Odour Removal Via Vermicomposting

A few days ago I received an e-mail from an RWC reader, Eve, who wanted to share her interesting experience with setting up a new worm bin. I asked if it was ok to share her email here since I knew others might find it really interesting as well.

Hi Bentley,
I am starting up a worm bin and have had the most amazing thing happen.

I followed your instructions for the deluxe worm bin.

Adding bedding became a challenge.

I don’t get junk mail or the paper only the Wednesday advertisements they are all on shinny or color paper so that was out and i needed something to use. I ended up using an old phone book, by old i mean eight years old. It was on a shelf in a out building. It was ate by bugs and nasty we tossed it out on the to-be-burned heap last summer and never got it completely burned it sit outside all winter. A home for stink bugs. If you have never met a stink bug you are so lucky. Anyway it stunk like stinkbug, mildew, ashes and black mold. I collected cardboard, a gallon of sawdust and the garden soil then mixed it in with the phone book strips.

Then my fridge went on the fritz and froze everything. I added all the vegies to the mix along with coffee grounds and trimmings from my house plants. Most of the frozen veggies were of the cabbage variety. Then i let it sit a week.

By Sunday the smell coming out of the worm bin was just down right nasty. So i figured it wouldn’t hurt to add composted steer manure too. So i added a gallon and mixed it in good. That manure was the best smelling thing in the tub, at this point i was starting to wonder what i was getting myself into. But it was to late to toss the whole mess out, i had already ordered a half pound of worms.

Tuesday the worms arrived. They were in bad shape we had had a late spring snow storm and they sat in the mail box for hours. They were a non moving lump but alive so dumped them into the worm bin. The pour things took over an hour to burrow into the bedding. I put up with the smell to watch them do it.

So here is the amazing part. The next day 24 hours later i take off the lid and it doesn’t smell all that bad, all the smells were there but just not as strong. Tonight 72 hours after i put the worms in the worm bin it smells like wet paper.

I just can’t believe the smell went away that fast. Have you had an experience similar to this? I read that there is no smell but does it always happen so quick?


That is SO cool, Eve. Thanks for sharing!
I’m really glad you brought this up since it’s something I haven’t talk about here. Worm composting is in fact an excellent way to reduce odours in organic wastes, and yes I have witnessed this multiple times myself.

When you leave wet wastes to sit and rot on their own they are going to tend to go anaerobic and thus end up producing a variety of unpleasant smelling compounds. Without any turning or aerating of the materials the oxygen can’t get in to where it is needed. When you add composting worms into the mix they start moving the materials around, spreading everything out and thus improving the aeration in the bin. This is why no turning is necessary with worm composting.

Once the aerobic microbes take over, you start to get the more ‘earthy’ smells being produced. There is a group of aerobic bacteria (with fungi-like characteristics) called the Actinomycetes that play an important role in aerobic decomposition, and are the organisms primarily responsible for the fresh earthy odour of good soil (and compost).

Compost itself is also an excellent odour-eater. In fact, biofilters made with finished compost have been used for years to remove odour causing compounds from air. I actually just came across an article yesterday that described how compost biofilters were able to remove more than 95% of the ammonia gas from the air during a particular research study in Denmark. The complex structure of humus not only provides lots of potential binding sites for different chemicals, but there is also a huge surface area for aerobic microbes to inhabit, and these microbes can breakdown these odour-causing compounds and/or use them directly as a food source.

As such, it is not unreasonable to predict that as the amount vermicompost in a bin increases, so too would the odour-reduction potential in the system. This of course is dependent on conditions in the bin though. If you add too much food, or let your bin go anaerobic in general, it probably won’t matter how much compost is in the bin – it’s still going to stink.

Last summer I witnessed the incredible difference the presence of composting worms can make in a backyard composter in terms of odour reduction alone (there are of course other benefits to adding worms to these systems). I decided to set up a ‘regular’ compost bin just for the fun of it, and to see how the composting process (and results) would differ from my large outdoor worm bin. I built up what I thought was the ultimate compost heap. I had lots of shredded cardboard mixed in with my ample kitchen scraps – certainly enough to soak up lots of excess moisture and to greatly help with air flow.

The hilarious part is that within a few days the bin stunk to high heaven. I could literally smell it as soon as I stepped out onto my deck (the bin is 20 – 30 feet from the door) – the powerful stench of rotting food waste. It was quite a humbling experience!
Mr. ‘Compost Guy’ creates a backyard composting nightmare!

It all comes down to me being so used to setting up vermicomposting systems (and taking the odour reduction for granted) that I forgot ‘regular’ composting heaps are a somewhat different beast. I ended up adding worms to that bin as well, and not too surprisingly the odours disappeared relatively quickly

Anyway, thanks again for sharing that, Eve!
I’d be interested to hear if there are others out there who have witnessed this as well!

[tags]vermicomposting, worm bin, compost bin, composter, food waste, backyard composting, composting, compost heap, worm composting, worm composter, rotten food, compost, biofilters[/tags]

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    • Aline LaFlamme
    • April 21, 2014

    I set up my vermicompost in a blue storage bin. I put small holes in the top. First, I put in too much compost, then my bin got really full of moisture so I added more shredded paper and used a turkey baser to remove water from the bottom of the bin. I have had a strange almost chemical smell in the bin for a couple of weeks. It is strong and difficult to describe so I’ve been putting my bin outside with the lid off during the day to let in more oxygen. I see a zillion baby worms and my original worms are getting fat and healthy-looking but I don’t know how to get rid of that smell. I don’t really want to have to take the bin outside each day for air. Any ideas what I’m doing wrong? Or do bins just have a chemical odor or ?? Thanks!

    • Josh
    • May 4, 2014

    I’m new at this and have what I hope will be a quick question.

    I have recently started a vermiculture compost bin with mostly food scraps, a half pound of red worms, and some torn up paper bags & cardboard. Since I live in Miami, where it’s very hot right now, I’ve been keeping the bin in a large, dark closet indoors. The bin has holes drilled in the top (covered with mosquito netting to keep the bugs out) and the bottom for aeration, and it drains into a second bin beneath it.

    The problem is it stinks & has a ton of wee fly larvae. From what I’ve read, I think the problem may be that I’ve included too many food scraps & not enough “bedding.” What should I do at this point to help my worms catch up with all the compost? Should I just throw more bedding on top of the whole mess? Help?


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