I have been using cloth diapers on my little ones ever since our oldest (age 2) was born. From time to time, there have been many questions posed to me that I will answer here.
*How many do you need?
This really depends on how often you plan to wash them. I have 2 little ones in diapers right now, so I launder them every day. The general recommendation is to have 20 diapers for a newborn. This is about a 2-day supply. Newborns go through more diapers each day than an older baby or toddler. This is due in part to their being given liquids only. When they are older and eating more solid foods than drinking liquids, the number of diapers needed per day will decrease. Many who dry the diapers on a clothesline also will have a larger number of diapers due to the time it takes to dry the thicker diapers on the line.
*How do you care for them?
The diapers that I am making are not made with a water barrier fabric. I am able to simply empty soiled diapers into the toilet, then set them to soak in soapy water. When I have enough for a load in the machine, I wash them adding a little bleach to the water. Fabric softeners can lessen a diaper's ability to absorb wetness, so instead, I use white vinegar. The white vinegar removes any soap residue and also freshens the diapers.
Depending on the weather I will dry them either in the dryer or on the clothesline. Drying on the clothesline is always preferable as the sun will dry the diapers much more thoroughly, which in turn will increase the diaper's absorbancy.
If you purchase cloth diapers made with PUL fabric, you cannot dry them in a dryer without risking losing the water barrier's ability to prevent leaks over time.
*How do you prevent leaks with diapers not made with a water barrier fabric?
There are a couple of options. First is to use diaper covers. These look similar to the diapers but without any absorbant layer. Another option is to wear a pair of knickers (soakers) over top of the diaper. This has a couple of advantages. One is that the fleece ro sweater material the knickers are made of will be absorbant yet not leak. Secondly, if you have a little one who has figured out how to unfasten the velcro closure on the diapers, the pull up knickers will prevent them from removing the diapers. A third option would be to use the old standby plastic/vinyl pants.
One consideration with the knickers - you can take knickers made from fleece and turn them into training pants when the toddler is ready for potty training.
*Are they hard to deal with when away from home?
That depends on your attitude and preparation. No doubt, cloth diapers take up more space in a diaper bag. When I have both little ones with me on an all day outing, I have 3 bags. One diaper bag for a day's worth of diapers, a large tote bag for putting the soiled/wet diapers into. and a smaller diaper bag to carry just enough supplies for 1 diaper change per child that I carry into the stores. I know that sounds like a pain in the keester to some but it is actually very easy considering that you don't actually carry all three bags with you in the stores and such. In a small diaper bag, I carry 1 diaper for each child, the diapering supplies (powder, lotion, wipes), and a plastic bag or "wet bag." This is gives me just the amount that I need to have on hand. The other diapers are kept in the car. When we use a diaper out of the bag I am carrying with me, we simply restock it when we get back to the car.
As soon as I get home, the soiled/wet diapers are put to soak or are washed right away. I use a tote that is machine washable so that I can toss it in the washer also to prevent it from getting an odor.
*What type are the easiest to work with?
This depends on your own preferences and how much work you want to do with them. Pocket diapers need the absorbancy layer pulled out of a soiled/wet diaper before washing and then restuffed after the diapers are dried. A fitted all-in-one works exactly like a disposible in that you don't have to add a cover or stuff a pocket. The downside that I have experienced with the thick AIO diapers is that they take much longer to dry than the pocket style or the prefolds. In my opinion, I find the prefolds or fitted with a water barrier and a set of diaper covers or knickers to be easiest.
There are alot of free diaper patterns online, along with many SAHMs who sell the cloth diapers that they make. If you are unsure what style you would prefer, go to a baby consignment store and buy one diaper of each style so that you can decide which one works best for you.