A big fear that many people associate with compost bins and composting is rats.
When people start considering whether composting is something they can incorporate into their lives, many start with this fundamental question.
The answer is that composting CAN attract rats, but it doesn’t usually draw in ones that aren’t already there. Usually, if rats appear in your compost heap, it’s because they were in the area already, but you’ve provided a space that interests them.
You are putting food waste outside; that carries a risk of drawing animal attention. However, just because it can does not mean it will, or even should if you take the proper approach.
We’re going to spend a bit of time exploring does composting attract rats? (8 Awesome Facts)
Fact 1) Compost Heaps Do Not Actively Attract Rats
Compost heaps do not usually attract rats in themselves, though rats may be interested in their contents and might even choose to nest in them if they are dry and undisturbed.
Composts are warm, deep, safe places that they might think are very suitable homes in some circumstances.
If you have rats in the area – and most areas do – then they are likely to investigate your compost heap if they can get to it.
That doesn’t mean the compost has caused them, however: just that they are interested in it.
You Can Deal With Rats In Your Compost
Few people want rats in their compost – understandably. If you are concerned about rats moving in, there are a few things you can do that will discourage them, or will persuade them to move on if they have already moved in.
Firstly, don’t panic. The rats are not going to hurt you just by being present, and you shouldn’t get yourself worked up about their existence.
Instead, focus on practical solutions that will help you deal with them, or get somebody who is not afraid of rats to help you.
Avoid ever using poison for rats, outside or in your house. It could be deadly to anything that eats the rat, such as owls, foxes, or even someone’s cat or dog.
Choose other humane methods of handling the issue.
Let’s look at ways you can discourage rats from moving in, or encourage them to move out if they have taken up residence.
Fact 2) Dry Compost Encourages Rats
If rats think your compost heap offers a good nesting ground, it’s a sign the compost is too dry. Don’t panic about it, but water the heap thoroughly.
Your compost should be damp but not sodden. If you picked up a handful (of the soil, rather than the mushy food) and squeezed, you should not see moisture trickling down your hand.
It should feel slightly wet to the touch, like a sponge that you have wrung out.
Watering your compost heap from time to time, especially in the summer, is a good idea. Rats won’t like trying to live somewhere that is wet, and will quickly move on.
If you want to really discourage them, it is okay to soak the heap, but make sure it dries out again afterwards or you will get problems with waterlogging.
Fact 3) Rats Dislike Movement
Rats may not be terrified of people, but they would rather not have us around. If your heap is regularly active, rats will be less likely to move in.
They won’t fancy having their home tossed about with a garden fork every week or so.
Aerating your compost is good for the compost in many ways, but it will also discourage rats from moving into it.
A lot of activity around the compost heap also deters rats, as they will associate it with danger and unpredictability.
You can buy a special tumbling compost bin that is designed to disturb the compost.
This is to keep it aerated, but it will also serve to disrupt any rats trying to make a home in there, and will make it an unappealing place.
You can make a habit of knocking on the outside of the bin with a stick as you pass as well, if you don’t have time to aerate as often as you’d like.
Fact 4) Bad Smells Will Attract Rats
Rats find most of their food using their noses. If they can smell rotting food, they are more likely to be interested in your compost heap, but compost heaps actually should smell of earth more than food – and that doesn’t interest rats at all.
If your compost heap smells bad, you need to look into why. You may have a ratio off that is preventing food from decomposing properly, or something else may be going wrong
Correcting it will put the rats off the compost bin and also increase the efficiency of the decomposition process.
Fact 5) Cooked Food Is More Likely To Interest Rats
Do you put cooked food in your compost heap? Cooked food is much more attractive to rats than vegetable peelings and discarded carrot ends.
If you are worried about rats, you may want to avoid putting cooked food into the compost.
Alternatively, if you have cooked food scraps, you can bury them at the center of the heap. Rats are more than capable of burrowing in, but this should disguise the smell and make it harder for them to detect.
Another option for dealing with cooked food waste is to get a Bokashi bin.
This uses a kind of bran to ferment the food waste, making it unappealing to rats and other wildlife, and the “pickled” food can then safely be added to the compost heap without the risk of attracting anything very much.
You can add small quantities of cooked food if you need to, but it is best to avoid putting cooked food in the compost if you are concerned about attracting wildlife.
Fact 6) Meat And Dairy Are Also Attractive
Most people don’t recommend adding meat or dairy to your compost heap. Both can take quite a while to decompose, but they are also much more appealing to rats and scavengers.
If possible, avoid adding these, use the above suggestions for dealing with them, or keep the quantities very small.
Note that rats will eat other foods in your compost bin, so leaving these food groups out is not a foolproof way of deterring rats, but cutting back on the really appealing things makes it less likely that they will bother your compost bin.
Fact 7) Rats Are Rarely Actually A Problem
Rats aren’t really a big issue. Many people are afraid of wild rats and while they certainly aren’t creatures you’d want to invite into your home, they don’t really pose any threats from the compost bin.
It’s probably best not to have your compost bin too close to the house, but otherwise, it isn’t actually an issue that you really need to worry about too much.
You can easily discourage rats from living in your compost if they do show up, and they are likely already in the area if that happens.
Fact 8) Rats Are Hard To Keep Out
You might decide to try and rat-proof your compost heap – but the chances of success are pretty low. Rats can chew through metal, and squeeze through the tiniest of tiny gaps if they are so inclined.
You will be hard pressed to prevent rats from getting into your compost, no matter what you do; they climb and dig very well, and it’s very hard to present obstacles that stump them for long.
Unless you have experience of keeping rats out and know some foolproof methods, this is probably not a tactic that is worth your time and investment; it will just provide frustrating as they destroy your work.
If you are determined to try this option, you can look at concrete bases for the bottom of your bin, or lay paving slabs (without gaps) underneath it.
You should try to angle the bin a little so that liquid can still drain off.
Some people fit chicken mesh to the bottoms of their bins, but rats can actually chew through many kinds of chicken mesh.
They may also be able to wriggle through some grades; they can get through gaps of 1.5cm, so you need quite a fine mesh to actually keep them out.
You can also buy tight-fitting lids and mesh that fits to the inside of the bin, which will decrease the chances of rats getting in.
However, before you go to these lengths, you should decide if the rats are actually a problem that you need to deal with, or if the deterrent methods mentioned prior to this one are sufficient.
Your compost does not pose a particularly high risk of attracting rats, though rats already in the vicinity may choose to move in or might snack on the food waste there.
You will likely find that you don’t see much of them, as rats don’t like human activity.
You can do a number of things to keep your compost unattractive to rats, but bear in mind that they are an aspect of nature, and unless they are directly causing a problem, you can probably learn to live with their presence.