Here is what I use/recommend, and my washing method. Also, I will give you some website links to check out … they have even more detailed information on diapering.
Brand Recommendations: *chinese Prefolds Cotton Diaper Service Diapers 4x8x4 (~$25 per dozen for newborns). You can find them online. Make sure to use Diaper Service Quality prefolds. Diapers in the discount stores are less expensive and MUCH less absorbent. (I got mine from The baby Lane.) *”Dritz” brand pins. They are stainless steel with a safety cap that slides shut. They slide easily and don't “stick” and “snag” the diaper. Available in sewing stores or online for about 80 cents a pair (again, The Baby Lane). *Diaper covers: Alexis Featherweight Nylon Pants (The Baby Lane). They have spandex around the openings. Nylon pants worn over cloth diapers will reduce leakage and allow baby's skin to breathe. Plastic pants don't let in air. Alexis Snap On Covers, if you can find them (they have been discontinued) (try Dewey'z Dipes), and Bummi velcro covers if you can't (Bummi's). The snaps/velcro are convenient when you are away from home, you don't have to pull off shoes to get the cover on and off. *Biodegradable, flushable Diaper Liners (I use rice paper liners from Weebees).
How many do you need? *24 Diapers for an older child, 36 for a newborn (you'll wash every 2-4 days, I have a 2 year old and I wash 2 x a week) *At least 4 pull-on nylon pants and 2 snap on pants (for outside the home). 8 to 12 total is better. You only need to change when they get poopy, or begin to smell like urine. I like to let the wet ones “dry” between diaper wearings, they don't smell that way, and I have to wash them less often. *4 pairs of pins (they disappear)
Baby Wipes and Diaper Rash Cream: *Fill a squirt bottle or spray bottle with 2-3 tablespoons baby wash, 2-3 tablespoons baby oil and 3 c. water. Squirt bottom then wipe with dry washcloths or warm wet washcloths. If diaper is poopy, use toilet paper to wipe off most of the mess (flush it with the liner), then a washcloth to clean the last bit off. *Pat baby's bottom dry, or allow to air-dry before diapering. *For a diaper rash cream, coat baby's bottom with a solid vegetable shortening.
Changing Diapers: Check your baby often and change diapers whenever very wet. Newborns need to be changed every 1-2 hours, they wet 8-20 times a day in small amounts. An older baby needs changing every 2-3 hours until they begin to hold their urine longer. At one year, babies wet 7-10 times a day, in greater amounts. At two years a child needs greater absorbency capacity, but only 5-8 changes a day. (My 2 year old goes through 4-6 a day.)
When traveling you can put the used diapers/wipes into a plastic grocery bag and clean them at home. I use disposables when we'll be gone from the house for more than 2 hours, but when I run out of my last stash of disposables, I'll start using cloth everywhere.
WASHING CLOTH DIAPERS: Instead of using a pail, fill the washer with cold water for a medium load and then turn off before the agitation starts. Put 1/2 cup baking soda in the water to “deodorize” diapers. When you change baby, just put the diaper and (disposable) liner into the machine. If there is anything solid in the diaper, dump the liner and used toilet paper (from wiping) into toilet on the way to the washer. Don't worry about whatever sticks to the diaper, just soak it all. WASH YOUR HANDS WELL AFTERWARDS. Add more water to washer as needed. When ready to “wash”, finish the cycle with cold water, don't add detergent.
Then wash a second time in the highest water level and hottest water, making sure that there is plenty of room for the diapers (and liners, and covers) to move around (24 diapers or less is best). Use 1 cup of non-phosphate, gentle detergent (Dreft, All, Cheer, Tide [NOT Tide with Bleach], or Arm and Hammer) and, if diapers are stained, non-chlorinated bleach [like Clorox 2].
Finally, run the rinse cycle again, adding 3/4 cup of white vinegar.
Hang covers and liners to dry (I put them on “baby” hangers). Machine dry diapers for about 60 minutes. Do not over-dry the diapers, it's hard on the fibers.
My diapers are CLEAN when I'm done. They do not smell, and are not stained. I also have a washing machine that is only 5 years old. If yours is an old model, you may have to modify this a bit.
Fabric softener should not be used. It causes a waxy build-up on the diapers, reducing the absorbency and making the diapers water-repellent.
Vinegar is a natural fabric softener that removes all trace of detergent and ammonia (urine smell) from the diapers, lowers the pH level (which helps to prevent diaper rashes), and helps to whiten the diapers.
Bleach cuts down the life of diapers, use chlorine-free bleach, washing soda, or Borax instead. You can line-dry stained diapers in direct sunlight to bleach the stains.
Baking soda neutralizes the alkaline in the urine and whitens the diapers.
I spent about $160 on 3 dozen diapers (2 dozen regular, 1 dozen toddler), 4 sets of pins, 8 Alexis Featherweight nylon pants, 6 Alexis snap-on nylon pants (in 2 sizes), and 2 Bummis Velcro covers, plus 5 boxes (50 ct. each box) of rice paper disposable diaper liners. I just started using cloth when my daughter turned 2 and diaper costs went up so much. I love it! It's much easier than I thought it would be, and I'm saving about $25 a month over using disposables.
When I figured my cost per diaper use, I included the energy cost for the washer/dryer, the water cost, detergent/borax/baking soda/vinegar cost, the cost of the diapers (at 200 uses per diaper before they wear out, but they should last a lot longer than that), the cost of covers (200 uses), and the cost of the disposable liners (most get used about 4 times before I have to throw them out).
I tried dunking the diapers in the toilet, but my water pressure is really low, and flushing didn't rinse them, so I switched to disposable liners. I found out that you can “wash” them when they are just wet and reuse them. Then when they are poopy, just throw them away. I get about 4 uses per liner (unless she poops on them). I've been using the first box of liners (50 per box) since I started (3 months ago), and I'm not even halfway through it!