I like prefolds because I like cotton against babe's bum. I have used pockets, all-in-ones, all-in-twos, covers, you name it. I like the softness of prefolds, and they can be used with any type of cover. They don't work so well with all-in-ones, very bulky, but a prefold could be used to increase absorbency during night time.
Confession: I had a baby who woke every forty minutes to an hour for over two years. We did not cloth diaper at night. The thought of doing even more at night than I was already doing was so overwhelming. I was sleep deprived, nutty, batty...call it what you want. Nights were not my strong point, and I wasn't getting much help in the beginning. So we did a bit here and there, but for the most part we had disposable nights. Still, environment-wise, I think one diaper a day in the trash is way better than what it would have been.
So I have a favorite cover, of course. Sarah over at Softbums (softbums.com) designed, developed and patented the BEST cloth diaper cover ever. She actually made a system where you can snap in inserts of different sizes and materials depending on whether you have a heavy wetter and whatnot. But like I said, I like prefolds, so I only used the shells, not the system. Her diapers are...amazing. They really are one-size. She's got pictures of the shells on teeny-tiny babies and big ol' toddlers. Same diaper. So if at first glance they seem expensive, remember you're only buying ONE set of shells and not having to replace them after intervals. The shells can be used several times if the prefold/insert only has pee. Just take out the prefold, put it in the laundry bag (more on that later) and hang the shell to dry. After I introduced solids to my kids (that's when their poop AND pee changed to start stinking) I'd put a few drops of lavender oil and some water in a spray bottle and give them a little spray. I'd grab a dry cover off the line or grab a fresh one, put in a prefold and BAM! Done. Then, after a few hours, I could go back and use the ones I'd used earlier in the day or the day before...
As for the laundry bag. I'm not fancy, and I just used a bag by the toilet. I didn't use a pail because it would have taken up too much space in the bathroom, and it would have been another thing to clean. I checked out some large wetbags and saw they were one layer of PUL, so I bought some PUL and made a couple of wetbags. They were about as big as a standard pillow case. I know this because before I bought the PUL I made a wetbag out of an old pillow case. I lined it with nylon and added a drawstring. Way too fancy for what I needed. I mean, I still use it, but after checking out the other wetbags, I just made some simple ones. I'd fit about three days worth of diapers into the bag, toss in my shells from the line that needed to be washed (those could accidentally go unwashed for a while, so I had to be diligent about making sure I threw them in) and there was a nice-sized load of laundry. It's important to remember that too few diapers won't have as much friction in the washer and won't wash as well, and that a load too large will not have enough space for the scrubbing action. I'd just throw the wetbag in the washing machine right along with the diapers, inside out. FIRST I'd do a cold rinse-only cycle with vinegar. SECOND I'd do a hot, heavy soil wash with an extra rinse (temperature doesn't matter for rinse.) Then I'd often hang dry both the prefolds and the shells, but at least once a month the shells need to be dried, and the drying really does help with the softness for the prefolds. Drying the shells causes the plastic part of the PUL to swell and close around the thread at each spot where there's a hole. I mean, really, each spot where there is a needle hole is a spot where leaking can happen if you don't take care of the diaper properly, and at least occasional drying is one way to take care of them and prevent leaking from being able to happen.
There are a lot of good, baby-friendly, environmentally friendly detergents out there. The better the detergent, the longer the life the diapers and the better the absorbency. Detergents should not have enzymes, fabric softeners, optical brighteners or fragrances or dyes. Charlie's Soap makes a great detergent. It's just plain old laundry powder and quite inexpensive per load.
I used a diaper sprayer, also called a mini-bidet. It connects to the toilet line, they usually have some kind of thing that attaches the head to the toilet or a wall, and it's so convenient to be able to spray the poop off the diaper (any kind of diaper, not just prefolds) before throwing it into the diaper bag. Read reviews of sprayers. Some of them are awful, and I'd stay away from those. Mine has been in use for about four years, and we've had no problems. I just read reviews and chose one that other people found sturdy and well-made.
Next: diaper wipes. If you're using cloth diapers, why not use cloth wipes? You'd probably want about 40 of them. They're easy to make, a couple of layers of flannel or a layer of flannel and a layer of terry cloth. It's easy to use those baby washcloths. A little bit of friction is nice for getting poop off, but remember the butt of a brand new baby is sensitive, so be kind. It's easy albeit expensive to buy them. They get thrown in with the wash. Wipe solution is really easy to make. This is all for poop and pee...doesn't need to be fancy. For each cup of water, add one tablespoon of oil (olive oil, grapeseed oil, sunflower oil...jojoba, apricot kernel, whatever you want) and one tablespoon of baby-friendly soap, like Dr. Bronner's Baby Mild. After the kid's got a few months under his belt, adding some essential oil is ok, but look first to see if the oil is safe for babies and how much to use. I liked to drench and then ring out about 20 wipes at a time. I kept mine in a plastic airtight container. Keep any extra solution for the next batch. For going out, I'd put about six wipes into a ziplock bag and keep it in the diaper bag. For longer outings I'd probably throw in a couple more because they're great for more than bums.
And what about going out? You'll know soon if you have a heavy wetter or if your baby poops frequently. I only needed to have a few covers with me, and I'd take in the diaper about five prefolds and I always left about ten in the car. I got mine on craigslist, and I got a bunch, so I could stash them all over the house and in the car and didn't have to worry about running out. I'd take my wipes already wet. I'd also take two wetbags. One was the poop bag, and in it I'd put anything that touched poop, including clothes if there was a blowout, and all of the pee prefolds. In the other wetbag, the shell bag, I'd put the shells that were only peed in. This way I could still re-use shells (they didn't dry in there, but they weren't really wet, just slightly damp, and really the dry prefold was what was touching the skin) and I wouldn't have to carry as much stuff with me. I was paranoid about poop leaks into the rest of my diaper bag, so I usually kept the poop bag, which was smaller, inside of the shell bag. When I'd get home I'd turn the shell bag inside out to air out, and hang it up with the shells. The poop bag would get turned inside out and put in the wetbag by the toilet. I had about four wetbags altogether, and so if I was going out again before laundry day would grab another poop bag to take with me, grap the shell bag and some shells off the line, re-stock my ziplock bag of wipes, and head on out. You really do get your system.
For the teeny teeny tinies...freshly born babes... my favorite was to just use a prefold with diaper pins on either side. They don't move that much, so diaper pins aren't scary for the poke-factor. They have those clips still on their umbilical cords, the whole thing is big and awkward... I didn't even use covers unless we were going out, and we didn't go out before their cords fell off. Mine peed such a tiny amount that it wouldn't soak all the way through a prefold, but I could tell right away if they were wet and could change them so they weren't sitting in their stuff.
Well, I think that's it. If you have questions or comments, please do ask or share. I'd love to be able to give my opinion and help, because I learned so much from trial and error, I experimented with so many kinds of diapers, it took a while to find my groove, and before I did cloth diapering was a bit frustrating. But when I found it, I found it, and I rocked it. I hope you do, too.