A friend of a friend has cloth diapers questions. You'll be surprised at how passionate people can get in their pro or con cloth diaper opinions! Crazy.
Anyway, I've been using cloth diapers for three years now, on two bums. Every kid's bum (not to mention their poop) is different - so as far as stinky and messy, the experience can change from kid to kid. I personally have had way more blow-outs with disposables (which we use on longer vacations, or when the kids are sick/on meds that affect stools). That alone is less gross for me. I HATE blow-out clean up. (And yes, even when using the nicer, more expensive disposable brands.) However, Baby No. 2's poop likely would have made me choose not to do cloth if it weren't for the money savings, and having a sprayer to help clean them.
For cost savings, as long as you don't diaper service, you WILL save money using cloth, even when you buy the nice ones. I did the math once and was blown away at the savings I was getting. And that was before baby no. 2. Not buying diapers for him at all (except for the occasional disposables) has really sent the savings through the roof. (If you're interested in reading, I have done several blog posts about cloth diapers, you can read some by searching for cloth diapers here on the blog.)
Andrea, here are some more answers to your questions and replies to other comments to fill in the gaps:
1. Yes, diaper sprayers make all the difference. I hadn't used them when I posted before, I just had a dedicated brush for wiping stuff off. However, that wouldn't work with baby no. 2's poo. Sprayer = WONDERFUL!
2. Reasons not to CD (cloth diaper) come down to lifestyle choice. CDing is way easier and less time consuming than some people think, BUT IT IS MORE WORK than 'sposies. (Some CD lovers will hate admitting it, but it's true.) You'll likely change diapers just a little more often, and have a little more laundry to do. (You'll already have more laundry to do as the kids come along.)
3. Even the spendy diapers will save you money... EVEN if you eventually decide not to stick with it. Resale value on cloth diapers is surprisingly good, especially if you get good ones (like Bum G's)
4. If you wash CDs in the wrong detergents, they can be worse for rash. Some kids are sensitive to detergents that have enzyme cleaners. However, I happen to use enzyme cleaners anyway because I like them and my kids are ok with them. (Arm & Hammer "Free and Clear" and BioClean for poop stains... although nothing works better than sunshine for removing poop stains. I'm serious! Sun is also best for disinfecting diapers.)
If you use pre-fold style cloth diapers without liners, and change as infrequently as folks using 'sposies do (they can ignore wet ones for a long time due to chemicals in the diapers) you may give your kid rash. The good cloth diapers (I like Bum Genius and Fuzzi Buns) will wick moisture away, and breathe well, so you won't have much problem with rashes. Also, for any diapering (cloth or CD) making sure bums are dry when you seal 'em up in a diaper goes a long way.
Our second son is more prone to rash (it's a sign he's getting sick) and we do find that disposables are useful when he already has rash. As good as the good clothies are, 'sposies do seem to breathe just a bit better.
5. Info about CDs can get overwhelming. My advice is to try a diaper or two in many different varieties and find out what you and your babies bum like best. Then, you can resale all that you don't like, buy more of the ones you do, and enjoy not having diapers on your shopping list. (I still use all but two of the kinds I originally bought. I would buy more varieties just to try 'em, if I needed to. There are some CUTE and SMART diapers out there.) (Rocky Mountain Diapers are first on my "to try" list. Maybe someday.)
6. I believe using cloth makes potty training easier. Laundry loads multiply when they get older (due to potty training and just bigger mess making) anyway, so you may as well start earlier with cloth. Antsy Pants are amazing cloth pull-ups. Me Loves 'Em. (Full disclosure, I am friends with their creator, but I can assure you she's ALL ABOUT high quality. She used to design for Nike, so she knows her stuff.)
Also, for those who have/do read my previous posts, and update about the durability of Bum Genius diapers. I have version (generation?) one of these, and the elastics around the legs have worn out. (The velcro tabs are still just fine, though.) So, I must rate Fuzzy Buns higher on the durability scale. However, new generations of Bum Genius diapers may be better quality. I know the outer fabric is nicer.)
P.S. My husband shrugs and says, "Well, they are more work. But they do save money." Much more concise and to the point. One reason I like him so much.