Why are my worms trying to escape?

Did you open your worm composting bin to see all of your worms clinging to the side or top of the container? Today I will answer the question many vermicomposters ask: why are my worms trying to escape?

The good news is that this is a widespread problem and is usually relatively easy to fix. When I first encountered this sight when I began composting, I worried my bin was overpopulated. I wasn’t sure what I did wrong to make my worms so unhappy that they wanted to leave.

Thankfully, with some research, I realized this is a widespread problem.

Here are a few common causes that can cause your worms to climb the walls and solutions to help you fix the problem.

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Common Causes Why Worms Escape

Your Bin Is New

One of the main reasons your composting worms will try to escape their bin is that it’s new. If you are like many beginner vermicomposters, you are excited to get your worms in the mail or from a local seller. Your new composting friends excitedly to the bin and ensured they had a little food to snack on to help them feel at home.

You close the lid to let them adjust to their new home, and only a few hours later, you find they are clinging to the sides and not burrowing into their bedding.

To solve this problem, leave the lid off the container in a well-lit room. Since worms are light-sensitive, they will instinctively seek out the bedding. Often leaving the top off for 24 hours helps your worms find the bedding and make it their new home. If you need to leave the lid off, check the moisture of the bedding and that it has not dried out too much.

You Overfed Your Worms

The next most common issue that has caused your red wigglers to escape is too much food all at once. When food decomposes in your bin, moisture will start to release. If you do not have a plan to drain or absorb the liquid, your bin will become uninhabitable for your worms.

The excess liquid, called leachate, can be especially problematic because it can cause your worms to drown. Worms breathe through their skin, and composting worms don’t live deep in the soil like earthworms. Unlike earthworms, composting worms stay close to the surface in the leaf litter.


Remove nearly all food items to correct this issue and add new dry clean bedding. The dry clean bedding will absorb the excess liquid. Wait a few days with the lid off the bin to help any additional liquid evaporate.

Your Worm Bin Is Too Acidic

Often your worm bin will become too acidic if you overfed your worms (see the previous step) or you have fed your worms the wrong food.

Some foods are good, some are not and can cause your worm bin to become too acidic. When your bin becomes too acidic, your worms will try to escape by crawling up the side of the bin.

It is always good to give your worms a wide variety of foods to eat. After all, the diverse foods mean your vermicompost will have a wide variety of nutrients. However, it would be best if you kept everything in moderation.


For example, worms love coffee; it adds grit and a lot of different nutrients. However, adding too much coffee to your bin will raise the pH and kill your worms.

Most redworms prefer a pH of around 7.0, but they can live in pH levels of 4.2 to 8.0 or higher. You must be more mindful of this when you are composting in a small space or apartment.

A worm can wiggle away from the problematic food in an outdoor bin. In a small bin, a worm’s only choice is to climb the sides to escape.

If you’re new to worm composting, here is a list of foods that worms do and do not like.

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Food Worms Love

  • Vegetable and fruit scraps
    • Lettuce
    • Carrots
    • Squash
    • Leafy greens
    • Peas
    • Beans
    • Apples
    • Watermelon rind
    • Banana peels
    • plums & peaches
  • Eggshells, crushed in mortar and pestle or blender
  • Coffee Grounds and filters
  • Tree leaves
  • Garden Waste

Food Worms Hate

  • Citrus fruits and peels
  • Meat & Dairy products
  • Oil
  • Human or pet waste


It’s important to note that redworms do love aged horse manure. However, you may not want to add it to your indoor worm composting bin.

I’ll let you decide if that’s right for you.

Get the full list of items you can and cannot feed to your worms

Read our article about what foods worms like and dislike. We also included a few different tips on how to prep and store your worm food.

You Don't Have The Right Bedding

Finally, it may be as simple as just having the wrong bedding. You are expected to create your first bin and make some mistakes.

Many people mistake adding too much dirt, soil, and leaves from the outdoors. Often this is not the right bedding for apartment composting. As we mentioned above, worms like to live in leaf litter. While adding some leaves from the outside can be helpful, adding too much can increase your bin temperature or add unwanted pests.

Instead of using found materials from the outdoors, consider using composted paper. It’s important to note that black ink on newspapers is non-toxic to red wigglers; you should avoid colored ink. Both newspapers and cardboard absorb much liquid and prevent your bin from becoming waterlogged.

You can add coconut coir, peat moss, and old decaying leaves. Just be sure that they are not treated with any additional products. For example, read to ensure that the coconut coir is organic. As sometimes, it’s used as a potting soil additive and can contain plant fertilizers. In the case of leaves, pick them from the middle of the yard, not next to the road. This is because leaves next to the road have been exposed to more toxic car exhaust.

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Why Compost Worms Escape

In the beginning, you will need to experiment a little bit. Don’t be afraid to act like a scientist and experiment until you get it right.

With some testing, you will get your bedding moist enough that the worms can live, but not too much that they can’t breathe. Schedule regular pocket feedings, and figure out what they like to eat. And a good tip that never hurts is just taking the lid off for a few hours and letting the air circulate.

Thanks for reading, and happy composting!

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