How Long Does Compost Take In A Tumbler? (The Truth)

how long does compost take in a tumbler

Compost tumblers are a relatively new method for turning your kitchen and garden waste into top-quality compost. 

One of the benefits claimed by manufacturers to help market tumblers is how quickly they produce compost compared to other methods. 

But is this true, or is it just a sales pitch?

After all…

These systems can be pricey compared to alternatives. But if they work fast… well… maybe it’s a good investment.

In this article, I’ll explain how long compost realistically takes to finish in a tumbler.

How Long Does Compost Take To Break Down In A Tumbler?

A compost tumbler works faster than many other composting methods. Still, it may not work as fast as the marketing material suggests. However, you can get finished compost in a tumbler in 4 to 6 weeks if you optimize the process by including the proper ratio of materials and managing the procedure correctly.

Composting in a tumbler is an easy and convenient way to produce high-quality compost for your garden. One of the most significant advantages of making your own compost is knowing what ingredients have been included in making the compost.

One of the frequent questions I hear regarding compost tumblers is the time it takes to produce finished compost

Compost tumblers are considered one of the fastest methods to produce compost.

But is this true?

Is this all marketing hype to sell more tumblers, or does this method work faster than others?

Well, if you do things right, things can go pretty quick! But you still need to take into consideration several composting considerations.

To guide you towards speedier results, I’ll go over the following factors:

  • Starting your compost right
  • Taking care of your compost in the tumbler
  • How long the compost takes in a tumbler
  • Can you speed up the composting process?
  • Reasons your compost tumbler is not working as expected.

Start Your Compost Tumbler Right

compost tumbler basics

One of the critical aspects of the time it will take to complete the compost in the tumbler is starting the process right.

Starting the compost tumbler right is a whole topic on its own, and I have covered this in-depth in my article “How To Start A Compost Tumbler.”

In summary, success with a compost tumbler starts with: 

  • choosing the right compost tumbler.
  • Positioning it in the correct location. 
  • Loading it with the right ingredients. 
  • Maintaining it correctly during the composting process.

All these factors can influence the time it takes for your compost to finish and become usable in the garden.

Let’s assume that you have taken all the necessary steps to get your compost tumbler off to a good start. How long can you expect your compost to take until it is ready for use?

How Fast Do Compost Tumblers Work?

When you first start looking for a compost tumbler, many manufacturers claim extremely fast composting times for their tumblers.

Some of the claims in the marketing blurb on these tumblers say that you can have finished compost in 3 weeks after reaching maximum capacity in the tumbler.

While this may technically be possible if you get all the factors optimized, it’s unlikely you’ll achieve this feat.

In my experience, a more realistic time frame you can expect is between 4 and 6 weeks to achieve finished compost in a compost tumbler.

One of the fastest methods of composting is “hot composting.” This is a method where large volumes of green and brown organic matter are added to the compost pile in a given ratio. Combining these ingredients with moisture speeds up the decomposition process and generates heat.

The heat further speeds up the decomposition process. It becomes a self-perpetuating cycle that produces top-quality compost fast!

Tumbler composting is like small-scale hot composting if you stick to the green and brown ingredient recipe. However, tumbler composting has some disadvantages that can slow the process down. 

Tumbler composting has a lower mass due to the size of the tumbler, limiting the heat the compost can hold. The tumbler loses heat to the environment due to the increased surface area of the compost coming into contact with the container. 

Your best option is to go for the largest tumbler you can manage, like this large chamber version by Miracle-Gro.

Composting in a tumbler is faster than cold composting in a compost pile, which can take a year or more, depending on the size of the material.

However, composting in a tumbler may not be as fast as hot composting in a pile. This is because the better insulation in a large pile and the greater mass of organic matter retains heat more effectively.

The tumbler has an advantage because it is convenient and easyTurning the compost is a no-mess-no-fuss operation. It also gives people with limited space the opportunity to produce quality compost in a short time frame.

I think the convenience and the ease of turning make the process work well in tumblers. Most people are reluctant to go out to a pile and turn it with a pitchfork. But dropping scraps in a nearby tumbler and giving it a spin is far more likely to happen!

Another thing to note is that compost tumblers work faster than compost bins, which have no method of turning the compost to aerate the mixture.

How Do You Speed Up Compost In A Tumbler?

You can take steps with composting in a tumbler to reduce the time it takes to break down the material.

I have an article dedicated to this topic. Read “How To Heat Up A Compost Tumbler,” where I give some great examples of getting this done.

Here are a few tips:

  • Keep the pieces small. Shred your compost material as small as possible, allowing a greater surface area for the microbes to get to work and decreasing the time it takes for the material to break down.
  • Kick start the process with some garden soil or a compost starter. It may take time for the decomposition to kickstart. You can help it along with a handful or two of garden soil each time you add organic material. This adds microbes to the mix to get the process off to a faster start.
  • Move the composter into the sun. The added heat will help to speed up the process, especially in the initial stages. Don’t let the composter get too hot, as it could slow the process down if the microbes die.
  • Keep the organic material moist. If the material in the composter dries out, the decomposition process will slow down.
  • Use an insulated compost tumbler. If you live in a cool location, an insulated compost tumbler will help retain the heat generated by the decomposition and speed up the composting process.

For example, the mantis back porch tumbler is an insulated portable model that works well in winter or colder weather (Amazon).

Can You Hot Compost In A Tumbler?

A compost tumbler is designed to work on a similar principle as hot composting in a pile. This means that you can hot compost in a compost tumbler and speed up the decomposition process.

Maintaining the correct brown-to-green organic material ratio in the container will ensure optimal temperatures and accelerate microbial activity.

tumbler green to brown ratios

Why Is My Compost Tumbler Not Working?

Suppose your compost tumbler is not working as fast as you expected. In that case, you probably need to monitor the ratio of materials, the level of aeration, and the moisture levels.

Variations in the climate where you live could also determine the action needed to get your compost tumbler working efficiently.

If you have a dry climate with low humidity, the compost may be drying out too much. If that’s the case, simply increase the water you add to the mix.

Forgetting to turn the compost tumbler will also slow down the process because the mixture isn’t sufficiently aerated. Instead, place the compost tumbler in a location where you will be reminded to turn it occasionally or set a reminder on your phone.

Add some more green material to boost the nitrogen component in the composter and thereby increase the heat generated.

Compost tumblers are not complicated to use. But you do need to modify the process to accommodate your local conditions and your habits to get the fastest rate of compost production!


Compost tumblers are convenient and work relatively fast compared to other composting methods. A compost tumbler is essentially a scaled-down version of hot composting in a pile, with the convenience of easier turning.

By sticking to some basic compost tumbler guidelines, you can have finished compost in 4 to 6-weeks to feed your plants!

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