Warning: this post goes into explicit detail about poo. And that's not Winnie.
Alrighty.. here goes.
I could write an entire post completely composed of disclaimers about cloth diapers but, in the interest of saving everyone's time, here are just a few:
First of all, I am not writing this post to create the illusion that i am super-mom or a super-environmentalist. I do care about the environment, but mostly I am just really cheap and disposable diapers are really expensive.
Second, I am not writing this post to make anyone feel like they are not super-mom or a super-environmentalist because they don't use cloth diapers. In my opinion the disposable versus cloth debate is the same as breast versus bottle, sleep-training versus co-sleeping, homemade versus jarred baby food- these things are not what makes a parent a good parent. It's your love for your child that makes you a good parent. If this post is going to make you feel guilty for some odd reason, do yourself a favor and just don't read it.
Third, this is the way I do cloth diapers. It does not mean this is the best system. This is not a product endorsement. It is simply what works for me.
Having said all that, I will say that I actually really like using cloth diapers and they are not as difficult and disgusting as seems to be the stereotype.
I use Thirsties brand, which has many adorable colors and patterns. I only purchased color- and pattern- neutral covers so that we could use them with whichever gender might come along (another big bonus- you can reuse them with each child!). We have about six or seven of the "duo wraps" (the covers) in size one and size two. You can get them in snaps or velcro; the velcro is way easier in my opinion. We also have what seem like about a ba-zillion inserts (the cloth part), but is actually about thirty five in a small size and a large. According to the thirsties website the inserts are eight dollars each and made of hemp. I certainly don't remember paying eight dollars a piece and I am pretty sure ours are cotton, so if I were to order more I would probably go through a site similar to this one, where the cloth inserts don't go above three dollars. You can usually find a distributor who will sell packages which makes it much less expensive than buying each cover and insert individually.
So, once you have your covers and your inserts, you simply fold up the inserts around your child (there are many you-tube videos on how to do this), and then put the cover over it. When baby wets the diaper you can switch out the insert and reuse the cover unless the cover is also wet, in which case I just lay it out to dry and use it the next time, unless the cover is totally saturated with urine (like, smells bad), then I will toss it in the diaper pail with the wet diapers (you can use a normal diaper pail, but you don't have to put the trash bag in it because you won't be throwing the diapers out!).
Now we must discuss everyone's favorite topic to read about on a mostly-food blog: poop. I use a separate bucket, located under my bathroom sink, for the poo diapers. You will want to fill the bucket with soapy water or not depending on the frequency and consistency of the poos. Let me explain. Currently, Eleanor has several liquid-poo diapers daily. The poo will not come off the diapers unless it is first soaked. Later on, when her poos become more solid I can simply dump most of the poo into the toilet and then put the diapers in the bucket without water. Once diaper washing time comes around (about every three to four days), I put on my elbow-high rubber gloves and dunk all the poopy diapers in the toilet, trying to scrape off as much poo as possible. (Side note: There are hoses you can attach to your toilet to spray off the diapers. Let me tell you right now: do not buy one of these. The stream of water squirts at the poo on the diaper and then ricochets the poo off the diaper and into your face.) Then the poo diapers and the pee diapers all go in a washing machine cycle together. Fortunately, we have a "sanitary" cycle on our washing machine. If you don't have a cycle like that, the equivalent would be hot water and high soil level settings. You can use bleach if you want the inserts to stay white. I don't.
What I really don't like about cloth diapers: aside from the obvious up-to-my-elbows in poopy water every few days, I don't like the fact that no clothes fit a child who is wearing cloth diapers. If you browse the archives, you will see that my son pretty much wore only sweat pants and overalls for his first two years of life because no normal pants fit over cloth diapers. Baby Elle is three and a half months and is wearing nine month leggings over her gigantic cloth diaper booty.
When we choose to use disposables: out-of-town vacations, and when they sleep at night (making our grand total use right now two disposable diapers per day).
Another note: there are only certain diaper creams you can use with cloth diapers. Something to do with absorbing and repelling moisture. I use Bert's Bees. I think you can also use something called butt paste.
Please, ask any questions at all and I will try to answer them to the best of my knowledge. I hope this is helpful if you are considering cloth!