What Do You REALLY Need to Start Cloth Diapering?

I’ve learned a ton in the four years between now and when I decided to start cloth diapering.  I never really am aware of how much I’ve come along until I start looking at my throwback posts… and then I kind of have to laugh.  In a recent throwback, I had my theoretical “what I need to start cloth diapering” list.

Here’s the thing, though, the more I think about it.  You really, really don’t need much to start cloth diapering.  You can start small and build up as you go.  I mean, really, I have a ridiculous amount of diapers now, but I most certainly didn’t start out that way.

You Can Start Cloth Diapering With…

A lot of the time, you see articles about how you need a minimum of 24 cloth diapers to start cloth diapering.  You don’t.  You can get by with far less.  I would never, ever suggest that someone get by with far less for the entirety of her cloth diapering career, but if you are suffering from sticker shock, starting slowly is really the best course of action.

You really and truly can start with this bare bones, basic formula.What You REALLY Need to Start Cloth Diapering (Cloth Diaper Addicts)

  • 17 diaper changes.  Those seventeen diaper changes will be sufficient for about a day and a half of newborn diapering.  If you’ve got an older baby, you can get a full two days out of those seventeen diapers.  If you’re cloth diapering part time, then you’ll really do just fine.  You’ll have a back up of disposables if you run low anyway.  I had no problems getting by with seventeen FuzziBunz diapers when I decided to start cloth diapering.  In all honesty, though, it’s entirely possible to get by less if you’re truly diligent about keeping up with laundry.
  • A five gallon bucket.  Let’s be honest: the best way to store your dirty cloth diapers is in an open pail.  You really don’t need anything fancy to hold your dirties to start cloth diapering.  With a wide open pail, you’ll have less smell.  Sure, you’ll need to rinse it out and maybe wash it after every load of laundry, but when you consider that those five gallon buckets are generally free, it’s very bare bones.  (You can buy things like laundry detergent from Costco in a bucket that size.  In fact, I use one of those buckets as the garbage can for lint and other nonsense in my laundry room.)
  • A few dozen cloth wipes.  You don’t have to go fancy and buy the really amazing ones from Thirsties.  You can use cheap baby wash cloths from the dollar store.  Or you can even make your own from receiving blankets.
  • A small wet bag.  If you decide to venture out in cloth diapers, you’ll need something to carry them back in.  Yes, you can get by without one and just use plastic shopping bags, but that’s not particularly environmentally friendly, nor is it guaranteed to contain the mess.  But you can get by without one if you need to at the start.
  • A cloth diaper safe detergent.  If you’re going to try to make a go with as small of a starting stash as possible, you’re going to want a detergent that will work.  The last thing you’ll want to do is have to strip your diapers because they smell of ammonia.  It was so awful for me that had I not wanted to hear “I told you so,” I probably would have quit.  (Thank you, Rockin Green, for saving me!)

What Don’t You Need to Start Cloth Diapering?

I’ll be honest: I have these things and I love them.  At this point in my cloth diapering life, I would not want to cloth diaper without them.  However, that’s because I have them already and have become wickedly spoiled.  Really.

  • A diaper sprayer.  I love mine.  I would not want to clean up Eudora’s prune poopsplosion without one.  But that being said… if you’re exclusively breastfeeding, there’s no need to worry about cleaning up that seedy mustardy yellow poo.  It’s water soluble.  Just throw it all in the pail and you’re done.  You might want to consider a sprayer later, but you don’t have to have one right out of the gate.
  • Flushable liners.  At the end of the day, they’re nice to have but not necessary.  If there’s no poop, you throw it away instead of flush it.  But considering breastfed poo is water soluble anyway, it’s not necessary.  (Theoretically, formula fed poo is water soluble, too… but I was too neurotic to give it a chance.)
  • Microfleece liners.  I love my microfleece liners.  I wish that I’d started using them three years ago.  But even still, though, they are not necessary.  You can get by without them, no problem.
  • Pail liner or hanging wet bag.  Yes, having a pail liner or a hanging wet bag to throw your dirty diaper laundry in will make your life significantly easier.  But it’s not something you have to have right then and there on the spot.  You can make do with that

The Biggest Misconception

A lot of people think that to start cloth diapering, you have to have everything to build that perfect budget stash right then and there on the spot.  You don’t.  For a lot of people, the idea that you need all of these things from the get go is a huge stumbling block to the beginning of cloth diapering.  Yes, a time will probably come when you’ll want all of those bells and whistles.  Yes, they do make cloth diapering much more fun.  However, they are not an immediate need.

What advice (or questions) do you have for someone who wants to start cloth diapering?


About Suzi

Suzi is an American ex-pat living in British Columbia. She's a cloth diaper addict, wife, mom of three, and President of the Prince George chapter of Cloth for a Cause.


  1. Awesome post. I didn’t get my diaper sprayer until later and it was actually a gift. I wish I had thought about the pail but I bought a little 3L garbage can from walmart anyway, so not too bad. I would worry and freak about how many diapers I had before baby my born but I laugh at myself now at how ridiculous I was. I still need some diapers if you want to send me some you don’t use anymore ha ha ha. Thanks for the post though, great job. I hope someone freaking out as badly as I did sees it and is able to calm down.

    Oh, I still haven’t used my diaper liners yet >.<

    • LOL! Actually, the ones I no longer use have been destashed. They’ve either been sold locally or donated to Cloth for a Cause. (And now that you have the diaper sprayer, is it not the most wonderful thing? LOVE mine.)

  2. I use my hand held shower head to spray off my diapers, I couldn’t live without it! I also use flushable liners when we are out of the house and would not want to cloth diaper without those:)

  3. I started with 3 Best Bottom shells, 12 Best Bottom inserts, and a pocket diaper with overnight inserts. I spent around $180 and washed every day. I did this for 3 months. Cloth diapering does not need to be expensive to start.

  4. I would probably add that you don’t need to start with “modern cloth diapers” either. A couple dozen prefolds or flats and a handful of good overs is ll you really need. Yes pockets, AIOs, and fitteds are nice but they aren’t necessary.

  5. I love this! I think many people get scared away from cloth diapering because there is SO much out there…that they don’t really need. Diapers. Check. Diaper pail. Check. Cloth Wipes. Check. BTW, I’m a big fan of the pickle bucket for the newborn-bazillion-diapers-a-day stage.
    Lauren S. recently posted…Your Birthing/Parenting Choices Are None of My Business!My Profile

    • Oh, the big plastic three gallon size? That’s actually awesome. 🙂 My sister used a wet pail that was about that size with her daughter. She used flats and prefolds only… but considering my niece is now in her 20’s, the modern cloth wasn’t available.

  6. Great points. I would say, though, that if you cam afford it over time, you’ll be happier if you have a little leeway with laundry. I’m also not sold on an open pail and would recommend even making your own wetbags. That’s just my preference.

    • I prefer some kind of pail, myself, but it’s still just plain not necessary. 🙂 There are a lot of things that we like, but it’s really about the bare bones just starting out. In hindsight, I’d have been better off using ANYTHING but the tightly sealed pail that I used in the beginning.

  7. Ditto on the flushable liners….until toddler poo comes. Then I might actually say they are a near necessity!

    • Ha, when that time comes, hopefully the parent will have had time to acquire a sprayer. 🙂 With Norton, though, I could have gone without a sprayer for near ever because the that kid poops bricks.

  8. Our first is due in Dec and I can’t stop buying cloth diapers! LOL
    There are so many cute ones, I just can’t resist. We even have a separate newborn stash so we can CD from the start. The only newborn diaper that we still need to get is the very special first one that we will put on her, we haven’t decided yet!

  9. We started out pretty small too- maybe 10 diapers.. we ended up with about 12 we use on a regular basis. *we had a few that aren’t as good now as they were when baby was smaller. It was a great idea to mix them up, we don’t like all the same ones now as we did with a newborn- her needs changed!
    itzybellababy recently posted…Zulily Scavenge hunt- Week 2- Essentials you need for a new babyMy Profile

  10. Love this! It actually makes me NERVOUS when people want to dive in and purchase everything all at once (what if you end up HATING it all later???) and I can never understand why people don’t seem to realize that it’s perfectly fine to start with a few diapers and build up from there slowly. You obviously are already using SOMETHING to diaper your baby, so just keep doing that as you make the transition 🙂
    Carolyn recently posted…Jack Be Natural Releases A New Store App (Plus A Giveaway!)My Profile

  11. This is a great list and very helpful for someone who is wanted to build a cloth diaper stash.
    Christy Garrett @ Uplifting Families recently posted…How to Turn Laundry Into a Learning OpportunityMy Profile

  12. I haven’t started cloth diapering yet but I’m building a stash so I’m ready when my first LO comes:) This is great encouragement to me that I’m almost there!

  13. I started with 12 flats & 1 wool cover. That was it. (Of course, we only CD part-time.) I’ve since added many more flats, 4 more covers (1 civil war-era wool, 3 modern waterproof), and a couple prefolds. I got into it because of re-enacting, and keep up with it, because it’s great for emergencies (Preppers unite!), and saves trips to the store to buy more disposables.

  14. this is really helpful thank you

  15. Love to see how little you actually need. When I start cloth diapering when my little one arrives, I think I’ll need to take a balanced approach in the beginning, and not stress myself out by needing to be perfect. I plan to build my stash gradually and not beat myself up if I need to use disposables sometimes, use flushable liners, etc. I can’t be certain how everything will work for me.

  16. I think it would be great to start with a few different styles to see what you like before buying your whole stash. Good info for a newbie!

  17. Christina Howell says:

    This is a great article for cloth diapering beginners. I wish I would have read this because I thought I needed really fancy things for cloth diapering. Oh well, I enjoy my pail liners. I will share this with some of my friends that want to cloth diaper.

    • Oh, more often than not, we’ll all want the fun and fancy things that go along with it. They’re useful. But knowing that you don’t have to have it right from the beginning will make it less painful to start.

  18. Thanks for this perspective! I’m gearing up to start CDing my son due in January, and it’s easy to get caught up in all the newest must-haves out there!

  19. Thanks for this post. I am prepping to cloth diaper my 3rd child but, I have used disposables until this point. Most of the cloth diapering moms I know have these huge collections of diapers and stuff. I am somewhat of a minimalist so you put my mind at ease.

  20. I started out with 5 best bottom covers, 23 inserts and a small wet bag. I washed diapers every other day, and it worked, no problem!

  21. I’m so glad I stumbled across this post (even though it’s a year old, lol!). My daughter is 2 months and I’ve become so obsessed with switching her over to cloth diapers that I overwhelm myself into thinking that I NEED to try EVERYTHING NOW. In my online shopping cart I easily have $300 worth of all these cute diapers (different brands and types) and inserts, etc. that I”ve realized, WHOA, what if none of those work for me? I’ll be $300 down the drain. THANK YOU, THANK YOU for helping me to realize that it’s okay for me to start small and grow from there.

    Any tips or suggestions though, for someone like me who wants to try different types of cloths diapers and brands without breaking the bank?

    Mahalo! 🙂

    • Check out stores that have rental options or trial kits. 🙂 Start out with simple microfiber inserts that come with most of your diapers. Upgrade later. A pocket diaper brand that I always recommend is bumGenius. It’s a very user friendly diaper to start. If you’re interested in all-in-two options, Flip (by the same company that makes bumGenius) and Capri are awesome. Good luck!


  1. […] I will say, though, that having the diaper sprayer has made cloth diapering significantly easier.  It was a blessing to have when I was coping with Eudora’s prune poopsplosion and when Norton has had tummy issues.  (In fact, Norton’s tummy issues was why I bought it in the first place.)  It really and truly is a fantastic accessory to have, particularly when solids start.  With that in mind, though, a diaper sprayer is absolutely not necessary and is not something that you need to run out and buy for your cloth diaper start up kit. […]

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