How to Use a Compost Tumbler

how to use a compost tumbler
A compost tumbler is a solid-waste device that converts food scraps and garden debris into nutrient-rich fertilizer. They make your job easier by combining and transforming fertile yard waste into a rich compost cake that you can easily add to your garden or use as mulch around plants.

Investing in a compost tumbler is one of the wisest decisions you can make as a composter. Tumblers are ideal for people who want an easy way to make compost without spending hours turning garden beds manually.

They are great for anyone planning to reduce waste but lack the necessary space. 

What is a compost tumbler?

A compost tumbler is a device that allows you to make compost faster than other methods. It is basically a rotating drum with holes cut into the sides that allow air to flow easily into the container. The drum, mainly made of metal, aids heat retention and speeds up the composting process.

Some tumblers have small compartments (called chambers, often set on top of one another) that rotate to mix and aerate your leaves, food scraps, sawdust, coffee grounds, and dryer lint.

Alternatively, you can easily add moistened wood chips (6 inches wide), peat moss, corncobs, and grass clippings in the chambers. 

When installing, you can mount your tumbler on an axis (for easy turning) or roll it on a sliding base, depending on your preferences. The primary benefit of purchasing a tumbling composter is that the chambers remain sealed, making the device odor and rodent-proof.

Compared to ordinary bins, tumblers act more like an upgraded version that delivers better results in less time.

Their unique design simplifies the process where compost materials tumble around in a mechanical and timely manner. The process introduces numerous air pockets into the decomposing waste. 

Most people are unaware that aeration provides enough oxygen to the compost heap. A good supply of oxygen hastens the growth of microorganisms in the finished compost.

Individuals running low on finances can venture into DIY and make one using an old trash can.

How does a compost tumbler work?

 If unsure how to start composting in a tumbler, the process is relatively simple.  

  • Begin by layering carbon-rich material (such as leaves and sawdust or straw) and adding green waste (fresh grass clippings, weeds, and kitchen scraps). 
  • Add new ingredients to the pile until it reaches about three to four feet high. Turn the stack over and mix everything until well done. 
  • Depending on the size of the tumbler and the decomposition process, you can add more green waste and carbon-rich materials for the next couple of days. 
  • Do not forget to add water to keep everything damp but not wet. This approach allows easier and faster decomposition.
  • After completing a cycle, clean the tumbler with warm water and soap. Then leave it in your yard so the sun can eradicate any remaining bacteria. 

It is worth pointing out that well-done finished compost should not emit a foul odor. Usually, this is similar to the smell emitted by grass after a rainstorm.

An awful smell may indicate an off balance in the composting process. In short, finished compost should have a dark brownish color and smell earthy. 

If your compost content does not emit a foul odor, there is no point in washing the tumbler. In most cases, excessive washing can impact the results of your next compost pile, especially if you remove the healthy compost starter. 

The benefits of using a Compost Tumbler

Waste, when appropriately used, can be a resource that provides an excellent opportunity to promote sustainable living. Compost tumblers are the simplest and most elegant way to accomplish this. 

Simply put, a compost tumbler works like a kitchen composter or an outdoor compost bin. The primary benefit of compost tumblers is that they provide an even heat source for all materials.

Furthermore, the content occupies a larger volume compared to compressed compost bins, bags, or boxes.

As a result, compost tumblers are significantly effective, especially when making high-quality compost. They are also much safer, thanks to their inability to tip over due to solid sides and seals. 

This is superior to simple compost bins or containers with lids, which frequently become loose or weak due to external factors or tear and wear.

Continue reading to find out why tumblers are way above other compositing options.

1. Faster Compositing

Unlike bins, compost tumblers can quickly break down organic waste to desired levels. In addition, their unique design helps quicken the process of turning and mixing your compost continuously.

Eventually, this speeds up the composting process, saving time and resources. 

2. Durable

Due to increased competitiveness and demand, manufacturers are neck to neck in creating sturdy compost tumblers. The results are heavily constructed with high-quality material, lasting for several years.

All in all, your tumblers should be sturdy enough to comfortably hold the entire weight of compositing ingredients throughout the process.

3. Turnability

Nothing beats the convenience provided by mechanized compost ingredient turning. In the long run, this promotes aeration, which speeds up the decomposition process. 

If you don’t have a compost tumbler, manually turning your compost pile can be time-consuming and exhausting.

A compost tumbler will not only save you time but will also simplify the process.

4. Sustainability

Composting with a tumbler makes it easy to lower your carbon copy thanks to reduced odor emission.

Furthermore, it reduces the amount of waste in landfills, resulting in less methane gas production.

5. Saves Time and Space

Composting tumblers can save you significant time, particularly if you have a large garden or yard.

Instead of raking up leaves, gathering them into piles, and composting them by hand, dump all of your leaves into the bin. The tumbler will do all of the work.  

Furthermore, if you have a large amount of compost to make (for example, starting a garden from scratch), it may take several months for your compost to be ready.

Tumblers typically take about one week to produce usable compost—another time-saving benefit!

6. Simple to Use

The majority of compost tumbler models available are user-friendly. You only need to fill the bin with leaves and grass clippings, add water, and turn on your tumbler. Add more material or water as time passes—but that’s all! The tumbler will finish the job for you. 

The only significant disadvantage of compost tumblers is that they can be difficult to turn if you put too much yard waste. As a result, steer clear from models that require turning by hand.

Instead, look for motorized or self-contained models, allowing you to set it up without lifting a finger. 

7. Produce No Odor

A compost tumbler’s lid keeps your compost from being exposed to air. Bear in mind that if you live in a city, strong odors can lead you into trouble with the law and immediate neighbors.

Make sure your compost tumbler has enough ventilation holes so that oxygen can flow through the chambers and aid in decomposition. This also keeps the compost from stinking up the entire place. 

If your compost stinks, check whether you have too many wet leaves or grass clippings. Adding dry material, such as peat moss or shredded paper, can help balance the equation and reduce the smell.  

8. Nice Looking

Unlike ordinary compost heaps, tumblers are an attractive addition to the yard. When buying one, you can find them in various materials, including plastic and metal. 

Many tumblers have a gorgeous terracotta or copper finish that looks good in your yard even when the compost is not in use.

Other options include wooden tumblers designed to look like barrels or outdoor planters. You can paint them in bright colors to match your yard’s décor.

9. Allow No Rodents

Mice and other rodents prefer living in compost piles due to the easy accessibility of food and warmth.

Covering a compost pile may not be the best answer because it limits water and airflow in the mixture.

It is a relief that most tumblers have strong seals to keep rodents away. Still, ensure that no holes or gaps allow rodents into your compost.

 What Size of Tumbler Should you Use?

 Mixing your compost heap with a pitchfork takes time and effort. Choosing the best compost tumbler in the right size could save you trouble.

Get valid information on the proper length, style, and brand of a composter to purchase. 

A composter that processes approximately 4.5 cubic feet of yard waste is ideal for an average-sized family of four.

If you intend to include green waste or yard trimmings in the mix, consider purchasing a large 15-20 cubic foot tumbler.

 Should you use a Single or Dual-chamber Composter?

Dual chamber composters allow homeowners to process one batch of compost while saving kitchen scraps in the other chamber.

Also known as continuous composters, they work best if you have enough space and waste to keep the process going.

If you are comfortable working with a single chamber, consider purchasing barrel composters for faster and more effective composting.

Where Should you Locate Your Compost Tumbler?

Direct and constant sunlight can distort a compost heap and its content affecting the entire process.

Keep your tumblers where they will get a few hours of sunlight and shade to prevent the compost ingredients from drying out.

Similarly, metal models may last longer if kept from the sun and rain. Look for a suitable location, such as a garden shed, to avoid rusting.

Although it is uncommon, some tumblers may leak. In this case, place a tray beneath the drum to catch any drips. 

Tips to Get the Best Results With A Compost tumbler

A tumbling composter is one of the simplest yard devices to operate. You only need to open the lid and toss in some green waste. Later, add brown material or kitchen waste to aid in the formation of microbes. 

Sawdust and dried leaves are excellent choices, but remember to turn them frequently with a pitchfork to speed up the composting process.

Experts recommend that the ideal green-to-brown ratio is I:30. Keep in mind that green waste is rich in carbon while brown trimmings are high in nitrogen.

Another simple recipe to use in a compost heap is to add six inches of brown garbage to two inches of green waste.

 Finally, cover the tumbler and spin the drum several times to promote aeration and proper organic matter mixing.


Discovering composting as a way of life or even better, as nature’s way of recycling, Ana dedicates her time to trying out new methods of composting at home. Her goal is to share everything that she’s learned in the hopes that it will help others discover the amazing rewards of composting.

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