How to Compost Used Coffee Grounds


Creative compost enthusiasts delight in using many different types of organic waste in their compost bins, including coffee grounds. Whether you drink coffee yourself or you have a friend who enjoys a daily cup, chances are you have access to a regular source of coffee grounds. According to Barbara Pleasant, co-author of "The Complete Compost Gardening Book," used coffee grounds' carbon-to-nitrogen ratio of 20:1 makes them an ideal nitrogen-rich ingredient for compost. Use them with fall leaves to create nutrient-rich humus that you can add to the soil in your spring garden just before planting time.

Step 1

Gather your materials for your compost bin. Rake dead leaves into a large pile near your composting location to provide dry, carbon-rich waste for your pile. Add newspaper or cardboard, if you have some available, but make sure it's shredded into long, narrow pieces that measure less than 2 inches in width. Make sure that no more than two-thirds of your organic waste consists of carbon-rich materials, to provide adequate energy for the composting microorganisms.

Step 2

Collect enough coffee grounds to provide about one-third of the volume of materials in your compost bin. Collect your own grounds in a bucket or plastic ice cream container stored in the cupboard beneath your kitchen sink. Collect grounds from your family, neighbors and friends, as well as local coffee shops and restaurants. Don't bother to remove any paper filters, since they'll provide more carbon-based waste for your compost.

Step 3

Spread a 3- to 4-inch layer of your shredded carbon-rich waste across the bottom of your compost bin. Mist the waste with water from your garden hose; dampen it until it's about as moist as a wrung-out sponge. Sprinkle a 1- to 2-inch layer of coffee grounds over the carbon waste, dampening it slightly as well. Place several handfuls of plain topsoil or finished compost over the moist coffee grounds to serve as a compost activator.

Step 4

Add additional layers of organic waste, alternating the carbon-rich materials, nitrogen-rich coffee grounds and compost activator to achieve an even distribution of the waste for increased microbial activity. Moisten each layer of waste as you add it to maintain proper moisture levels in your compost. Repeat this entire process until your compost bin is full or the pile of waste measures 3 feet in height, whichever comes first.

Step 5

Leave your compost to decompose for two to three weeks. Aerate the waste by stirring it with a manure fork or garden rake once every two to four weeks to produce finished compost within approximately four to six months. Squeeze a handful of moist compost to check the moisture level when you mix the layers; ideally, only one or two drops of liquid should fall from the compressed waste, according to the University of Illinois Cooperative Extension. Add extra water to provide more moisture, or additional leaves to soak up excess water.

Things You'll Need

  • Garden rake
  • Carbon-rich organic waste (dead leaves, newspaper and cardboard)
  • Used coffee grounds
  • Plastic bucket/plastic ice cream container
  • Garden hose
  • Plain topsoil/finished compost
  • Manure fork
  • Push mower (optional)


  • "The Complete Compost Gardening Guide"; Barbara Pleasant & Deborah Martin; 2008
  • University of Illinois Cooperative Extension: The Science of Composting
  • Oregon State University Cooperative Extension: Coffee Grounds and Composting (pdf)
Keywords: coffee compost, composting with coffee, cheap compost

About this Author

Regan Hennessy has been writing professionally for 11 years. A freelance copywriter and certified teacher, Hennessy specializes in the areas of parenting, health, education, agriculture and personal finance. During her time with Demand Studios, Hennessy has produced content for Ehow, Answerbag and Travels. Hennessy graduated from Lycoming College with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English.