I have been asked to explain my system for using cloth diapers. Anyone else is invited to ask questions, share tips, tell experiences, etc., in the comment section. When giving advice, keep in mind that this is written to a young mom expecting her first baby, who never even heard of cloth diapering until very recently. (In this age of disposables, I don't think she is unique.) What seems basic to you may be totally new to her -- and, perhaps, to other readers of this blog.
Edited to add: Here is a great link with a lot more info on cloth diapering, with lots of other links to help you find what you need and how to save money by making some things yourself. http://allaboutclothdiapers.com
I buy pre-folded cloth diapers at Wal-mart in the US. As far as I know, none of the Wal-marts in this section of Ontario sell cloth diapers. (They do sell diaper pins and plastic pants; go figure.) There are a number of things that are cheaper/more available in Wal-marts in the US, so we tend to shop there whenever we are in the States.
If I had the money, I would order diapers over the internet. Several companies offer different sizes of prefolds, to better fit newborns up to toddlers. And if I had a lot more money, I'd buy woolen "soakers" to use instead of plastic pants. If I had more time, and a good source for quality wool spun "in the grease" (for softness and waterproofing), I'd knit my own. Some people use diapers/diaper covers with velcro closures, but I don't like them. I can never get them fastened tight enough, and the hook side of the velcro gets clogged with lint too fast.
I like to start with 5-6 dozen diapers. I used to keep as many as I needed to go through a whole week without washing diapers. But now I have a smaller diaper pail, so I wash them when the pail is full. When I've had two children in diapers, this could be every other day or so. With just Sam, it's more like every 3-4 days.
The packaging for the diapers usually has diagrams that illustrate how to put the diaper on the baby. Borrow a doll to practice on. (Little girls always used to do this when playing "house," but modern baby dolls come with disposables.) A newborn can wear one diaper, folded over in front to fit. As Baby grows, you will sooner or later need to double the diaper (putting two on at a time). When Baby starts sleeping through the night, you may need to triple the diaper. I usually keep the inner diaper(s) folded in, opening out only the outer diaper so I'm not pinning through so many layers.
When pinning, keep the fingers of your other hand under the diaper, next to the baby's skin. That way, if anyone gets pricked, it'll be you, not the baby.
When putting the plastic pants (or whatever diaper cover you use) on, make sure the diaper is completely tucked in, all the way around, at the waist and at the legs. The tiniest bit of cloth diaper (or even the tag in the back of the plastic pants) will wick wetness out and get Baby's clothes wet.
When changing Baby, I like to use Huggies brand of wipes. However, I rarely want to spend the money for them. Instead, I use washcloths. I like baby washcloths for this, since they're softer, but when I don't have them, I use a cheap package of regular washcloths. I wet the washcloth with warm water and add a squirt of baby bath. I bought one bottle of (expensive) baby bath with a pump-squirt thingy on the top, and refill it with cheaper baby bath in the regular bottles. After using the washcloths, they get thrown in the diaper pail along with the diapers.
With babies that are only (or mostly) breast-fed, I put the messy diapers in the diaper pail without rinsing first. When they are eating more and more solids, their messes are nastier, and need to be rinsed out in the toilet first. I think it's more efficient to do this by hand than to use one of those diaper ducky things. I like to use rubber gloves for this (and clean them by washing my hands with the gloves still on), but my children like to play with rubber gloves (and lose them). So I buy a box of disposable vinyl gloves and throw them away after using.
Unless the plastic pants are messy (from bowel movements) or overly wet and smelly from overnight use, I reuse them for the next diaper. They come cleaner in the laundry if you turn them inside out before putting them in the diaper pail.
There are official diaper pails available. Tom got me something different, though, that I like better. It's a flip-top trash can that you open the lid by stepping on the pedal thingy at the bottom. It has a bucket liner that you lift out when you need to empty it. It's easier to use because when you have the baby in one arm and the wet diaper in the other hand, you can use your foot to open it, and it shuts by itself.
When laundering diapers, I dump them in the washer, add detergent and turn the washer on. Lacking a washer (a memorable event once when I had two in diapers), I dump them into the tub, add water and detergent, and wash by hand. If I can hang them on the line outside, I use cold water. Otherwise I use hot. Hanging them on the line on a bright sunny day bleaches them. Leaving them out in the rain, or overnight in the dew softens them. If you do use a dryer, remember this: plastic pants last longer if you do NOT put them in the dryer. Hang them up instead. Also, bleach weakens the fibers in the diapers.
Diaper rash: I use zinc oxide cream now. When I lived in the US, I could get a little bottle of vitamin E oil that worked wonders. Here, the vitamin E oil is thick, sticky, hard to use, and -- no surprise -- expensive.
That is all I can think of right now. That seems like a lot of information, but once you get going with it, it becomes second nature. And you save tons of money, even if you have to pay for your water. (We have a well, and sun and wind are free.)