5 Tips for Buying a Compost Tumbler

There are rolling drums, spheres and crank operated models. Some compost tumblers sit on a sturdy base and tumble vertically. Some rotate horizontally on rollers.

If you want to invent the next workout craze, get together with some friends and roll around those ball-like tumblers. On second thought, this could cause too much frustration – they don’t roll where you want them to. Good for improving coordination. Bad for control freaks! 

What’s So Cool About Tumblers? Everything is contained. Mice and rodents don’t get in and compost forms much quicker than with a traditional compost pile. Depending on the model, units are fairly easy to turn.

What’s Wrong with Tumblers? Removing the finished compost is never a perfectly smooth process – no matter the model. You will be scooping, dumping and transferring your compost from one container to another by bending, dumping and scraping.  Some models have exposed metal parts and these can rust and degrade over time. Some models are torture to assemble. Finally, prices can be in the hundreds for the cream of the crop models.

Still, tumblers are worth the investment. We own two in the Home Grown Fun Garden and they work pretty well.

No use fretting over the decision to buy a tumbler! Realize there is no perfect composter out there. Just jot down your preferences, read some reviews and GO FOR IT!

Think in terms of how you live and what will work for you.

Here’s How To Identify Your Personal Tumbler Preferences:

1. Choose Function Over Looks. Take note of how it’s constructed. The more screws, bars, clamps, pins and handles made of metal, the more chance for rust and breakage later. It may be pretty, but can you picture yourself using/maintaining it? Check online reviews and focus on function first instead of price. Some folks get so excited about an amazing deal that they give the device great reviews. That makes it tricky to determine if the unit actually works or not by glancing at overall star ratings.

If you are not strong, do not choose a tumbler that is hard to rotate. If you don’t like bending down, choose a model that allows you to remove the compost while standing. All good tips but in the excitement of it all, we forget. Make yourself a little cheat sheet – a simple list of preferences will do.  

2. Choose the Biggest Unit Possible. You’ll be amazed how much household scrap material you’ll produce each day. We use the Urban Compost Tumbler. It’s 9.5 cubic feet – that’s big! You can fill it for sure and once the material is composted it’s a fraction of what you started with. You can compost shredded paper, dryer lint, leaves, old homework, vegetable scraps, fruit and more.

3. Location Matters. Although you may think putting your tumbler near a door is the most convenient spot, be aware that mold spores can escape from composters and attach themselves to the outside walls of your house.

Our daughter has asthma brought on by allergies and dust. After much research, we moved our tumblers away from the house and as far away from neighbors’ walls and windows as possible. Do you have room in your yard for the model you prefer?

4. Think Twice About Price. Cheap units usually mean limitations. Figure
out the limitations and decide if you can live with them, day after day. Look at reviews online to see if people are having success with the same models. Shop around. The same composter can vary between $20 and $70 depending on where you buy. Take note of shipping costs.

A good example of the balance between limitations and cost is the Lifetime Compost Tumbler. This unit was/is sold at Costco for $99 and it is huge. We picked one up to test it out.  However, assembly is torture!  Dad is great at putting together and fixing things and the amount of work and reading that’s required is simply ridiculous. BUT, IT MAKES COMPOST. Like childbirth, we already forgot the pain!

5. How Handy Are You? Do you have the patience, tools and time to put together models that come with pages and pages of instructions? If not, look for units that take less time to assemble – or treat a mechanically inclined friend to an amazing home cooked dinner in exchange for help with assembly. If a composter works fast and fits all your other criteria, you may not mind the struggle up front. Some units come in just a few pieces and lock together like a puzzle.

Good luck with the purchase of a tumbler. Add a comment to this post or drop us a line if you want to chat about your options. 


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