Lately I've had a lot of people asking about cloth diapers. I'm new to it myself, but I'm crazy when it comes to researching things, so while I'm certainly not an expert, I do feel that my solid month of research has given me a bit of information. It can be so hard to discover this information on your own, so I'll try to explain all the different terms as simply as I can.
There are a few different types of cloth diapers. It's not what your grandma used! Gone are the days of plastic pants and pinned cloth (although those are still available if you want). Today your options consist of all-in-ones (AIO's), pockets, fitted and prefolds with covers, and all-in-twos (AI2s, also called hybrids).
ALL IN ONES (AIOs)
AIO's are the easiest to use, but most expensive. They are exactly like using a disposable, it's just one thick piece. They are waterproof, so no need for another cover. Because they are so thick, they usually take a while to dry (2 drying cycles, or hours on a clothesline). And they do come in one size, so you don't need to buy new sizes when your kid(s) outgrow them, you just use the same ones from birth to potty training, although sized (small, med, large) is more common. The advantage is that they are the easiest to use since you still just roll it up and toss it in the diaper pail, same as a disposable (it's just not hte trash). The drawback is that it is the most expensive option, and they take a long time to dry. Bumgenius is a popular brand, and they have both sized and one size AIOs.
Pockets look like AIO's, except they are 2 pieces, the diaper and the insert. The diaper has a pocket that the insert goes into, hence the name. These cost about the same as a AIO, but most people prefer these over AIO's because: 1, they are easier to find in one size options, 2, you can adjust the absorbency in them (which is a plus with more than one in diapers, or for naps and night time), and 3, they dry much faster since they are two pieces. Bumgenius is a very popular brand for one size pockets, as well as Fuzzi Bunz (who have both one size and sized options), Happy Heiny, and countless others. These are also waterproof, so there is not need for an extra cover. The disadvantage to these is that they are still pricey, since you must wash each diaper after use, so you need to buy a couple dozen.
FITTED AND PREFOLDS WITH COVERS
Then there are fitted and prefold diapers, both of which you use a cover. Fitted diapers are cloth material in diaper shape, but it's not waterproof and you need different sizes for different kids. Prefolds are like old fashioned cloth diapers, with pins (although nowadays they have these plastic things called snappis so you don't poke your baby), but to make it simpler you can just fold it in thirds (called trifolding) and put that inside the cover. The advantages to both of these is that you only have to replace the inside part and can reuse the cover, unless it gets dirty or stinky. Prefolds are also really cheap, good quality ones are $2-$3 each. 24 prefolds and 4-6 covers and you're good to go! Covers can be made of a variety of materials. PUL and wool are the most popular options. PUL is a thin waterproof material that's similar to vinyl, but it's breathable. Wool is super absorbant and only needs to be washed about once a week unless poo gets on in. Just hang it to dry and it won't smell like pee. The only drawback to wool is that it must be handwashed and lanolized, so it's a little high maintenance.
HYBRIDS/ALL IN TWOS (AI2S)
Last are hybrids and AI2s. These are what I use mainly. They are hybrids because they have both cloth and disposable inserts. Also called AI2s, because they are cheaper like prefolds and covers, but have the absorbency of a pocket, because it's the same kind of insert. I love these because I can still use the same cover, I only have to take out the inside, and they work great. Typically, the insert is made of microfiber with fleece or suedecloth on top. You can also use prefolds instead of their inserts to make it cheaper. They are one size too.
Cloth diapering can be as expensive or as cheap as you want it to be. There are countless accessories, but these are the things that I think you should use that will make your CD experience as pleasant as possible, without breaking the bank:
-Cloth Wipes: Chances are, you're considering CD to save money. So why would you buy wipes to throw away? You will already be washing a load of diapers, so there is absolutely no extra work involved. It can be done very cheaply by buying a couple dozen baby washcloths or cutting up some old receiving blankets. And it's awkard carrying poopy disposable wipes around, it's easier to just throw the wipes in with the diaper.
-Some sort of dirty diaper container: You don't need anything fancy. They make washable bags that you can hang from a doorknob or put in a trashcan, then on laundry day you just have to dump the bag in the washer along with the diapers. Or you can buy a cheap trashcan and rinse it out while your diapers are in the laundry. Easy peasy.
-CD safe soap: You don't want to use detergent that has enzymes, bleach, softeners, or any other additives. Rockin' Green and Charlie's Soap I hear are great for cloth diapers. Don't be shocked by the slightly higher price tag. Remember that 1) these are just for your CDs, so the rest of your laundry can still use whatever, so the cost is spread out over a few months, and 2) you only use about 1/2 the amount that you would use for a load of regular laundry. It says 100 loads? You can assume it will be more like 200. So it's not that bad really.
-Clothes Line and Clothes Pins: While not totally necessary, I highly recommend them. Instead of using your dryer to dry your diapers, dry them outside whenever possible. Not only will it result in less energy spent (yay money!), but it will extend the life of your diapers. Added bonus: the sun is a natural whitener, so don't worry about those stains!
-Sprayer: This is another one of the optional items that can make your life easier. They attach right to the toilet, so you can spray that poop right into the toilet where it belongs (it is ILLEGAL to throw away human waste... including the poo in your disposable diapers. Bet ya didn't know that!). This can help with preventing stains. It's not really necessary in the first few months if your baby is exclusively breast fed, but for babies who get formula or have started eating solids, it can make diaper cleaning a whole lot easier.