(not to exclude the Pappas who brave the unknown intergalactic forces of the cloth diapering Universe! We salute you!)
Washers- The biggest lesson I have learned here? YOU NEED WATER TO WASH CLOTH DIAPERS! I know this may sound a little like overstating the obvious but those eco friendly, front loading, low water usage, robot like contraptions on the market today have given me nothing but dingy diaper blues! We tried them once with my youngest and I promptly traded out even for an old fashioned, "I hop around like a sock hopin teen when I'm unbalanced" top loader!
Here's why: The low water levels of the robot machine (read front end loader) just were not getting my diapers clean. Cloth diapers are made to be absorbent. The robot machine was only giving them enough water to absorb, not enough to absorb, flush, wash and rinse. I tried the tricks of the trade, like adding a wet towel to the load to "trick" the robot in to adding more water, but it didn't work. We had to strip our diapers so often that it added wear and tear to our diaper fluff. Analysis: Use a sock hopin top loader with a large load setting so you get those nappies wet wet and wetter!
Dryers- Just about any dryer with a nice high to med high setting will work, just keep them free of dryer sheet residue. Dryer sheets are made with petroleum which as we know is the bane to all human existence, not to mention it will coat your lovely loved diapers with a water proof waxy layer that will not only sorely affect the absorbency of the diaper but it also broke our little man out! (we found this out when we went to go visit my mom and used her machine. Let this be a lesson for you to be careful as to whose and whats machine you use for your diapers. If you must share facilities, at least try to clean the machine out. Washers do well with a hot hot setting on large with dawn dish washing soap and the inside of the dryer can be washed out with a hot vinegar towel. Vinegar is your friend! )
Sunshine- Sunshine is also your friend when cloth diapering! This magical orb of life giving energy will not only bleach out any stains, but it can also bleach out bacteria and save you some pennies by not using your dyer as much AND save wear and tear on those diapers! Such a dutiful, Loving ball of fire in the sky. Line drying your diapers can be a lovely meditation, hanging each nappy with care, one after the other. Now it might make the fabric a little "crunchy", we remedy this by not putting the diapers up at the hottest part of the day (they get crunchy because they dry too fast too hot) and my great grandmother would throw our lined dried towels in the dryer for a FEW minutes to toss out the crunch.
Water- Hard water seems to be an issue in some parts of the country and it was something we ran in to in the sunshine state of Florida. Hard water becomes an issue when the minerals from the water deposit on your diapers and do not get rinsed out. They can then bond to the ammonia from your little ones excrement to wait in hiding for the next time your little darling relieves himself. The fresh water and ammonia from the fresh excrement will activate the deposited ammonia hiding in the fabric that has bonded to the minerals deposited in the fabric and will cause a terrible stink almost immediately upon getting peed/pooed on and possibly a break out as it did with our little man. Now, this is where the robot machine breathed its last breath in our house! It wasn't rinsing well enough to get those minerals out of the diapers! WE were constantly stripping and thus causing great wear and tear to my cherished nappy collection. ( Collection you ask? Oh but yes! Once you see all of the adorable prints and fabrics these amazing inventions come in, I DARE you to not get hooked you Hyena you!)
Detergent-This could be one of the single most important decisions you will make when deciding to cloth diaper your baby. Most main stream detergents contain brighteners, enzymes, and laureth sulfates which will not rinse out, can break baby out terribly and have even been linked to cancer. The best thing you can do for your entire family is to boy cot those bodacious chemical laden, over priced suds and go with a nice clean rinsing detergent like Charlies found here: Green Mountain Diapers/Charlies or save your pennies and packaging if your a tree hugger like me and make your own. Try out my penny pinchin recipe here: Money and Earth Saving Laundry Soap Recipe
Stripping- This is a washing technique we became very accustomed to what with the robot machine and hard water battles. Hopefully you do not have to fight the battles we did and only use this method as it is intended, ONCE IN A WHILE. When you feel the integrity of your diapers may have been compromised you can throw them in the washer with the hottest water setting with a little dawn dish washing soap. Notice I said A LITTLE. You don't want to spend the rest of your day rinsing suds out! Once the dawn cycle is done you can add another round of hot water and wash, open your lid and check for suds. Do this as many times as it takes to get the wash water clear. I always found that adding vinegar not only helped to strip and nasty residues, but it also balanced the ph and helped my diapers to remain a bit more fluffy!
Notes on wear and tear: Please note that the water proof/resistant nature of your diaper covers (yes even in the all in ones) will not be happy with repeated stripping and high temperature washing/drying. Please take note when purchasing anything wool to clean/dry per the manufactures (or hand made momma's) instructions. Polyurethane coated covers will come up with tiny pin holes and become not so water resistant after repeated exposure to heat. If you have the time/space I highly recommend a hand rinse and air dry only if/when they become soiled, which may not be every time the little one goes.
To wet pail or not to wet pail: That is the question. We tried the wet pail method and between the hassle of keeping a tight lid on it to keep it baby safe, dumping that heavy hunk of poo water and diapers in to the washer and the wear and tear on the threads/coatings of our diapers we went with a dry pail system. My mother used to dunk the diapers in the toilet before throwing them in the diaper pail, but if your not in to sanitizing your toilet bowl every day, you can use a nifty sprayer like this one. Diaper Sprayer from Fuzzi Bunz Simply spray the poo in to the toilet and then toss the diaper in to your pail to await for wash day! Easy peasy!
Simple Washing Method- We simply spray off the diaper immediately after use and throw it in the pail to be washed on wash day. (this is why its important to get enough diapers to last through the week, so your not washing every day.) Note that the new born poo known as meconium will stain your lovely loved nappy, so I recommend flats or inserts rather than an expensive aio for these first few precious days. (we do a traditional baby moon and stay inside for at least a week, so baby usually winds up going on a flat held under her bottom). For the many days and weeks after your baby moon, simply throw the pail full of diapers in the washer at the end of the week and do a cold water rinse. This will get out most of the urine or fecal residue. Then set your washer to hot and add a small amount of detergent. Let them go through a cycle with a rinse and possibly add in a vinegar rinse once a month for added security so you don't find yourself stripping every week. (we found that a vinegar rinse every wash was too much on the fabrics.)
All in all cloth diapering can be a fun experience in the realm of baby making, just don't allow yourself to get overwhelmed. I am here if you ever have any questions or concerns and there is a huge online community available with just a few clickity clicks of the mouse.