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What are the Pros and Cons of Using Hair As Fertilizer?

By Kaitlyn N. Watkins
Updated May 16, 2024
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Many natural substances and byproducts can be useful sources of fertilizer, and hair is no exception. Used as a mulch or in the compost pile, human and animal hair as a fertilizer can actually contribute much-needed nitrogen to the soil. While there are several pros to using hair as a fertilizer, including cost and effectiveness, there are also cons, including the decomposition time and potential problems with chemicals.

The hair that comes from humans and animals is composed of proteins and a significant amount of nitrogen, which plants need to thrive. Some gardeners take the excess hair brushed from a pet or clippings of their own hair and mix it into a compost pile. When the hair eventually breaks down and decomposes, it creates an especially nitrogen-rich fertilizer for the garden. Hair can take a very long time to break down, because of its high protein content, unless the compost pile is kept moist and turned often. This problem can be mitigated somewhat by cutting the hair into one-inch sections or smaller.

Instead of waiting for hair to decompose in the compost pile, some gardeners add it directly to the soil of flower beds or planters as a mulch. Hair works well to help soil retain moisture and keep plant roots hydrated as well as helping to regulate the plant’s temperature. Over time, the nitrogen will be released from the hair as fertilizer for plants, leading to greener, thriving plant growth. It does take a long time for the nutrients to be released from hair as fertilizer, however, so the first plants grown with hair may not be as vigorous as subsequent plantings. Due to this slow-release quality of hair as fertilizer, it might be better to use hair for plants that have a long growing cycle or slower overall growth.

Unlike chemical fertilizers, hair as fertilizer can be very low cost or free. Pet hair is a great source for fertilizer or compost, as is hair from shower drains, hair brushes, and home hair cuts. Local barbershops and hair salons may be willing to give away daily sweepings of hair to be used in the garden. Care must be taken when using chemically treated hair, however, such as hair that has been permed or dyed, as these chemicals can leach into the soil. In analyses of commercially prepared hair mats used in the garden, traces of lead have been found, which are likely linked to chemically treated hair being used.

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Discussion Comments

By discographer — On Aug 22, 2013

@anamur-- Actually, if soil has to decompose hair frequently, it develops organisms whose sole job is hair decomposition. So decomposition takes shorter and shorter over time. You can use organic hair fertilizer made of composed hair starting out, to speed up the process and then use normal hair.

Hair is one of the easiest and cheapest ways to fertilize soil and people have been using it for a long time.

By fify — On Aug 21, 2013

@anamur-- It can take anywhere from one to three years for hair to completely decompose and release nitrogen into the soil. So it's a good idea to use another nitrogen rich fertilizer in that time period.

This is one of the major downsides of using hair as a fertilizer. Once the first batch of hair has decomposed, you're good to go as long as you add more hair periodically. But you have to be patient for the first few years.

I like to use my son's and my cat's hair because their hair doesn't have chemicals. I especially like my cat's hair because it's very fine and soft and decomposes more quickly. I collect her hair after brushing sessions for this purpose.

By serenesurface — On Aug 21, 2013

How long does it take exactly for hair to decompose in soil?

I'm thinking of using human hair (that I will get from family members) as a fertilizer. I know I will need to substitute with another organic fertilizer until the hair decomposes. So I'm just trying to get an idea of how long that will be.

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