Power Rake vs Dethatcher Which Should You Use?

There’s a big secret to achieving a lush, green lawn, which landscape professionals know, but most homeowners have no clue about. It’s called overseeding — the process of spreading grass seed across your existing lawn.

Even though planting new grass seed is a straightforward process, there are few things you need to make sure to take care of to get the job done right, most importantly preparing the area by mowing and thatching.

Thatch is a layer of dead matted grass, roots, stems, and clippings that get caught up between the roots and grass. If not removed, thatch can prevent new grass seeds from germinating, which defeats the purpose overseeding.

There are several ways to identify thatch including brown spots caused by lack of water owing to the presence of a thatch layer, and spongy soil. Getting rid of thatch isn’t as easy as going over your lawn with a lawnmower, but you will have to use one of two specialized tools — a dethatcher or a power rake depending on the state of your thatch problem.

Dethatchers vs Power Rakes 

Many homeowners believe that dethatchers and powers rakes are the same tool, with different names. And even though they are in fact essentially the same thing, they are designed to serve different purposes, they both remove a different amount of thatch.

What is a Dethatcher?

A dethatcher is a basically a less-aggressive way of removing thatch from your lawn. This lawn maintenance tool is generally smaller in size compared to power rakes, and some models attach directly to a mower or garden tractor.

power rake vs dethatcher can be a tricky problem
Outdoor shot of garden equipment

Types of Dethatchers

A dethatcher is equipped with spring tines, which comb across the grass, and pull up less than half an inch of thatch up to the surface of the lawn. There are three common types of these tools to choose from — manual, tow-behind, and powered.

Manual models are highly affordable, and showcase a simple design that is similar to an ordinary garden or leaf rake. Using a manual dethatcher is easy, and is an ideal choice for hard to reach areas that are inaccessible with a power dethatcher or tow-behind dethatcher.

But on the downside, manual dethatchers do require a considerably high amount of physical effort to operate, making them suitable for smaller lawn real estate. Tow-behind dethatchers are easier to operate than manual models, given that they attach to a tractor or riding lawn mower, so there’s no physical effort involved.

Further, tow-behind dethatchers can cover wide areas within a short period of time, but aren’t the best choice for reaching tight spaces. So, if you want to remove thatch from a smaller area, a manual dethatcher is an ideal choice, whereas if you have large patches of thatch spread across a wider area, a tow-behind dethatcher is perhaps your best bet.

Powered dethatchers look similar to lawn mowers, and are an ideal choice for revitalizing small to medium size lawns. They are often confused for power rakes, most notably because they are powered by robust motors.

But the biggest difference between the two is that a powered dethatcher uses spring tines, whereas power rakes use blades to remove large amounts of debris from your lawn. The Sun Joe AJ801E 13 is a great example of a powered dethatcher. It is powered by a class leading 13-amp motor, and features Air Boost technology for optimal thatch pickup.

Sun Joe AJ801E 13 in. 12 Amp Electric Scarifier + Lawn Dethatcher w/Collection Bag, Green

What is a Power Rake?

Power raking, just as the name would suggest is the process of dethatching your lawn using a larger, powered push mower type machine. It is a more aggressive approach to removing thatch from your lawn, and a great choice for lawns plagued with thatch.

Power rakes are in essence dethatching machines that are designed to remove 2 ½ – 4 times more debris than a dethatcher. They are fitted with blades, which can be adjusted to the correct height to only cut and lift the thatch, without damaging the healthy grass and grass roots.

As mentioned earlier, power raking is an aggressive process, and could destroy your lawn if not done properly. But this shouldn’t be a problem, if you know what you’re doing, and use the right tools.

There are several models of power rake on the market, and can remove thatch from your lawn in large swaths. These pieces of equipment are probably better suited to being owned by contractors or people with large areas of grass to maintain. If you will only use a power rake once a year for a small lawn, you will probably not get good value from owning such a machine.

Dethatcher vs. Power Rake – Which One is Right for You?

Both dethatchers and power rakes are geared towards removing the excess thatch layer and other debris from your lawn. However, a dethatcher is a great choice for removing a thin layer of thatch, whereas power rakes are more effective at removing a thick layer of thatch from the top of the soil.

Dethatching is a light process, and power raking is a more aggressive way to getting rid of thatch. A regular dethatcher is fitted with spring tines that dislodge the layer of thatch, while power rakes are fitted with blades complete with rotating flails that dig up thick layers of old grass clippings and debris from your lawn.

If you have a regular lawn mower, you will very likely be able to find a special blade called a dethatching blade which fits onto your mower in place of the cutting blade, effectively turning your grass cutting machine into a dethatcher at a fraction of the cost of a complete new toy.

Final Thoughts

Now that you know the difference between a dethatcher and a power rake, you’re probably wondering which tool is right for you. First, it is important to use any one of the two tools if you notice dead thatch in your lawn that is preventing it from breathing, and good grass from flourishing.

The more often you mulch your lawn or the thicker your lawn is, you will need to power rake or use a dethatcher at some point to remove the old debris. Use a dethatcher if you have a thin layer of thatch or as a preventive measure to avoid thatch altogether.

If you have a heavily thatched lawn, and haven’t done any dethatch removal in a couple years, then it may be time for dethatching. Power raking is a recommended way of fixing a serious thatch problem, but it’s worth mentioning that power raking cannot be done repeatedly, as it may completely clean out your lawn.

For a lawn that’s gotten hard, and/or has a lot of bare spots, and is out of control, aerating your lawn may be a better option. And if you’re still undecided about what you need, it is a good idea to speak to a lawn care professional.

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