Stinky Smells and 3 Other Gross Compost Problems — and How to Fix Them

published May 6, 2022
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Composting is amazing for your plants and the planet, but it’s a messy business. If you’re a seasoned veteran and have been composting for years, then the smell, upkeep, and distribution probably don’t bother you anymore. But if you’re new to composting and struggling to find your footing, don’t fret. Whether your compost is too wet, too dry, or too stinky, there are simple solutions to fix each issue — all of which you can pull off by tweaking the ratio of your compost ingredients. Here’s how.

Your Compost Is Too Wet

There is a lot of upkeep involved if your compost becomes too wet. Not only is the smell intense, but you become at risk for inviting maggots. Your compost bin will also get dirty, and the compost itself will take on an unpleasant sludge quality. 

The issue here is that you have too many “greens” without enough “browns” in your compost. Greens should take up only one-third of the bin, and include things like vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, and food leftovers. Avoid meat, cheese, and fat, which will contribute to the smell. Browns are supposed to fill the other two-thirds of the bin, and include dry materials like dry leaves and paper. This helps absorb the wetness of the greens, especially if you layer them between each food scrap dump.

For now, add in more “browns” to help adjust the balance; later, make sure to follow this ratio and layer your ingredients to help keep your compost from turning to mush.

Your Compost Is Stinky

If you’re new to composting, you might assume that a compost bin should be stinky. After all, you have rotting items inside. However, proper compost has a sweet, woodsy scent, so if your container is pungent, you once again have too many “greens” in your bin. The higher the nitrogen, the stinkier the smell. That’s because it causes the pile to expel ammonia. To get it back to normal, you’ll need to add more “browns” to the pile. Make sure to stir the pile’s contents once a week to release the trapped nitrogen, lessening the smell. 

You’re Developing Maggots

If you’re constantly disinfecting your compost bin because of maggots, you again have too many greens in your pile that need to be balanced with brown matter. Maggots love nitrogen, so limiting that supply will reduce the problem. If you don’t have dry leaves or straw handy, you can also layer shredded paper and cardboard in between the green matter to create the proper ratio. 

Your Pile Stays Cold

The center of your compost pile should be warm thanks to the nitrogen, but indoor compost bins have a hard time reaching those warm temperatures due to the lack of sunlight and aeration. You might need to simulate those conditions to keep a healthy compost pile. To introduce oxygen, make sure you don’t layer dense amounts of brown matter on top of each other; that will actually choke out oxygen. Rotate your compost at least once a week to make sure brown matter doesn’t clump up together.

While stinky, wet compost is the fault of too many “greens,” cold compost is the result of too little of them. A pile that lacks enough green matter will create a nitrogen deficiency that prevents the pile from warming up.

Another possibility: Your compost might be lacking microbes. When composting outside, these microbes make their way into the pile from the surrounding dirt, but that’s not the case indoors. Give your indoor compost a boost by adding a few tablespoons of soil.