Hamster Bedding in a Worm Bin?

Question from Lisa:

My 7 yr old put his hamster bedding in the bin, not sure if that is good for them due to the urine and poop, is it going to kill them?

Hi Lisa,

This is a good question – and it’s great that you are considering some of the potential hazards as well! In a nutshell, YES you should be able to use hamster bedding but – depending on the concentration of urine – there’s a decent chance it will require some pre-treatment.

Urine is the main concern since it contains salts and has the greatest potential for ammonia release (urea converts to ammonia quite readily) – both of these are very dangerous for worms.

If you are looking for a low-effort approach, and don’t mind waiting for a period of time, simply heap up the used bedding in some sort of outdoor bed (preferably exposed to the elements) and leave it to age/compost. If you don’t want to wait, a much faster approach would simply be to run some water through the mix before adding it to the bin (an old sieve/strainer, or even a fabric bag could work well for this).

Whatever approach you settle on, make sure your bin has plenty of ventilation, and only start out with a small amount initially. If the worms show an interest fairly quickly, you should be ok to add more. Otherwise, just leave it to sit for longer before increasing the amount in the bin.


NOTE: The advice I’ve provided here should work equally well for other rodents (guinea pigs, gerbils, rabbits etc) – and really, most herbivorous mammals in general. Bedding/wastes from other animals, such as birds and reptiles and carnivorous mammals, may require more pre-treatment (longer aging periods, or rinsing plus additional aging). Always err on the side of caution by starting with very small amounts and providing as much ventilation as you can.


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Comments

    • Mark from Kansas
    • December 30, 2014

    My son recently brought home some gerbils. I was amazed how fast they shred paper, I use to tear up our toilet paper tubes and put them in my bin but, no more. As Bentley suggests, I added a thin layer to the top and it was OK. So, I put about 3 inches on the top after that. It works great for me.
    I will mention that, I use this bedding for my Worm Inn, so air flow is already taken care of. I sifted through the bedding for pockets of urine and did not see enough for ME to worry about, your bin is different than mine so use your own judgement.
    I also have my son clean out his gerbil house (I mean where he keeps his gerbils not his bed room) on a schedule so I will have some idea on how much gerbil waste is in the bedding.
    In closing, I feel the gerbil bedding is some nice stuff, I mean what else would I do with that stuff, throw it away?
    Mark

    • Priswell
    • December 31, 2014

    We used to keep pet rats, and we routinely put their soiled bedding into the compost bin. No problem at all.

    • J.T.
    • January 15, 2015

    My experience with guinea pig bedding and waste is: ground compost them or sheet mulching with them but don’t worm compost them.

    I still remember the smell of dead worms after I add some (handful) of guinea pig waste+bedding. No, I didn’t wash them nor did I expose them and I even asked my compost master if it’s ok and she said yeah…but I got dead worms instead.

    • Jason
    • January 17, 2015

    Hi Guys,

    I had a snake back in the day so had a big bag of leftover hamster shavings I came across this spring. I decided to use it up in my worm bin to get rid of it instead of using the outdoor compost. It gave my worm bin a nice smell in the basement. It also didn’t affect my worms in any negative ways. I usually give them two handfuls every week when I fed them and it was almost as quickly decomposed by them each week.

    • ForestGardenGirl
    • January 24, 2015

    About a year ago my close friend decided to start raising meat rabbits. She asked me if she could compost their bedding and waste in my wormbin, because she could not handle that much waste on her roperty. I told her sure, just bring it over and put it in my large worm composting bin. Being a wormhead, I knew it would be no problem. I have a 2 foot by 2 foot by 4 foot high wormbin, which is very active. I normally add all of my non-meat kitchen scraps and all of my garden and yard waste to this bin. She has for adult rabbits (3 does and 1 buck) and at any time she has between 9 and 30 juveniles and/or babies. Each week she brings me an average of one 28-gallon galvanized tub of bedding and waste from her rabbits. The system handles it beautifully. I have noticed that it heats up quite quickly each time she adds the bedding and waste from her rabbits, but the worms just move into another part of the worm bin and then quickly recolonize it as it cools. In the winter the hot parts of the bin actually stay very active with worms (the fringes of the hot composting area must be cozier than the 18-20 degree F. temps outside!) I highly recommend using your worm then to process this type of waste- just make sure your bin is large enough for your worms comfort, especially important in warm summer temperatures! Aditionally, I have the most beautiful compost coming out of this system!

    I plan on drawing up plans for this system soon, as it is the most efficient system I have made to date, and I have completely given up all of my previous bins and systems!

    • Olive
    • May 29, 2015

    How long should you rinse the bedding? I find it difficult to know just how long I should run water through it. Is there anyway of telling when the ammonia has been sufficiently removed? (Because of the presence of my rodents’ poop, color of the water isn’t really helpful: it’s always brownish)
    Thanks!

    • ForestGardenGirl
    • August 2, 2015

    Olive,

    I really wouldn’t bother washing out the urine, just dilute it with water, if anything. Urine is high ammonia, yes, but it is also very high nitrogen, which is great for your garden. If your worm bin isn’t large enough or well ventilated enough for you to be comfortable putting the budding in the bin, then I would make an open pile on the ground, uncovered, and let the pile go through one hot compost cycle. When it cools, then feed it to your worms. They will love it, and will process it further for you, and you will love the beautiful compost resulting from their efforts. Note, you can tell if is aged enough to add by smelling it. The human nose is VERY sensitive to ammonia.

    • Olive
    • August 18, 2015

    Thank you! My worms seem to love it 🙂

    • ForestGardenGirl
    • September 6, 2015

    Glad to hear that it is working out for you!

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