I've had a few people ask me over the years my advice on cloth diapering. Although I am no expert, and honestly, a bit rusty as it's been five years since I really researched the topic, I am happy to share. Recently a friend on Facebook asked me to help out her friend, so instead of re-writing my thoughts, I figured I'd compile them here, and direct future questioners here. =)
There are lots of options when it comes to Cloth Diapering (CDing). There are pre-folds, which are kind of the "old fashioned" way of doing diapers. You fold the cloth up and put a cover over it. These are the cheapest way to go, but also the most work, I think.
There's also All-In-Ones (AIO). These are basically the convenience of disposables, since they're just one unit. There's no folding or stuffing. I've had AIOs before, and the biggest downside to these is they take FOR-E-VER to dry! For this reason alone, I don't recommend them. Unless you enjoy running your dryer twice, just to dry one load.
There are also Hybrid Diapers, like G-Diapers, where they're re-usable covers, with disposable, biodegradable inserts to put inside. If you're out to save the planet, these might be for you. But if your goal is to be frugal, these are not it! The liners cost more than disposables, and you still have to buy the expensive covers. I'm not a fan of this option. I just use disposables when I need disposables, and do cloth the rest of the time.
And then there's Pocket Diapers. My favorite. Not as much work as pre-folds, and sill dry relatively quickly (unlike AIOs). They are diapers with a "pocket" in them that you stuff with an insert. I have hemp inserts, and they are awesome! Hemp absorbs FOUR TIMES it's weight in liquid, so they hold a lot before they leak. I've tried terry cloth/cotton inserts, and I.hate.them. They don't last 30 minutes before they're leaky. What's the point of cloth diapers if they're not going to work? I've know a few moms who only tried cotton or terry cloth inserts, and ended up giving up on cloth diapers because they were so frustrating. I believe they've now replaced many of the hemp ones with bamboo inserts. I don't know much about bamboo's absorbency, but only that it's really eco-friendly because it grows so quickly, and is easily reproducible.
I personally used to use Happy Heineys pocket diapers. They used to come in Small, Medium, and Large (I believe now they come in One Size). But then, my kids get so big, that even the size Large become too small for them by the age of two. So, I was forced to buy more cloth diapers. I figured I better find something that would last, since I was buying them for the second time. I did some research, and found Blueberry Diapers to be ones that fit larger kids. I buy the One-Size (OS) Blueberry diapers. They're expensive up front, but after three kids and years of use, we've saved thousands of dollars.
I should explain sizing, I suppose. You can go with a brand that comes in Small, Medium, and Large, and buy a set of diapers for each stage of your baby (which gets expensive, but the fit is a lot more precise), or you can buy OS diapers, which grow with your child. They snap up smaller when they're little, and expand as they grow. The only downside to this is that they're really bulky on newborns. Even on my 10.5 lb newborns, I don't prefer to use OS diapers until they're older. I still have my set of small Happy Heineys that I use for the newborn stage. Once they grow out of those, I put them in my Blueberry OS diapers.
How many diapers do you need?
I think for the newborn stage, you are changing diapers so frequently, that you need a lot. I have 24 small Happy Heineys that I use early on. Once they're bigger, you don't change them as frequently, and you can use less. Since I often have two kids in diapers at once, I own eighteen of the Blueberry OS diapers.
I wash my diapers every other day or every two days. I keep them in a wet bag until it's time to wash. If there are solids, I scrape them out into the toilet, then put them in the wet bag. I'm not anal about getting off every bit of solid...just the big bits (sorry for the TMI!). Then I wash them on hot with some diaper-safe detergent. There are lots out there. Most "free and clear" ones are not good to use on your diapers. You don't want anything that will coat your diapers, and make them not absorb as much (especially fabric softener). I always add a little baking soda and vinegar to my loads (like a small amount...a couple tablespoons of each). Vinegar is a natural water-softener, and baking soda keeps things white. Together, they're a great team in the laundry. I actually use them in every load of laundry I do.
If you ever do get some build up on your cloth diapers, you can always strip them, and they'll start absorbing better, and won't stink.
Well, I think that's it! Hope that helps you all. If you have any questions, leave them in the comments and I'll try to answer them. Again, I'm rusty, and no expert, but I'm happy to help a Cloth Diaper Newbie!