Scarifier vs Dethatcher: Differences and Which One to Choose?

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Over the last few years, you’ve likely seen the debate over whether to use a scarifier or dethatcher – or maybe both – to dethatch your lawn. Both tools remove thatch that has accumulated on lawns and can provide exceptional results when used correctly.  

But understanding the difference between a scarifier and a dethatcher, and which tool is best for your lawn, can be confusing. 

In this article, I’m going to help show you the difference between a lawn scarifier and lawn dethatcher, explain how to use each to maintain a healthy lawn, and help answer the debate on which tool will work best for you. Let’s dive in!

Lawn Scarifiers and Lawn Dethatchers: What Are They?

As summer wears on, dead grass clippings and other debris will accumulate on the surface of the dirt where your grass grows. Some clippings are actually good for your lawn as they will release nutrients back into the soil.  Too many clippings, however, will form a thick layer of debris known as “thatch” that can prevent water and other important nutrients from reaching your grassroots. 

Lawn scarifying is more intensive, digging into your soil more than the detacher will. Dethatching will barely break the surface of the soil and pull the thatch out more gently. If your thatch is deep, however, it likely won’t be able to remove it all.

Let’s examine both pieces of equipment.

Scarifier vs. Dethatcher

The Scarifier

When you ask a lawn care professional to describe the difference between a scarifier and dethatcher, they will frequently use the words “intense” or “aggressive” to describe the scarifier. This is because of the way the scarifier looks and the way it operates.

Scarifier Parts

Both manual and powered scarifiers include a long, rotating cylinder that has teeth-like blades attached to it. These teeth dig into your lawn and pull up the accumulated thick thatch. 

Many scarifiers have a collection bag attachment that will catch the thatch as it is dug up. If it doesn’t have a bagging system, you’ll need to rake the pulled up thatch and bag it manually.

Scarifier

How to Scarify your Lawn

Before we get into these details, keep in mind that your climate, the type of grass, and other environmental facts will ultimately determine when you will use the scarifier to remove thatch from your lawn. The “best” time to use a lawn scarifier will vary depending on the location.

General guidelines, however, are that you should use your scarifier in the spring and early fall.

In mid to late April, I recommended that you lightly scarify your lawn to pull up the thatch that accumulated over winter. If you removed the thatch in the fall, you shouldn’t have much to remove. If your lawn is wet, hold off scarifying your lawn until later in the month or even May. 

You will also want to keep in mind that using a lawn scarifier too early can leave the grass in a state of shock, making it more vulnerable to extreme spring weather. These effects can last into late summer.

As your growing season ends, you’ll likely notice that thatch has accumulated in your grass. Sometime between September and early October, I use a scarifier to remove the thatch from my lawn aggressively. It is not uncommon for me to remove multiple bags of thatch during this time. 

If your area is prone to an early frost, consider completing the scarifying process a little early. You will want to give your grass time to recover before the first frost hits.

Man pushing a scarifier on lawn

When is Scarifying Complete

There isn’t an exact measurement or way to calculate how much thatch you should remove. This will again be determined by environmental factors and other factors, like if you bagged your grass all summer or mulched it. 

As a general rule, scarifying is complete when your lawn feels spongy or fluffy as you walk across.

Pros and Cons of the Scarifier for Lawn Care

Pros:

  • Removing thatch will help nutrients and moisture get to your roots during the summer months – giving you the best results when it matters most.
  • Your lawn will have a softer, cushiony feel when you walk across it after you have finished scarifying.
  • Scarifying, especially in the late spring, will help fight off mold, mildew, and moss that loves to grow in thatch. It will also discourage weeds from growing on your lawn.

Cons:

  • Your lawn will look a little tired and worn for a few days after you use a lawn scarifier, especially around the edges.
  • Over-scarifying can damage your lawn, creating more problems later in the year.
  • If you are completing this process manually, get ready for a workout! This process can be labor intensive if you have a lot of thatch, a large lawn/garden, or multiple lawns to look after.

Best Scarifier

Here is my recommendations for the best scarifiers depending on your needs. These are both dethatcher and scarifiers too:

Best Scarifier
Sun Joe AJ801E 12-Amp 13-Inch Electric Dethatcher and Scarifier...
Best Scarifier
Greenworks 13 Amp 14-Inch Corded Dethatcher / Scarifier, DT13B00
Sun Joe AJ801E 12-Amp 13-Inch Electric Dethatcher and Scarifier
Greenworks 13 Amp 14-Inch Corded Dethatcher / Scarifier, DT13B00
  • 12-amp motor rakes a 13" wide
  • 5-position depth control
  • Scarified function to cut grass roots
  • Spring steel tines
  • Detachable thatch collection bag
  • 13A 15-Inch Dethatcher
  • Lightweight design
  • Quick release
  • Tine depth adjustment
  • Healthy lawn
Best Scarifier
Sun Joe AJ801E 12-Amp 13-Inch Electric Dethatcher and Scarifier...
Sun Joe AJ801E 12-Amp 13-Inch Electric Dethatcher and Scarifier
  • 12-amp motor rakes a 13" wide
  • 5-position depth control
  • Scarified function to cut grass roots
  • Spring steel tines
  • Detachable thatch collection bag
Best Scarifier
Greenworks 13 Amp 14-Inch Corded Dethatcher / Scarifier, DT13B00
Greenworks 13 Amp 14-Inch Corded Dethatcher / Scarifier, DT13B00
  • 13A 15-Inch Dethatcher
  • Lightweight design
  • Quick release
  • Tine depth adjustment
  • Healthy lawn

Affiliate links and images pulled from the Amazon Product Advertising API on: 2022-11-25

The Dethatcher

Dethatcher Parts

There are several different types of dethatchers that you can buy. Some look like an old-fashioned reel mower and work the same way. You push them along and the sharp blades cut into the grass and soil a short distance. 

You will also find gas and electric dethatchers that look like push mowers. 

Dethatchers are available as:

  • Manual rakes, 
  • Motorized, 
  • Attachment kits, 
  • Tow-behind units that attach to your lawn tractor.
Example of scarifier

How to Dethatch Your Lawn

The dethatcher uses small blades that are often called “tines” to comb through your grass, lightly penetrating the ground and lifting debris and other plant material that has collected on the surface of your lawn. 

Your first pass with the dethatcher is likely going to loosen the ground and debris, and you may not see a lot of material come up. If this is the case, make a second pass over the grass perpendicular to the first pass. 

I typically run over the grass twice; the first time at the highest setting to make sure I’m not digging too deep, and the second pass, I will lower the depth of the tool a little more.

If you haven’t used a tool with a bag collector to pick up the loose material, make sure you either rake up the debris or mow over it to collect it.

Man pushing a lawn dethatcher

When is Dethatching Complete

Once you have passed over the lawn, do a visual inspection:

  • The brownish thatch that was previously on your lawn should have given way to darker soil. 
  • Your lawn should feel fluffier than before you started. 

It is not uncommon for someone to have to go over an area (especially if it’s your first time) two, three, or even four times.

Lawn Dethatcher Pros and Cons

Pros:

  • Even a light dethatching will help improve the overall look of your yard. Within a couple of weeks, you should notice a greener lawn.
  • This method is less aggressive than scarifying and usually less labor-intensive.

Cons:

  • People often have trouble getting all the thatch from their lawns surface with a dethatcher and will need a scarifying machine to finish the job

Best Dethatcher

Here is my recommendations for the best dethatcher depending on your needs: 

Best Electric Dethatcher
Greenworks 10 Amp 14” Corded Electric Dethatcher (Stainless...
Best Row Behind Dethatcher
Agri-Fab 40-Inch Tine Tow Dethatcher 45-0294,Black
Best Manual Rake
Garden Rake, 5 FT Metal Rake for Lawns - Level Head Rake with...
Greenworks 10 Amp 14” Corded Electric Dethatcher (Stainless Steel Tines)
Agri-Fab 40-Inch Tine Tow Dethatcher 45-0294,Black
Garden Rake, 5 FT Metal Rake for Lawns
  • 10A motor provides the power you need
  • 14” dethatching path
  • 3-position height adjust
  • Stainless steel tines
  • Twenty Durable spring tines
  • Rust-proof and replaceable spring-loaded tines are heat-treated for greater durability
  • Transport handle for easy raising and lowering of the tines
  • Made in USA
  • 40-inch wide swathes
  • 2 7-inch diameter semi-pneumatic wheels
  • 3 Year Limited Consumer Warranty
  • Sturdy construction
  • 14-Tine head
  • Stainless steel handle
  • Humanization design
  • Best after-sale
Best Electric Dethatcher
Greenworks 10 Amp 14” Corded Electric Dethatcher (Stainless...
Greenworks 10 Amp 14” Corded Electric Dethatcher (Stainless Steel Tines)
  • 10A motor provides the power you need
  • 14” dethatching path
  • 3-position height adjust
  • Stainless steel tines
Best Row Behind Dethatcher
Agri-Fab 40-Inch Tine Tow Dethatcher 45-0294,Black
Agri-Fab 40-Inch Tine Tow Dethatcher 45-0294,Black
  • Twenty Durable spring tines
  • Rust-proof and replaceable spring-loaded tines are heat-treated for greater durability
  • Transport handle for easy raising and lowering of the tines
  • Made in USA
  • 40-inch wide swathes
  • 2 7-inch diameter semi-pneumatic wheels
  • 3 Year Limited Consumer Warranty
Best Manual Rake
Garden Rake, 5 FT Metal Rake for Lawns - Level Head Rake with...
Garden Rake, 5 FT Metal Rake for Lawns
  • Sturdy construction
  • 14-Tine head
  • Stainless steel handle
  • Humanization design
  • Best after-sale

Affiliate links and images pulled from the Amazon Product Advertising API on: 2022-11-25

FAQ’s About Lawn Scarifier and Lawn Dethatchers

Q. Do I need to rake up the thatch or can I let it break down?

A. You are going to want to rake it up. Any nutrients that were in the thatch have long been removed. Raking the grass thatch up or using a collection bag to gather it will keep it from reattaching to the ground again.

Q. When can’t I use a lawn scarifier or dethatcher?

A. I’ve given some general guidelines for using both devices, but the only time you really can’t use both is if you’ve seeded your lawn within the last 12 to 15 months. Lawns seeded during this time do not have the root strength to handle even a light thatch removal. You probably don’t have much thatch at this time anyways.

Q. How should I prep my lawn to use a scarifier or detacher?

A. You will always want to mow your lawn before using a lawn scarifier or dethatcher. Mowing and manual raking will cut down on the length of grass the scarifier needs to dig through to get to the lawn thatch that has developed on the ground.

Q. Can you overdo dethatching?

A. Absolutely! If you start to notice green grass or roots coming up, stop! You’re overdoing it. You are always better off stopping a little short than going too far. You also want to ensure your machine’s blades don’t cut too deep.

Q. Do you prefer the lawn scarifier or lawn dethatcher?

A. If we are being completely honest, I haven’t used a dethatcher in several years! 
I scarify my lawn lightly in the late spring and then again in early autumn and have never needed to dethatch. Doing it twice a year cuts a lot of the labor out of the scarifying process as well.

Q. Can I overseed after scarifying or dethatching?

A. Yes! This is actually a great time to overseed and add some fresh grass seed to your lawn, especially if it looks a little worn out. 
Spread the seed evenly over your entire lawn or worn areas. You’ll want to cover it with fine sand or compost after to protect it while they start growing.

Q. Where can I buy scarifying or dethatching tools?

A. You can buy either machine at a garden supply store or online. They come in a variety of manual and powered options that will fit almost any budget. Check out dethatcher options on Amazon.

Q. Is it worth buying a lawn scarifier?

A. My personal opinion is yes, especially if you have a small lawn space. Scarifiers can be used not only to dig up thatch and dead grass, but you can also use it to aerate the soil.  With that being said, if you don’t have a lot of storage space, it may not be worth taking up space if you are only going to use it once or twice a year. In this case, you can also look at renting. 

Q. What should I do with the debris after I’ve collected it?

A. This broken-down matter is great to add to a compost bin to be used later as a top dressing, garden soil, or to fill your flower boxes. Make sure you let it completely break down before using it. My advice is any time you have extra plant material, try to use it.

Q. Do you have any other recommendations?

A. I’m all for exercise and a healthier lifestyle, but I recommend buying or renting a power lawn scarifier with a bag to collect the thatch. I have a pretty large lawn space that I have to take care of and I can’t imagine doing this work manually. This would be a tough job for anyone!

I also recommend ensuring your lawn has at least a little moisture before scarifying or dethatching. Scarifying and dethatching a dry lawn can be very difficult as these tools do not do well in hard, dry soil.

Here’s an informative video about Scarifier vs. Dethatcher:

Are Electric Dethatchers and Scarifiers The Same Thing

Final Thoughts

Whether you choose to scarify your lawn or simply dethatch it, you’ll help improve the soil of your lawn while promoting healthy lawn growth. These tools are something that most people can operate and can provide, and most homeowners find they are well worth the money they spend renting or purchasing them. If you want to impress your family and friends with your lawn next summer, consider adding dethatching or scarifying to your lawn care routine. You’ll be glad that you did.