experienced in cloth, if I had a redo I would have gone with an all-in-one newborn option for ease and convenience. My husband and helpers struggled with the prefolds and diaper covers.
Right now, we have all-in-twos for daycare, but we have as many shells as inserts because daycare uses them as all-in-ones. For home, we have everything else!
If your baby or babies will be in a daycare that is willing to do cloth, you might want to discuss how often they will be doing changes. You will also need to decide with your provider whether you will be sending diapers daily or enough for a couple days at a time. This will also impact how many diapers you will need.
Okay, Okay, If You Still Insist on a Number For How Many Cloth Diapers You Need:
If you are still wondering where to begin, for a newborn I would recommend starting with 18-24 diapers minimum. This will afford you enough diapers for a comfortable start with the option to buy more diapers as you decide on what style/brand works best for your baby, your family, and your lifestyle.
Most importantly, this allows you the opportunity to buy more diapers when new prints are released without worrying about buying “too many diapers,” if there were such a thing ☺.
This brings me to my next point. I would recommend adding a few more diapers after deciding what works best for you and your baby!
If you are starting with an older infant, I would recommend starting with 12-16 diapers, again, to allow you to acquire more diapers as you decide on your preferences and what works best for YOU.
Final Note on Cloth Diaper Numbers
If deciding on how many diapers you will need still seems like a daunting task, just remind yourself there truly is no one right answer.
- Consider your baby's age at the point you will start using cloth.
- Decide how often you would like to do laundry.
- Consider your budget.
- Think about what style of diaper you would like to use.
- And don’t forget that emergencies happen, so when you come to a number add a few extra.
So, go ahead and start with a few diapers because honestly, cloth diapering a baby is half the fun and the other half is buying them!