How many cloth diapers do I need?

Whether you’re put off by their cost or the inconvenience of having to regularly shop for them, deciding to ditch disposable diapers is often a smart idea. Cloth diapers not only cost less but also allow for more breathability and produce less waste.

But once you’ve made this decision, the most natural question is, “how many cloth diapers do I need?” After all, even if cloth diapers cost less than disposable diapers, they don’t exactly come for free and you can’t possibly have an unlimited stash.

So how many cloth diapers should you buy? And what’s the daily requirement?

Well, there isn’t really a magic number we can give you because the answer to this depends on a few factors, such as the age of your child, your laundry routine, and the type of cloth diapers. So let’s break them down.

Factors to consider before buying cloth diapers

Child’s Age

This is the most important factor to consider once you sit down to calculate the number of cloth diapers your baby will need. While humans evolve as they grow, the most rapid changes occur during the stage of infancy. The baby’s body is growing quickly and his diet and feeding habits also change. This means that the number of times the baby will wet or dirty the cloth diaper will depend on his age.

The daily diaper requirement for different age groups of children:

  • Newborn (up to 3 months old): 12 to 14
  • Infant (3 to 9 months): 10 to 12
  • Baby: (9 to 18 months): 8 to 10
  • Toddler (above 18 months): 6 to 8. These children, if potty trained, usually require only 4 diapers per day.

Keep in mind that you’ll need a few extra diapers just in case of any emergencies. For instance, if you have a 1-year-old baby, the total amount you’ll need daily will be (8-10) + 2 extra diapers.

Laundry Routine

Do not forget to factor in how often you’ll be washing the cloth diapers. While the cost of cloth diapers is lower than disposable ones, it is no secret that the use of cloth diapers requires time and effort. You’ll have to regularly wash the cloth diapers particularly if you have a small stash. If you’ll be washing them very often, you’ll need fewer diapers but if the days between washes will be more, you’ll obviously require more diapers.

Type of Cloth Diapers

There is a huge variety of cloth diapers available these days. It doesn’t matter what size or weight your baby is or what his or her activity level is, you’re bound to find a suitable option at an affordable price. Let’s discuss the main types of cloth diapers you will usually find in the market and what makes each stand out. Remember that depending upon the type of cloth diaper, you might need more or fewer diapers per day.

  • Pre-fold cloth diapers: These rectangular cloth diapers are folded and stitched with multiple layers in the middle part to make it thicker for better absorbency. These are an inexpensive option and start at just $2 a diaper. At bedtime, you can double up on the pre-folds or better yet, put in some cloth inserts to ensure a leakage-free night.
  • All-in-one cloth diapers: Shortened to AIO diapers, they provide the best of both worlds: an absorbent layer and a waterproof outer shell. You can put the entire piece in the laundry without having to separate any parts. These cost around $20 per diaper.
  • One-size cloth diapers: The idea behind these diapers is that they’ll ‘grow with’ your baby. The Velcro or Snap closures are helpful in adjusting the size while the addition of inserts can deal with varying absorbency requirements of children of different ages.
  • Hybrid cloth diapers: These stand out for two reasons: they give the advantage of a cloth diaper and combine it with the ease of a disposable diaper. These are often biodegradable and have a very low amount of chemicals.
  • Pocket cloth diapers: They have a built-in interior pocket – hence their name – and have a removable absorbent insert. The absorbency of the diaper can be changed by putting inserts in the pocket. Also, these are quite easy and convenient to use and do not require complex instructions to put on a child.

Budget

Let’s not forget one of the most relevant factors here. A lot of people choose cloth diapers since they cost roughly half of what disposable diapers cost. Naturally, they’d want to stay within their budget when looking for cloth diapers options and how many they can afford to use per day or month.

And if budget is particularly a concern of yours, do not buy a huge stash of diapers before actually trying them out first. Get only a few pieces and see if the size, adjustment, absorbency, and comfort are as per your requirements. If these are satisfied, only then buy a stash of similar diapers.

Golden Formula for Cloth Diapers Calculation

Don’t worry, you do not need to remember every number from above. There’s a simple formula you can follow to calculate the cloth diapers requirement for your baby.

Total Diapers Needed = (Diapers required per day x Number of days between washing) + Extra diapers

What if my baby is using newborn diapers?

While the above formula works well most of the time, your calculation might be slightly off if you have newborn diapers. These differ from regular diapers in three main ways:

  1. Newborns outgrow these diapers very fast since their bodies are rapidly growing at this stage.
  2. Newborns dirty their diapers far more frequently than other age groups of children.
  3. Some newborns are too small to even fit one-size or really small disposable diapers so they require a lot of cloth diapers in their initial days.

Due to these reasons, you’ll need to be more careful when calculating the number of cloth diapers a newborn would require.

You have two options here. Either you can use disposable diapers at this stage or start right away with cloth diapers. To make this decision, you first need to know how long newborn cloth diapers actually last.

How long do newborn diapers last?

To estimate the lifetime of these cloth diapers, we first need to know the weight of a baby in the first few months. On average, a baby weighs 7.5 pounds at birth. From this time till about 4 months, the baby grows very quickly. It is estimated that a breast-fed infant gains around 4-7 ounces a week which is roughly one to two pounds for the first six months.

To give you an idea, here are a few popular cloth diapers and their approximate length of wear if your newborn falls in the average category:

According to these figures, a newborn cloth diaper would last an average baby around 3-4 months.

That being said, you need to keep in mind a few factors that can lead you to the cloth diapers lasting longer or shorter:

  • Your newborn might be larger or smaller than average in size.
  • Your newborn might weigh less or more than average.
  • Some newborns lose weight right after birth.
  • Some newborns do not fit well into a diaper despite weighing less than its maximum weight limit.

How many diapers does a newborn need per day?

Newborns are constantly feeding and dirtying their diapers which means that they need to be changed quite frequently. As a general rule, a newborn will have to be changed every 2 hours. So therefore, you will need to change the diaper roughly 12 times a day.

To be on the safe side, be prepared with 12-14 diapers a day. This is because sometimes the baby wets the diaper right after changing, might have an upset stomach, or might just poop more times on a certain day. Having around 14 diapers will ensure that you are ready for any kind of situation.

How often should I wash the diapers?

A very important consideration in answering the question of ‘how many cloth diapers do I need’ is how often you’ll wash those diapers. How many days between washes are the norm? If you’re a new parent and cannot seem to figure out the right laundry routine, here’s a breakdown for you.

Even though it’s quite convenient to let washed clothes to your washing machine until you really, really need to fold and place them away, that’s not a very smart idea. Even clean clothes, if allowed to sit for too long in the washing machine, can form mildew and start to smell slightly weird. Then you can only imagine what’d happen to dirty diapers sitting in a diaper pail. On average, do not let the cloth diapers stay unwashed for more than 48-72 hours.

  • Diapers stored in an air-tight diaper pail can be kept for 48 hours, at most.
  • Diapers kept in a hanging diaper wet bag can be kept for 72-96 hours. These bags are water-resistant and allow some air to enter, as opposed to plastic bags with tight lids. This is why due to this ventilation the diapers can be stored for an extra couple of hours.

Also, note that these timings are from when the first diaper is put in the diaper bag to when the entire lot is put into the washing machine. That being said, it is better to wash the diapers as soon as possible because otherwise, they’d keep spreading bad odor and might even get stained. On top of that, you never know when you have an emergency and might need some extra diapers to carry along, so it’s better to be prepared.

Keep in mind that these figures are not based on any scientific studies but mere observations and the general trend among parents with infants using cloth diapers.

Frequently Asked Questions

How much do cloth diapers cost?

On average, cloth diapers for two years can cost around $800 to $1,100. However, this depends upon the brand and type of the diapers, and your baby’s usage of them. Some parents might even spend less than $600 on cloth diapers while others can go above $1,500.

What accessories are required with cloth diapers?

You need to pair diaper covers with diaper inserts like pre-folds, flour sack towels, or flats.