How Many Cloth Diapers Do I Need?

Cloth diapering offers many benefits, and it’s no wonder that growing numbers of parents are choosing to go the reusable route. Even though cloth diapers are growing in popularity, however, getting started can still feel a little overwhelming.

The number of diapers to purchase for their initial stockpile is a common area of confusion for parents. While you want to avoid the situation of not having enough diapers, you also don’t want to waste money by buying more than you’ll use.

A stack of cloth diapers

How can you figure out the right number of cloth diapers to have on-hand? That ultimately depends on how many times you’ll change your baby’s diaper every day and how often you plan to wash laundry.

Let’s take a closer look at the factors you should consider to determine how many cloth diapers you may need.

Average Number of Daily Diaper Changes by Age

As your child gets older, their bodily processes will grow and mature as well, so the number of diapers you’ll use each day will change with each age and stage.

Newborn

Especially if you’re breastfeeding, it’s not uncommon for your baby to have a bowel movement during or immediately following every meal. While formula-fed babies tend to produce fewer soiled diapers, they still usually have somewhere between one and four bowel movements daily. Additionally, you’ll need to account for the diaper explosions that newborns are so prone to.

Plan to use up to 12 diapers every day for the first several weeks of your child’s life.

Infant

After the age of about two months, your baby’s digestive system is starting to mature and process food more efficiently, so bowel movements tend to slow down for a few months.

A healthy breastfed baby may go a few days in between soiled diapers, while formula-fed babies will usually soil one to two diapers a day. However, you’ll still need to change wet diapers every few hours, so you’ll probably use about eight to 10 diapers daily.

Toddler

Once your child is confidently eating solid foods, they’ll probably settle into a routine of one to two bowel movements every day, so you’ll likely change a toddler’s diaper four to five times a day.

How Frequently Will You Do Laundry?

How often you plan to wash your cloth diapers is another deciding factor in determining how many you’ll need. You can get by with a much smaller stock if you prefer to wash daily, and you’ll need more if you’d rather wash a full load of used diapers less frequently.

If you plan to wash your newborn’s diapers every two days, you’ll probably want to have about 24 diapers. If you’d rather do laundry every three days, plan to purchase somewhere about 36 diapers.

Keep in mind that washing some diapers isn’t as easy as throwing them in a standard washer and dryer cycle. You may need to treat stained areas, and several types of diapers cannot tolerate tumble drying.

Since washing your diapers may require a good deal of time from start to finish, be sure to factor that time commitment into how often you want to do laundry.

Types of Cloth Diapers

From the earliest parents using whatever natural materials they could find to the efficient options available today, the history of both cloth and disposable diapers is fascinating. Just as people in times past continued to seek better options for their children, you have several cloth diaper options to pick from. Here are the details of the main types you’ll encounter.

Flats

Most commonly made from cotton, a flat diaper is a square of absorbent material that you can fold to fit comfortably against your child’s skin. Once you’ve placed the flat diaper on your child the way you want it, you’ll need to use a pin or clip to hold the diaper in place.

Since it has no waterproofing, you’ll need an outer cover to prevent leaks. However, unless your cover also gets very soiled or wet, you’ll only have to replace the inner fabric portion at changing time.

In a manner that’s very similar to using a flat, a pre-folded diaper is a piece of absorbent fabric that fits under a waterproof outer cover. However, a pre-folded diaper’s outer sections are already folded toward the center and sewn in place, so they tend to be a little thicker and have better absorbency.

Since the diapers themselves tend to have reasonable prices and you’ll need only a few covers, flats or pre-folds are almost always the most inexpensive method for cloth diapering.

Pocket

Pocket diapers consist of an adjustable, waterproof outer layer and a removable absorbent insert. You can choose a style with either one or two openings where you can place a clean insert and remove a used one.

Changing a pocket diaper is usually fairly quick and easy, but the process to remove a soiled insert can be a little extra icky. For most changes, you’ll probably only have to replace the insert, so your stock will probably consist of multiple inserts and fewer outer covers.

Pocket diapers typically fall about midway on the cloth diaper price scale.

Fitted

A fitted diaper uses a cloth that wraps around your baby’s body in much the same way as a flat or pre-folded diaper, but the fitted style also has elastic around the leg holes and obvious front and back sections. Some brands of fitted diapers may also include snap closures, but you’ll have to use a pin or separate clip for others. You’ll also need to use a cover to prevent leaks since the fitted cloth portion has no waterproofing of its own.

Fitted diapers are fairly easy to use, and you’ll likely only need to change the cloth portion at normal diaper changes. However, while the function is similar to a flat or pre-fold, fitted styles tend to be fairly expensive. Additionally, your baby may also have some extra bulk to deal with thanks to two full-size layers.

All-in-One

These diapers have a one-piece construction that closely resembles that of a disposable diaper. All-in-one diapers have both an absorbent inner layer and a waterproof outer layer, so you don’t need any additional pieces.

All-in-ones usually have the least bulky fit, and they are especially great for use away from home. The only downsides are that some brands can take a long time to fully dry, and all-in-ones are also the most expensive option since you’ll need to replace the entire diaper at every change.

Many parents opt to buy a few diapers in different types to get a better idea of what works for their family. Moreover, each type is best suited for certain situations, and you may find that using a combination of two or more different styles meets your baby’s needs the best.

Other Helpful Cloth Diaper Accessories

Although you don’t need any additional pieces to successfully cloth diaper your child, they can help make the task easier and more efficient.

Wet bags

These bags have a waterproof inner layer that effectively contains moisture, so you can store or transport dirty diapers without the worry that they’ll leak onto other items or cause a bad smell.

You can find these handy items in a couple of different sizes, and each one serves a specific purpose.

Laundry hamper wet bags. As the name suggests, these bags are large enough to use as leak- and smell-proof laundry hampers, and you can place them either in your child’s room or the laundry room.

Portable wet bags. These smaller wet bags solve the problem of what to do with the dirty diaper you had to change at your child’s playdate. Thanks to the waterproof layer, you can safely store your soiled diapers in your diaper bag until you get home.

Portable wet bags come in a wide variety of styles and sizes, so check out this list of our favorites to help you find the right one for your family.

Cloth-Safe Diaper Cream

Standard diaper creams have ingredients that may build up and reduce a cloth diaper’s effectiveness, and you may even end up damaging your diapers if you use an inappropriate diaper cream for an extended time.

Look for a cream that specifically states that it is safe for cloth diapers.

Spray Attachment

Since you want as little solid waste as possible going into your washing machine, you’ll need to rinse out soiled diapers before laundering. Many parents find that a handheld sprayer head makes the task much easier.

These devices attach to a water source and connect to the sprayer head with a flexible hose. You can then hold the diaper over the toilet and spray the solid waste straight into the bowl.

There are also spray guards available to reduce the chance of any dirty water splashing your bathroom walls.

Conclusion

When you’re just beginning your cloth diapering journey, it can be confusing and a little intimidating to try to figure out the differences between your diaper options and how many you might need daily.

You may need to use some trial and error to select the style of diaper that works best for your family, but determining the number of diapers you’ll need is more formulaic. By spending some time learning how many diapers most babies use daily, thinking about your family’s laundry schedule and looking at the specific care instructions for the brand you want to use, you should be able to come up with a minimum number of cloth diapers you can feel good about.

Your turn to share your thoughts! How many cloth diapers did your child end up using every day, and what was your laundry routine like? Do you have any other diapering or laundry tips? Let us know in the comments!

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