Compost Tumblers Are They Worth the Cost?


Some compost tumblers can cost up to $500. With an investment of that size you better be getting your money's worth. Don't worry though, we've put together a bunch of information to help in your buying decision. Who knows...we may just save you 500 bucks.

Before we get into the nitty gritty of compost tumbling, let's look at the basics.

What Does it Mean to "Tumble" Compost?

To "tumble" your compost simply means to turn your compost while it is inside some sort of closed container. These containers can range in both size and shape. There are compost tumblers that hold up to 12 cubic feet of material, whereas others can only hold 5-6 cubic feet of material (please note that these volumes are referring to raw uncomposted materials). Although most tumblers are purchased from a manufacturer, there are some great do-it-yourself plans on the net (see our compost tumbler plans section below).

There are three basic categories of compost tumbler:

  • Crank-operated - These tumblers usually consist of a horizontal drum fixed to a stationary frame. The drum is typically raised off the ground several feet. There is a long narrow pole positioned through the center of the drum, and a hand-crank sticking out of one end. Inside of the drum, this pole has paddles attached to it. Once filled, this type of tumbler is operated by rotating the hand-crank, and thus turns and aerates the compost ingredients within.

    Crank-operated tumblers are usually double the price of other types of tumblers.

    Examples of crank-operated tumblers include the Mantis ComposT-Twin and the ComposTumbler.

compost tumbler
  • Center-axle - These tumblers are more like an over sized plastic pill capsule, and can be opened at one or both ends. These tumblers have a solid axle running through their center, and tend to sit vertically on this axis. Once filled, this tumbler is operated by flipping the drum end-over-end. When this flipping action occurs, the materials inside are sent from one end of the tumbler to the other. As the material flips, it is mixed and aerated as it passes over the center axle. Pretty ingenious, don't you think?

    Center-axle tumblers usually range in price from $150-$250 US.

    Examples of center-axle tumblers include the Urban Compost Tumbler and the Tumbleweed.

  • Base rolling - These tumblers consist of a horizontal drum that has been placed on top of rollers (similar to those found in the beer stores up in Canada). Compostable materials are added, and the drum is rotated on top of the rollers using your hands or your feet.

    Base rolling tumblers tend to cost less than the two types of tumblers mentioned above.

    Examples of base rolling tumblers include the Envirocycle Composter and the RotoComposter Compost Wizard Jr.

All of the above tumblers are considered "drum" types, because the main composting container is in the shape of a drum. Usually, these types of tumblers are compared to sphere-shaped tumblers.

  • Sphere-shaped - These tumblers are quite primitive in design. Basically, you fill a large plastic sphere with your compost ingredients and roll it around your yard. Unfortunately, these spheres are not completely round and tend to roll in non-linear patterns. The sphere that we tested, rolled directly on top of our kale transplants...needless to say, it was a very sad day.

    Sphere-shaped tumblers typically range in price from $75-$200 US.

    An example of a sphere-shaped tumbler is the Bio-Orb Monster Compost Bin.

Are Compost Tumblers Worth the Cost?

The answer is that it all depends on your individual abilities and situation.

NOTE: When tumblers have been put in head-to-head tests against standard well-managed compost bins or open piles, tumblers did NOT perform any better. Please refer to this wonderful article by Mother Earth News.

We agree with Mother Earth News, and feel that the secret to tumblers is the turning frequency. That is, a compost tumbler usually appears to generate compost more quickly than an open pile, simply because the ingredients get turned more often. Assuming you have a well made tumbler, there is a better chance that you will turn its contents more often than you would turn the compost in your bin or pile. That's because turning compost with a tumbler happens more quickly and doesn't require as much effort. This is definitely one of the perks to well made compost tumblers.

But...

Don't you just love that part?...If you have a compost bin or pile, and are willing to turn it every couple days (especially during the first couple weeks after it has been assembled), you will produce compost in the same amount of time as a tumbler. So are you able and willing to turn your compost bin or pile every couple days? If so, you may not want to invest in a tumbler.

Now let's consider the second part of the equation...your situation.

If you live in the city or in a small urban lot, a compost tumbler may be just the thing for you. However, if you live in the country or have a large lot, a compost tumbler may not be necessary. Needless to say, a compost tumbler does save space. They also help to contain any odors that may come from the composting process.

In conclusion, if you meet the following criteria, a compost tumbler will be well worth the cost.

  • You want to make compost in a relatively short period of time (approximately 2.5 months if all materials are added at once)
  • You don't have the energy, time, or desire to turn your compost pile every couple days
  • You live in an urban area where neighbors are close-by
  • You live on a small lot or want to save space





What if I Want to Build a Compost Tumbler?

As you can see from Lloyd's ingenious invention in the above video, building a tumbler is quite possible. If you love do-it-yourself projects, or just want to save some money, your best option is to build a tumbler from scratch. Now, don't think you have to build a tumbler like the one from the video, instead, start small and slowly allow your creative mind to run amuck.

Here is a set of step-by-step instructions that will teach you how to build a very simple homemade tumbler.

Homemade Compost Tumbler


The most difficult part of building your own tumbler is finding the appropriately sized drum or container (aside from the DIY tumbler instructions mentioned above). We've heard of several different sources for such large containers, but your best bet is to head out to your nearest industrial area and start knocking on doors. Oftentimes, the companies in these areas receive various parts and materials in huge drums, and they're usually willing to part with them. We read about one compost junkie who gets his bins from the local car wash. Apparently, all of their soap comes in these large industrial-sized containers.
tumbler design

Do You Have a Plan or Design For Your Tumbler?

If you were to search the net using the phrase "plans for building a tumbler", you would find 101 different designs. The key is to stick to the basics. Always remember what compost needs when outside of a tumbler, then be sure to mimic those conditions inside your tumbler. For instance, you need to ensure your tumbler can sufficiently aerate your compost. How will your design accomplish this?

If you're ever in doubt, be sure to check out
our tumbler plans page for a great DIY project. We are continually adding new designs, so please be sure to check back regularly.

Size Does Matter

Lastly, we would like to discuss back-porch compost tumblers. These are tumblers that are much more compact than your ordinary tumbler. Back-porch tumblers are ideally suited for people living in apartments or condos (assuming you have access to a small porch or balcony).

Since space is an issue, your tumbler will be much smaller. Therefore, it's going to be quite difficult to generate enough heat based solely on the volume of your ingredients. This means it will take a little longer to produce your compost. But it can be done! For more information, please refer to our back-porch tumbler page.


Composting Basics Booklet

Five Free e-booklets

Interested in learning more about compost and compost tumblers?

What if we told you you're just one click away from being able to download five free compost e-booklets?

All you have to do is click on the Composting 101 booklet to the right and read our Free Goodies page.