Cloth diapering can get very confusing, especially when your just starting out. There are many different kinds to choose from. The most important thing to remember is; every parent is different, and every child is different. Something that works great for my son, may not work at all for your daughter. Something that I think is a piece of cake to use, maybe too much work for you. Try not to get too overwhelmed by all of the information out there. Just take it one day at a time. For those of you that have heard about different kinds of cloth diapers but aren't sure what is what, here is a simple breakdown.
A stack of flats.
Flats are your basic one layer diapers. They are normally made out of 100% cotton gauze. They are great in the sense that they dry extremely fast, and fit a large range of sizes. Unfortunately, these diapers are considered old fashioned due to the fact that you have to fold and pin them.
Prefolds are becoming more and more popular these days. They are very similar to flats, but have multiple layers with even more layers in the middle section. Prefolds are sized by infant, newborn, regular, and premium with coordinating numbers (2x6x2, 4x6x4, 4x8x4, etc.). The numbers refer to how many layers are in each section. So, if you have a 2x6x2, it means you have 2 layers on the left side, 6 layers in the middle, and 2 layers on the right side. Prefolds were the most common cloth diaper that was used around the time I was born (1980's), and they are slowly becoming more and more popular again. You can purchase Gerber prefolds at stores like Walmart of Target, but they are nowhere near as absorbent as Chinese or Indian prefolds. People (including me) normally use the Gerber prefolds as burp cloths, since they are inexpensive and more absorbent than real burp cloths.
Prefolds in various sizes.
Prefolds can be folded and pinned or snappied and used underneath a cover, or they can be tri-folded and used inside a cover for heavier wetters (I know Amy uses them this way on Kainan). They come in bleached or unbleached and you can even get them in a more absorbent hemp material. Everyone has their different views on how or when to use prefolds, but the general consensus is that sooner or later they'll come in handy, even if they're just used as burp cloths. ;-)
A Kissaluvs fitted diaper.
Fitteds are a very popular choice in cloth diapering. They have elastic around the legs and back and pretty much look like a disposable diaper. Of course, they come in a variety of colors and prints, so they're much cuter. They often have aplix (Velcro) or snap closers and can be made out of various fabrics. They come in a huge selection of sizes depending on where you purchase them from, and can even be found in a one size diaper. They normally range from sizes Newborn to Large. A lot of WAHM's even make these based on the measurements you give them, so they'll fit your little one perfectly.
The majority of pockets are made with a layer of fleece or flannel (inside) sewn onto a layer of fleece or PUL (outside), with an opening in either the front or back to stuff an insert into. You can stuff pockets with prefolds, hemp prefolds, terry cloth, or even old towels. I love my pocket diapers! I know Amy has, and will use a few pockets as well. My favorite brand of pocket diaper is FuzziBunz. These work wonderfully for me and my boys. I've even made quite a few pocket diapers from a pattern I found online that work pretty good as well.
Also known as all-in-one's. A lot of people like AIO's because you don't need to use a diaper cover with them. They have the most absorbent part of the diaper and the cover combined into one. Similar to fitteds, most all-in-one diapers have snap closures, but I have seen a few WAHM made AIO's with aplix (Velcro) closure. These are a great choice for parents who are scared to venture into cloth diapering. This is probably the closest thing you will find to a disposable diaper. The down side to AIO's are that they are normally a more bulky diaper, since everything is wrapped into one. They also don't perform as well for heavy wetters. I've also heard a lot of moms complain about the drying time. Since everything is sewn into one, there are many inner layers that take a considerable amount of time to dry. If you dry the majority of your diapers on the line or outside, you probably will want to stay away from AIO's.
If you are planning on using cloth diapers, 9 times out of 10, you'll need to use a cover. The good thing about diaper covers is that, you don't have to wash them after each use. Unless they get visible poo or pee on them, or they start to smell, you can get through the whole day using only 1 or 2 covers. Now, don't think every cover is created equal, because they just aren't. There are a few different types of covers as well. I can go over them now.
Wrap Style Cover
1) Wrap - These are covers that are either snap or aplix (Velcro) closing. They fasten in the front just like a disposable diaper. This type of cover can be used wither prefolds (pinned or unpinned), fitteds, or pockets.
Side Closing Cover
2) Side Closing - prefolds, fitteds, or pockets.
Pull On Cover
3) Pull On - Pull on style covers are great for toddlers that can't sit still and enjoys helping dress him/her self. These can only be used with pinned prefolds, fitteds, and pockets. Also, if you do by chance get a poo blowout, this will be a big mess trying to take off the pull on cover.
There are a lot of different fabrics that can be used for covers. A few of the most popular fabrics are; PUL, fleece, waterproof nylon, and wool.
Doublers are great for adding extra absorbency to a diaper. These are especially great for heavy wetters and they are also a good option for overnight or nap time.
Liners are pretty similar to inserts in the sense that they can be a various materials; a trifolded prefold, microfiber liner, or even suede cloth or terry cloth. The only difference between inserts and liners is that liners go directly against baby's skin instead of inside a pocket. That is the number one reason why parents choose to use liners. It helps protect baby's skin from irritating fabrics. Also, if your child poos on the liner, and nothing gets on the diaper itself, you can just swap out the liner. Liners also come in disposables. I know Amy tried these at one time and although she did like the ease of disposable liners, she didn't like the whole system.
I am going to create a post for each different kind of diaper separately, and go into more detail about each one. I will also recommend some of the different ones Amy and I have used. But, for now this should help you understand the different terminology used when referring to cloth diapering.