That said, there's a lot of controversy on cloth versus disposable diapers and their impact on the environment. Many argue that with the water and energy expenditure required to clean the cloth diaps, you aren't doing a whole heck of a lot to save the environment. So, really - unless you are interested in practicing EC (which I was NOT - letting your wee one run around naked and learning their cues before they potty, thus foregoing diapers altogether), you're bound to have an environmental impact. You just have to do your research and decide what's best for you. Another really appealing concept to me was, though more expensive up front, once you've purchased all you need you don't have to purchase diapers each month, saving you thousands of dollars in the long run!
So - I questioned my friend ENDLESSLY, as I was learning all the "lingo" commonly used in cloth diapering and trying to decide what all I needed to begin this adventure. Thankfully, she obliged. (I'm sure she was glad once I was well into it and quit needing her advice, as I began learning as I went!)
Everyone will find different things work for them. However, this is what worked for me...
First, the diapers. My favorites have been the bumGenius. I ended up with an all-in-one size small through a free offer, and loved it - however, for cost-effectiveness, I opted to go with all one-sized diapers. They grow with baby, so you can buy 1 set and use them throughout baby's diapered life, rather than having to buy a new set as baby grows. I have a selection of a few different kinds, because when I was starting I didn't know what would be my favorite, so as I found sales I snatched them up. Others I have include Flip (I have the stay-dry inserts and the organic inserts but you can use ANY insert, which I later bought packs of to swap in with my Flips), Econobum (which you can also use any insert with), Smartipants, and Bumwear onesize pocket. The nice thing about the Flip/Econobums are that you can reuse the shell and just swap out the insert, if the shell is still unsoiled. I really like these too. I bought both, not really understanding how it all worked. They are cheaper than the bumGenius. If money were no issue, I'd have purchased 24 bumGenius and been done with it. However, if I were to redo it, I probably would have purchased 12 Econobum shells and 24 inserts and just done that. As it were, I had so many Flip covers I just used them (they are a bit nicer but more expensive than Econobums) and tucked my Econobums away, perhaps to sell, unused, one day. These all come from the same company. The nice thing is, for the latter two systems you can buy disposable liners for when you're on the go.
I also used cloth wipes. I found it MUCH easier to do all reusable, as they all go in the same bin and get washed together, than having to separate disposable from reusable and have 2 discard containers to deal with for every diaper change. I purchased 30 Imagine Flannel Wipes and 30 OsoCozy Flannel Wipes (they both fit a standard plastic wipe container so I fold them in half and stock this after each wash so they're ready to go). The nice thing is the OsoCozy's have colored bands, so I pulled half of them out and keep them in the kitchen for use after meal clean up (they're perfect for wiping goo off of hands and faces) and the color coding allows you to keep diaper wipes separate from feeding wipes (although you'll be washing them separately, I often would dry them together so this was nice). Once loading them back into the plastic bin, I would either lightly wet them with plain ole' water, or I've used Lusa concentrated wipe solution. I actually prefer water, but you may find you want something more.
Soiled diapers don't take much effort. Before baby begins solids, you simply remove them and dump them, poo and all, into a holder. You don't have to have anything fancy. I opted for the Hefty Touch-Lid Wastebasket 53 quart tan model 2166 for $13. It has worked perfectly for me. I purchased 2 liners, so that I could have 1 in the laundry and 1 clean one ready to go, to put in the pail. The liner gets washed with the diapers. I purchased 2 Planet Wise pail liners, which fit my pail perfectly, for $16.50 each. I purchased a pack of pail deoderizers and placed them in the bottom of the can - I've never had much trouble with odor.
Once baby starts solids, things change a bit (literally...)
The poo will get thicker, and you'll want to discard it before putting the diaper in the pail. Some people swear by diaper sprayers, or dunking the diaper in the toilet (yuck) - I opted for disposable liners. There's not much to them, so I thought I could be okay with throwing away this minimal amount. I have tried three kinds of flushable liners (Grovia, Imse Vimse, Bummis) and been happy with all of them. You simply shake the liner into the toilet and flush, then place the diaper into the pail as you normally would.
You have to be really careful with cloth diapers about what you put on them. PLEASE read about their care and maintenance and follow to a "T". I've used Charlie's Soap and Country Save detergent, though there's a list of approved detergents. ONLY USE THESE! Also, you can't get diaper cream on them. You should only use creams approved for use with cloth diapers, and even then take precautions to avoid getting the cream on the diapers, which doesn't easily wash away. I bought a pack of 10 Bummis Fleece Liners so that whenever I needed to treat a rash I could place this against the cream on baby's skin to protect the cloth diaper. I also bought a cheap pack of prefolds, and just used those with my Flip covers whenever she had a rash, rather than my good inserts.
I purchased 3 wet bags (14x14 Monkey Doodlez, 8x10 Planet Wise, Grovia cinchbag) to keep in diaper bag for when we were traveling, to have something to put soiled diapers/clothes in.
Much of what I buy for cloth diapering I go to Nicki's Diapers for - you get freebies when you order a minimum amount of stuff + free shipping on orders $75 and up.
Oh - also, often times cottonbabies.com has seconds sales - diapers that are flawed in some minor way, so they sell them at huge discounts. I signed up for their newsletters, and bought most of my diapers through these sales. There are also forums out there where you can get lightly used diapers (check out their FSOT category). If you're patient, you can find cloth diapers like new for cheap.