Best Compost Bins: Tips For Choosing The Perfect Compost Bin

By: Susan Patterson, Master Gardener

Composting is an excellent way to reduce kitchen and yard waste by turning it into something useful. If you have a yard with any sort of green waste, you have what it takes to compost. Compost puts essential nutrients back into the soil and reduces your garbage by hundreds of pounds yearly. Compost bins for the home are available at a number of retail outlets, or you can make a homemade compost bin if want to save some money.

To make choosing the perfect compost bin easier for those just starting out, let’s take a look at some of the most common compost bins for the home:

  • Basic Composter – The basic composter is a self-contained unit with a lid that keeps your compost neat. These composters are great for small yards or urban dwellers.
  • Spinning Composter – Spinning compost units help you keep your compost rotated with the turn of a handle. Although spinning composters cost a little more than basic models, they generally cook the compost quicker.
  • Indoor Composter – For those that either don’t have the room outside or are not keen on an outdoor compost project, a small kitchen composter is just the thing. Indoor composters that work without electricity use beneficial microbes. Kitchen scraps are turned into beneficial compost within two weeks in this handy little unit.
  • Worm Composter – Worms do an excellent job turning scraps into usable organic matter. Worm composters are self-contained units that take a little while to get the hang of. However, once you and your worms have an understanding, there is no stopping them.
  • Electric Composter – If money is no object, an electric “hot” composter is an excellent option. These modern units fit right into today’s gourmet kitchen and can handle up to 5 pounds of food per day. Within two weeks, you will have nitrogen-rich compost for your garden. Unlike other composters that limit what you can put in, this model takes everything, including meat, dairy and fish, and turns them into compost within two weeks.
  • Homemade Compost Bin – Homemade compost bins can be constructed from just about any material such as old wood pallets, scrap lumber, cinder blocks or chicken wire. There are numerous sites on the Internet that provide free compost bin plans. You can even make your own spinning compost bin from large 55-gallon plastic drums. If you are creative, the sky is the limit with regards to design. Although a homemade compost bin requires some work, it is generally less expensive in the long run than retail bins.

The best compost bins are the ones that fit the space you have available, are within your budget range, and do the job you need them to do. Be sure to read all the reviews and do some research before choosing the perfect compost bin for your needs.

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Read more about Composting Basics

Choose the Best Compost Bin

Gardeners know that the key to beautiful, bountiful beds is to nourish them with compost. This rich “super soil” can defend plants against disease and drought, help supply them with essential nutrients, balance soil pH and more.

According to a recent survey of our Gardening Advisory Group, more than 95 percent of nearly 2,000 respondents already make compost, and 70 percent have at least two piles going. While big, open heaps are the most popular method, more than a third of our readers prepare some of their “black gold” in store-bought composting bins to keep out animals or tidy up their yards. To help you choose the best compost bin for your home, we talked with readers who have tried one or more models. To find the perfect compost bin for your needs view our Comparing Composters chart or read Composting Bins on the Market: Tumblers, Worm Bins and More.

Where to place the compost

Placing the compost bin in your yard depends on both functional and aesthetic needs.

For the compost bin to function properly, place the compost pile in an area with good air circulation. Do not place the pile so that it is in direct contact with wooden structures, as this will cause decay. It is best to locate the pile in partial shade, but this is not a necessity.

You may want to locate it close to the garden and close to a water source. If kitchen scraps will be added regularly, it may be more convenient to have the pile near the kitchen.

You may also want to screen the pile from view with a fence or by placing it behind shrubs or a taller structure. You may also wish to avoid placing the pile near outdoor entertaining areas.

Types of Compost Bins

There are a variety of outdoor compost bins to choose from. And the type of bin you need for your garden will depend on the amount of compost you need and how you’ll use your bin to make your own compost.

There are two basic ways to make compost using a bin:

  • Continuous composting : These compost bins are designed to handle a variety of materials, including kitchen scraps and yard waste. Continuous composters get their name because the compost is generated gradually and continuously. To use a continuous composter, you place the compostable material in the top of the bin and the compost works its way to the bottom, where it can be removed. Continuous composters are best for someone looking for an easy composter that allows you to simply toss your compostable material in and close the lid.
  • Batch composting : Batch composters use a tumbling action to mix the compostable materials together. When using this type of composter, you add a balanced mix of compostable ingredients to the bin and allow it to “cook” for a set period of time. Batch composters need to be turned once a day to mix the ingredients together as the compost is being made. This method takes a little more work, but it is a great option for gardeners who need homemade compost fast.

And in addition to types of compost bins, you’ll also need to consider how you plan to create your compost. When it comes to composting, there are two ways to make compost:

  • Conventional composting , which involves mixing organic waste in the presence of moisture and air. The correct composting environment will allow microbes and fungi to decompose the material into a soil amendment for your garden.
  • Worm composting , which uses worms to consume the organic waste in your compost bin and create compost in the form of castings. Using worms helps keep your compost bin aerated and mixed, without the need to stir or tumble your bin.

There are also two methods to consider when looking for the best compost bin for your garden:

  • Stationary bins hold a large amount of compost in one stationary spot. When using a stationary bin, you typically add the compost to the top of the pile, then stir the ingredients occasionally to mix the new add-ins with the existing compost.
  • Tumbling bins are sealed containers that are rotated to mix the compostable materials together. These bins are typically sealed drums with a handle on the side to allow you to easy turn the bin when you add new ingredients to the mix.

10 Compost Bin Plans

If you're looking for a way to get rich soil for your garden or plants while taking care of food waste, consider using one of these compost bin plans so you have a dedicated area to compost. Building your own compost bin is a great budget-saving alternative to buying one.

Composting is an easy process with a lot of benefits that takes green waste (fruit, vegetables, weeds, eggshells, and coffee grinds) and brown waste (leaves, sticks, cardboard, newspaper) and mixes it all together until everything decomposes to make rich soil. This rich soil can be used in your garden or flower beds, giving them the nutrients they need. Be sure to learn what you should and shouldn't compost before beginning.

If you want to keep your compost out of sight, consider using one of these DIY privacy screens to do so. If you're interested in composting but you don't want to keep your compost, there are several composting services that will take your compost and put it to good use.

Key Shopping Considerations

Conventional vs. Worm Composting

Before you choose a compost bin, you’ll need to decide if you want to use the conventional composting method or vermicomposting (worm composting). Both methods will produce rich compost for your garden, but the method you choose depends on your available space and lifestyle.

  • Conventional composting involves mixing organic waste in an optimum ratio of 30 parts carbon to one part nitrogen in the presence of moisture and air. High carbon ingredients, or “browns,” include shredded newspaper, coffee grounds, and dead leaves. Vegetable scraps, grass clippings, and weeds fall into the high nitrogen “greens” category. In a warm, moist, aerated mixture of browns and greens, microbes like bacteria, Actinomycetes, fungi, and others decompose the mixture into a finished soil amendment.
  • Worm composting employs red wiggler worms to consume the organic waste and produce compost in the form of “castings” (worm manure)—a super-rich, fertile compost loaded with nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, and many micronutrients. The worms keep the compost aerated and tumbled, so there’s no work required other than feeding them kitchen scraps and providing paper bedding. The most common worm composting systems are small bins that easily fit in a corner of the kitchen or on a patio (don’t worry, it won’t smell if tended to properly!), but larger bins are available if you’re looking to produce a lot of compost. Worm composting bins need to be kept between 40 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit (worms don’t like it too cold or hot), so keep the bin in a sheltered area.


Bigger isn’t necessarily better when it comes to compost bins. In general, small bins run from 1 to 10 gallons, medium bins are 11 to 30 gallons, and large bins are 31 gallons or more. A small bin probably won’t be enough to maintain a large amount of yard debris. Compost needs to be turned—for aeration and distribution of materials—and that can be more challenging in a larger bin. Plus, the larger the bin, the longer the pile has to keep “cooking” to turn into compost.

Tumbling vs. Stationary

There are two main types of compost bins: stationary and tumblers.

  • Stationary bins have a larger capacity than tumblers and are a good choice for homeowners who have a lot of yard waste such as weeds, leaves, and grass clippings. To keep the compost pile cooking, you will need to manually turn it with a pitchfork every once in a while.
  • Tumbling composters are sealed containers that can be rotated to mix the composting materials. They are elevated on a stand and typically have a handle, which makes turning the contents a quick and effortless job. Though smaller than stationary bins, tumbling bins are popular for their efficient design, which helps decomposition occur very quickly.

The type of bin you choose will depend on how much work you want to do, how much organic material you have, and how fast you want to create compost. If you have a lot of yard debris and you don’t mind manually turning the compost pile every once in a while, then a stationary bin will work for you. If you need compost fast and don’t want to bother with a pitchfork, a compost tumbler is probably your better bet.


Most compost bins are made out of plastic, wood, or metal, with the majority of commercially available composters manufactured from dark-colored recycled plastic. Dark plastic bins are ideal for absorbing heat from the sun and preventing moisture loss. DIY compost bins are commonly made of wood, metal, or stone. Keep in mind that bins used outdoors should be made from weather-resistant materials that will fit aesthetically with your landscape.


Compost bins are cylindrical, rectangular, square, or pyramid-shaped. In most cases, bin shape will be determined by the style of composter you intend to purchase and what fits best in your yard. If you’re tight on space, square/rectangular bins fit snugly into corners.

Odor Control

A properly mixed compost pile will have very little odor. Maintaining the proper mix of high carbon “brown” and high nitrogen “green” materials, aeration, moisture, and temperature will prevent the compost from producing odor. A proper commercially made compost bin should have air vents or holes on selected parts of the bin for proper ventilation. Some bins have charcoal filters to help mitigate odor.


Stationary compost bins can go either in the shade or sun, depending on how fast you want the composting process to go. The sun helps increase the temperature, so the bacteria and fungi work faster. Tumblers or smaller bins can be moved to any part of your yard or home as needed.

Hazards to Avoid

Health and Safety

Although compost is a necessary and useful component of any garden, it has a number of components that homeowners need to treat with care. Regular upkeep should prevent or minimize most concerns about the spread of mold spores or harmful bacteria. This is more likely in piles that contain animal waste. To ensure that they protect themselves first, people should:

  • Wear breathable gloves to reduce their physical contact with the compost
  • Use closed footwear
  • Wear protective eyewear and a dust mask while turning
  • Avoid turning the pile on a windy day
  • Wash hands thoroughly after maintenance

Keeping a pile of a moderate size, about one cubic yard, can help achieve the right temperature range without increasing the heat too much. Fire from compost is rare but not impossible. People should monitor and turn the contents before the temperature reaches over 160-170 degrees Fahrenheit.

Pest Problems

Households may have to deal with periodic infestations of the pile, but there are ways to prevent this issue. Mammals like rats and raccoons are attracted to fresh food scraps just put into the pile. They will also come for fats or animal products, which is partly why many generally recommend against these additions.

People should try to keep the heap as contained as possible. If they do not use a specially-designed bin or tumbler, they should cover an open pile with tarp or build a fence. Once animals find the waste, it can be much more difficult to keep them out. Insects can be benign or harmful to the decomposition process. Typically, insect infestation inside the pile indicates that the temperature is not hot enough. Adding water, increasing the nitrogen content, and turning the pile may raise the temperature sufficiently to force the pests out.

Composting is a great activity for households of various ages and abilities, and nearly any property. From a sprawling 10-acre lot to a home with only a tiny yard, compost has the potential to cut down on waste production and put scraps to good use in organic gardening. Expert gardeners know that this addition to their efforts can increase produce output and quality. People do not need a lot of knowledge or practice to get started. They only need to get a grasp for the basics, devote a proper amount of space, and have the tools and equipment to make it a success. The biggest contribution is time and patience to let the ingredients do their work. Compost heaps can begin at almost any time of year, depending on the region and the investment homeowners are willing to make. People who are interested in learning how compost could change their gardens for the better can start as soon as today.

Watch the video: 6 Outstanding Tips To Prevent RATS in Your Compost Bin

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