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How Many Cloth Diapers Do You Need?

Medically Reviewed by Mary Sweeney, BSN, RN, CEN
The number of cloth diapers you need can vary greatly based on these factors listed below.

Are you wondering about how many cloth diapers you really need?

When you first decide you’re going to cloth diaper, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the number of available options. The fact is, it’s equally easy to over-buy or under-buy cloth diapers.

So how many do you actually need? The answer to this question is different for every mom and baby.

The good news? There’s no one right answer for all moms, so you can figure out what works best for you.

However, there are a few factors to consider while making this decision.

How Old Is Your Baby?

The number of cloth diapers you need can vary greatly based on how old your baby is when you decide to start using cloth diapers. That’s because babies of different ages go to the bathroom different amounts of times throughout the day.

Below are the average number of times babies of varying ages will go to the bathroom and require a diaper change.

  • Newborn: 8-12 diapers a day.
  • 3-6 months old: 6-8 diapers a day.
  • 6-12 months: 4-6 diapers a day.
  • 18 months or older: 2-4 diapers a day.

As you can see, you’ll need more cloth diapers if you’re starting your cloth diapering journey at birth, compared to if you start with an older baby.

It’s also important to remember not every day is the same — some days your baby will go more often than others.

Personally, I estimated the daily amount of cloth diapers I needed based on the highest number of times my baby went to the bathroom in a day — that way I knew I had enough.

How Much Laundry Will You Do?

How often you wash is also something you need to consider when deciding how many cloth diapers you need.

I know from experience you don’t want to be washing cloth diapers every day — trust me. Washing your diapers every 2-3 days is what’s generally recommended, to avoid issues like ammonia, mold, and mildew (1). Some people choose to wash their diapers once a week.

When you decide how often you plan to wash diapers, multiply your daily diaper amount by the number of days between washes to get a rough idea of how many diapers you’ll need. Then add one extra day’s worth of diapers, so you’ll have diapers for the day you’re doing your washing.

To simplify that:

Cloth Diaper Math

Daily number of diapers X Number of days between washes + Extra day of diapers = Your total.

Which Diapers Are You Using?

Have you decided on the type of cloth diaper you’ll be using? Contrary to popular belief, all diapers are not created equal! Different kinds will determine how many diapers and the diaper accessories you’ll need.

1. All-In-Ones and Pocket Diapers

If you’re using all-in-ones, the entire diaper is one piece. So, you’ll need a completely new diaper for every change you’ve estimated your child will need.

The same goes for pocket diapers, which are two pieces, but the urine and stool have to pass through a cotton layer before reaching the absorbent insert.

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2. Flats Prefolds And All-In-Twos

If you’re using flats, prefolds, or All-in-Twos, you’ll change the absorbent part of the diaper but won’t need a new cover or diaper fastener for every change. (Unless things get particularly messy!)

For flats and prefolds you’ll actually only need 2-3 diaper fasteners and about 4 diaper covers per day for a newborn. That’s because covers and diaper fasteners only need to be changed out if baby’s mess gets on them or urine soaks through them.

All-in-twos are similar because the absorbent insert snaps into the cover, but there’s no layer between the insert and your baby’s bottom. If baby only urinates, and the diaper doesn’t leak, you don’t need a new cover at every diaper change — you only need to swap out the insert!

Budgeting Tip

Prefolds, flats, and all-in-two diapers tend to be the most inexpensive options when it comes to cloth diapers.
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What About Diapering Emergencies?

Murphy’s law says anything that can go wrong, will go wrong. Boy, is that true — even with cloth diapers. Maybe you’re sick and stuck in bed, or the pipes freeze. Maybe the electricity goes out, or we go on vacation and forget to wash diapers beforehand.

The point is emergencies happen, and when they do, you might not be able to wash your diapers on your normal schedule. The best way to beat Murphy is to plan ahead.

This doesn’t mean doubling your stash, but keeping an extra day’s worth of diapers on hand isn’t a bad idea.

Speaking from personal experience here, it can be a lot less stressful to have extras diapers around. That way you’re not loading up the kids and going to the store in search of emergency disposables.

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Cloth Diapers At Daycare

Our babies don’t just wear diapers around the house. Many children are cared for outside of the home, either in daycares, by a family member, or in other alternative arrangements.

In fact, 40 percent of women with children under the age of 18 are the primary breadwinners in their families. If someone is babysitting your little one while you’re at work, it’s important to verify with your caregiver that they’re willing to use cloth diapers too.

If they are, you’ll need to work out how many extra cloth diapers they’ll need on hand.

Beyond that, diapers aren’t the only thing you’ll need to add to your stash. Work with your caregiver to assess how many extra covers, diaper fasteners, and baby wipes you need too.

So There’s No Magic Number?

Deciding how many cloth diapers you need can seem like a daunting task at first, but it really isn’t hard. Sit down and evaluate your situation taking into account your baby’s age, your laundry schedule, and the types of diapers you’re going to use.

It’s also key to remember emergencies happen, and other factors like needing an extra set of diapers for daycare, and how many cloth wipes you’ll need.

Headshot of Mary Sweeney, BSN, RN, CEN

Medically Reviewed by

Mary Sweeney, BSN, RN, CEN

Mary Sweeney, BSN, RN, CEN is an oncology nurse navigator and freelance medical writer. Mary has 4 years of experience as an officer in the Navy Nurse Corps. including emergency/trauma, post-anesthesia, and deployment medicine.