these not the large squares of cloth most people envision, but often look like colourfull disposable diapers.
Cloth diapers can cost anywhere from $200-$700 to have a reasonable stash of diapers till the baby is a toddler, plus detergent and washing. Disposables can run upward of $2000 in the same time period (if you buy noname brand). Increase the savings if you have more than one child.
Cloth diapers come in a variety of types depending on your preference and budget:
All-in-ones (almost exactly like disposables)
All-in-twos (Two parts, goes on like a disposable, but after washing there is some very quick assembly)
Pockets (Two parts, goes on like a disposable, but after washing there is some quick assembly)
Prefolds (a square of sewn fabric with a 8 layers in the center and 4 on each side, requires a cover)
Flats (old-school diapers your mom used, requires folding and a cover)
Wetbag (a waterproof, air tight, bag used to store dirty diapers)
The clear difference from disposables is that you wash the cloth diapers. In the breastfed stage that is as simple as tossing the diaper in the wetbag (there is NO water in the wetbag, it just holds wet diapers), then tossing all the dirties and the bag into the laundry every 2-3 days. Once the baby eats solids any chunky poop gets dumped in the toilet. Some people use flushable liners or a diaper sprayer (think handheld shower head with higher pressure) to spray of anything nasty, but it's not necessary. You use a no residue detergent (like Arm & Hammer Essentials) and do an extra rinse compared to regular laundry.
Example laundry routine:
Rinse in cold water (no detergent)
Heavy wash in hot water (detergent)
Hang to dry or toss in the dryer
Assemble diapers if needed
If you're running to the store to get new disposables, that involves packing the baby into the car seat, then the car, then getting the baby out of the car, into the store and reversing the process. I'd far rather spend 5 minutes turning on the washer.
Cloth diapers come in hemp, bamboo, cotton, and microfibre on the inside and PUL (Polyurethane Laminate), fleece, or wool for the outside. You can have them organic and unbleached if you prefer, although this costs slightly more.
So far this is turning out to be easy, and we have many fewer poop explosions than we had with disposables.