Composting has numerous benefits. In addition to recycling kitchen and garden waste into a helpful soil amendment for indoor and outdoor plants, composting helps keep significant amounts of organic waste out of the landfill. One of the cleanest and easiest ways to make compost at home is by using a compost tumbler.
Composting uses aerobic, or oxygen-loving, microorganisms to quickly break down organic materials. Previously, home gardeners had to manually turn their compost piles with a garden fork to supply adequate oxygen, which often created a backyard mess that attracted animals. The best compost tumblers fully enclose the pile inside a vented barrel, eliminating the mess. They are mounted on a frame to make the barrel easier to turn, which eliminates the slow, back-breaking process of turning with a fork. If you’re interested in a faster, easier way of making high-quality compost, a compost tumbler might be right for you. Ahead, learn more about the criteria used to recommend these compost tumblers, but first have a look at the picks.
- BEST OVERALL: FCMP Outdoor IM4000 Tumbling Composter
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: FCMP Outdoor Half Size Rolling Composter
- BEST SMALL: Miracle-Gro Small Composter
- BEST LARGE: Lifetime 60058 Compost Tumbler
- BEST DUAL CHAMBER: Miracle-Gro DFDC210 Dual Chamber Compost Tumbler
Types of Compost Tumblers
All compost tumblers are enclosed bins, typically barrel-shaped, and owners must turn their contents occasionally. The most important difference among the types of compost tumblers is in the way they turn. The tumblers rotate via one of three turning methods: ground rolling, central axis, and handle operated.
A ground-rolling compost tumbler has two separate pieces: the barrel, or bin, and the base. The base has a curved upper surface that cradles the bin, holding it in place without fasteners. Rollers built into the curved surface of the base allow the loaded bin to spin freely when pushed or pulled.
Because they sit at ground level, ground-rolling compost tumblers are a good choice for those who live in cold climates. The reduced exposure to wind and cold allows the bin to retain heat. The added warmth keeps composting microbes active instead of allowing them to go dormant in the cold.
Central axis compost tumblers are built on a metal framework with an axle running through the midpoint of the bin. The framework serves two purposes. First, it elevates the bin to a height that reduces bending and stooping while filling, turning, and emptying the bin. Secondly, the axle allows the bin to spin freely to aerate its contents.
Central axis compost bins are a good choice for those who suffer with back problems, since the user can load and unload the material from a standing, rather than stooping, position. Some models feature wheels, so users can easily relocate the bin to a different area of the yard or garden.
Handle-operated compost tumblers use gears to make turning the barrel much easier. The geared handle matches up with a gear built into the end of the bin. When the operator cranks the handle, it turns the bin in a smooth, controlled manner.
Handle-operated tumblers require less physical strength than other types of tumblers. This kind of tumbler might be a good choice for children, seniors, or gardeners with reduced physical strength.
What to Consider When Choosing the Best Compost Tumbler
Several characteristics can help you determine the best compost tumbler for your gardening needs. Consider the way you intend to use the bin, the amount of space available, and your garden environment, to name a few. The following criteria helped lead to these picks.
Before buying one, narrow down your purposes for the bin. For instance, will you use it primarily for kitchen scrap disposal? Or, will it also process weeds, grass clippings, and other garden debris? Will it be filled irregularly, with additional content added periodically until it’s full? Or, will it receive a steady stream of material on a regular basis?
For processing small amounts of kitchen scraps and occasional houseplant debris, look for a compost tumbler in the 15- to 25-gallon size range. If you need a bin that will handle greater quantities on an irregular basis, such as at the end of a garden season, go for a large capacity 50- to 80-gallon compost tumbler. For a steady stream of debris in and compost out, go for a double chamber tumbler that will process and finish compost on one side as you feed new material on the other.
Although some versions use steel, compost tumblers typically have a UV-protected plastic bin with a frame made of tubular steel or plastic. Since it resists both weather and corrosion and transfers heat slowly, plastic makes an ideal material for the bin. Metal bins allow internal heat to escape more quickly in cold weather, slowing the composting process, and they can corrode over time. Tubular steel frames are the standard for central axis and handle-operated tumblers. Most ground-rolling bins feature a plastic base, some of which include a reservoir for capturing the liquid runoff from the bin called “compost tea,” another useful gardening medium.
Bin capacity is measured in either gallons or cubic feet. Keep in mind that 1 cubic foot is equivalent to 7.48 gallons. The smallest compost tumblers hold about 15 gallons, or about 2 cubic feet, while the largest hold more than 80 gallons, or 10.7 cubic feet.
Consider the amount of material you will compost and how often. Also remember that it takes at least 10 weeks, on average, to fully process a batch of compost. For this reason, many gardeners operate two tumblers simultaneously or use a dual chamber tumbler. With a dual chamber bin, users can add to one bin for 10 weeks, then close it, allow it to process, and gradually fill the second bin.
Tumbling helps provide air to compost and reduce moisture, both of which are vital in the decomposition process. Look for a compost bin with built-in aeration structures, such as air holes or vents in the walls, fins on the interior walls, flat sides, and mixing bars.
As the material inside breaks down, it can become compacted. Turning the bin loosens the material and breaks down the clumps. Air holes and vents allow the exchange of gas in the microorganisms in the decaying matter and let the excess moisture escape. Flat walls, such as in a hexagonal shape, force the material to tumble rather than slide. Additional texture comes from features such as fins and bars that help stir the material and add oxygen.
An enclosed compost tumbler also helps composters avoid pests like rodents and insects. The lids on these units thread, latch, or slide into tracks, which keep out rodents and other small animals. Durable, heavy-duty plastic is difficult for rodents to chew through, and steel makes the bin virtually impossible to penetrate. Bears even find them challenging, but don’t test that theory! Avoid adding animal favorites, such as meat scraps, bones, and items with high fat content, to the bin.
A foul odor emitting from the bin is an indication that the compost is either not well aerated or that the carbon-to-nitrogen ratio of the compost ingredients is out of balance. Compost tumblers are specially designed to quickly and easily deal with the first issue. Simply rotating the bin once or twice each week infuses oxygen into the mix and promotes the growth of beneficial aerobic-composting microbes. If the compost smells like rotten eggs, it needs air. Spin the bin.
Composting is comparable to keeping a pet, only in this case, the “pets” are millions of aerobic microbes. They need a consistently warm, moist environment with the right kind of “food.” Their food initially consists of about 30 parts carbon to 1 part nitrogen. Nitrogen comes from “green” compost ingredients like vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, and grass clippings. Carbon comes from so-called “brown” ingredients, such as autumn leaves, straw, sawdust, and paper. One way to ensure an adequate supply of carbon with the kitchen scraps is to include paper products like coffee filters, used paper towels, and tea bags in the mix. When you add new scraps to the bin, cover them with shredded newsprint or cardboard.
A properly working compost tumbler should heat up from the activity of the microbes and produce a somewhat sweet, earthy scent. If the ingredients are far out of balance, the microbes cannot process the compost efficiently, possibly causing unpleasant odors. If the mixture is slimy or has an ammonia odor, the nitrogen level is too high. It needs brown ingredients. If too much carbon is the bin, it won’t heat properly, so add green ingredients.
Ease of Use
Compost tumblers offer numerous conveniences over stationary compost piles. They’re neat, they enclose the mess for a tidier appearance. Moreover, they are fast and easy to turn. Users only have to spin the tumbler a minute or two instead of the half hour that it takes to turn a compost pile with a garden fork. Gardeners can move them into a garden shed or garage for efficient winter composting; however, a stationary pile simply goes dormant during cold weather.
When comparing different compost tumblers, “ease of use” depends on the individual gardener. To distribute the compost, you can simply dump it from an elevated bin into a wheelbarrow. However, cold weather gardeners who process compost outdoors may prefer a bin close to the ground. But some characteristics appeal to almost everyone. A wider opening makes it easier to load and unload, and, unlike latches and threaded lids, sliding covers rarely get clogged with debris. Exterior handgrips on the bin or a hand crank makes it easier to rotate the bin.
Our Top Picks
With all these considerations in mind, keep reading to find several recommendations for the best compost tumblers.
The FCMP Outdoor IM4000 Tumbling Composter offers two chambers for continuous composting. Add scraps or yard debris to one side as the other side processes. This composter features an eight-sided design that forces the material inside to roll and tumble, rather than slide. Interior deep fins and aeration holes in the wall ensure thorough oxygen penetration into the mix as the bin turns.
The 37-gallon (5-cubic-foot) total capacity is a convenient size for beginners with average-size gardens. Wide openings make it easy to load scraps and retrieve the finished compost. The bin is made of BPA-free, UV-inhibited, 100-percent post-consumer recycled polypropylene, and the frame features galvanized tubular steel. This composter requires assembly.
The FCMP Outdoor Rolling Composter is a good size at an affordable price for one or two people who generate only a few compostable items. The ground-rolling design gives this unit a low profile that easily tucks away in small spaces, such as a balcony, patio, or garage. Built-in ergonomic handholds make it easy to roll. Aeration holes and deep fins break up clumps inside the chamber to maximize oxygen penetration.
The 19-gallon (2.5-cubic-foot) bin is made of recycled, UV-inhibited, BPA-free polyethylene. This unit requires no assembly. Just position the base, stand the bin on top, and it’s ready to fill. To speed decomposition, the manufacturer recommends turning the bin about twice a day.
The Miracle-Gro Small Composter provides a convenient place to recycle veggie scraps and houseplant debris while fitting easily into a small space. The hexagonal 18.5-gallon (2.47-cubic-foot) chamber features aeration holes and mixing bars for better oxygen infusion. Tight locking slide doors keep out animal pests. For easy loading and unloading, toppers on the frame lock the bin rotation.
The UV-protected plastic chamber is built to withstand exposure to weather. The powder-coated stainless steel frame makes it easy not only to load, unload, and rotate the bin but also to sweep or blow out debris from underneath. The composter requires some assembly. The package includes a pair of water-resistant, no-slip grip garden gloves.
The Lifetime 60058 Compost Tumbler holds up to 80 gallons (10.72 cubic feet), enough volume for intensive composting in larger gardens and landscapes. The chamber includes double-walled panels for better heat retention and internal mixing bars to break up clumps and infuse air into the mix. It features an extra-large removable lid for easy access and a spring-loaded locking pin to hold the bin steady for loading and unloading.
The bin is made of UV-protected polyethylene, and the frame is powder-coated steel. The bin features a unique mushroom-shaped cross-section to promote thorough mixing, but it balances on its axis for smooth operation. It requires some assembly. The kit includes a how-to-compost DVD and the hardware for assembly.
The Miracle-Gro Large Dual Chamber Compost Tumbler allows composting enthusiasts to process two separate batches at the same time for a steady flow of fresh compost. While one chamber stays closed to finish processing, owners can steadily fill the other side. Two independent 27.7-gallon (3.7-cubic-foot) chambers rotate on a shared axis. The total combined capacity is 55.4 gallons (7.4 cubic feet). This is a useful size compost tumbler for a family of four, with enough space for a steady flow of kitchen scraps and garden debris.
The UV-protected plastic chambers are built to withstand exposure to the elements. The powder-coated stainless steel frame with rotation locks makes it easy to load, unload, and rotate the bin. The compost bin requires some assembly. The package includes a pair of water-resistant, no-slip-grip garden gloves.
The Advantages of Owning a Compost Tumbler
Composting at home reduces landfill waste. It also eliminates the need for a truck to drive around picking up materials for off-site composting. Plus, you get to use your own compost to promote a healthy garden, landscape, and houseplants. It also helps avoid the traditional downsides of composting: the amount of work involved, the mess and odors associated with it, the fear of attracting animal pests, and more. Compost tumblers eliminate these objections.
- Compost tumblers fully enclose the composting process, eliminating the mess and attraction to animals.
- Tumblers make it much easier and faster to aerate compost, eliminating odors and reducing processing time by as much as 50 to 70 percent compared to a compost pile.
- The tumblers can process smaller quantities of waste more efficiently than can compost piles.
FAQ About Your New Compost Tumbler
New to composting? Keep reading to learn more about using and maintaining your new compost tumbler.
Q. How do you use a compost tumbler?
Set up the compost tumbler in a sunny location to promote quick growth of composting microbes. Fill it (either all at once or over several weeks) with a mix of kitchen scraps, shredded newspaper, garden debris, grass clippings, fallen leaves, and other scraps. Moisten the mixture (it should feel like a not-quite-saturated sponge) and close the lid.
Rotate the bin two or three times per week. After a week, the ingredients should be warm to the touch, with no foul odors. Continue rotating the bin two to three times per week and inspect the contents weekly. The temperature will continue to get warmer as the material breaks down, and it will gradually cool as more and more of the material completes the decomposition process. Add water as needed to maintain the moisture level. When it’s cool and appears dark and crumbly with no recognizable particles, the material is completely processed and ready to use.
Q. How long does it take to make compost in a tumbler?
The time it takes to make compost varies, depending on the temperature, time of year, and the balance of the ingredients inside. It’s possible to have compost within less than 10 weeks if all the right conditions come together.
Q. How often do you need to turn a compost tumbler?
For fastest processing and to eliminate odors, turn the compost tumbler two to three times per week.
Q. How often should you water compost?
The compost should have the feel of a gently wrung-out sponge. As the material is processed and builds heat, moisture evaporates. Check the bin weekly and add water as needed.