Hot composting, also known as fast or active, is the quickest way to break down your yard and food waste. With the right combination of greens (nitrogen-rich materials) and browns (carbon-rich materials), water, and oxygen you can break down this material in your own backyard. You’ll have finished compost within 12 weeks to 6 months, depending on the size and how often you care for it.

What You’ll Need

  • Compost bin – purchase one or make your own! A bin that is at least 3 x 3 x 3 feet gets hot enough to be most effective.
  • Carbon-rich “brown” materials
  • Nitrogen-rich “green” materials
  • Water
  • Shovel or pitch fork

How to Hot Compost

  1. Set up the compost bin in a place that will be convenient to use and maintain. Place it near a water source so it is easier to keep the pile damp and at least 2ft from any buildings to allow air flow.
  2. Make a thin layer of coarser brown material for the bottom.
  3. Layer two parts brown to one part green and water each layer as the pile is built. Use a mixture of size of materials so the pile doesn’t become compact. Chop up larger pieces so they decompose faster.
  4. Finish the pile with a layer of brown materials to deter pests.
  5. Turn the pile at least two times during the first 7-10 days to heat the pile to 130 to 140ºF, then every 1-2 weeks to re-mix in all materials and let in more oxygen.

Items to Add & Avoid

For best results, keep your compost pile vegan (plus eggshells) and leave out materials that will cause problems with the finished compost.


  • Eggshells


  • Fruit & vegetable scraps (remove produce stickers)
  • Coffee grounds, tea leaves
  • Rice, grains, pasta, bread
  • Green yard waste


  • Coffee, tea filters (remove staples)
  • Paper towels, napkins
  • Paper, cardboard (shredded & non-glossy)
  • Dried leaves & yard waste

Do NOT Add

  • Meat, bones, fat
  • Dairy products
  • Grease, oils
  • Glossy cardboard or paper
  • Pet waste and bedding
  • Charcoal or ashes
  • Diseased plants
  • Weeds that have gone to seed
  • Large or thorny branches
  • Materials treated with pesticides, herbicides, fungicides
  • Compostable cups, packaging, BioBags*

*BioBags and other compostable materials were recently banned from backyard and commercial composting sites because of the chemicals they contain.

UW-Extension Master Gardener Manual: Foundations in Horticulture