A big choice for many new parents was really a very easy choice for us - we chose to use cloth diapers. We had friends who had used them and said it really wasn't all that hard, the money savings was huge, and the idea of creating much less waste was attractive as well. Little did we know, its just not that simple - there's a myriad of choices out there in cloth diaper-land and we went through several options before settling on a good system.
Here is a good guide to the various types of cloth diapers, so you know what the heck I'm talking about in this post.
We started out with AIOs (all-in-ones) gifted to us by friends. They were easy as pie - terry cloth interior with a waterproof outside layer. They had snaps that adjusted the size of the diaper and they were as easy as disposables to use. Big con - they took forever to dry. In order to be really "green" when it comes to diaper-ing, its a good idea to hang your diapers to dry rather than use a dryer. These diapers took prohibitively long to dry when hung. At least we thought so. This particular brand also didn't seem to fit our first son perfectly so we had some leaks.
Next, we tried a hybrid diaper that had a cloth shell and compostable inserts. These were not our favourites, although I do know many people who love them. We had a lot of leaks, the covers would get messy with poop all the time and when I was out and about, there was often no compost to put the inserts in. These got sold pretty fast.
Following that fiasco, we moved on to pocket diapers. Similar to the AIO but they have a small opening inside the diaper for an insert (often microfibre, fleece or bamboo). Amongst my friends who used cloth, these were the most popular. Again, there were a billion choices - snaps vs. velcro, microfibre vs. bamboo inserts. These diapers can be expensive, but there are some "knock-off" brands that are much, much cheaper and still do the same job. These diapers were easy to use - I'd pre-stuff the inserts into the shell so changes were simple and quick. Grandparents and daycare found these diapers easy to use. The only real con was having to reach into the pocket and pull out the insert - jamming your hand into a used diaper that's been festering all day at daycare = not my idea of a party. That said, these were the diapers we used with our first son all the way through until potty training.
Unfortunately, a new daycare teacher + a generous slathering of Penaten = a bunch of wrecked diapers. So, we needed to re-stock before our second son was born, and I decided to try something new. For the newborn days, when babe is often too small for a one-size pocket diaper, fitted diapers with covers (like an AIO but in two parts) or prefolds (just a flat piece of layered cotton) with covers are a popular choice. We decided to try these options out and if we loved them, we'd order bigger sizes as E grew.
Bingo. We love them.
Our current system is prefolds with PUL covers during the day and fitted diapers with wool covers at night. In our opinion, these are just as easy, if not easier, than pocket diapers and there's no yucky insert to reach in and grab. Leaks are not an issue at all. The wool covers are amazing - they're breathable, they only need washing/re-lanolizing every few weeks, and E's bum is rash free (unless we get behind on laundry and put him in a disposable). My generous aunt knit a few for me and they are worth their weight in gold, particularly because they can be expensive to buy.
Our overall impression of cloth diapering? It really is easier than most people think it is. I hear a lot of naysayers proclaim "its too hard" and "I don't have time". To that I say, do you wear disposable clothing? Is it too hard to launder your clothes? Do you really not have time for maybe two more loads a week? I think if most people were honest with themselves, they'd find that they do have the time and it isn't that hard. Truly, if people gave cloth diapering a shot, I think they'd find it isn't as difficult as they perceive it to be. The other main complaint is that its "too gross". Well yes, poop is gross. I think you'd be hard pressed to find someone who would disagree. But there are ways to set up your system to have minimal contact with said poop and to lower the "yuck" factor. From an environmental perspective, there really is no other choice. The amount of waste produced by disposables, nevermind the associated health concerns , makes using cloth the best option, in my opinion. Which of course, anyone is entitled to disagree with.