I decided to cloth diaper due to environmental concerns, not really monetary ones. However, I'm not here to debate whether disposable diapers in landfills (taking 250-500 years to decompose) are better or worse than using water resources to wash cotton diapers. It's a choice everyone makes for themselves and you're all grown-ups who can research and make your own decisions. I AM going to tell you what I did and what I might do differently if I had a second chance.
I bought most stuff online and the prices in parentheses include shipping. The links are just to show you what the stuff looks like in case you're scratching your head and saying, "Pocket diaper? Huh?"
What I already had:
Given to me:
4 small Happy Heiny pocket diapers ($40)
5 "practically new" Proraps size M ($20 on Ebay)
3 small DiaperAps covers ($17 on Ebay)
36 infant prefolds ($48 on Ebay)
1 newborn prorap, 1 newborn Bummi's wrap ($14 on Ebay)
bag for diaper pail ($15 on Ebay)
6 double layer microfleece liners ($12 on Ebay)
wet bag for my diaper bag (I forget exactly~around $20?)
When C was born, I had 36 infant prefolds, 5 covers, and 4 pocket diapers to work with. Since she was just over 10 lbs, the delivery room nurse took out a newborn diaper, chuckled to herself, and moved on the size 1. In the same way, I sold the 5 newborn covers on Ebay for $29 without even using them. Normally, I would expect those to work until your baby was around 11 lbs. If you're going to have a small to normal size baby, you'll get a couple months of use out of those. If you birth babies who are ready to head off to college, skip the newborn size.
(I really should have bought a lot less infant prefolds and more regular size prefolds. Does anyone want to buy 18 infant prefolds? I haven't even used half of them.)
Anyway, since C was so big, the small covers covered her umbilical cord so I used disposables until that fell off. I was initially very excited about the pocket diapers, but since I've found the twist fold, I'm all about prefolds and covers. This fold creates a sort of poop pocket (can I trademark that?) and I have not had one leak. I had multiple leaks with the disposables and occasional leaks with the pocket diapers, but the twist fold has made the prefolds impenetrable thus far. I could have bought fewer covers. If the poop never leaks out, I don't have to wash them as often.
There was a slight learning curve, maybe a day or so, with the prefolds. It IS two pieces so you'll need opposable thumbs in order to make it work.
Speaking of which, I love the proraps. They're the cheapest cover you can buy (around $7 or $8/each, cheaper on Ebay) and while they're boring white, they work great. There's really no need, IMO, to buy the fancier kind unless you enjoy spending up to $14 for a diaper cover.
I am using the pocket diapers when out and about because it's easy to slip off the prefold/cover, stick it in my wet bag, and just velcro on a pocket diaper that's essentially a washable disposable. Plus, the pocket diapers take up less room in the diaper bag. Prefolds are sort of bulky.
The microfleece liners are for times when we might need to use diaper cream. Apparently diaper cream can stain so you're supposed to put something between the cream and the diaper. We haven't had to use it yet, although we used it multiple times after a few days of disposables. I think I was lazy and changed them too infrequently.
If I was going to be using these pocket diapers through multiple kids, I would spring for the hemp diaper stuffers. They're incredibly expensive, but they absorb way more. Plus, it's less bulky than stuffing a diaper with a prefold. I've used a prefold stuffed pocket diaper for C at night and it works (no leaks for 8 hours) but her thighs are a million miles apart and it looks sort of uncomfortable.
Washing: I'm washing every 3 days, but only because I run out of prefolds. Like I said, I should have bought more regular size and less infant size. My regular size ones are poop stained, but everything I read says that if I lay them outside on a sunny day, maybe squirt some lemon juice on them, the stains will disappear. Does that really happen? I guess I'm not that granola because I just wish I could throw some bleach on them and be done with it (don't do it! Bleach does something to break down the fibers and/or make them less absorbant. Or they explode. Something bad happens). Anyway, I found some recommended detergent that I can buy at my regular grocery store. The lidded pail doesn't smell except when I open it to throw a diaper in (and trust me, I have a crazy-sensitive nose). When I wash the diapers, I run them through a cold rinse (supposed to keep them from staining, but like I said, mine are stained) and then through a hot/cold cycle with detergent.
I refuse to complain about running a load of laundry because really, what am I doing? Carrying a bag downstairs, throwing the contents (and the bag~how convenient!) into the machine, and pushing some buttons. I'm not standing knee deep in the river, beating it against a rock. How hard is an extra load?
Oh, and since I've emailed with someone who was dubious, no, I'm not rinsing anything in the toilet. The poop absorbs into the diaper and there's nothing to rinse off. I just throw it in the bag and call it good. I expect that when C starts eating solid food, I'll use a wipe to dump any formed poop in the toilet and then toss the wipe in the trash, but I've got a good 5 months to go before getting to that point.
Anyway, like any parenting venture, it's not an all-or-nothing gig. I use disposables sometimes at night and I keep them in the diaper bag just in case. If you want to cloth diaper but are hesitant, maybe you could buy medium size cloth diaper stuff and get through the first crazy months of being a new parent before you start cloth diapering. Maybe you use cloth at home and disposables when you're out. Maybe you buy X amount of cloth diaper stuff, use it, and then use disposables until you have time to run a load of laundry. Options, people, it's all about options.