Yes, I'm going to talk about poop. If this topic makes you queasy, you may want to skip it.
We are heading into baby #3 and year #5 with cloth diapers. I am very thankful we chose to use cloth diapers because we have saved a ton of money! When I first said I was going to cloth diaper, I got a few weird looks like, "What are you going to do with the poop? Don't you know there are these new things called disposable diapers?" I'm all for saving the environment and caring for the world God has given us, but simply put, we chose to use cloth because it's cheaper. And especially now that the economy sucks and many people I know choose to live on one income (husband's), saving money is very popular. I have several pregnant friends who have expressed interest in our cloth diaper system, so here you go.
First I'll say that there are many, many ways people cloth diaper their babies. Back when I was a baby, cloth diapers were the norm. My mom used pins and plastic pants for both me and my brother. I still have some of the pins, the ones with the cute pastel ducks or birds on the ends. And I remember my mom using cloth diaper rags for cleaning. Nowadays, there are many more options than pins and plastic pants.
This website, The Diaper Pin, is a fantastic resource for all things cloth diaper. This page lists reviews of the many options out there. Honestly, I haven't tried too many of the ones listed. I have my way of doing things and it works, so I haven't been that interested. But I know severals moms who swear by all-in-ones such as BumGenius. Aside from the supplies, there are many options with washing as well. In Seattle many people use Baby Diaper Service for washing. This seems like a great service, especially for a new mom starting out. You order enough diapers to last a week and they pick up once a week, wash your diapers, and give you another week's worth of clean ones. However, if you are looking to save money, this might not be the best. The cost of diapers + delivery for an average newborn (70 diapers) works out to $0.28/diaper whereas a box of 258 size 2 Huggies at Costco is about $0.19/diaper.
So...here's the way we do things at the Gerlach house. It's worked pretty well for the last 5 years, and in the beginning we did a lot of tweaking to minimize leaks.
After researching and accounting for cost and what actually works, I decided to use the basic prefold + diaper cover + plastic underpants. We use Gerber prefolds which go for about $11/dozen. I was very blessed to have a few baby showers before Caley was born and got most of the prefolds for free because of Target gift cards and credits. I bought about 4 dozen prefolds. I then chose to buy the diaper covers mainly on Craigslist and at consignment stores. I just bought what I could find in the sizes I needed. We ended up with mainly Prorap Classics, Dappi Covers, and an off-brand made in Mexico, Suavity. When the girls started to wet more, we put Gerber plastic/vinyl pants to keep in leaks. We were also given 5 Kushies all-in-ones that work well for Amelia now. For each size I have about 10 covers, but the girls wore each size longer than the tag stated because they're small ones. For example Amelia wore the "preemie" Proraps until she was at least 3 months old even though she wasn't premature and exceeded the weight listed on the wrap. That way we've gotten more use out of the wraps and saved more money!
There are endless ways to fold the diapers in the wrap, but the way I've found that works best for newborns is in fourths such as illustrated here. For girls, once the diaper is in the wrap, the prefold can be bulked up at the back because the pee drips to their back. For boys, the prefold can be bulked up in the front. I've found it helpful, with my girls to bulk it at the front once they can sit up or are spending more time upright rather than on their back. Once they're older and are using bigger wraps, I fold the prefold in thirds and do the same bulking technique. I also frequently use fleece liners which my mom sewed (Thanks Mom!). The liner is about 4 layers of flannel with fleece on the outside which wicks away the wetness from their tender bottoms.
What about washing? This is the part that was the hardest to get used to. But even with disposables, there is still some contact with the poop, it's hard to avoid! Honestly, when Caley was a newborn, I had a really hard time dealing with the poop. It was difficult for me to learn how to be a housewife and new mom, let alone how to keep the poop inside the diaper! I got pooped on many a time (thanks Caley). I was also really concerned about stains on the diaper (prefolds) and spent much time rinsing it out in the bathtub. When Amelia came along I had wised up and just let the washing machine take care of it!
After the diaper has been changed, if it's wet it goes into the diaper pail. My diaper pail is simply a flip-top garbage can from Target with a plastic garbage bag in it. The top says "Cloth Diapers." There are many ways one can do their diaper pail, this is the one I've found to be easiest. If the diaper is poopy, I dump as much poop as possible in the toilet, flush it down, and throw the diaper in the pail. The pail is kept in the bathroom closet, and yes when the door is opened it stinks. I think after 5 years it may be the garbage can having absorbed the smell...it may be time to spring for another flip top garbage can. Next to the diaper pail I also have a small flip top garbage can just for disposables, which actually smells just as bad as the cloth diapers, it's such a chemical smell!
There are also many routines for washing. On diaper day (I'm not organized enough to have a set day this is done, it's just whenever the pail is rather full) I throw the soiled diapers (and wraps that may be poopy) in the washing machine and rinse them on hot with the water level high even if the load is medium or small. I add about 1/2 cup vinegar, which gets rid of the odor. After the rinse cycle, I wash a full cycle on hot with about half as much detergent as regularly needed. If too much detergent is used it can make the diapers too sudsy and irritate baby's skin. Also I never, ever use bleach. The stains come out fine and bleach will very quickly break down the diapers. After the wash I pop them in the dryer and voila! They're done!!
Although we have used cloth since we became parents, I still always have disposable diapers and use them at night. I buy in bulk from Costco, which may not be the cheapest place to find diapers, but for how little we use them, it's okay. We also use disposables if we are going to be in the car a long time, on vacation, or if we're feeling sick or something. I also buy regular wipes although I've heard they can be made (that might be something worth looking into with this new baby). So our cost for diapering the kids isn't $0, but it's way less than always using disposables.
We also used cloth training pants for potty training with Caley and intend to do this with Amelia soon too. I bought some on Ebay. Caley trained by her 3rd birthday, which is pretty average, although in general cloth diapered kids potty train earlier than disposable diapered kids.
So there's more than you ever wanted to know about the Gerlach diaper routine! If you're considering cloth diapers, there are many more resources online than the ones I listed, so do your research and find what works for you and your kiddos. Happy Diapering!