Send your question to Umbra!

Q. Dear Umbra,

So, I always save my hair for the compost. But what about my friend’s hair that has been dyed or bleached? Is there any value in that?

Thanks for the advice!

Jane Bogner
Vallejo, Calif.

Blonde hair.Talking trash: Dyed hair should never end up in the compost pile.Photo: DebA. Dearest Jane,

Always saving your hair for the compost pile? How thoughtful. If your compost heap could talk, it would say “Jane, you’re a pal.” Life would be a lot easier if compost had the faculty of speech: “More twigs,” “You should see the crazy worm action in here,” and so forth. (I’m actually thinking of pitching a prime-time drama called Compost Whisperer.)

Your compost heap said “Ew, no way” when I told it about your question. (I don’t want you to worry that I’m going behind your back or forming a close relationship with it, though. I’m quite fond of my own compost pile.) But dyed or bleached hair falls into the “No” bucket — it “may introduce toxic chemicals into your compost,” according to environmental writer Janet Harriet. Quick story: Master composter Mary Tynes once advised a curious reader that he could compost dog hair clippings. The reader then got 10 huge bags of hair clippings from a local salon — some of it bleached, dyed, and otherwise treated — and created a massive compost pile that one imagines resembled the world’s biggest ball of yarn. As you might have guessed, it stank. I’ll spare you the lecture on the toxic gunk in hair dyes and just say that your friend’s treated tresses aren’t even fit to make a birds’ nest.

For composting natural hair (which has 30 times as much nitrogen as manure, making it a fabulous fertilizer), Tynes says smaller pieces in thin layers work best. Use it only as a small part of your compost pile (listening, Mr. 10 Bags?). Mix it around so it doesn’t clump together, and voilà!

Mother Earth News has a nice piece on composting hair, mentioning some gardeners’ qualms about shampoo and other products. Fans of the recent No ‘Poo movement can neatly sidestep that concern altogether!

The quick list of things not to compost includes meat, eggs, dairy products, poop, peanut butter, butter, cooking oils, or salad dressing (anything oily or greasy, really), and pet litter.

 

(Also snotty tissues, depending on your significant other.) On the plus side, you can compost a mélange of unexpected goodies, like wine corks, used matches, and urine. Who knew?

Permanently,
Umbra