What do I do if my compost is too wet?

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hat do I do if my compost is too wet?

Most people start with a new compost bin and use it as a dump for kitchen waste. The bin is just somewhere to get rid of stuff that we’ve finished with,leftovers, fruit and vegetable trimmings. Then we expect it to turn into compost, over time, because that’s what we’ve been told would happen.

The thing about a compost bin is that this is no ordinary bin. No one comes along to empty it every Friday. Everything that goes in there, is going to be staying around for a while. You keep on throwing in stuff and the level creeps up. 

How do you fix soggy compost?

How do I know if my compost is too wet?

What will happen if you left the compost too long?

Does compost go bad?

Why does my compost smell like poop?

Then, one day, you go to throw in the next addition from the kitchen and you notice a smell. Then you look a little closer and you notice that what you thought was turning into compost, has become a wet mess. It’s too wet to turn into compost without some sort of intervention.

Compost that’s too wet can be saved


So, what can you do if your compost is too wet? The first thing is to recognise that it isn’t as it should be. Secondly, there are plenty of things you can do to turn what you have into a good quality compost. You may not believe it when you look at it but with a few simple additions, you can turn slimy, soggy compost into something black and crumbly.

How do you fix soggy compost?

To fix soggy compost you just need to add ingredients that will absorb the surplus water. Soggy compost can only be soggy because too much wet or moist material has been added to the compost bin and not enough carbon ‘browns’, which are almost always dry.

The type of materials that we call carbon ‘browns’ include:

  • Cardboard
  • Newspaper
  • Dead leaves
  • Straw (chopped)
  • Dry dead grass

Any or all of these should be added to compost as part of the feeding-in routine. Adding enough carbon ‘browns’ will balance the mixture.

Fix soggy compost by adding ‘browns’

If your compost is currently going through a soggy stage try this to fix it: 

  • Dig out the entire contents of your compost bin.
  • Mix in some Carbon ‘brown’ material.
  • Sprinkle some hydrated white lime over it.
  • Load it all back into the compost bin.

Doing all of this may seem like a lot of work but it will settle the problem completely. Your compost will cease to be soggy and slimy from this point provided that you continue to add more carbon ’brown’ material.

As a guide you need to aim for a ratio of at least 20 units of carbon ‘brown’ material to 1 unit of moist kitchen waste which we refer to as nitrate ‘greens’.

 How do I know if my compost is too wet?

You will know if your compost is too wet when you notice the stagnant smells. You will also see flies, particularly if you’re looking at it in warm weather. It will look like the slimy mess that it is, it won’t be a pretty sight. Compost that’s too wet and soggy, won’t show the signs that you would normally see as compost forms. You would normally see mould appear on the surface items and general material that you throw into the compost.

Looking at compost that’s too wet

Moulding is the first stage of organic waste breaking down. The surface of your compost should look like a disgusting type of multicoloured candy-floss. 

If the material is too wet, this won’t happen. Mould is a fungus. The conditions have to be right for any fungi to grow. At the mould growing stage, you may notice that there are bad smells but this will be nothing like as bad as from compost that smells bad because it’s too wet and soggy.

Compost that’s too wet will also be acidic. This will explain why you will see items of fruit sitting on the surface of the compost, that show no signs of breaking down. It will also explain the smells. Compost that’s too acidic will preserve, rather like pickling. Of all the signs that show that your compost is too wet, this is probably the clearest one of all.

What will happen if you left the compost too long?

The thing is, how long is too long. Depending on whether you use a fast or slow way of making compost, whatever compost you make will be usable between 1 to 2 years. There are things that will happen to compost that will go on for years if left to nature. Most people would make use of it in that time frame and the compost wouldn’t get the chance to be left for too long.

Find out about the Rolypig composter

There may be occasions when you happen to find some compost or you are presented with compost which, for one reason or another, has been left lying around, may be, for too long. This can easily happen with bags of compost which have been bought and put somewhere, waiting to be used some day.

Over a long period of time compost will continue to break down, even if, at some point, it was too wet. 

After all the fungi, microbial life forms and worms have had a go at it, you may think that there isn’t much more that can happen to it but there is.

More can happen if compost is left too long

If left in a container or bag, away from plant life or soil, compost will gradually disintegrate into a black powder. It will appear to have reached a constant level where nothing more can happen to it. 

When it reaches this point, you may think that the compost has gone too far and it’s been left for too long. It can, however, be used. It’s no matter how long the compost has been left, it can be used to improve soil. It will have something about it that will help in the vegetable patch or on the lawn. There will be no nitrates left in it but it should contain a measure of valuable nutrients, for example, potash and phosphates, which will remain dormant. 

Does compost go bad?

There are two wonderful ways of looking at this. If by going bad we mean deteriorating in some way that renders it useless for its intended us, then the answer is no. But it depends on our definition of going bad.

When we throw kitchen waste into a compost bin, heap or pile, then watch as it all turns mouldy, then black with worms digging into, what is clearly, a wet soggy mess, it’s difficult to argue that this hasn’t gone bad.

Compost doesn’t go bad

If we look at it from this angle, then we could say that we need our compost to go bad. We want it to go as bad as possible. Getting compost to go bad is what we work at. To go bad is what a good compost does. If it doesn’t go bad then it won’t become compost.

But the question of ‘Does compost go bad?’, here, today, points to the meaning of: compost that’s been hanging around for a while. Compost can be stored or left unused for years without going bad in the sense that it can’t be used. 

Over time, it will continue to go into stages that take it beyond the point where we consider compost to be finished and ready to use. This will affect the appearance of the compost but it won’t deplete the nutrient value. 

So, if you have a large bag of compost, from either your own production or bought from a store and it’s been hanging around for a while, it won’t have gone bad such that you can’t use it in the garden. 

Compost does age well. Some will tell you that the older compost becomes, the better it gets. It becomes more crumbly and black as time goes by. You will find that the older a compost is, the easier and more pleasant it is to handle. There’s nothing bad about that.

Why does my compost smell like poop?

Your compost will smell like poop if you only put food waste in the compost bin and nothing else to go with it. When you put food together in a heap, it will ferment rather than rot down. It will generate acids. Not enough to remove your skin when touched but enough to start some interesting chemistry.  

The fermentation process will become front and central and will glorify the whole occasion by generating a range of gases. Some of these are sulphurous gases. 

These are the gases that make your compost smell like poop. The poop smell will last for as long as it takes for the food to finish the fermentation process. If you keep adding fresh food waste to the fermenting mass, then the smell of poop will go on and on.

Your compost shouldn’t smell like poop

To add to the irritation of the smell of poop you will also see lots of flies hanging around just to add to the atmosphere and demonstrate what a mess you’re making, of your attempt at composting. This will, of course, be there for all to see and smell.

The embarrassment will be complete and remain so until you take action and do something about it. Thankfully the solution to the poop smelling problem is very simple.

The first thing I would do would be too sprinkle some hydrated white lime over the heap or on the top of the heap in the compost bin. This will deter the flies and start to lower the acidity that the fermentation is generating. Doing this will make your compost smell less like poop.

The lime will do for a start but your compost bin does need emptying out. You need to start all over again with an empty compost bin. Then start reloading what you have.

Before you load everything back into the compost bin, you must put in a layer of carbon ‘brown’ material. 

This can be shredded cardboard, paper, straw or leaves. You could include a mixture of all of it, if you want. This type of material does wonders to a compost heap. It will allow the surplus moisture in your poop smelling compost to drain down onto the drier carbon ‘brown’ material.

When you load the original poop smelling compost back into the bin, you need to make alternating layers of the smelly compost and carbon ‘brown’ material. This isn’t an exact science but you can be sure that, by doing this, you will achieve a much more balanced mix. 

Get into the habit of adding carbon ’browns’ to your compost and your compost won’t smell like poop!

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What else would you like to know?

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Is all cardboard biodegradable?

Cardboard compost or recycle?

Can tomatoes be used in compost? Can I put cooked food in the compost? Can I put eggs in the compost?

Can you put avocado peels in compost? Can you put broccoli in compost? Can you put paper towels in the compost?

How often do you turn your compost pile? How moist should a compost pile be? Can you put carrots in compost?

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