How to Solve Common Composting Problems


At its best, compost can be good for both your garden and your budget. By composting, you make the most efficient use of most of your kitchen and yard waste. Composting problems can be frustrating, but as long as you do not panic and apply some logic to the situation, most common composting problems are easily solved. Once you have diagnosed the problem, a simple course of action will have your compost heap in good shape in no time.

Step 1

Identify the problem you are having with your compost heap. Note whether the compost heap smells bad or simply does not seem to be getting hot enough to break down the materials in it efficiently.

Step 2

Sniff the compost heap. If it is emitting a rotting smell, it is too wet. Some of the contents are beginning to ferment. This breaks down those components anaerobically (without oxygen) instead of aerobically (with oxygen). Add more carbon-rich (or brown) materials, such as straw, dried leaves, cardboard, and shredded newspaper. Mix it in thoroughly and do not add any water or wet kitchen scraps for a few days.

Step 3

Pull the compost heap apart and look at the inside. If it is not breaking down quickly, one of two things may be happening. It may not be generating enough heat to break down the heap's components. It is also possible that some or all components you have placed in the heap are too big. Run over larger materials with a mulching lawnmower. Crush eggshells up finely before adding to the heap. Breaking everything down into smaller pieces will help it decompose more quickly.

Step 4

Check the balance of your heap. A functioning compost heap contains roughly equal amounts of both carbon-rich and nitrogen-rich materials. Generally speaking, materials such as kitchen scraps and lawn clippings are considered nitrogen-rich. A compost heap also needs to be slightly moist in order for breakdown to occur. Water the heap if it is not breaking down quickly and the components seem dry. A compost heap should not be sopping, but if you pick up a handful of compost, you should be able to squeeze it into a ball.

Things You'll Need

  • Rake or shovel
  • Hose
  • Carbon-rich (brown) materials
  • Nitrogen-rich (green) materials
  • Compost bin (optional)
  • Mulching lawnmower (optional)


  • City of Davis: Compost Troubleshooting
  • Gardener's Supply Company: Answers to Avoid Common Compost Problems
  • Compost Santa Cruz County: Compost Troubleshooting
Keywords: troubleshoot compost heap, compost problem solving, compost tips tricks

About this Author

Amrita Chuasiriporn is a professional cook, baker, and writer. In addition to cooking and baking for a living, Chuasiriporn has written for several online publications. These include Chef's Blade, CraftyCrafty, and others. Additionally, Chuasiriporn is a regular contributor to online automotive enthusiast publication Chuasiriporn holds an A.A.S. in culinary arts, as well as a B.A. in Spanish language and literature.