Can You Get Sick From Handling Compost?

With more and more people embracing sustainability and simple living, gardening and composting have become quite popular.

While this is great, we can’t stress enough how important it is to gather enough knowledge about composting before trying it out for the first time.

One of the first questions you should ask yourself as a newbie is – can I get sick from handling compost?

Don’t worry if you don’t know the answer to this question though – you have come to the right place.

In today’s post, we are going to talk about this and so much more.

Can you get sick from handling compost?

Yes, compost can make you sick. There are a variety of harmful microorganisms in a compost heap that can cause illness.

What diseases can you get from compost?

Some of the diseases you can get from handling compost include:

Legionnaires’ disease

This is a form of pneumonia caused by Legionella bacteria.

While this disease commonly spreads through using water infected with Legionella bacteria, it can also spread through inhaling/ingesting infected droplets from your compost.

Fortunately, most people who are exposed to this bacteria don’t get sick.

Those who are susceptible include smokers, the elderly, and those suffering from chronic lung disease.


If you have an open cut or wound, tetanus bacteria can easily spread from your compost pile to your body, making you sick.

You are particularly at risk if you regularly handle thorny plants, manure, and soil. So the more up-to-date you are with your tetanus shots the better.

Allergies triggered by bioaerosols

Bioaerosols are airborne microorganisms like bacteria, fungi, and spores.

They are usually present in decomposing materials and can be easily inhaled, particularly when you’re turning compost in warm weather.

If you are prone to allergies or have a preexisting chest condition like asthma, inhaling them can make you sick.


This painful infection usually affects the edges of your fingernails.

If you regularly garden or bite your nails, you can have cuts/abrasions in this area that make it easy for the associated bacteria to enter your body.

Prolonged exposure to moisture can also make infection easier.

Fortunately, minor cases of paronychia tend to clear up on their own while serious ones can be treated by taking antibiotics.

How to handle compost safely

While composting does pose some health risks, there are several ways you can mitigate them.

Here are a few:

  • Ensure your tetanus shots are up to date. Also, if you cut yourself while gardening or get some compost in your open wound, go see your doctor for a shot.
  • Cover your cuts and bruises before handling compost.
  • Wash your hands with soap and running water after handling compost. This is especially important if you’re planning to eat afterward.
  • Wear gloves before you handle compost, soil, or pesticides.
  • When opening bags with compost, don’t place your head right over the bag.
  • When you’re not using a compost bag, ensure its top is folded over.
  • Dampen down your compost heap before turning or using it.
  • Wear a dust mask when turning your compost.
  • Keep rodents away from your compost by proofing your bins with wire mesh.

Be careful while composting!

Just because you can get sick from handling compost doesn’t mean you should give up on composting. With a little care, you can compost safely and efficiently!

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