Can You Compost Hair?

By Veronica Fletcher | 
Last updated on April 3, 2021

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Hair comes in all shapes and sizes. There’s human hair, dog hair, cat hair, rabbit hair, and so many more! Both me and my dog shed hair like it’s going out of fashion and it got me thinking: what is the best way to dispose of hair?

Can you compost hair? You can compost both human and pet hair. Hair is an excellent source of nitrogen, so it’s perfect if your compost needs a nitrogen boost, but it can take a while to fully breakdown. Sprinkle the hair in thin layers to stop it from matting and avoid dyed hair because it can contain toxic chemicals.

How to compost hair?

Here are some tips on how to compost hair.

Is hair a brown or green composting material?

Hair is extremely high in nitrogen, so is a green composting material. In fact, hair is one of the most concentrated sources of nitrogen in nature and has 30 times the nitrogen content of manure. It’s basically a long strand of protein and will make a nutritious treat for the beneficial microbes in your compost pile.

If you’re composting a large amount of hair, make sure to balance it with a high carbon material like paper or dry leaves. Ideally compost piles should have a carbon:nitrogen ratio of 30:1

Preventing matting

Hair can easily get tangled and matt in a moist compost bin. To prevent this, sprinkle the hair in thin layers throughout the compost and turn regularly. 

If you’re using a compost tumbler make sure to get one with spikes on the inside to avoid a problem with clumping. If you don’t have any spikes in the bin, then the rotating motion of the tumbler can quickly create hairballs that won’t break down.

This compost tumbler from FCMP Outdoor comes with deep fins and aeration holes to make sure the compost is well mixed and full of oxygen.

How long does hair take to decompose?

Hair can take a while to decompose. In a well-established, hot compost pile hair can disappear within in a few months. In a smaller, more passive pile, hair can stick around for 1-2 years.

To speed things up, make sure hair only represents a small percentage of your overall waste, and keep the pile moist. Hair naturally repels water, so your compost might need slightly more moisture than usual to ensure the hair decomposes quickly.

Because hair is so slow to breakdown, it’s not unusual to have recognizable strands of hair in otherwise finished compost. However, this doesn’t matter too much because the hair won’t be noticeable once you’ve spread the compost. Also, the hair will continue to decompose in the soil and act as a slow-release nitrogen fertilizer.

screening compost
You can screen your compost before you use it to get rid of any undecomposed hair

If you want to remove the hair, then you can screen it out before you use the compost and save it to use in a new compost pile. This is what we prefer to do because even though it’s a bit more work, the hair is already full of beneficial microbes that’ll inoculate the new compost and get it started quickly.

Can you compost dyed hair?

Most people avoid composting dyed hair because it can contain toxic chemicals. Other hair products like styling mousses, hairspray and even shampoos can also contain harmful chemicals that can build up in your hair if you use the products a lot. If you know you want to compost your hair, look for natural alternatives that don’t contain any inorganic chemicals.

Can you compost pet hair?

Pet hair can be added to your compost pile as long as your pet hasn’t been recently treated with any chemicals. Flea and tick treatments can contain toxic chemicals that you wouldn’t want to add to your compost pile. You can compost all different types of pet hair, including dog, cat and rabbit hair.

Wirey hair tends to repel moisture, so make sure to keep your compost pile moist to speed up the decomposition process.

Can I compost wigs or hair extensions?

Synthetic wigs and hair extensions are made from low-grade plastic and are not suitable for composting. They won’t break down in your compost pile. You can compost wigs and extensions made with real hair, as long as you make sure there are no synthetic glues or base layers.

If your wig does has a synthetic base layer, consider chopping off the hair up to the base, composting that, and then disposing of the synthetic part separately.

Alternatively, see if you can find a local charity who takes wigs and extensions for reuse.

Can you feed worms hair?

Hair is an organic material so you can technically feed it to your worms, but it won’t break down quickly and there’s a few caveats to be aware of such as avoiding chemically treated hair. It’s also best to cut any hair into very short pieces to reduce the risk of the worms becoming tangled in longer strands.

Cutting the hair into smaller pieces will help make it less noticeable if there are any strands left in the castings when you harvest them. Worms don’t actually eat the hair itself they eat the bacteria that are decomposing it. And because hair takes a while to build up a sizeable microbial network, it takes a long time before it becomes attractive to the worms. Therefore, hair will persist in a worm bin for much longer than most nitrogen-rich materials.

If you’re someone who wants your worm castings to be clean and ready in a few weeks then we’d advise that you leave the hair out. Check out the video below to see how hair does overtime in a worm bin.

The chemicals found in things like hair dye, hair spray, or flea treatments on pets could potentially harm the worms, so it’s best to avoid putting these into your worm bin.

What else can you do with hair?

Composting hair isn’t the only eco-friendly way you can dispose of it. Here are a few more ideas. 

You can leave hair out in the garden for birds to take and use in their nests.

little bird carrying hair
Birds like to use hair to build their nests

Untreated pet hair is best because it’s durable and doesn’t soak up lots of moisture. Avoid using any fur that’s recently had any sort of flea or tick treatment because these chemicals are highly toxic to birds.

Human hair can also be used, but again make sure the hair isn’t covered in dye or chemical shampoos. If your hair is long then don’t forget to cut the strands short to stop birds from getting tangled up and hurting themselves. 

hair in a bird feeder
Putting the hair in a cage makes it easy for the birds to take

To make sure the birds know it’s for them, you can stuff the hair into a feeder. Leave a few strands poking out the holes, so it’s easy for the birds to remove. 

Human and pet hair also makes for a great animal repellent because animals don’t like the smell. Sprinkling hair in your garden will deter animals such as rabbits, snails and deer. If you have treated hair that you don’t want to put on the ground, you can fill old stockings with the hair and hang them around the garden. After a few weeks, the smell will weaken, and you’ll need to replace the hair. Rain will wash the scent away faster.

About Veronica Fletcher

Veronica has a passion for all things eco-friendly. After growing up on a farm in Ireland, she went on to study Chemistry and Environmental Sciences. Veronica has also volunteered in many sustainability roles, including conservation efforts in Bangladesh and teaching Environmental Sciences to schoolchildren in Kenya.