Why we decided to switch:
Environment. My primary reason for wanting to switch to cloth was the environmental impact. One day while I was taking out a couple bags of diapers to the trash I thought, "seriously! This is HEAVY and it's only a few days worth of diapers!" Current statistics say that disposable diapers for one child contribute 1-2 tons (TONS!!!) of waste to our landfills. Considering the fact that the US is constantly looking for places to dump it's garbage, eliminating my 1-10 tons of garbage (depending on how many children we have) seemed like a no-brainer. Also, a number of people argue about how much water is used in cloth diapering but when considering the amount of water used to produce disposables, the comparison is actually in favor of cloth. Less waste, less water. Overall, the environmental impact is considered equal if the cloth diapers are used for one child (taking production and maintenance into consideration) but since most cloth diapers are used for 1-4 children, again, cloth wins out!
Cost. Though cloth diapers are a bit of an investment at the onset (average $300-500 depending on the type and amount), it pales in comparison with the average $1500 that is spent on disposables. Again, considering that cloth diapers can be reused for multiple children, the cost is astronomically lower!
Health. Babies who wear cloth diapers have fewer diaper rashes than disposable wearers. This is because they are made of cloth rather than plastic (yup, those disposables are actually made of plastic, not paper as they would like you to think) and cloth diapers get changed more frequently. Also, since the materials in disposables have been linked to cancer and even infertility, the health benefits go beyond the immediate diaper rash.
Convenience: Okay, yes, they take a little more time, but guess what! No running to the store on Saturday night to pick up diapers when we realize we're low. Just throw them in the washer and in a few hours, we'll have some more! Also, babies who use cloth diapers often potty train much earlier than those in disposables because they can feel when they are wet. Talk about the most convenient diaper type--the type that don't need to be worn!
So, you thinking of making the switch? If you're anything like me, you probably feel super overwhelmed at the number of options and how many different kinds there are. In reality, most diapers fit into about 4 categories.
Types of Diapers:
All diapers: every diaper out there has two basic components--an absorbent layer and a water-resistant layer that goes over the absorbent layer. Depending on you diaper type, these may be separate or all together.
Traditional flats and pre-folds: Flats are your old-fashioned huge-o piece of cloth that you can fold in a few different ways depending on your baby's size/wiggliness. This type of diaper is great for newborn babies. Most newborns can't fit into other types of diapers and they're really inexpensive so you can stock up on them for the days of 12-15 diaper changes (aren't you glad they outgrow that!?). This type of diaper is closed with pins or a Snappi (much easier!) with a water-resistant layer over top. A pre-fold is basically a traditional diaper but already folded for you. The main type of diaper we use is very similar to a pre-fold but the insert is basically a pre-folded pre-fold. These diapers sound difficult but are much easier than they sound.
Fitted Diapers: These diapers are an absorbent layer that is snapped together (almost like a disposable) with a separate water-resistant cover over top. They are usually sized (generally, size small and size large) and therefore, you need to buy at least two different sizes of diaper over the life of your baby.
All-in-ones: These diapers are basically a fitted diaper with the water-resistant layer already attached to the diaper. The advantages of this diaper is the ease--super easy to leave your baby with a sitter because they're the most similar to disposables and easy overall because everything is self-contained. No stuffing, no layers, just one diaper and go! These diapers tend to cost a little more than flats, prefolds, or fitted diapers and they take a little longer to dry since everything is together. They also will need to be replaced more frequently because the attached PUL liner (the water-proof layer) breaks down more quickly than the cloth diaper itself and since they're connected, you'll end up replacing your diapers a little more frequently (they should still last at least 1-2 children).
Pocket diapers: Similar to the all-in-ones except you tuck the absorbent layer into a pocket in the diaper rather than them being built in together. They are an absorbent shell with an opening or "pocket" (hence the name) to place your absorbent layer. These diapers have the ease advantage of the all-in-ones as you can stuff them before putting them on to the baby but can become more absorbent than all-in-ones because you can use them with just about any insert or use a number of inserts at nighttime. The disadvantage of these diapers again is cost. Like the all-in-ones, the outer layer is attached , the whole diaper needs to be washed after each use and you therefore need more of them.
Many families mix-and-match different kinds of diapers depending on the circumstance, perhaps using all-in-ones when leaving baby with a sitter, a pocket diaper at night, and fitted diapers during the day. We opted for a diaper called a Flip (made by Cotton Babies) because they were very affordable (bought a lot of inserts but not as many outer shells. Outer shells are generally more expensive), very absorbent, and versatile. We also have some fitted (MotherEase Sandy's) and pocket diapers (Apple Cheeks), and prefolds (Bummis) that we use as well. I, personally, wasn't really drawn to the all-in-ones because my baby pees like a racehorse but again, every family and every baby has their own preferences.
There are a number of different materials out there but here are the most common.
Absorbent layer: cotton, microfiber, organic cotton, bamboo, hemp. There are advantages and disadvantages to each. Hemp, microfiber and organic cotton are generally more absorbent. However, hemp and microfiber hold on to odors more easily. Bamboo and organic cotton generally don't hold on to bacteria as easily but they're more expensive.
Outer layer: Polyurethane laminate or wool.
Closures: snaps or velcro. Velcro is generally easier to put on a squirming baby than snaps but, that also means that a baby determined to streak can get them off easier. Also, snaps generally last longer than velcro but since high quality velcro is used, it will usually get through 1-2 babies. The snaps usually outlast the diaper itself.
Well, there you have it! We have loved cloth diapering thus far. Sure, there has been the occasional time where in the middle of the night the kid will poo and I'll think, "a disposable would be so much easier right now" but for the most part, I prefer them over disposables. We've had far fewer leaks, no diaper blow-outs, and they're just so stinkin' cute!