Let's make this a quick tutorial, designed to eradicate the confusion of delving into the cloth-diapering world. It's taken me a couple weeks of researching different kinds to finally decide on what I, personally, am going to use, and I thought maybe I could help you by sharing what I've learned.
First, why cloth diapers? There are a couple of reasons:
1) They're cheaper than disposables. Way cheaper. Think two hundred dollars instead of two thousand.
2) They're easy. Seriously. No, I'm not kidding.
3) They're planet-friendly. They're not made with 2/3 cup of oil, and they don't live in landfills for hundreds of years.
4) They're baby-friendly. No weird perfumes or chemicals or petroleum products. Some women swear that their baby's diaper rashes only cleared up once they switched to cloth.
5) They are frickin' cute. Have you seen those lame denim disposable diapers ads? (Seriously. Who came up with that?) Cloth ones are so much cuter than those could ever be. They come in bright colours and happy prints; you can even match them to your kid's outfits if you want.
Now, let's do a brief overview of what's out there.
If you don't want to scare your husband and you don't care how much you spend:
Then pocket diapers or all-in-one's (AIO's) are your best choice. They are just like disposables in many ways; you use them once, then throw them in the diaper pail to wait for wash day. They have a moisture-wicking layer next to baby's skin, a liner stuffed in the middle, and a cute and brightly-coloured outer layer with snaps or velcro. (The only difference between them is that the AIO's liners are attached at one end to the diaper so they don't get separated in the wash, and the pocket diaper's liners are not attached at all.) The only drawback, which you might not care about, is that you can only use them once. So you need lots, and they cost between $20-25 CAD each.
If you really want to save money and don't mind one extra, teeny-tiny step:
"Pre-folds" are the way to go. Don't be scared by their name. They are not the miserable squares that must be folded just so and then safety-pinned together that made our parents switch to disposables. They have two parts: a liner and a cover. The covers are super-cute, shaped to fit your baby just like a disposable (and possibly even better), and come with either velcro or snap closures. They're also coated on the inside with a baby-friendly substance to you can wipe them off and use them again. The liners are what you need to change with every wet or dirty bum. They come in either long rectangles or large squares. The rectangles go right in the covers as is, and the squares get folded in thirds, then placed in the cover. The liners are made of highly-absorbent layers of fabric, usually organic cotton, hemp, or bamboo. There are also microfiber and polyester liners. The beauty is that because they're all so absorbent, they're actually fairly thin, not bulky. (Seriously, I wondered if my thin little hemp liners would actually do their job. Then they absorbed more water and took longer to dry than the fluffy polyester liners, even after I'd squeezed them all out.)
If you're afraid of clean-up:
No matter what system you choose, you basically just rinse them off if they're super-poopy, drop them in the diaper pail, and forget about them until wash day. Some people buy little spray nozzles to attach to the base of their toilets, then just rinse them right off into the bowl. Some forget the sprayer and just swoosh them around in there. Me, I think I'll dump the poop in the toilet, rinse in my nearby sink, then toss them in the nearby hamper.
I was scared of icky diaper pails, but now you can buy diaper-pail liners that are coated to make them waterproof and are machine washable. How brilliant is that? So basically, every two days, I dump my diapers into the washer, drop the liner in after them, and wash 'em all together. No bleaching of the pail necessary. I can even, apparently, get little deodorizing disks to put in the bottom of the hamper, if necessary.
And when we're on the go, I'm still going to use the cloth. I bought myself a ridiculously stylish "wet bag," which is basically a beautiful square bag with a zipper that's fully lined to make it waterproof. It works the same way as the pail liner: drop it in the wash and re-use it once it's clean. Hm... maybe I should get two. :)
If you're wondering how many diapers you'd need:
The answer is (if you want to wash every two days), 24 liners and 6 covers for pre-folds, and 12 to 24 pocket diapers or AIO's. This is the amount for newborns, who need their bums changed every 2 to 3 hours, the little rascals. For older kids, the amount gets to be much less. If you don't mind washing once a day, you can get away with less, as well.
Things to keep in mind:
Babies start out small. Then they grow. We all know that. So, if you don't want to keep buying bigger diapers to fit your growing baby, you need to think about getting the kind that will grow with his or her lovely little behind. Thankfully, the nice diaper people thought of that. Some models come with several rows of snaps, so you can adjust the length of the diaper to fit anywhere between 8 and 35 pounds. Not every diaper has such a large range, though; some are 6 to 18 pounds, then 18 to 40 pounds. Still, buying two sizes is better than buying four.
If you're wondering whether to get hemp, bamboo, cotton, or microfiber:
Don't worry about it. They all work. Go with what you can afford. The hemp and bamboo are more absorbent and have anti-microbial properties (isn't nature amazing?), but are a bit more expensive. You can start off with a basic cotton system and add a hemp or bamboo "booster" if your baby really pees a lot. Try a bit of everything, and see what you like best. You might find your needs change as your baby grows.
If you're wondering by now what I picked:
Well, I'm really cheap, so I picked a pre-fold system. I spent a couple hours deciding on whether to get adjustable covers or not, then picking my favourite colours and prints... Oh! The choices! Anyway, in the end, I ended up buying two boxes of Flip diapers. (They're made by BumGenius, if anyone cares.) Each box contains two covers and six liners. The covers are covered in snaps, and fit from 8 to 35 pounds. Since my babies tend to be small, I also bought two Thirsties covers, sized 6 to 18 pounds, just in case. If all else fails, the little baby girl will just have to wear disposables *gasp!* for her first couple weeks until she grows into the cloth diapers. To be honest, I'm not sure if I bought enough, but I'll cross that bridge when I get to it. I might go back and buy a six-pack of Bummis organic cotton liners to try as well. The bonus? Those Flips also fit my three-year-old, and since he's not so keen on the potty training, I'm using him as my test kid to get me used to cloth before a newborn shows up. So far, I'm loving the cloth! It's much easier than even my optimism hoped for.
If, after reading this, you're still not too sure on what to get, I highly recommend going to your local baby store and asking the staff. They are a wealth of knowledge! Some stores even offer a little class to get you started. If you're not lucky enough to have a specialty baby shop in your area, I know of at least one online store that can help you: www.morethanclothdiapers.com. There must be others, as well. Those helpful shop people taught me most of what I know about cloth diapers, and I'm sure I'll have more questions for them as I go.
Happy diapering, everyone! (If there is such a thing...)