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How Many Cloth Diapers Do You Really Need?

Medically Reviewed by Mary Sweeney, BSN, RN, CEN
Here's what you need to think about when deciding how many cloth diapers to buy.

It should seem that trying to determine how many cloth diapers you’ll need should be a simple process. But it’s equally easy to over-buy or under-buy cloth diapers.

The magic number depends on several factors, so it’s different for every mom and baby.

You don’t have to waste your precious money on diapers you’ll never use. We’ve cloth diapered many babies, and we’ve worked out a system that will help you determine how many cloth diapers you’ll need for your little one.

Key Takeaways

  • Consider your baby’s age: Newborns need 8-12 diapers a day, while older babies need fewer.
  • Factor in laundry frequency: Multiply daily diaper amount by days between washes, then add one extra day’s worth of diapers.
  • Choose the right type of cloth diaper: All-in-ones and pocket diapers require a new diaper for every change, while flats, prefolds, and all-in-twos need fewer covers and fasteners.
  • Plan for emergencies and day care: Add extra diapers for unexpected situations and ensure your caregiver is willing to use cloth diapers.

How Old Is Your Baby?

The number of cloth diapers you need can vary significantly based on how old your baby is when you decide to start using cloth diapers.

These 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 than 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 through more diapers than others.

It’s best to estimate the daily amount of cloth diapers you need based on the highest number of times your baby requires a diaper change in a day.

How Much Laundry Will You Do?

You’ll also want to consider how often you’re willing to do laundry when you decide how many cloth diapers you need.

We can say from experience that you don’t want to be washing cloth diapers every day — trust us. We recommend washing your diapers every two to three days to avoid ammonia, mold, and mildew issues. But some people choose to wash their diapers only once a week and make it work just fine.

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 × 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 cloth diapers are not created equal! Different kinds will determine the number of diapers and which 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.

Pocket diapers consist of two pieces, but the urine and stool have to pass through a cotton layer before reaching the absorbent insert. So, you will change the entire diaper every time, but the liners you use to stuff the pockets are usually purchased separately. You may want to buy additional liners so you can adjust the diaper’s absorbency.

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2. Flats, Prefolds, and All-in-Twos

If you’re using flats, prefolds, or all-in-two (AI2) diapers, you’ll change the absorbent part of the diaper. But you won’t need a new cover or diaper fastener for every change — unless things get particularly messy!

For flats and prefolds, you’ll only need two to three diaper fasteners and about four diaper covers per day for a newborn. That’s because covers and diaper fasteners only need to be changed out if your baby’s mess gets on them or urine soaks through them.

AI2s are similar because the absorbent insert snaps into the cover, but there’s no layer between the insert and your baby’s bottom. If your baby only urinates and the diaper doesn’t leak, you won’t need a new cover for every diaper change. You only need to swap out the insert.

Budgeting Tip

Prefolds, flats, and AI2s tend to be the most inexpensive cloth diapering options.
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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 you 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 regular schedule. The best way to beat Murphy is to plan ahead.

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

Speaking from personal experience, it can be a lot less stressful to have extra diapers available. 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 Day Care

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

In fact, 40% 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.


Do You Really Save Money Using Cloth Diapers?

Yes, throughout diapering, cloth diapers can be more economical than disposables. Initial costs are higher, but savings accrue over time, especially if used for multiple children.

How Many Times Can a Baby Pee In a Cloth Diaper?

It varies based on the baby’s age and the diaper’s absorbency. Newborns may need changing every two hours, while older babies might go 3-4 hours between changes.

How Many Boxes of Diapers Do You Go Through a Month?

For disposables, a newborn might go through 8-12 diapers a day, roughly 2-3 large boxes each month. The number decreases as the baby grows.

How Much Do You Spend on Cloth Diapers a Year?

Depending on the brand and style, initial set-up costs can range from $300-$800. For things like detergent, yearly maintenance costs are additional but typically lower than disposables.

So What’s the 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.

Use our formula: Daily diaper changes × days between washing + 1 extra day’s worth of diapers. Add a few extra diapers for emergencies, and factor in times when you’ll need an extra set of diapers, such as for day care.

This should give you a good number of cloth diapers to work with and save you from buying more than you need. However, when you see all the cute cloth diaper prints on the market this year, you might find it hard to hold back!

One last consideration will be cloth wipes. We recommend having around 48 wipes on hand.

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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.