I have been trying to write some basics about cloth diapering, but having trouble knowing where to start, besides just rambling on my opinions. Enter my precious friend Melissa who is having a baby! I was responding to her email about what to register, and could have gone on for hours about cloth diapers, so instead of waylaying her, I thought I would write here what I would say to her. It is a lot easier to organize my thoughts on this when I am pretending to be speaking to a real live friend, instead of some hypothetical stranger who might read this. Keep in mind that I cannot write honestly without the bias of my own opinion.
I guess you always need to start with types of diapers. The way I see it there are 3 major types of diapers:
All In Ones or Pockets
The lines on this can be a little blurry, since some pockets are lined with natural materials, and some AIOs need extra absorbency added past the newborn stage.
Once either of these are stuffed, out of the wash, they should look and go on in one simple piece like a disposable diaper.
Both are usually pretty expensive considering none of the pieces required per change can be used over again.
AIOs take longer to dry.
You can save money by using a one size option, but they may not ever fit baby very well. Efrim was 20 lbs before a Flip one size cover didn't drag to his knees and he still wears it on the smallest setting at 22 mos.
All In Twos or Covers with Lay In Inserts
The main difference between these is that most AI2s have a stay dry, but not wipe clean interior of microfleece or suede cloth, and come with a sewn insert that doesn't have to be folded, but this isn't absolute by any means.
Can still be stuffed as you fold laundry to make diapers ready for use.
The number of covers and inserts you have is totally up to you. 6 covers and 24 inserts is the average. There is more information on this in my Super Basic Tutorial.
You can also choose which type of inserts are best for you, or go with a variety. Most inserts with work with most covers. This makes your stash really customizable for your baby each day. Prices vary from 14/dz for flats, 24/dz for prefolds, 5-9/each for hemp or bamboo trifolds, to 6-12 each for contours. As I have posted on here we really love flats best, and not because they are cheapest, but I like an elasticized contour also.
You can air dry covers after only wet diapers, and wash them only after a dirty diaper. This is the same for fleece lined or "wipe clean" covers. Covers need to be washed every 3 or 4 uses anyway.
The fewer layers sewn together on an insert the faster it will dry. Most covers will hang dry in the amount of time it takes your inserts to tumble dry.
Covers with Fitteds or Pinned Flats/Prefolds, Wool
Some people like the extra blow-out protection offered by an inside diaper that fastens. In my experience this may keep more poop off of the cover, but you end up washing covers almost as often anyway.
The main benefit is for use with pull on covers, particularly wool. Wool covers do not have to be washed as often as others because the Lanolin neutralizes urine. It also breathes and keeps baby cool in the summer and hot in the winter. Many people doubt this, but I read a story of a mom who was skeptical herself and went to check on her daughters in the middle of the night and she said their bellies were warmer under their cotton tshirts than under their wool sleep pants. Also wool is just really cute.
Fitteds are more expensive, costing anywhere from $10 to $40 for "collector" styles. I don't really understand this. Expect to spend an average of $12-14 each. Prefolds and flats are still a cheaper option if you are good at pinning, which I am not. Home made fitteds are another great way to save money.
Wool can be really expensive, with covers running anything from $20-70, but the up side is that you need so few, and if you are using fitteds it is basically like they are your shorts or pants.
Wool and fitteds are especially good for overnights. You can lay another insert inside you fitted diaper to double up without adding a lot of bulk, and a wool cover will absorb three times it's weight in liquid before feeling wet. This is the only thing that works for Julian who still nurses during the night.