No-muss diapers

Parents like me who have recently considered cloth diapers rather than disposable have several advantages over our parents who might have done the same 30 years ago -- namely how much cloth diapers themselves have changed.

Modern cloth diapers look much like a typical disposable diaper. They no longer need to be folded and pinned. You put them on baby the same way you'd put on any other diaper. They have Velcro or snaps, making them so easy to use that baby sitters, day-care workers and even grandparents have a very fast learning curve.

There's no need to soak cloth diapers in a pail of water or in a toilet, like my parents did. I simply store dirty diapers in a waterproof bag and wash them every few days.

Occasionally, I do wish for the convenience of a disposable diaper. That's when I remind myself that cloth-diapered babies tend to potty-train faster. Disposable diapers are so super absorbent it can be hard for babies to tell when they are wet, a problem cloth-diapered babes don't have.

The real payoff isn't even the money my family is saving -- and we're saving quite a bit. We didn't need to buy any diapers at all for our second child, since cloth diapers last for years and can be used for more than one child.

The best part is the knowledge that I'm providing for the needs of my child without leaving tons of nonbiodegradable waste in landfills. I know my baby's skin is next to something soft and chemical-free, something that's more pleasant to sit in all day than plastic. That's the real payoff. Well, that, and the fact that with cloth diapers, I have the ability to color-coordinate my daughter's outfit with a matching diaper.

Anatomy of a cloth diaper

A cloth diaper usually comes in two main parts: an absorbent insert and a waterproof cover that stops the diaper from leaking. Diapers may be traditional pre-folds made of hemp or cotton, while modern versions use wicking materials like suede over an absorbent material such as microfiber or rayon from bamboo. Diapers are covered with a waterproof shell.

Here, some examples:

Pre-folds: Hip Green Baby pre-folds are tie-dyed and use unbleached Indian cotton. $3 for a three-pack.

Inserts: Flip Diapers' stay-dry inserts are made of three absorbent layers of microfiber and a smooth stay-dry suede that wicks away moisture from your baby's bum. These inserts come with lines sewn in to help caregivers fold the insert to the appropriate size. $4.95 each.

Covers: Tiny Tush diaper covers are made of wool, which is naturally anti-bacterial, water-resistant, breathable and absorbent, making it an excellent if unexpected material for a diaper cover. $36 at Stella's, 3460 Blue Bonnet Circle, Fort Worth, 817-923-1520;

All-in-ones: These diapers have the diaper sewn to the cover so that no assembly is required. They go on your baby just like a disposable diaper, and are fastened with snaps or Velcro. They may come in sizes, but many all-in-ones feature snaps that can be gradually let out, so that the diaper can be used from birth well into toddlerhood. Bum Genius 4.0 Freetime, $19.95.

Hybrids: These diapers combine the best of both worlds by giving moms the eco-friendliness of cloth diapers and the convenience of disposables in one package. Diapers come with a reusable cover and can be used with a cloth insert, or parents can purchase biodegradable inserts for those times when convenience is key. Example: GroVia Diapers, $16.95 for all-in-two shell, $17.95 for two organic cotton soaker pads. When diaper is wet, remove saturated soaker pad and snap in a new one. The shell can be used for multiple diaper changes. Disposable inserts also available. Sold at Stella's, 3460 Blue Bonnet Circle, Fort Worth, 817-923-1520.

How to care for cloth diapers

Caring for cloth diapers is simple. Once soiled, store them in a waterproof wet bag. Once the bag is full, empty into a washing machine along with the wet bag itself. First, do a cold rinse, followed by hot rinse and an extra spin cycle. Use only additive-free detergent. Tumble dry.

The scoop on poop: If a baby is being breastfed, no additional steps are required. Place poopy diapers in wet bag and wash as normal. When baby starts eating solids, excess solid matter needs to be removed before washing. Depending on the consistency, a quick dunk in the toilet might be all that is needed. A diaper sprayer is helpful. Another alternative is to use flushable cloth diaper liners.

How many you'll need: As a rule of thumb, a good-sized stash of cloth diapers is 18 to 24 diapers for around-the-clock care. Newborns require 10 to 12 diapers a day, so a load of diapers would be needed every other day. Older babies require six to eight changes, allowing for more time between loads of laundry.

Useful accessories:

1. Planetwise Hanging Wet/Dry Bag

For easy storage of dirty diapers. This version features two zippered areas, so clean diapers can be stored separately from dirty ones, making traveling with cloth diapers more convenient. $29.99.

2. Rockin' Green laundry detergent

Additives found in most laundry detergents can build up, causing cloth diapers to lose their absorbency. For this reason, it's important to use an additive-free version. Rockin' Green comes in fun scents like "Bare Naked Babies" and "Lavender Mint Revival." $16. Available at Stella's, 3460 Blue Bonnet Circle, Fort Worth. 817-923-1520;

3. FuzziBunz diaper sprayer attaches to your bathroom plumbing and produces a high-pressure water spray that helps remove excess solid waste from diapers. $46. Available at the Greener Good. 925 Foch St., Fort Worth. 817-877-4767;