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The dirty truth about cloth diapers

Cloth diapers can sound like a daunting endeavor. How many cloth diapers do you need? How often do you change cloth diapers? How do you clean cloth diapers? How much do cloth diapers cost? Getting started can seem so tough that you might just go disposable for convenience, even if cloth was the better choice for you just for the sake of not taking the time to learn all of those answers.

There is a lot to learn when preparing for a new baby and deciding between cloth and disposable is one big decision worth taking the time to research. Thankfully, we’ve put all of the answers to your questions in one place so it won’t take you long to get a feel for cloth diapering. The nice thing about cloth diapers is that once you get started, you don’t have to keep buying new diapers over and over again. Let’s dive into the honest answers to all of your cloth diaper questions.

How many cloth diapers do I need?

You’ll see a range of advice out there, and it depends on how often you’re willing and able to do laundry and the age of your child. If you’re getting started with a newborn or throwing in the towel on disposable, switching over with a 6-month-old will mean different amounts. For a newborn, assuming you can do laundry every 2-3 days, you’ll need anywhere between 20 and 36 cloth diapers for full-time cloth diapering, and you’ll probably want to err on the side of 36 to have plenty to be safe. They’re not something you want to run out of!

Does that sound like a lot? It is! But newborn babies go through 10-12 diapers per day, whether disposable or cloth, so you’d be buying and throwing away just as many with disposable diapers. With a stash of 36, you have enough for 3 days with some wiggle room for extra blowouts. (You can always have one box of disposables on hand for emergencies.)

When we say “diapers,” we mean inserts, and you’ll also have to buy diaper covers. In the picture above, you can see the rectangle inserts you’ll need up to 36 of. The item in the middle is the cover, and you’ll need 6-8 of those, as they don’t need to be changed every time.

How often do you change cloth diapers?

You change cloth diapers as often as you change disposable diapers–whenever the baby goes pee or poop in the diaper. You’ll want to keep the baby dry so they don’t get diaper rash or cry from discomfort. While disposable diapers are more absorbent and can wick away moisture, so you may be able to get away with not changing them for a few pees. But you do need to change a baby in a cloth diaper after every pee.

You’ll need a place to keep the soiled liners (just like you would have a diaper pail for dirty disposable diapers). For cleanup, you’ll just put the poop in the toilet and keep the dirty liners in the hamper. Put a load of the dirty ones through the laundry on the hot or the sanitize setting every other day. If you wait longer, not only will smell be an issue, but so could staining.

What do I need to know about cloth diapers before getting started?

Cloth diapering expert Ashley Wilson told The Bump that the total cost of cloth diapering a baby is around $800, while for disposable diapering, it would be $2,000 to $3,000. While your cost upfront might be $800 instead of $50, in the long run, you’ll save money.

Besides budget, the main reason to get started is the environmental impact. While the 40 or so total items you’ll use on your baby will eventually end up in a landfill after they potty train, that’s nothing compared to the approximately 7,000 separate disposable diapers you’d likely throw away if you went that route. That’s also a lot of trash to take out, diaper pail liners to buy, and the dirty diapers waiting to be taken to the dumpster stink just as much as the dirty liners waiting to be washed.

No matter what you choose, the most important thing is that it works for you and your baby. If your baby is crying all the time in one type or the other, saving some money might not seem as big a perk as it once did.

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