How Long Does Compost Take + 5 Ways You Can Speed It Up

A compost bin with its contents spilling out

Because of the complexity of making compost, there's no easy way to answer the question of how long it will take to create compost. Your compost heap is different from anyone else's, which can be the primary problem. The natural process of a compost pile has many facets, offering a variety of places for things to go wrong along the journey to finished compost.

You can produce reliable estimates and results if you compost correctly and purposefully. However, you need to know how to make the best usable compost to get the best estimates. With this article, we hope to give you an idea of how long it might take you to create compost, and what you can do to quicken that process.

Although how long it takes for compost to break down is variable, we can start by giving you some rough estimates.


How long does it take to make compost?

A large pile of finished compost

Compost can take anywhere between 24 hours to a year or more to make, depending on the method you opt. Electric composters are the fastest way to make compost, and can break down your food waste in 24 hours or less. Other indoor composting methods typically take a lot longer than outdoor methods to create compost. 

Based on the method you choose, here are some rough timelines for composting:

  • Electric countertop composter: The fastest method, creating usable dirt in 16 - 20 hours.
  • Indoor composting: The longest method, ranging from 2 - 12+ months.
  • Outdoor composting: This method produces usable compost anywhere from one month to a year or more.

We’ll go into more detail about these ideas later on, and you’ll better understand what we mean.

 

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8 factors that affect how long it takes for compost to be ready 

When you're dealing with compost, there are a number of different factors that will ultimately influence the speed of decomposition. Let's look deeper into what will affect how quickly - or slowly - the finished compost can take to make.


1. How hot or cold it is

Leaves of different colors lined up on wooden table to demonstrate the different seasons

When dealing with an outdoor compost bin or compost pile, seasonal conditions will significantly impact how long it takes for organic materials to break down. The warmer the environment, the more efficiently the microorganisms responsible for composting will work. This is why many people who have their own compost bin or compost pile will cover them during the winter months - there's just not a lot going on, and they want to retain as much heat as possible.


2. The composition of green versus brown material

Compost bin containing both green and brown compost

Optimal compost outcomes come from a mix of wet "green" materials and dry "brown" additions. Green materials produce nitrogen as they break down, and browns produce carbon. Both of these elements are essential for the decomposition process, and the right mix will ensure the process occurs efficiently. Shown below is a table with a few examples of green and brown materials:


Green Materials

Brown materials

Vegetable peels

Corn stalks

Grass clippings

Pine needles

Tea bags

Coal ash

Chicken manure 

Shredded cardboard and paper

Crushed eggshells

Small woody branches & dried leaves


 


 

3. The size and shape of material in your compost

Close up of rotten apples on the ground

Regardless of the precise method used to compost, breaking down organic material beforehand will always speed up the process. Smaller bits of organic material decompose faster than larger ones. After all, the organisms responsible for the bulk of composting's heavy lifting are microscopic! Even vermicomposting, which utilizes worms to aid the process, will benefit from smaller materials.


4. The overall volume of your compost pile

Wooden compost bin filled to the top with food waste

When composting, you'll want to maintain an appropriate volume. Compost that is too tightly packed cannot properly aerate, which means it will become waterlogged and smelly. It will also lack oxygen which is another crucial element to getting usable compost in a shorter time frame. On the flip side, compost that is too loose will aerate excessively, resulting in loose, dry, and often low-value material, and that's not the kind of good compost we're looking for.


5. The size of your compost pile

A large compost heap

Because temperature plays a big role in how quickly organic waste breaks down, the total size of your compost pile will also make a difference. Having a larger pile means that the temperature of the compost will be able to build up higher and faster than a smaller pile. So, if you’re composting outside, one big bin will finish faster than multiple smaller piles.


6. How moist the compost is

A person holding a handful of moist compost

Achieving an ideal level of moisture is also an important factor in how quickly your compost will finish. Some moisture in the pile will allow oxygen to flow through the waste more efficiently, making it easier for helpful microorganisms to break down the organic matter. However, if there’s too much moisture in your compost bin, the whole thing will turn into a soupy mess, which isn’t what anyone’s looking for. Your compost pile should feel like a wrung-out sponge at all times.


7. How easily digestible the organic matter is

Food scraps being scraped from a cutting board into a compost bin

When we’re composting, we rely on microscopic organisms (and sometimes bugs) to digest and break down waste for us. Well, some organic matter is just easier to digest, and that organic waste will be quicker to compost. For example, branches and leaves are high in lignin, making them more difficult to digest and slower to compost than materials like grass clippings or shredded paper.


8. Technology you’re using to help with the process

Close up view of food waste being put in Lomi

Technology can also impact how long it takes for compost to break down. This technology can range from simple garden tools to help with the aeration process, all the way to electronic composters that essentially do all the work for you!

With the push of a button, Lomi can turn your food waste into nutrients for plants. Click here to learn more about Lomi.

How long does compost take to break down?

Hand holding compost next to pile of food waste

How long it takes compost to become soil is specific to each compost pile. The speed composting takes depends on many factors, such as the types of materials you use, the balance between brown materials and green materials, the moisture content within your compost pile, and the retaining heat.

The fastest way to compost food waste is with an electric composter, such as Lomi, which can get the job done in less than a day. Without Lomi, though, it’s going to take much longer. In ideal conditions where you do everything right, it will take at least a month to go from compost to soil. Of course, getting everything right, especially your first time around, isn’t exactly easy. More likely, it’s going to take anywhere from a few months to a year or more to make compost soil.

For the quickest decomposition rate, you should strive to achieve as many ideal composting conditions as possible.


 


 

Top 5 tips to speed up the composting process

If you don’t want to wait a year or more to make compost at home, there are steps you can take and products you can buy to speed up the process. Here are the five best ways to quickly acquire finished compost:


1. Try Lomi - an automatic kitchen composter

Top down view of Lomi filled with dirt

Composting is fastest when you have technology helping, such as Pela's Lomi. After the one-button-press startup, you only need to sit back and wait for the alert! For the highest quality natural fertilizer, you only need to wait up to 20 hours for the finished result. There's no need to get your hands dirty, probe around with a thermometer, or study texture. You're guaranteed to find nutrient-rich dirt that can be immediately added to any soil.

Try this product: Lomi

Pro tip: An electric composter is great for quick and mess-free composting! Lomi turns your organic trash into rich, nutrient-packed dirt than be added to your houseplants or a home garden.


2. Turn your compost

A woman using a compost tumbler

On its own, turning compost is an essential maintenance task. While this is not a daily thing, traditional compost piles and bins are turned regularly, typically once or twice per week. This action allows for the compost to breathe.

Turning the compost without applying heat offers a decently fast turnaround of roughly 3 months and is called cold composting. However, if you want to juice the process even further, then consider hot turning. This approach combines the process of turning with the beneficial results of hot composting.

Try this product: Yard Butler compost aerator

Pro tip: When the pile reaches 130°F (54°C), you want to turn it. This provides all the benefits of turning and combines them with the perks of heat. As a result, hot compost piles can produce results in as little as 27 days instead of a few months.


3. Get help from some critters

Hands holding compost filled with worms

Vermicomposting is the process of enlisting some worms to help you compost. While all outdoor composting will involve vermicomposting, most dedicated vermicomposters will opt to create a protected indoor or outdoor bin.

Worms aren’t your only choice of bug - black soldier flies are emerging among vermicomposting enthusiasts. The larvae of the black soldier fly are voracious; immediately after hatching, these grubs begin munching! With their help, you can reliably produce finished compost in approximately three weeks.

Try this product: Worms from Uncle Jim’s Worm Farm

Pro tip: Even with how quick these critters can break down your compost, you’ll want to very gently turn it every now and then. This will ensure it isn’t getting too damp.


4. Include compost activators

Someone holding soil in their hands

Composting can be difficult and slow to start, especially if it doesn't contain the best mix of green and brown waste. A quick and easy way to get around this is by adding compost activators to your mix.

Also known as compost accelerators, they quicken the decomposition process by increasing the nitrogen content of the compost pile. Compost activators are relatively cheap, and easy to find both online and in stores, making them one of the easiest ways to improve the speed of your compost.

Try this product: Biomaster Compost-It compost accelerator

Pro tip: Chicken manure acts wonderfully as a compost activator, and is generally cheaper per pound than products advertised specifically as compost activators or accelerators.


5. Shred what you’re composting

Close up of shredded compost material

How long it takes to create compost is also dependent on how large the individual food scraps and organic waste are. Smaller materials break down faster than larger materials. Cutting up your food waste before throwing it in the compost bin will help speed up the process.

Shredding is especially important when it comes to brown material. Much of the time, this is going to be dead plants and wood from the yard, which can come in some pretty large pieces. Shredding up the brown material will seriously make a difference in the compost pile.

Try this product: Earthwise compost shredder

Pro tip: Don’t want to buy a dedicated compost shredder? You can also go over most brown materials with a lawnmower to cut down the size. Using the lawnmower will also provide an easy source of brown materials through grass clippings!

These are just a few simple ways that you can get your finished compost quicker. For even more tips and tricks, check out our article on speeding up the composting process.


How long does it take for things to compost?

How long compost takes to break down can also depend on the individual items and how you’re composting them. Here you can see the difference in how long it takes specific items to break down in Lomi versus a traditional backyard compost bin.


Item

Electric Composter (Lomi)

Traditional Backyard Composting 

Egg shells

3 - 20 hours*

1 month - 3+ years**

Coffee grounds

3 - 20 hours*

1 - 12+ months

Other food waste & kitchen scraps

3 - 20 hours*

1 - 12+ months

Compostable plastic (Lomi approved bioplastics)

5 - 8 hours*

Not recommended***

Compostable cutlery & cups

5 - 8 hours*

Not recommended***


*The time ranges for Lomi are dependent on the different modes it has available. For example, the eco express mode only takes 3 - 5 hours to create dirt. At the other end is the grow mode, which takes 16 - 20 hours, but creates nutrient-rich dirt ready to enrich your home garden and houseplants.

**How long it takes to compost eggshells depends on whether or not they’re crushed up before being thrown in a good compost pile. Uncrushed eggshells can take a surprisingly long time to decompose fully.

***While (approved) compostable plastics, cutlery, and cups can be composted in Lomi or through industrial composting, it’s not recommended you try composting these in your backyard compost pile. You’re unlikely to be able to achieve the ideal conditions required to compost these items.


How to tell when the compost is ready to use?

Close up view of compost that is ready to use

To know when your unfinished compost has gone to finished compost, you'll want to look for certain traits. Ready-to-harvest compost has a distinct appearance and texture. Depending on your method, you can also track your progress in general terms. Faster methods can be ready in as little as a month, while slower options may take a year (or more).

Other signs that your compost is ready to be used are:

  • Proper texture: Ripe compost will be a bit crumbly.
  • Smell: While stinky compost is a sign of something amiss, a pleasant, earthy smell is a sign of success!
  • Temperature: A ready pile will give off less heat than before. Of course, you'll have to track the temperature to use this method of checking progress.
  • Color: Look for a deep, dark brown color.

However, for more modern methods, checking your compost's readiness is easy. The multiple cycle modes available on Lomi will also give you a simple, generalized timeframe to expect. Depending on the cycle you choose, your nutrient-rich dirt can be ready in 3 to 24 hours!

If you're looking for a fast and reliable way to produce amazing, plant-boosting material year-round, then the answer is obvious: you want Lomi. Instead of trying to balance all of these factors yourself, let science's latest and greatest composting breakthrough do it for you. Take the plunge into a greener future and reserve your Lomi today!