I ordered these from http://alvababy.com. These run from $4.95 for a basic pocket diaper to $10 for a bamboo diaper; a huge savings from the usual $15 to even $30(!!!) you see for other brands. These are pocket diapers, which means an outer layer of waterproof material sewn to an inner layer of fleece or suedecloth, between which you stuff your absorbent material- usually microfiber, cotton, hemp, or bamboo. Most pockets on the market come with one or two inserts.
Shipping is free, but be prepared to wait 3 weeks or more. Mine arrived in a bag, with each diaper individually wrapped. Many people join co-ops, where lots of people get together on a large order. The more you order, the cheaper the price!
The website is not very descriptive of what you get, with Engrish all over the place. For help figuring out what I'd really be getting, I relied heavily upon the Loving Alva Diapers Facebook page; specifically the notes.
This link: Describes what each series material is made of; minky vs PUL outers, suedecloth vs fleece inners.
This link: Describes the differences between the main diaper types sold by Alva.
Edited to include links to updates!
General observations:Outer Layer:
The outer waterproof layer on these is soft, not stiff like some other diapers I've tried, nor is it 'sticky' on the inside. I don't know what causes the stickiness! I have had one out of 18 BumGenius diapers become sticky inside, and my lone FuzziBunz is also sticky, which makes stuffing difficult.
I am not sure whether these are "PUL" or "TPU", but reading about TPU makes me think these might be it. Most cloth diapering advocates say you should wash on hot, but the washing instructions here say to wash on warm. The hot temperatures may damage or degrade the outer layer more quickly. You'll also want to line-dry the covers to increase their lifespan.
Time will tell if the suedecloth inners become pilly or not. Suedecloth tends to wear much better than fleece, however I've seen suedecloth get pilly. My previously mentioned BumGenius diapers were all ordered around the same time and all received approximately the same amount of washes, yet some have pilled and some have not. I've even seen different parts of the same diaper pill differently.
Personally, I prefer suedecloth, because it doesn't pill nearly as much as fleece. Some babies may have a sensitivity to it, so try one out before ordering a whole bunch. I love the stay-dry feeling; occasionally I've taken off a diaper and wondered, "Did he even pee?" only to find the inserts soaked through.
One problem I've been running into a lot lately is when the diaper is soaked, the suedecloth will wick liquid to the outside.
I only have one FuzziBunz to compare these to, but the Alvas are nice and wide, making stuffing them a breeze. My FB is a pain to stuff, because my hand + two inserts is a tight fit, not to mention the sticky PUL on one side and the non-slippery fleece on the other!
I am VERY impressed with these diapers. For 1/3 of the price of top brands of diapers you can't ask for better. Here and there a seam is a little crooked, and one of the inserts had an odd colored spot on it. Four of the bamboo inserts I received had a very small burn/melty mark on the edge. Honestly, for a $2.50 insert I'll let a lot slide! Not to mention there is a wide range of patterns and colors to choose from that you don't get from many diaper brands.
Bamboo 3-layer Inserts:I ordered some extra 3-layer bamboo inserts. I've heard so much about the absorbency and lack of odor that I had to try them.
What I found out about bamboo recently has changed my opinion on these somewhat. These inserts are slinky, smooth, and soft- in fact they're technically Rayon. Check out this link for more info about bamboo rayon.
You may have heard that bamboo requires many washes to get the natural oils out and to become absorbent? These inserts don't seem to require this. After a single wash, these were easily as absorbent as the microfiber inserts. Test them out yourself before boiling them or washing them 10 times!
These do not have tags on them.
My son is 7 months old and I think he's what you'd call a heavy wetter. By the two-hour mark in a single microfiber insert, he'll have soaked through it. Usually the suedecloth will wick at the legs and onto his pants, especially if he's in his bouncer or the car seat or sitting.
I was hopeful that a single bamboo insert would be asborbent enough for him, but it appears it is not. However, paired with a microfiber insert, these do perfectly fine. They are somewhat heavy, even when not wet. They also tend to bunch up between his legs. The fabric is slinky/slippery so I wonder if they will shift around when he starts crawling. At any rate, while I really want to love these and they are perfectly fine inserts, I don't think they're magic bullet I was looking for.
Bamboo 4-layer insertsSome of the bamboo diapers come with one insert and others come with two, so keep an eye on that when you order. The diaper I ordered with a single insert contained a 4-layer insert: three layers of bamboo with a single layer of microfiber. The diaper with two inserts contained two 3-layer bamboo inserts. I didn't know this, so I ended up with a 4-layer insert to compare (which is good, because I was curious.)
Again, the 4-layer insert was not the magic bullet I was hoping for. While it is slightly more absorbent, at the 2-hour mark it was soaked through, and the diaper was wicking at the legs.
The 4-layer inserts have tags, as you can see below.