How Many Cloth Diapers Do I Need?


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By the time I began building my registry for my daughter’s baby shower, I already knew I was going to cloth diaper. What I didn’t know was how many diapers I would need. After seeing a few price tags, it became a pretty darn important question because I didn’t have an unlimited budget.

So, how many cloth diapers do you need for each baby? The short answer is that you multiply the number of days you plan to have between washing your diapers and the number of diapers your baby will go through in one day, which is:

  • Newborn (0-3 months): 12-14 diapers per day (+4 to cover the hours of washing and dryer/line-drying time)
  • Infant (3-9 months): 10-12 diapers per day (+3 to cover the hours of washing and dryer/line-drying time)
  • Baby (9-18 months): 8-10 diapers per day (+2 to cover the hours of washing and dryer/line-drying time)
  • Toddler (18 months and up): 6-8 diapers per day (+2 to cover the hours of washing and dryer/line-drying time)

Finally, if you have multiple children, you then add the numbers for each of your babies together.

Don’t worry, you don’t have to remember all of this, I created a handy-dandy diaper calculator cheat sheet for you here:

How many diapers do you need

Get it by email: To get the free one-page cheat sheet like this one, showing you how many diapers you need at each stage, emailed to you as a PDF, click here to enter your email.

Do You Need That Many of Everything for Every Diaper System?

No.

If you’re using all-in-one diapers, pocket diapers, or all-in-two diapers that have covers with a mesh or fabric lining sewn in, then the number does include the whole diaper, and you’ll need that many diapers.

However, if you’re using diaper covers, the number of diapers per day means the absorbent part (prefold, flat, fitted, FST, etc.) only. You’ll only need enough diaper covers for every 3-4 changes (with maybe one or two extra for those surprise poops).

As an example, if you have a toddler and are using prefolds, you’d just need say 2-3 covers, but 6-8 prefolds per day. Though you’ll likely need additional absorbency inserts for a toddler and something more industrial-strength for overnight, which you can read about here if you’re new to cloth and making the switch with a toddler.

What If My Baby Wets More/Less?

While there is some predictability in how often your little one will need a new diaper each day, it’s just a fact that every baby is a little different—there are heavy wetters there are little-at-a-time wetters, etc.— and you may need to adjust your cloth diaper stockpile a tiny bit as you learn your baby’s quirks and discover your preferences.

That said, you can quickly determine a rough optimal number of diapers to have on hand for YOUR baby by looking at:

  • How often you will wash your cloth diapers;
  • The typical estimations of how many diapers is usual in each age range (newborn, infant, baby, and toddler); and
  • Your budget.

We already mentioned briefly the estimations of how many diapers is usual above. We’ll take a close look at how your washing schedule and budget play off of each other (it’s always time and money fighting one-another, right?) below, but first let’s talk about the special case of newborn diapers.

What About Newborn Diapers?

Newborn diapers are special for three reasons:

  1. Just like the newborn stage itself, babies outgrow them fast;
  2. Most babies are born too small for one-size or even sized cloth diapers, meaning newborn diapers are needed to cloth diaper baby from day one; and
  3. You need a lot of them because newborns wet and dirty diapers almost constantly, 24 hours a day.

These competing facts make many new parents debate whether or not newborn cloth diapers are worth it. Some choose to use disposables for this stage because of the cost, while others choose to use newborn diapers right out of the gate. It’s a tough choice, but knowing exactly how long they will last can help you make that decision.

Note: Some parents choose to use disposables for the first few days because they think that the meconium will be difficult to wash out of cloth diapers. As I’ve written about before here, meconium actually washes out just like EBF.

How Long Do Newborn Diapers Last?

The average baby weighs about 7.5 pounds at birth, according to WhatToExpect.com. And that baby will grow quickly in the first four months.

According to Ask Dr. Sears, a breast-fed baby will gain 4-7 oz a week during the first month, and an average of 1-2 lbs per month for the first six months.

That article also referenced a 1992 study, titled the DARLING study, which showed that breastfed and formula-fed infants grow at basically the same rate in the first few months (though formula-fed babies tended to gain weight faster between four and six months of age).

Using those numbers, which are an average starting weight of 7.5 lbs and an average weight gain of 1.5 lbs per month, we can estimate how long those newborn cloth diapers would last the average newborn.

Here’s a sampling of some popular newborn cloth diapers (and cloth diaper covers*) just from Amazon, with estimates for how long they would last you if you had a completely average baby:

BrandType/StyleWeight RangeApprox. Length of Wear*
ThirstiesDuo Wrap Diaper Cover (Snap Closure)
Have a look on Amazon
6-18 pounds7 months
Imagine Baby Products Newborn Diaper Cover (Snap Closure)
Have a look on Amazon
5-13 pounds3.6 months
RumparoozPreemie/Newborn Diaper Cover (Aplix Closure)
Have a look on Amazon
4 – 15 pounds5 months
GroViaNewborn All in One (Snap Closure)
Have a look on Amazon
5 to 12 pounds3 months
AlvaBabyNewborn Pocket Diapers (Snap Closure)
Have a look on Amazon
“Suitable for babies less than 12 pounds (a rough guide for reference only)”3 months
Thirsties Newborn All in One (Snap Closure)
Have a look on Amazon
5-14 pounds4.3 months

*Diaper covers must be paired with diaper inserts like prefolds, flats, or flour sack towels.

**Once again, these calculations assume a birth weight of 7.5 lbs; and a growth of  1.5 lbs per month, your baby may be born smaller, or larger, and may gain weight faster, or slower. The calculations also don’t take into account that many babies lose weight right after birth and that some babies are proportioned as such that they don’t fit well in some diapers even though there are still a few pounds before they reach the max. weight for that diaper.


So how long to newborn cloth diapers last? If we consider the newborn diapers above to be a good sampling of what’s available (and I think it’s a good variety), we can see that the average newborn cloth diaper will last the average baby about 4.3 months.

How Many Times Does a Newborn Need to Be Changed?

For the first few months, babies eat and dirty their diapers in a short and constant loop, which means they need to be changed often.

As a general rule, widely accepted in cloth diaper circles, it’s most common for newborns to need a new diaper about every 2 hours, sometimes more, sometimes less. This means you’ll be changing baby roughly about 12 times per day.

Wait, So How Many Newborn Diapers Will I Need?

Ok, so we know that newborn diapers will only last for about 4.3 months and that you’ll be changing them about 12 times per day, but how many newborn diapers do you need? I recommend 12-14 diapers per day because things happen and sometimes baby will pee immediately after changing, have an upset tummy and poop a few extra times, and so on. It’s always best to have at least one or two backups so you’re not scrambling to the washer, usually at the worst times (when you and baby are sick for example).

As you can see by looking at the diaper calculator cheat sheet (grab it here if you haven’t already), you’re going to multiply that number by the number of days you go between washes. You’ll also need a few for when you’re washing and drying.

How Many Diapers do You Need After the Newborn Stage?

Whether or not it’s worth it buy newborn diapers will ultimately come down to your budget and how much importance you place on starting from day one. But at least now you know how many you will need and about how long they will last.

Either way, you’ll need to buy diapers that fit baby at larger weights if you hope to cloth diaper them all the way to potty training.

Though there are still some great sized diaper options, like AppleCheeks, many cloth diapers now come in one-size options that fit from roughly 10 lbs to roughly 30 lbs. How long your baby will fit in sized or one-sized diapers will vary widely as babies really grow at very different rates and the growth curves they follow really split wide as time goes on. How quickly your baby picks up potty training will also be a factor.

Some babies can go right to potty in a one-size diaper, while others need large toddler diaper options like the GroVia Big O.N.E and so on.

Luckily, even if you choose sized diapers, you will have time to save before needing to purchase the next size up, and baby will be going through fewer diapers (hopefully) by that time too, so the number needed as you go will also go down.

As baby grows, and uses less diapers per day, you’ll either be able to use less diapers, or stretch out how often you wash them.

How Often Do You Need to Wash Your Diapers?

If you’ve ever left a load of wet laundry in the washing machine for more than a few days, you’ll know why leaving wet material in a bunched up ball in a space with little ventilation (like a washing machine or a diaper pail) is a bad idea.

According to Women’s World, even clean clothes in the washing machine that sit there for more than 24 hours can start to form mildew. If clean clothes in a washing machine can start to get problematic, you can bet the farm that urine and feces soaked diapers in a diaper pail also has a limit on how long you want them to marinade.

My personal experience seeing the results of prolonged storage of dirty diapers leads me to recommend the following time limits, but these are not based on science, just my personal observations held up against the research I’ve done into bacteria and mildew growth:

  • Diapers stored in an (almost) air-tight diaper pail: no more than 48 hours between the first diaper hitting the pail and the lot hitting the washing machine for at least an initial rinse.
  • Diapers stored in a hanging diaper wet bag (like the ones I recommend here): No more than 72-96 hours (between tossing in that first diaper and washing the load of diapers.

Why the extra day for hanging diaper bags?

A wet bag, though water-resistant, is not waterproof, and therefore the diapers kept in a wet bag will get some air that diapers stored in a plastic or metal pail with a tight lid won’t.

Even still, these are maximums, so if you can wash them more often, you should; not only to prevent mold and mildew but also as another step to prevent stink issues caused by bacteria build-up.

What about budget?

I hear you. Budget is a big concern for most of us and so buying enough diapers for three to four days of washing can be a stretch.

Make sure to get the minimums set out above, and don’t forget that you can buy used, prowl your mommy groups for people giving diapers away, and get a stack of flour sack towels and a cover just in case.

Also, check out my post about the cheapest way to cloth diaper here.

What Other Factors that Can Affect How Many Diapers You’ll Need?

As I mentioned at the top of the article, you may need to adjust your cloth diaper stash as you go to adjust to the particular quirks of your baby and your own preferences. Here are some common experiences that will affect the number of diapers you use as you go:

  • Your baby is a heavy wetter.
    You will want to add a half dozen or so more diapers and purchase some extra inserts to prevent leaks.
  • Your baby is a light pooper.
    Some babies poop several times a day, and some babies only poop once a week! If you’re lucky enough to get a light pooper, you may be able to get away with fewer diapers, and espcially fewer diaper covers if you’re using a system that uses covers.
  • Your toddler only wets about four or five times a day.
    First, it sounds like potty training is on it’s way, so congratulations! You’ll likely need a lot fewer diapers during this stage, which is good because of course, you’ll be looking at larger sizes. You may even want to consider swapping for trainers.
    If you’re just thinking about switching to cloth diapers now, you may what to check out this post where I help you weigh the pros and cons of switching, and give you some tips and tricks for switching a toddler to cloth.

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