Dethatcher Vs Aerator

by Joost Nusselder | Updated on:  March 12, 2022
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Gardeners often think that mowing their gardens is enough. However, this isn’t all you need to do when you want a good lawn at home. There are more essential parts, such as dethatching and aerating. And, to perform these activities, you will need dethatchers and aerators. So, before using these tools, you should know their mechanisms and operations. Therefore, we will compare the dethatcher vs aerator today in order to help you understand their working process.

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What Is A Dethatcher?

A dethatcher is a mowing tool, which is used for removing thatches. If you keep your lawn at rest for many days, it will start growing excess debris as well as dead grasses. In this condition, you can use a dethatcher to clean your garden and keep the surface free from debris. Generally, the dethatcher comes with a set of spring tines. These tines rotate vertically and take the debris with them. Thus, the lawn becomes comparatively fresh. For the most part, the dethatcher tries to remove the thatches completely and boosts the flow of nutrients, water, and air through the grass.

What Is An Aerator?

An aerator is a garden mowing tool for creating aeration in your garden. Basically, its tines dig through the soil and create gaps between the grasses. So, rolling the aerator will loosen the soil and you can easily water the soil deeply after the aeration process. In most cases, the tines of the aerator come with a clog-resistant feature. And, you can use an aerator in the soil when the total area is very moist. It is better to keep 1 inch of water to make the soil moist. Because, following this process will help the soil absorb the water entirely, thus creating clay soil. After that, the tines of the aerator can dig through the soil smoothly.

Differences Between Dethatcher and Aerator

If you consider the working area, both tools are used in lawns or gardens. But, you cannot use them for the same purpose. The dethatcher is for removing thatches and debris, whereas the aerator is for creating aeration in the soil. Similarly, you cannot use both tools for the same period. However, which one should you choose for your tasks? Here, we will discuss the major differences among these tools below.

Primary Function

You can differentiate these two tools simply for their different primary functions. When talking about the dethatcher, you can use it for removing thatches like dead grasses and accumulated debris. In that case, the soil will be free for air movement and watering will be easy. As a result, the nutrients and water won’t face any problem reaching into the grass. For this reason, most people like dethatching before overseeding. Because you obviously need to clean the debris from the soil before going for overseeding tasks. If you think about an aerator, it is a tool for digging directly through the lawn soil. Specifically, you can use this tool to dig small holes into the garden soil. And, the reason behind such activities is to provide enough space for the mixture of soil. In this way, the soil gets better aeration and the grasses can grow more freshly. Remember that, using an aerator is unnecessary when you are thinking about overseeding since aeration doesn’t have any relation with the overseeding process.

Design & Structure

You already know that a dethatcher comes in a cylindrical shape, which has some tines around it. And, rolling the dethatcher starts rotating the tines vertically to clear the thatches from the soil. As the tines collect debris without digging the soil, there is no risk of damaging the grass on your lawn. As a matter of fact, you can use either a riding mower or your labor to run this tool. Both will work just fine. On the positive side, using an aerator is pretty simple due to its simple design. However, on the negative side, you won’t get any rider or an automatic machine to use for the aeration process. Typically, the tines of the aerator dig holes when rolling into the soil. Most importantly, it creates gaps in the soil which increases aeration and gives enough space to spread the nutrients. Sadly, you need to perform all of these tasks using your own hands.

Time of Use

In general, dethatching and aerating require different conditions for implicating these processes. That means you cannot use either a dethatcher or an aerator at any time of your choice. Firstly, you will have to identify if it’s applicable or not. More importantly, there is a seasonal time for applying these tools. If your soil is healthy and moist enough, you may not need more than one dethatching per year. On the other hand, you can work with only two times of aerating per year. However, in the case of sandy soil, the situation will not be the same. To be specific, you don’t need more than one aeration per year. The number increases only when the soil is clay. Under those circumstances, you’ll need a dethatcher mostly in the springtime. On the contrary to that situation, the aerator cannot be fixed for a specific season. Because, it depends on your soil type. When your soil is clay type, you’ll need aeration in more seasons.


Whenever your garden or lawn is filled with unnecessary dead grass and debris, you should clean it first. And, to do this, you can make use of a dethatcher. Gladly, the dethatcher works well when you have a lot of debris and dead grasses on the surface of the soil. To identify such conditions, you can have a little walk over the lawn grass. If it feels quite spongy, you should start working using your dethatcher now. So, this tool becomes handy when your lawn needs a medium cleaning. Using it in thick layers of thatches is not recommended at all.
In contrast to that condition, you should use an aerator when the soil is filled with a very thick layer of thatches and the dethatcher may fail there due to a high level of thickness. To be more specific, we recommend using an aerator when the thickness of thatches is half an inch and more. Furthermore, the aerator is suitable in terms of good soil drainage. Because, it increases the water flow and transferring of nutrients by freeing the soil from accumulation. Another important point to be noted is that, when you need aeration, you cannot use only the dethatcher to get the desired result. Only using an aerator can solve it. However, when you need dethatching, you can still use an aerator as it will do both jobs at once. But, the problem here is that the excess debris may get mixed with the soil sometimes. So, don’t use an aerator instead of a dethatcher without an emergency, when you need dethatching first.

Final Words

Aerators generally have a lot of different attributes compared to dethatchers. A dethatcher, too, is a simple tool for removing accumulated debris on a lawn. But, having a thicker layer of thatches may make the process very tough for a dethatcher. In that case, the aerator can help you by digging through the soil using its tines. However, the main purpose of this tool is not dethatching. Rather, you should use the aerator to create good aeration in the soil of your lawn or garden.
Joost Nusselder, the founder of Tools Doctor is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new equipment, and together with his team he's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with tools & crafting tips.
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