How to Compact Gravel Without a Compactor

Starting a new home improvement project is always fun, but it can quickly become overwhelming when you don’t have the right tools for the job. Don’t worry if you have gravel that needs to be compacted but don’t have a compactor.

What To Do First

How to Compact Gravel Without a Compactor

Before compacting anything on your property, you must ensure the area is clear of debris. The debris could be fallen branches, larger rocks, or manufactured items. Then, you’ll need to make the gravel smooth using a rake or broom.

Ensure you have the area marked and plenty of materials on hand. You don’t want to start this project to realize you need to finish it the next day. You’re in for a long day of physical labor without a compactor, and you don’t want it to be two or three.

Compacting Gravel

How to Compact Gravel Without a Compactor

A few tools are at your disposal if you don’t want to rent a home improvement store’s compactor. 

A Tamper

You can find 10×10 steel tampers at most home improvement stores. Hand-operated tampers have long handles with wide metal bases that give you greater leverage when compacting soil or gravel. They’re more time-consuming than a traditional compactor but can be cheaper. It’s a great option if you have a small area you need to compact. 

A Sledgehammer

Believe it or not, using a sledgehammer can be an excellent option to compact gravel in small or tight areas that a compactor may not be able to fit in. The sides of a garden or the edges of a fence are only a few examples.

You’ll need a lot of upper body strength for this one, and I recommend combining it with an iron plate. These two pieces of equipment can act a lot like a tamper but in two pieces. 

A Car

Some municipal areas use oil, tar, and loose gravel to repave their roads. There’s no reason why you can’t do it for a driveway. It’ll take several weeks to set, so you’ll need to take care not to rip out of your driveway at top speed, but it’s a low-effort method that yields good results. Try to do it in a week you’re not expecting rain.

Compacting Sand or Dirt

You can also use tampers and sledgehammers to tamper sand or dirt, but there are a few other options that don’t work on gravel.

Over Watering

Because dirt and sand slowly absorb water, you can use your garden hose for hours or days to compact soil. First, remove all debris from the soil and area. Then, spray the earth with a gentle mist of water until water begins to pool on the surface.

You’ll want a low-pressure watering system to ensure the dirt stays in place. Whether that’s a garden hose with a low-pressure spray nozzle, a low-power sprinkler, or soaker hoses scattered around, it’ll make sure the water has time to soak into the soil before running off the top.

After an hour, repeat the process. You want to ensure the water drains into the soil between each soak. You’ll know when you’ve finished when the water no longer drains into the soil as quickly. You’ll have to repeat these steps more frequently with clay soil because it’s thicker. Afterward, give it a good stomping on (your boots will work fine), and you should be good to go.


You don’t need to rent an expensive compactor to compact your gravel, pea gravel or soil properly. All you need is a tamper, maybe a sledgehammer, and a lot of elbow grease. Try to complete this project in a week when there won’t be rain or intense weather.