How Many Cloth Diapers Do I Need?

By April Duffy •  Updated: 05/03/24 •  12 min read
FAQ

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

If you’re building your registry, trying to decide if cloth diapers make sense for you, or just want to know how many to purchase, this article will give you an exact number of cloth diapers you will need for your baby and lifestyle, so let’s jump in!

On Average, How Many Cloth Diapers Do I Need?

So, how many cloth diapers do you really need? While the number of cloth diapers you’ll need will depend on your baby’s age, your laundry habits, and the types of cloth diapers you use, I generally recommend having 2 days’ worth of diapers as a starting point. This breaks down to about 32 cloth diapers for newborns, 27 for infants, and 22 for older babies and toddlers.

How to Calculate Your Exact Number of Cloth Diapers

If this isn’t your first baby, or if you’re baby is a bit older and you’re aware of their toileting habits, you can nail down the exact quantity of cloth diapers you need by using the chart below.

To get the number of cloth diapers you’ll need, you’ll first need the number of diapers your baby will go through in one day. If you already know roughly how many times your baby wets and soils their diapers, just use that number. If you have no idea, here are some rough estimates to use:

Next, you’ll multiply that number by the number of days you plan to have between washing your diapers. For example, if you plan on washing your diapers every other day, you’d multiply by two. If you plan to wash every three days or so, multiply by three, and so on.

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 cloth diaper calculator cheat sheet for you here:

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

How many diapers do you need

Do You Need That Many Covers if Using a Cover 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 diapers per day number refers to 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’ll only need about 2-3 covers, but 6-8 prefolds per day. Though you’ll likely need extra inserts (or “boosters”) for a toddler as they tend to wet heavily. You’ll also want something more industrial-strength for a toddler overnight. If you’re new to cloth and considering making the switch to cloth diapers with a toddler, I have help for you here.

What If My Baby Wets More/Less?

While there’s some predictability in how often your little one will need a new diaper each day, it’s just a fact that every child is a little different—there are heavy wetters there are frequent 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:

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 cloth diapers, meaning newborn diapers are most often necessary 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 of their cloth diapering journey because of the cost, while others choose to use newborn diapers right out of the gate.

It’s a tough choice.

If you’re struggling with whether or not you want to use newborn cloth diapers, check out my newborn cloth diaper guide here for some information that can help you decide.

How Many Newborn Diapers Will you Need?

If you decide to invest in newborn diapers, you’ll want to make sure you have enough of them to get you through those first few months until they begin fitting in their regular-sized diapers.

The general rule of thumb widely accepted in cloth diaper circles is that newborns to need a new cloth diaper about every two hours, but often more as you want to make sure you’re changing them as soon as you notice their wet. This means you’ll be changing your little one at least about 12 times per day.

So, 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 Cloth 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 if you want to start from day one. But at least now you know how many you will need and about how long they’ll last.

Either way, you’ll need to buy diapers that fit baby at larger weights if you plan on cloth diapering 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 your baby will be going through fewer diapers (hopefully) by that time too, so the number of diapers needed as you go will also go down.

As your baby grows, and uses fewer cloth diapers per day, you’ll either be able to use fewer 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:

Diaper Dekor pail being used for cloth diapers.
A hanging wet bag being used for cloth 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.

For more information about how to store your cloth diapers and how that affects how many days between washes, you can check out my post about dirty diaper storage here.

What About Your Budget?

I hear you. Budget is a big concern for most of us when cloth diapering 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 methods of cloth diapering 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:

Now That You know How Many, What About What Kind

Now that you know roughly how many diaper changes you’ll need to have on hand, it’s time to think about choosing the right cloth diapers for your baby. I have a quick guide to choosing cloth diapers that can help you figure that out, so make sure to check that out here.

April Duffy

April is the founder of Cloth Diapers for Beginners and author of The Cloth Diaper Wash & Care Handbook. Since 2015, April has helped well over 75,000 parents and caregivers cloth diaper their children through this website, her book, her YouTube Channel, and the Cloth Diapers for Beginners Facebook Group.