The Best Compost Bins for Indoors and Out
Transform unsightly organic waste into a nutrient-rich soil additive with the right compost bin for your gardening goals.
Compost is like a multivitamin for your soil. Made of thoroughly decayed organic material, it works like a fertilizer to encourage healthy growth, strong roots, and bountiful blooms and fruit.
Creating your own compost is not just good for your garden, it’s also great for the planet. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, food scraps and yard waste constitute more than 28 percent of what ends up in landfills. Plus, you save money with the DIY approach versus buying bags of pre-made compost.
The secret to transforming yard debris and kitchen scraps into garden gold is a quality compost bin. You could always start an open compost pile in a corner of your yard, but it’s bound to become a smelly, unsightly invitation to insects and animal foragers before long. Enclosed compost bins offer a neater, easier solution that actually creates compost faster than traditional piles by regulating the temperature, moisture, oxygen, and bacteria levels in the organic material within the bin, helping it break down faster.
Compost bins come in a variety of shapes and sizes and styles. Which is best for you? That depends on how much organic waste you produce, the amount of space you have, and how you plan to use the finished product. Keep reading to understand more about how to identify the best compost bin for your needs—and to find out why the below options are some of our favorites:
- BEST OVERALL: FCMP Outdoor IM4000 Tumbling Composter
- BEST FOR URBAN GARDENS: Nature’s Footprint Worm Factory
- BEST FOR INDOORS: SCD Probiotics All Seasons Indoor Composter
- BEST FOR KITCHEN SCRAPS: Utopia Kitchen Stainless Steel Compost Bin
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. However, compost needs to be turned—for aeration and distribution of material—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. However, in order 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 compost. 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 weather-resistant and 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 in your yard. If you’re tight on space, square/rectangular bins fit snugly into corners.
A combination of the proper mixture of high carbon “brown” and high nitrogen “green” materials, temperature, moisture, and aeration will prevent the compost from producing odor. As such, commercially made compost bin should have air vents or holes on selected parts of the bin for proper ventilation—especially when composting indoors. 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.
Our Top Picks
1. BEST OVERALL: FCMP Outdoor IM4000 Tumbling Composter
If you need a consistent supply of fresh compost to feed your flowers and vegetable garden, then the FCMP tumbling composter will fit the bill. At 37 gallons, it holds plenty of kitchen scraps, grass clippings, and other yard and garden waste. Yet despite its ample size, this tumbler is easy to turn. It also features double inner bins, enabling you to have two batches of compost in different stages of decomposition going at the same time. Give the barrel five to six spins every two or three days to aerate the compost. As long as the mixture balance is correct, the FCMP tumbling composter will create ready-to-use compost in as little as two weeks.
2. BEST FOR URBAN GARDENS: Nature’s Footprint Worm Factory
Worm compost bins are perfect for city gardens with limited space. Nature’s Footprint Worm Factory won’t hog a corner of your yard. At less than two feet tall and wide, it can sit comfortably on a sunny windowsill or countertop. The basic model features four stacking trays, but you can add more to handle additional compost materials if needed. Note that the kit does not supply red wiggler worms; you’ll need to purchase them separately. The kit does, however, come with a few handy accessories, including mineral rock dust for nutrients, worm ladders (which help them move up through the compost), and worm bedding, as well as a thermometer, hand rake, and scraper. Best of all, there’s very little assembly involved—just unpack and stack.
3. BEST FOR INDOORS: SCD Probiotics All Seasons Indoor Composter
If you don’t have room for a full-sized composter or prefer to compost indoors, this model will fit right under your sink and won’t stink up your kitchen. The SCD is an anaerobic composter, meaning it uses microorganisms that do not require oxygen for survival to break down food scraps. This bin relies on inoculated bokashi bran to “pre-ferment” food scraps (including small bones, meat, dairy, and oily foods), thereby accelerating the composting process. It doesn’t fully “cook” kitchen scraps into traditional compost, so you’ll need to bury or scatter the contents in an outdoor garden to finish the process. However, the five-gallon airtight bucket has a handy spigot for releasing compost tea, a potent liquid fertilizer produced as food scraps ferment. The compost tea is strong—be sure to dilute it with water before you fertilize houseplants or outdoor containers.
4. BEST FOR KITCHEN SCRAPS: Utopia Kitchen Stainless Steel Compost Bin
The attractive, 1.3-gallon Utopia Kitchen Stainless Steel Compost Bin technically doesn’t make compost; it simply holds kitchen waste until you take it to a proper worm bin or composter. Built to last, it’s made of high-quality grade 201 stainless steel that won’t scratch, crack, or chip, and even better, the bin comes with charcoal filters that trap odors.