20+ Unexpected things you can compost

Good compost can make or break your garden. You can either make the richest, most natural fertilizer to nourish your plants. Or you can spread a bunch of problems like disease and weeds. If you know what to compost and in what amounts though, your compost will come out perfectly from your own compost bins.

Strange things you can compost

You probably know the basics of composting, adding brown and green materials in the right proportions. All the details of proper composting are at the end of this post if you don't though, but  I want to talk about things you didn't realize that you could compost. Everything from toothpicks and used matches (they're made of wood or cardboard) to Kleenex, balloons and latex gloves! 

There are a lot of things you can't add to your compost like meat, oils, plastics, anything not biodegradable etc. There are a lot of things you can add to your compost pile though, that you never thought about. 

Here's the list of things you can add to the compost pile that I didn't know before I started composting. 

What is Compostable?

  • Matches
  • Toothpicks
  • Hair & nail clippings
  • Fur and feathers
  • Dryer lint
  • Sea sponges and loofahs 
  • Paper coffee filters
  • Tea bags. Bags must be the original style teabag not the new synthetic type. Make sure there's no little staples to hold the tag on!
  • Loose leaf or herbal tea.
  • Natural corks
  • Cotton balls
  • Cotton swabs made with cardboard (not plastic) for the stick part.
  • Toilet paper tubes, and paper towel tubes.
  • Peanut, pistachio, sunflower or other nut shells
  • Old spices & herbs
  • Seaweed, lakeweed, kelp
  • Beer (it's actually good for the compost!)
  • Newspaper, shredded or spread in thin layers to compost quickly
  • Paper towels, Kleenex and toilet paper
  • Bedding and droppings from cleaning out hamster, gerbil, guinea pig or rabbit cages
  • Latex balloons, gloves and condoms. Latex is a biodegradable material and is considered a brown ingredient for the composts pile.
  • Small cardboard boxes.You can put larger pieces of cardboard but don't overwhelm your compost with it.
  • You can probably compost the contents of your vacuum cleaner canister also. Unless your carpet sheds a lot or you happen to be sucking up large amounts of glitter or other non biodegradable microplastic.  

Large compost bins

How to compost

You can make almost any type of soil better by adding compost. While you can often buy composted manure and such to add to your garden, the easiest and cheapest way to get good compost for your garden is to simply make it yourself!

The best sources of compost material is your own home & garden. Grass cuttings, annual weeds, prunings, autumn leaves can all be collected and composted. Vegetable waste, dead flowers (cut & potted) and shredded newspapers can all be added to the heap too.

The first requirement is to control your MIX of potential compost material between Green & Brown. The right mix is required for proper composting. Too much green and you'll have a slimy, stinky mess. Too much brown and it will take forever for the scrap pile to actually turn into compost. You need to aim for a mix of materials with about 1/5th being Green and 4/5ths Brown.

Green/ Nitrogen
Grass Cuttings
Kitchen Waste
Farm Manure
Plant trimmings

Dead Leaves
Wood shavings
Wood Ash 
Click to enlarge
Graphic, 20+ Unexpected things you can compost


After adding the appropriate portions of brown and green material to your compost heap you need moisture. Your pile should be neither too wet nor too dry. Brown material is often dry and needs to be watered in after mixing. 

If you take a handful of your mix and squeeze it you want it to ball in your hand without a runoff of water and not being flaky. In rainy periods it can pay to cover your compost to stop it from getting sodden.

You'll need to provide aeration. Oxygen is essential as composting is a burning process. You need to turn your heap on a regular basis to ensure this happens. I talk about this in the post One bin, always ready compost method

I like to have one large bin separated loosely into rows, which makes it easier as you turn one row into the other. Having two or more adjacent bins is also a popular method. in this case each bin would be in a different stage of composting.

Sections of a compost bin

Smaller size equals speed in composting. Breaking up, cutting down, shredding the potential compost is very helpful. The smaller the particle size, the greater the surface area and the quicker it will transform into rich compost for your garden.

Finally you need volume. You will find that 2 cubic yards rots better than 1, 3 cubic yards better than 2 and so on. Don't be afraid to toss everything you have into your compost heat, because it really will 'cook' faster with more material. As long as you stay within the proportions at least.

Is composting hard?

Now I know this sounds like a lot, but keep this in  mind: no matter what proportions you add your browns, greens, water, and aeration in, it will eventually compost! The above practices are the way we get rich compost quickly, that cooks hot enough to kill weed seeds and any unhealthy pathogens. Following these practices you should have good compost in 3 months. 

However, I have cleaned out entire coops full of wet shavings and dumped them in a pile in my woods and they composted on their own with no help from me! It took 2 years or more, but it happened. Even with that pile getting soaking wet every spring and never being turned. Ask anyone who uses a dump pile for their lawn clippings. Eventually it'll do the composting on it's own. 

So, too much green might make a stinky or slimy pile that 'cooks' slow. Not enough flipping will take longer to compost. Too much brown will take longer to compost. Not enough rain, too much rain etc etc. It will still compost, just maybe not this year and it might get gross for awhile.

Now if you're paying attention to your compost bin you can catch problems as they happen which will keep your compost on the 3 month schedule. 

  • Compost starting to stink? Run over some dried leaves with the lawnmower and toss them in the pile. Or add some shredded newspaper. Mix that in and you should see a difference within a few days. 
  • Hasn't rained in a few weeks? Take a handful of compost and squeeze it. If it doesn't ball up, water the pile a little then mix it in.
  • Been raining constantly? Try the squeeze test again. If water runs out of your hand, throw a tarp over the pile for a few days.
  • Little seedlings growing on the surface? It's time to flip it and get those seeds inside where it gets hotter.

The longer you compost, the better you will get at troubleshooting and fixing any problems. Lets face it, none of us are measuring our additions to the compost to get the proportions perfect! We need to learn what the composting process looks like as we go and adjust when we see problems. 

The more you compost, the more you learn and your composting skills will improve, I promise. But don't be afraid to get started because it sounds like a lot...it's much easier than it sounds!

Related reading: Want more information on gardening? Check out this collection of articles on organic gardening.


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