How many cloth diapers should i buy?

Susan Fernandez November 11 2021

Cloth diapers are more economical?

When a baby is born, a new parent is faced with a never-ending list of supplies to purchase for their baby's care. After the essentials such as a crib, mattress pad, and swaddling clothes, cloth diapers are one of the most important items that will be bought for the little bundle of joy.

Choosing cloth over disposables can save you up to $2,000 per child (over two years). With some types of cloth diapers costing less than half the price of disposable diapers, it seems like an easy decision. But before deciding which way you want to go there are some issues to consider:

Cloth diaper pros

Most parents already know about all the obvious pros but here they anyway:

  • Save money (up to $2,000 per child)
  • Better for the environment
  • No harsh chemicals next to baby's skin
  • No rashes caused by chemicals and dyes found in disposables.

Cloth diaper cons

And here are some other things you need to be aware of.

There can be extra work involved (washing, folding, and finding storage) especially if you're using cloth diapers full-time. Although most modern cloth diapers do not require dunking or scrubbing before washing.

And many parents find that as their child grows they need fewer diapers because children produce less waste as they mature. With such a high initial cost it is important to consider your options carefully before deciding the way will work best for your particular situation.

Cloth diapers are expensive. How much do you actually need?

Every parent needs to consider their budget (see our helpful guide here ), but for cloth diapering parents, the question of how many diapers will be needed is one that's often asked. "How many cloth diapers should I buy?" is a common question on forums and groups everywhere.

There are several variables at play in answering this question, including cost (both initial investment and ongoing costs), how well your baby pees, whether or not you'll want/use specialty inserts like hemp or bamboo, how often you plan to wash diapers, and so on.

Depending on the age of your child, there are different recommended quantities for cloth diapers. Knowing which brands and styles work best for your baby is important before investing in a large supply of these items. Check with other mothers to get advice from those who have been down this road before you.

As well as browsing online groups or forums about cloth diapering to find out what others have experienced. Many sites offer discount coupons so even if you don't have a pile full of children's clothes already you can still save some money by bulk buying via the internet!

Why does it matter?

There are various reasons why diaper quantity matters so much. The more newborns go through in a day, the closer your stash will last before requiring re-stocking with either new sizes or new kinds of diapers. If your baby is going through 2-3 per day, then this may only require one additional size before they reach the next milestone (e.g., 3 months old versus 4+ months old). However, if your baby is going through 10 per day, you'll need at least three more of the next size before they reach 4+ months old.

How to figure out what kind of stash you'll need (example calculation)

To help your diaper stash last as long as possible, we recommend a simple formula for figuring out how many cloth diapers one baby will typically go through each day. This is a very rough estimate and every baby is different, but it's a good way to get started! We can also use this same method for calculating how many diapers you'll need during the first 3-6 months while you're waiting on your new arrivals if that's ever-relevant for us mamas.

For example:

Size: newborn, weight: 5 pounds (2.3 kg). Use this weight chart for babies 0-6 months old and this one for older 

Quantity of Diapers Needed Per Day (x number of days in a week) = Total Number of Diapers You'll Need to Buy

Note that many moms choose to buy one size larger than they think their baby will need, e.g., if your baby is 7 lbs and the smallest diaper you can find goes up to 8 lbs, it will last longer than buying an 8 lb sized diaper and having them grow out of it quickly.

How many diapers do babies go through in a day?

Typically, newborns can easily go through 10 - 12 cloth diapers per day. However, some newborns only need 5 or 6 diapers/day (closer to the 3-month mark) and some may go as high as 16 - 20 (baby is very young and still gaining weight fast).

Newborns will typically require about 24-36 diapers for 2-3 days worth of changing. You can expect your baby to drop down to requiring between 18 and ~24 diapers at around 4 months. If you're using bamboo or hemp inserts - which need extra absorbency - how many total inserts you'll need is something that will vary from child to child and parent to parent; the amount of inserts needed is also related to how often you wash diapers and the type of detergent you use.

Zero to 6 months old: If your baby is exclusively breastfed, you may get away with using just 24 diapers. If you're buying all-in-ones (AIOs), it's always a good idea to buy at least one more of each size than the package says to ensure that if they run out of one diaper, there will be another available in the next size up. You'll also want extra inserts for when the ones in use are being washed.

If you're breastfeeding and this is not your first child, you will likely require an additional 18 - 24 diapers per day over what you used Baby #1 went through.  Most babies eat 4 or 5 solid meals a day as solids (in addition to breastmilk). If your baby is formula-fed, you'll probably want at least one extra diaper per day over what your first child went through - and possibly more if you're exclusively bottle feeding.  If this isn't your first, and you're using cloth for Baby #2 (or higher!), we recommend doubling the number of diapers used by Baby #1.

6 months to 12 months old: Once the baby passes the 6-month mark, they can go through up to 4 - 7 diapers a day. This is an estimate - some babies will require significantly less than this and others will require significantly more! Newborn babies that are just transitioning into regular-sized diapers may still be going through 10+ diapers a day.

This number can vary significantly based on how often you're washing your diapers and the type of detergent you're using. If you're washing in hard water, or if you have very little water pressure in your home, or if you only wash every 3 days, then expect to use more diapers.

On the other hand, if you live in a place where it rains a lot (or using a rainwater collection system ), and if your water is soft, and/or if you wash every 1 - 2 days, expect to use fewer diapers.  

What are pediatricians' recommendations?

Pediatricians typically recommend that the total number of diapers in your stash equal the number of days between each wash cycle.   Diapers are changed on average 6 times a day, and if you do laundry 1x per week (on average), then one load should be enough to last 1-2 weeks (6 x 7 = 42 - 84). If you're using cloth diapers for more than one child, I would recommend doubling or tripling this number to ensure that your stash will not run out mid-week!

A common recommendation is to have at least 24 diapers plus 4 extra inserts. If you plan to make/use your own inserts and covers, we highly suggest having 2-3 more sets made up than the number of fitted diapers you have. Overnight inserts are an optional addition - especially if you're using Pocket diapes plus a wool cover, but they are not necessary for every child.

Bottom line

You should purchase enough diapers and inserts to make it through the amount of time between washes - and be sure your stash is big enough that you can do laundry every 1 - 3 days, depending on how often you're washing.

If your baby sleeps 11+ hours straight at night, you may find yourself changing their diaper only 5-6 times a day, instead of 6-8 times. If your baby doesn't require a change of diaper every 2 hours, you will likely use fewer diapers.  

If your child is potty-training and practicing how to use the toilet, they may only need a diaper for naps/bedtime/daycare drop-off or perhaps for outings - so if you have an older child in daycare or preschool, this can be a showstopper.