So as I said yesterday, the first time we tried cloth diapering was frustrating and less than successful. We changed a few things the second time around, such as improving the wash routine, buying better prefolds (I bought mine used from a couple of different sources, including our local baby/child thrift store), adding a wet bag to our diaper pail, and cleaning the covers in between uses instead of rinsing them out. I also added a diaper sprayer in our bathroom that hooks into the shower head - I don't always use it, but it's nice to know it's there as needed. Bear in mind that the following are what works for us, and may not work at all for someone else. Heck, cloth diapering may not work out for you at all, such as the sweet reader who commented yesterday to say that her son was allergic to all effective detergents and so she could not use cloth diapers. Doing what's best for your family is what makes you a good mom, not doing one particular thing that everyone else says is best!
Wash routine: One of the things I read a lot while pregnant was that cloth diapers are a minimal amount of work when you consider the amount of laundry a new mom is already doing. I have to respectfully disagree. Although our washing machine was in constant use (even overnight!) during the first few months, it would have been a big deal to add in another two cycles every day or two. And it's not an inconsiderable amount of work now. It's just that I have a little more time than I did while nursing both girls, and I can work it into my schedule for the most part. I also make an effort to wash diapers before we run out completely, so if I get stuck in the wash cycle it's not the end of the world. One of the biggest issues the first time around for me was the smell of the diaper pail, and frequent washing is about the only way around that. I have heard it recommended to use essential oils, but the only bottle I have is not a strong enough smell to overpower the diapers.
We use Method's detergent for all our laundry, which works well for us, and I just use a very small amount to wash the diapers. I usually run a soak cycle or a rinse cycle (depending on how long the diapers have been sitting in the pail) with a few drops of detergent and some vinegar. Then I wash them on the "eco heavy duty" cycle with half the amount of detergent (1-2 pumps depending on load size) and add an extra rinse. If they still don't smell good, I wash them one more time with a little bit more vinegar on a normal cycle with an extra rinse. I have a front loader, so I can't speak to other types of machines, but that seems to work okay so far. Vinegar works much better than borax for us - I've tried both. Our diaper covers are PUL material, so it's ideal to air dry them, but we live in Oregon and it's not really dry enough to get anything dry outdoors right now. This summer we'll give a clothesline a try, and maybe one of these days I'll get another drying rack for the garage, but I have yet to do so. For the moment, I just dry on low ("delicate" dryer setting). The microfiber inserts/doublers and prefolds get dried on medium (the "eco normal" setting). Again, I can only speak to our washer and dryer (we have the Whirlpool Duet stacking set and love them). I typically wash diapers every other day.
Buying better prefolds: The diapers you want to use for actually containing what your baby will fill them with are going to be thick and absorbent. As I mentioned yesterday, we used the diapers you can buy in stores for the first round, only to find them sadly lacking in the absorbency department. The good prefolds feel heavier and are bigger. If they're too long, you can fold them down at each end. I fold mine in thirds (sides under middle) and then fold the ends down. I pre-stuff covers after doing laundry so changes are quicker and easier (essential with two babies!) and then fold the extra prefolds for quick stuffing the second day. I've tried the snappis (a truly awesome invention) and folding the diaper around the baby, and honestly it just led to more leaks. If you think about it, the mess is confined to a fairly small area, so you really just need diaper there, not on the sides. If the diaper is needed on the sides, I'm going to lose in the leak department anyway. I can't speak to diapering boys since I've never done it, but the trifold method has worked best for me. Also, my girls are crawling and standing and sleep on their tummies, so that makes a difference in the leak department too. Extra tummy padding (I fold more diaper over on that end) is essential!
Wet bag: Our wet bag is similar to our diaper covers. It's actually elasticized and meant to snap over a doorknob, but I use it to line an inexpensive lidded trash can from Target with a flip-top lid. I wash it when I wash the diapers, but I suppose you could just wipe it out if that was your thing. I don't need it to be entirely waterproof, so I wash it and dry it with the covers. In case you're not diaper material literate (I sure wasn't when I started this) PUL material is laminated cloth that dries quickly and is more or less waterproof until the coating is damaged. High heat washing and drying will wreck the coating. I purchased it from a store here locally, but I have seen similar ones at Target and online. I've even seen the fabric at JoAnn's to make your own if you're the crafty type. Anyway, it holds in the odor a little better than a garbage bag or the mesh laundry bag we were using. It also keeps any yuckiness more or less contained.
Cleaning the covers: I had heard that people rinsed their diaper covers between uses to keep them fresh and then simply hung them to dry, washing them when they got dirty or once a week. The result, after a few weeks, was that I never had a dry diaper cover when I needed one because they were either dripping in the bathroom or dirty (remember, I wasn't washing frequently enough either). So now I just wipe them down or wash them, one or the other. If they don't smell good, I use some of the nursery cleaner I bought (I can't remember the name of the company offhand, but the spray is called 2AM Miracle) to spray and wipe them or prewash spray them. I also spray all our absorbent diapers with the same spray and that helps a bit with odor and stain control. Don't worry, it's labeled for such use! In short, the covers still get washed about once a week on average, but they're really not getting dirty so that's okay. But wiping them down seems much more effective than just rinsing them in plain water, and they are ready for use after only an hour or two instead of all day.
Diaper sprayer: Warning - we're gonna talk about poop! I have heard mixed reviews about whether or not diaper sprayers really work. The honest truth is that they make a huge mess if you don't aim perfectly. Another honest truth is that low-flow toilets don't remove poop from a diaper very well. So obviously, the answer is somewhere in the middle (at least for us since we have the aforementioned low-flow toilet). I bought a mini shower head that can be attached to your existing shower head via a tee and a quick-connect. Our bathroom is small, so we connect it to the shower head and stretch the 6 foot hose across to the toilet. Then we (I) hold the diaper by a clean corner down into the toilet and spray down. Advantage: warm water and plenty of it. Disadvantage: well, like I said, it makes a mess. But the diapers go into the pail wet and clean-ish instead of dirty, and so this helps with the smell. Plus, unlike a dirty disposable, the source of the smell is flushed away, so I find our cloth pail smells a little less bad than the Diaper Genie. That's nothing against the Diaper Genie - there's just no point in cleaning a disposable diaper (beyond dumping its contents). So sometimes we use it, and sometimes we (I) don't. And the rest of the time, it hangs over the hook I use for the infant tub. For the record, if I think there's even a chance the sprayer might be dirty, I sanitize the end when I'm done using it.
There are other little changes we've made, but these are the most critical to my success thus far. Perhaps there's a tidbit in here that might help you! Again, if there's anything you're wondering about our cloth diapering experience thus far, leave a comment or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.