*Please note that throughout this post I will be referring to prefolds as diapers and vice versa*
A prefold is an absorbent, rectangular diaper that is divided into three sections. Each section is made up of many layers of gauze-like fabric (usually cotton but sometimes hemp or bamboo) with the middle section containing the most layers. They must be used in conjunction with a diaper cover since a prefold itself lacks waterproof properties. They are very versatile and can be folded a few different ways. They are also virtually indestructible and can survive being washed and dried several hundred times, boiled, and even bleached (although bleaching and boiling isn't recommended or even necessary unless you are buying used prefolds). Usually, they cost around $2 each and it is recommended to have two dozen in each size in order to cloth diaper full time.
Prior to use, prefolds must be prepped by being washed and dried 4-6 complete times. Be sure to wash with hot water and a small amount of detergent and dry on high heat. This will rid the prefolds of all the natural oils that are present in the cotton that prevent them from being as absorbent as possible. This prepping process will shrink the prefolds by 5-10% and will cause them to quilt.
Pictured above are three different sizes of prefolds. The two smallest are from the brand Osocozy while the largest is from Cloth-eez and is sold by Green Mountain Diapers. The smallest is a size one and according to the manufacturer, fits infants weighing 7-15 pounds. Behind that is their size two prefold (which I have dyed and shortened) which is said to fit infants and toddlers weighing 15-30 pounds. The largest prefold pictured is a size large Cloth-eez. It is supposed to fit infants and toddlers from 20-35 pounds.
I found Osocozy's sizing to be a bit off, as my daughter used size one until she was nearly 20 pounds. For their size 2, there is no way my daughter will be able to wear them until she's 30 lbs. They are simply just too narrow (it's important to note that my daughter is tiny and has always been in the 20th percentile). As for the Cloth-eez, while it is quite long, making it necessary to fold the excess down in the front, the width is perfect and I'm confident that this size will work for the remainder of our cloth diapering days.
How long each size will work for your baby is largely dependent on how big your baby is and what folding style you use. Also, it's important to note that size two Osocozy prefolds are actually much longer than the one pictured. I found the size two prefold to be much too long and I altered all two dozen of mine to be 4 inches shorter in length, making them the same length as the size 2 diaper covers by Thirsties.
If I were to go back in time, I would have skipped purchasing the size two osocozy prefolds and instead used the large size Cloth-eez immediately after my daughter outgrew her size one Osocozy prefolds. While the size two Osocozy prefolds were nice, they were definitely unnecessary as they only fit my daughter for approximately 6 or 7 months before we sized up to the large Cloth-eez.
Covers are necessary as they act like a waterproof layer between the diaper and your baby's clothing. They can be made of synthetic fabrics like PUL (polyurethane laminate) or natural fibers such as wool (wool must be lanolized first. we'll get to that later). They can be purchased in various sizes (for instance Thirsties Duo Wrap comes in two sizes) or in a one-size-fits-most variety (like the covers by BubuBibi). PUL covers are generally inexpensive, ranging from $6-20 while wool covers are much more costly, ranging from $10-50.
The wet bag I started with was by Planet Wise and cost approximately $30. It comes in a variety of prints and colors. It is a double layered wet bag with the outer layer consisting of cloth and the inner layer consisting of PUL. It also features two zippered compartments. The main zipper across the top accesses the main compartment where wet diapers are to be stored and the zipper on the side accesses a pocket that is not waterproof. This side pocket is meant to store clean diapers, however I never used this pocket and felt as though it was unnecessary. It also has two handles on the top and is meant to be hung on a door handle or hook. I quickly found that this bag is nearly impossible to zip while actually hanging, so I left mine on the floor in front of the diaper changing station where it easily held 3 days of cloth diapers with room to spare. This bag survived being machine washed and dried on high every other day for 13 months (nearly 200 trips through the washer and dryer) until it finally fell apart. The outer fabric developed huge holes and rips in it and one of the handles ripped from the bag. Even though this had happened, oddly enough the inner waterproof layer held up perfectly. I ripped out all the decorative cotton fabric and now have a wet bag made entirely of PUL with a zipper closure. It's not very pretty but it works and I now use this bag when we travel out of town.
After a few months, I found the diaper pail/liner combo to get annoying as by day two, I was having to really stuff its contents down into the pail to make room for more. I've since purchased an XL wet bag by BubuBibi for $14. I've been using it since spring 2013 and it is still in perfect condition. It easily holds 3 days worth of diapers, washes beautifully and holds in smells nicely.
IV: DIAPER FASTENERS + ACCESSORIES
Snappis are a modern alternative to diaper pins. They consists of three stretchy "arms" and on the back of each arm are spiky plastic hooks. These dig into the diaper and hold everything in place. Snappis cost approximately $6 for a pack of two.
A diaper sprayer is basically your every day kitchen sink sprayer that attaches to your toilet water line. It sprays clean water at a high pressure that quickly can rinse away even the nastiest of dirty diapers. Diaper sprayers cost approximately $40. You can get a cheap kitchen sprayer but keep in mind that after you gather all the plumbing hardware to make it fit your toilet, you'll probably save $5 at most.
Cloth wipes can be purchased online and in some stores, but at nearly $1 per wipe, I recommend making them yourself. Mine measure about 5x7 inches and are made from two layers of flannel. To make them, I stitched right sides together, leaving an opening for turning. Once turned right side out, I ironed them and then sewed around the perimeter and down the middle. It is recommended to have at least two dozen cloth wipes, although three or even four dozen is best if you wipe after every diaper change. I have 40 wipes and I used 4 yards of flannel (which was on sale, costing $8 for all 4 yards) and a spool of thread ($2) to make these.
A doubler/insert will increase the diaper's absorbency and are great for nighttime use. While they are very useful and nice to have, they are far from necessary and the same thing can be achieved by taking a second, smaller prefold, folding it into thirds, and laying it on top of the first prefold (keep in mind that this method creates more bulkiness). Doublers usually cost $3-5 each.
stay-dry liner, trifolded prefold (or doubler/booster pad/insert), and a prefold