Caution: very long baby-oriented post below. Contains the word "poop," more than once.
Long before my son was born, I had decided to cloth diaper him. Luckily, my husband is a willing victim in many of my "let's try something rather inconvenient and messy" undertakings and went along with it. The cloth diaper journey has not been without bumps (usually of the stinky/damp/generally gross kind) in the road, but overall, I'm pleased we made the choice. At the very least, our peanut isn't starting out in life by making a much-larger-than-peanuts sized contribution to our family trash production.
One of the problems I encountered when trying to get ready for cloth diapering was either a dearth of information or the opposite - so much detailed information that I couldn't wrap my head around it. So, when my friend started asking me serious questions about cloth diapering this weekend, I wrote her an email about some of the basics. Then, I realized it would be nice to share, so here is an edited version for the public!
I learned a lot about cloth diapers from the Green Mountain Diapers information site. I find the prices a bit high and the writing over the top wordy, but there is a lot of good information there and lots of pictures of babies in diapers and explanations that were helpful for someone who had never seen the real thing.
I buy most of my diaper stuff from Jillian's Drawers. They have a nifty trial package that you can use for 21 days, return, and then get all but $10 of your money refunded. The bigger size is probably a better deal since babies tend to grow out of the newborn sizes within a month or two if not weeks.
Probably best website out there for diapering information, product reviews, and forums is The Diaper Pin.
Some basics that it took me a while to figure out.
Two basic approaches: diaper + cover OR all-in-ones (AIOs)
All-in-ones are what they sound like, it's one piece, you velcro or snap it on and you're done. The whole thing goes in the wash. New diaper is a clean all-in-one. Variations here are on how they add extra absorbency (inserts or pockets for stuffing) and sizing. Some have snaps for adjusting the rise (think length of diaper when it's laying flat) for different size babies. They're a bit expensive, but the most convenient option. I have three Organic Dream-eze now that I put on peanut when we send him to daycare. They leak more than the others, but I'm convinced they would do much better if they were going in the dryer instead drying on the line where they get pretty stiff. They are a really soft material on the outside and it has a hard time keeping the stiff cotton in place.
A diaper + cover system means you have the absorbent diaper on the inside and a water-proof cover on the outside. The diaper soaks up urine and catches poo. These go into the wash with every change. Covers keep clothes from getting wet and catch anything that doesn't stay in the diaper (poo, unfortunately). They go into the wash as needed - when they smell or are poopy. Our get washed once a week or so each (we have 5 now). We have gone through I think four sizes (xs/s/m/l) and between 3 and six per size. By far the family favorite is Thristies.
Diapers (for diaper + cover) come in two basic formats: flats and fitted. Flats are what we use with peanut. Essentially one flat piece with several (6-8) layers of material in the center third. You can fold them any of half a dozen ways depending on baby size, poo problems, cover size, etc. They are held on with a Snappi, which is essentially a three armed stretchy plastic clip that grabs the diaper at each hip and in the crotch to keep it from popping open. He has gone through three sizes of flats so far with us buying 36/24/24 of each size. Our flats are Cloth-eez Prefold Diapers from Green Mountain Diapers and we have orange, yellow, and now brown edged sizes. Prefold refers not to the fact that you do not have to fold them but to the fact that they are already folded to be thicker in the center before you fold them again! Whew. That's a lot of folding.
Fitted diapers look like all-in-ones or disposable diapers. They are shaped to fit without folding and held in place with either a snappy or velcro or snaps. They do all the soaking (sometimes also have elastic around the legs) and are covered with a diaper cover. Again, an easier option than flats.
Flats plus diaper cover is probably the most basic and cheapest way to do it, but not the easiest. They are also the most difficult to get other folks to use as the whole diaper folding ordeal is a bit intimidating.
Hopefully, this will be helpful for anyone who's thinking about cloth diapers and not sure how to approach the undertaking. My big question for anyone with experience would be this: does line versus dryer drying make a difference for effectiveness or fit?