Compost pail failure

We have one of those standard, stainless steel compost pails–the kind you keep on your countertop to collect scraps. It’s a couple of years old. Last week, it began to leak from the bottom. This mystified me because a) it’s stainless steel and seemed a quality item and b) it had no seams on the bottom. For a while I wondered if there was a miracle at work–you know, sort of the composting version of a weeping Virgin Mary. But today I took it into strong light and found one teeny tiny hole and pits that look like they soon will be holes, too. I assume the pitting is a caused by the acidity of the compost juice?

Has anyone had something similar happen?

Our consultants agree it smells fascinating.

Share this post

Leave a comment

32 Comments

  1. Why YES. We have a filter-free compost stainless steel pail from Gardeners Supply. It’s actually our second one, because they sent me a replacement after our first one got a pinhole leak on the bottom. The new one has since gotten several similar leaks. I didn’t want to see if they’d send me another replacement because it seemed wasteful. I use JB Weld to patch the holes whenever they appear. Hopefully the whole thing won’t eventually be made of patches :)
    Our pail was made in India. Wish I could find a better-quality non-plastic pail without a filter (the filters seem to just become a haven for fruit flies, in my experience).

  2. I hate mine. It is rusting in spots! I’m sure it will be leaking soon and unless I keep a small container or ACV in it, it is full of fruit flies year round. Maybe I can put some decorative paint on it and plant something useful in it.

  3. We found an old enamelware pail (actually a chamber pot I think) that had a few small holes. After patching with JB Weld, it has held up very well! Sometimes it amazes me how many serviceable items one can find in an antique store, often cheaper and better made than the modern-day equivalent…

  4. So this is a common problem. Fascinating!!! Because stainless steel doesn’t rust, I assumed it wouldn’t break down in other ways. Wrong!

    I don’t think it’s even worth buying the JB Weld to repair it if it’s just going to keep developing new holes. I’m going to go back to my old container, which is an old ceramic cookie jar. I liked the metal pail better because I could beat it around as much as I liked when I took it outside, scrubbed it, etc. And the lid fit better. But at least ceramic doesn’t dissolve in the presence of compost juice.

  5. I use a large plastic bowl from the dollar store for my compost. The problem with this is it has no lid, and a certain kid whose job it is to take it out daily…you get the idea.

    I know the city of LA has to replace the bodies on the green waste trucks more often than the other trucks (and more often than you might think) because the green waste eats away the walls from the inside. Resulting in…leaks. And then big holes.

  6. You know I am glad I never bought one. I was going to say that anything from China could be contaminated (as China is KNOWN for doing so in several other items such as plastic and food and childrens toys) but as others have them from different countries of origin I can’t make that statement.

    So I suggest to use (as I have been) an enamal coated cook pan with lid. I get them from the thrift store. Some are pretty banged up but for a couple dollars you can afford to change pretty often as they get too abused to be of any use. As for the smell? Well I just look at it in the way that the smell reminds me to dump it. As for the bugs I just deal with it.

    • That’s a great idea.
      My partner wanted something attractive to put on the counter ( since, apparently, my plastic bucket is ugly). An old pot may satisfy her antique-ness!

  7. You’ve already had several replies, but yes. First compost bin was a metal pot, hated that I couldn’t close it, and it quickly rusted. Next was a stainless steel that became a stainless steel colander. I considered the enamel, but I break things. I went with a plastic one about five years ago and haven’t had a problem. It cleans up well, it doesn’t leak, and it closes.

  8. Well, I do as Anonymous does. Enameled cook pot w/ lid. And if that is soaking in the sink due to not being emptied every coupla days, I’ll just grab a milk carton in the recycling bin and use that a couple days. I hope to just skip the milk carton thing when we finally get goats, eventually.

    I have to mention though, when I saw that picture w/ the stamp on its underside, my first thought was that this pot you have is actually aluminum. Steel gets pitted like that? Had no idea.

    And Dree’s right. When I worked for Ecology Center in Berkeley, I got to see those leakage holes in the city’s organics trucks daily. Even recycling trucks develop those holes over time. We had a real pirate-ish fleet of derelict trucks my first five years there. Dual-stream program, btw, not ‘throw it all in one cart and skip along merrily’ logic. Royally pissed off the residents, but man it saved the equipment over time. And, there is nothing grosser than biking to work behind one of the city’s oldest garbage trucks, or behind a truck which picks up restaurant waste. Especially on a rainy day. Good times!

  9. Re: container suggestions.

    I love enamelware, but one of the (several) disadvantages of living in LA is that the thrift shopping here sucks. Donation stores are continually scoured for finds by professionals, and the finds end up in upscale shops. All that’s left in the thrift stores are the dregs of the dregs. Those cheap enamel pots and pans mentioned by a couple people above would probably be on offer here for $20 or even more. I miss good thifting.

    Plastic, something like a Tupperware container, is probably the most sensible idea all around, in terms of durability. But I have this teeny tiny kitchen counter, so I prefer permanent residents of the counter to be attractive. That’s why I’ll probably use the cookie jar, though I’m sure to break it sooner or later.

    I’m also thinking about just sucking it up, keeping a bowl in the sink and dumping it daily.

  10. We used a stainless asparagus pot with lid for quite some time and had no issues. At the moment we use an open plastic bucket. We find that as long as it gets emptied daily, it’s not an issue. Getting someone to empty it reliably, well, that’s an issue. ;)

  11. I bought an inexpensive stainless steel flour canister with a sealed glass lid to use on my counter. I’ve had it for at least 10 years and have had no problem with rusting. It even has a few dents from when it flew out of my hands as I threw the contents to my chickens. To vent it, I leave the lid loose.

  12. We used to use an enamelware stockpot with lid but it got holes after a year. For the last 5 years we’ve used a plastic 1 1/2 gallon plastic bucket, kept on the counter, which I’ve replaced once and need to do again shortly. Not the best looking and no lid but I don’t like lids I just put it under the sink when we have company. We fill ours every day and a half and it is taken out soon after so it’s basically odor free and flies have never been a problem.

  13. Look where your item was made. I don’t buy anything that is not 304 stainless steel or 18/8. If a clerk assures me it is the best, then the product should have that information on a tag. You have a lesser quality product. If it is quality, then chromium has been added in sufficient quantity to keep the steel from corroding. It is plain and simple, actually no mystery if you know the properties of stainless steel. I would return it, pointing out that it was an inferior grade.

    For my compost I kept a Folger coffee can–plastic, red, and with an ad on it–and punched about six icepick holes in the top. The holes provide enough ventilation that anaerobic reactions do not occur, leaving a slimy, horrendous smelling compost behind. But, the fruit flies cannot get in. They never even hang around the holes.

    In junk and antique shops, the enameled metal ware does not last long. People want it to use for various uses in the home, and yes, some goes to antique shops.

    Try a restaurant supply store for quality stainless steel with specs I gave. Actually, any stainless steel container with proper specs will work. Use any plastic container with a tight top and holes. Tight is for ease of use and to keep the fruit flies out. Holes are for just the right size to provide entrance of oxygen and exclude fruit flies. Really the hole can be tiny, just have about six of them.

    Don’t expect quality from China.

  14. By the way, 430 stainless steel is an inferior stainless steel as far as the chromium content, the proper addition of which is why stainless steel does not rust. So, don’t think the higher number is better in terms of rustproof. It’s not. Garbage trucks rust because they are steel and not 304 stainless steel.

    18/8 is percent of chromium/nickel, the most rust resistant of stainless steels. Now, 316L is better in terms of not pitting and being more corrosion resistant. Maybe that is what garbage truck should be made of?

    Okay, after all the figures just keep in mind–304 or 18/8 is what you will find on most things to indicate quality. I ALWAYS assume if this is not present, the quality is inferior. Look at stainless steel displays in home departments of any dept store.

    304 or 18/8…okay, the school teacher in me knows repetition helps in learning.

    304 or 18/8

  15. I have one like yours, and after less than a year, the handle on the lid came off. The local welding shop put it back on. I had taken to keeping it on the back porch, not far from the kitchen, because of fruit flies. Now I have another reason to keep it out there–potential holes.

  16. My Folgers “aromaseal” plastic coffee can has been going for years. I salvaged it from the trash at work. Sometimes KISS is the best option.

  17. We just stick with a large, sturdy ceramic bowl…and can sometimes make it for up to 3 days before it gets too stinky. Fruit flies aren’t generally a problem for us, maybe we’re just lucky. The layer of newspaper is a nice trick that keeps things less nasty!

  18. I have a stainless steel one from Lee Valley Tools that has been fine for about 10 years. No identifying info on where it was made or what type of stainless it is, though. They still have them on their website, but the price has gone up quite a bit since I bought mine. I, too, have had a stainless coffee thermos made in China with a pin-hole leak at the time of purchase. I wondered…not something you expect from new metal….

  19. You can get various grades of stainless. The best is 316 from a corrosion point of view.

    The thing that does corrode it is lack of oxygen when in a liquid environment, as there is a chemical reaction that takes place with the zinc that is contained in the stainless.

    We use it at sea, and the only place we see corrosion is where 2 surfaces are in close proximity, trapping water that eventually becomes anoxic, leading to the corrosion.

    What is probably happening on the composting pail, is that either the stainless steel is not very good quality, or that the corrosion is taking place, but is generally not noticeable, as there is no colour change, it just begins to look a bit pitted.

  20. Galvanic corrosion could be the answer. It usually occurs with two dissimilar pure metals or alloys and it can occur with metals we normally associate with being “rustproof.” Witness the rusting of aluminium.

    It is also something that happens quite commonly on steel frame bicycles with aluminium seatposts.

    It could also be auto-catalytic pitting corrosion.

    In the end, stainless steel is less rustproof and more rust resistant.

  21. Maybe an ignorant question – what’s wrong with plastic? We use a 3 gallon plastic bucket with a screw-on lid that keeps the odor in, and while I realize it means we have some anaerobic conditions, overall it works really well since I empty it about once a month, buried deep in my compost pile and then turned the next time I need to empty another load. Happy worms, good decomposition, no smells and no vermin in the pile, and it gets layered with chicken-coop shavings a few times a year. Plastic bucket’s been in use for the last 12 years now (actually has some cracks in it that mean it might be replaced soon, but that’s because it doubles as a kitchen stepladder sometimes!)

  22. Materials scientist here. My money is solidly on pitting corrosion. I’ve seen similar.

    Pitting corrosion is enhanced by anaerobic conditions, and is catalyzed by chlorine and by other species that form soluble compounds with chromium ions. There’s some table salt in all foods, and a lot of it in some foods; most people don’t line their compost pails with fluffy browns the way I do, and even so, anaerobic conditions often occur in the fermenting sludge that would appear in the bottom corner of such a pail.

    I constantly gain new respect for the digestive power of compost microbes…Puzon et al. wrote in ACS, in 2005: “[Bacteria-formed chromium] complexes remained soluble and stable upon dialysis against distilled H2O and over a broad pH range. The ready formation of stable organo−Cr(III) complexes suggests that organo−Cr(III) complexes are rather common, likely representing an integral part of the natural cycling of chromium.” DOI: 10.1021/es048967g

    I’m not absolutely certain that the complexes Puzon observed would accelerate pitting corrosion, but it seems reasonable that they might do so. It also makes sense that healthy soil would have the ability to make chromium available to plant roots.

  23. I have not even had my stainless steel counterrtop compost bin for 3 months and it is also leaking. im livid!!!
    Where do you get a quality product these days????

    • I know. It sucks. I had only one hole, so I put a big glob of Gorilla Glue on the inside to plug it. It’s still holding.

  24. I don’t understand why compostable liners are not part of the purchase when buying a metal compost container. Plastic and ceramic don’t have the same problems as metal obviously. Even stainless will rust in a kitchen atmosphere which is often the most humid room in the house and especially since most of these pails are situated on a countertop closest to the sink. I find it defies logic to assume metal will not rust or pit in this environment. I am surprised replacements were given.

    • Funny that you should bring this up. Mrs. Homegrown just put our old ceramic compost container back on the kitchen counter.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


+ 9 = 10