Cloth diapering has seen a resurgence in the last decade or so. There are many reasons for choosing cloth diapers. For me, it's a matter of all the major reasons combined. While I certainly wouldn't classify myself as an environmentalist, I do believe we should care for our planet the way we would care for any special gift that a loved one gave us--and there's no doubt that this planet is a most precious gift from God. So I'm not crazy about the idea of all the chemicals from millions of diapers getting dumped in landfills to pollute our country. I'm even less enthusiastic about putting such chemicals against my children's skin. And with three children in diapers (not to mention pullups for an older child who has night time accidents), frugality in this department is a definite issue.
I know there are those out there who are turned off by the idea of cleaning cloth diapers, or having dirty ones piling up. But using cloth diapers is much easier now than in our mothers' day. New "technology" has made cloth diapering almost as easy as using disposables.
There are many types of cloth diapers, and almost as many methods to cleaning them. I could spend a weeks' worth of posts on the topic, and still have much to cover. Instead, I'm just going to share how I do it, as an introduction to the subject, and let you investigate further if you are interested.
Type of Cloth Diapers:
There are quite a few styles of diapers. I've tried many of them, but my favorite to use by far is the pocket system. Pocket diapers are a shell, with the outer layer made of a waterproof material, and the inner layer made of a material that wicks the moisture into the diaper filling. The filling is usually one or two absorbent pads that can be stuffed into the diaper shell via an opening at the top of the diaper in the back. They come with Aplix (velcro-like) tabs or snaps. I prefer the snaps. Although the snaps can come undone, it's less of a pain than the Aplix, which weakens over time, and gets lots of lint trapped in the tabs. If you pre-stuff the diapers after washing and drying, they are there, ready to use, which makes husbands and babysitters a little happier about using cloth.
The one-size diapers are more economical because they'll take you through a few sizes. They have variety of snaps on the front for cinching the diaper up, making it smaller. But most parents find them extremely bulky on newborns, and I don't think they'll fit a large older toddler very well.
I've tried a variety of brands. One organic brand I tried is the Blueberry. I wasn't crazy about it. The organic Blueberrys are about $25 each. Yes, each! And you need a minimum of 2-3 days' worth of diapers, for each child. My biggest complaint with the organic Blueberry is the organic terry cloth inner layer. Poop sticks to it a lot more, and it stains more easily.
Handling Cloth Diapers:
The method I find easiest is the dry pail method. (WARNING: If you use a wet pail method, get a pail that locks--a child can drown even in a 5 gallon bucket.) When I get a wet diaper, I toss it into a dry 5 gallon bucket, with the lid laying loosely on the top. (You can also use a wet bag instead, which is just a waterproof bag that you toss the diapers into.) The stuffing needs to be removed from the diaper before washing, so you might as well do it at that point. If the diaper is poopy, I take it in the bathroom. It's nice if the poop is solid, it will roll right into the toilet. If not, I use a diaper sprayer to spray off the poop. If I had it to do over again, I'd have gotten the type that connects to the tub faucet instead of to the toilet supply line. Rinsing diapers isn't fun when it's a bad one, and the water is ice cold! I don't remember the brand I bought, but this one looks good--you can easily attach/detach it to your sink. There are a lot more diaper spraying options out there now, than when I bought mine years ago.
You need the type of sprayer meant for spraying diapers, or a bidet-style sprayer. Your average sprayer that connects to a kitchen sink or a shower won't be powerful enough to do the job. Watch out for overspray. It may be less messy to use a 5 gallon bucket, and do the spraying into that, then dump that into the toilet. That can make for less overspray. When the diaper is rinsed well enough (doesn't have to be perfect, you just want it mostly cleaned off), you should remove the diaper insert and put it all in the diaper bucket. When it's time to wash the diapers, just dump the diapers into the washer, and wash. You shouldn't have to handle the diapers more than once, and only the messy poop diapers will be any more hassle than disposables.
Wash the diapers according to your manufacturer's directions. How I wash depends on how "bad" the diapers in that load are. Generally, I do two hot wash cycles with a second rinse. Sometimes just one if it's a particularly "clean" load to begin with. Do what you are comfortable with, and what gets your diapers clean. Don't use bleach, it will shorten the life of your diapers. I like to put raw apple cider vinegar in the rinse water to help with sanitizing. Most people use white vinegar. It also acts as a fabric softener (don't use real fabric softener, it makes the diapers less absorbent).
Some types of diapers must be line dried, and this can save energy and money, and make your diapers last longer. I usually machine-dry mine, as I always seem to be in a hurry. The sun can also naturally bleach out some of the stains.
-be sure to wash new diapers a few times before using, to "fluff up" the fibers and make them more absorbent. With prefolds, I've heard some brands recommend up to 8 washings AND dryings before first use.
-run an empty wash cycle once in a while to remove any build-up that can affect your diapers...use vinegar, baking soda with hot water
-you may need to "strip" your cloth diapers once in a while, to remove any detergent build-up on them, and restore their maximum absorbency...see your diaper's manufacturer recommendations
-DO NOT buy the bleached prefold "cloth diapers" you may find at Walmart, etc. that are made by Gerber along with the cheap vinyl pants to go over them. They are cheap, leaky junk that will make you run from cloth diapering. If you're on a budget, sew your own if necessary, using quality materials (even recycled material, if it's good enough)
-buy them secondhand...I know that may make some squeamish, but if you wash them with bleach (just this one time before using) it shouldn't be an issue
30 Day Trial: Diaper Junction's money-back offer to try cloth diapers for 30 days...can't beat that! (In the interest of full disclosure: I do get a little "kickback" if you purchase through them. I appreciate the support!)
Diaper Pin FAQ: An excellent place to start. More information than anyone could ask for!
DiaperSewing.com: Tons of info on how to sew your own cloth diapers
Diaper Jungle: Links for cloth diaper sewing and lots of other CD info
On a final note, lest someone catch me someday buying three boxes of diapers and a package of pullups in Walmart someday...I'm not perfect. Like many things, I go back and forth between cloth diapering and disposables. I want to do cloth all the time. I need to, with our budget. But with that many diapers to wash, I admit I'm not always steadfast. I'm just sayin'! ;-)