When you first purchase cloth diapers, you'll want to wash them a few times in hot water -- this helps remove some of the chemicals and increases the absorbency of the material. If you have polyester diapers or microfiber inserts, you only need to wash those once. Cotton and hemp diapers need to be washed about five or six times.
Whether you use the wet- or dry-pail method, store your diapers accordingly between washes. Don't forget to use the diaper sprayer as needed before storing. If you don't have a diaper sprayer, you can just shake the solid waste into the toilet. Also be sure to stick the Velcro tabs to the sides of the diapers. This will be helpful when it's washing day, as it will prevent them from sticking together during the cycle.
When it's time to do the laundry, just dump the dirty diapers into the washing machine. By using a pail liner, you don't even have to touch them -- you can just push it all into the machine from the bottom of the bag. It's best to wash a load of diapers every two to three days to prevent odors.
Detergent can cause a buildup of residue and decrease the absorbency of the diapers, so use about a quarter to half of the amount you would use for a regular load of laundry. Also be sure to choose a brand that's free of dyes and other additives like bleach that could cause rashes in babies with sensitive skin. If you prefer, soak the diapers for 20 minutes or send them through a cold prewash to ensure everything is loosened up. If you need a little extra washing power, add some baking soda or vinegar to the prewash to eliminate odors. Wash diapers in hot water with a cold rinse, then send them through an extra rinse cycle to ensure all of the detergent is gone. If you still see suds in your machine, run the diapers through another rinse cycle. Depending on your preference, you can line dry them or put them in the dryer for 60 minutes or so.
Remember that all cloth diapers are different and that you should pay attention to the care label before cleaning. Depending on the fabric of the diapers, you may have to use a different method. With a little research, however, you'll find the best fit for you and your family!