Scarifier VS Dethatcher: Is There Any Difference?

Every lawn keeper and homeowner loves to see a flourishing lawn when they start it out. Lawn owners would want to avoid lawn death by thatches. This is where dethatching comes into play. Scarifiers and dethatchers dig up the soil and remove thatch before it can choke your lawn. While it looks like these two tools do the same job, they are different. 

The scarifiers and dethatchers differ in how deep they reach into the soil. Scarifiers cut through and bring up larger soil chunks to aerate the soil properly, while dethatcher uses tines to remove thatch from the lawn. 

What is a scarifier?

A scarifier is a wheeled machine with vertical steel blades that cut into the soil and pull out thatch material from the soil’s surface. Scarifiers also perform the secondary function of soil aeration by cutting into the soil. 

Compact soil is not ideal for turfgrass growth. Scarifying lawn loosens the soil to allow water and air to penetrate the soil and support grass growth.

What is dethatching?

Dethatching is scouring a lawn using a tool with metal tines to get rid of thatch. The tool can be a simple hand rake or a dethatcher designed to be towed behind a riding lawnmower.

Excessive thatch buildup at the base of the grass shoots causes soil moisture problems. The thick thatch layer prevents water and fertilizer from reaching the soil. As a result, the turf shows signs of stress, such as the leaf blade browning and dying back. Dethatching reduces thatch to manageable levels or removes all the thatch for better grass growth. 

See Also: Pros and Cons of Dethatching?

Scarifier VS Dethatcher: -Key Differences

Is scarifying the same as dethatching?

While scarifying and dethatching are methods used to remove thatch from lawns, they’re not exactly the same. Scarifying digs deeper into the soil than dethatching. Scarification is more invasive than dethatching.

Note: While dethatching only involves thatch removal, scarifying involves thatch removal and soil aeration.

Dethatcher vs. scarifier differences; which is better?

Dethatchers and scarifiers perform the same role of excessive thatch removal. Scarifiers are better if you want better air circulation in the soil. Opt for a dethatcher if you want minimally invasive work on a small lawn.

Still, both tools don’t look alike. They differ based on when you should use them, their potential for turf damage, labor requirements, versatility, and cost.

Physical appearance

A dethatcher/dethatching rake comprises a handlebar with a series of parallel metal tines/ prongs attached to it. Comparatively, a scarifier comprises a spinning cylinder with large metal blades. 

When to use scarifier vs. dethatcher

A scarifier is best used to clear heavy thatch buildup that’s 1/2 inches or more. On the other hand, a dethatcher should be used if the amount of moss, dead grass, and other lawn debris is below ½ an inch.

Potential for turf damage

A scarifier is more likely to cause extensive injury to your turf than a dethatcher. Scarification can lead to considerable root damage if the depth setting makes the blades dig too deep into the soil.

This also results in a longer recovery time for turfgrass on scarified lawns compared to dethatched lawns. A dethatched lawn will recover quicker due to minimal invasion. By comparison, a scarified lawn has to grow new roots before you can see new top growth, resulting in a longer recovery time.

Labor requirements

The most common dethatcher is a handheld rake, which requires lots of energy and time, especially if you’re working in a large yard. Scarifiers, on the contrary, are motorized machines that allow users to work fast without using up too much energy.

Note: Not all dethatchers are slow. Tow-behind dethatching tools are just as fast as scarifiers.

Versatility of use

A scarifier is more versatile than a dethatcher. While the latter is only used to get rid of thatch, a scarifier doubles up as an aeration by hand tool. It loosens large soil clods and exposes hidden bacteria.

When should you scarify/ dethatch your lawn?

Most turf grasses can be dethatched from early spring, while scarification should not be done until mid-spring or early summer, depending on how long the turfgrass takes to establish.

Dethatching can be done earlier into the growing season compared to scarification. That’s because scarification has greater potential for root damage and can be catastrophic for young turfs where the roots aren’t well-established. 

You can also scarify your lawn in early fall since you’ll probably have heavy thatch accumulated over spring and summer. I’d advise you to use a scarifier if you have a high amount of thatch. Some turfgrass types, such as tall fescues and centipedes, are prone to thatching. Using a dethatcher will be inconvenient since you’ll need several passes over the lawn to remove the debris.

Read More: Dethatching Centipede Grass


It’s hard to differentiate scarifiers and dethatchers in terms of cost due to the wide variation in the design of dethatching tools. While a handheld rake is cheaper than your typical scarifier, an electric or gas-powered dethatcher — the types that resemble lawnmowers — should be approximately the same price as a scarifier.

Note: Some manufacturers like Rock & Rocker have combined dethatcher and scarifier.

Pros and cons

A dethatcher has the following advantages and disadvantages.

Dethatcher prosDethatcher cons
Gets rid of thatch for better air, nutrient, and water penetrationIt doesn’t aerate the soil like a scarifier.
Less invasive than a scarifierIt’s not the most ideal for very heavy thatch (above 0.75 inches)
It can be used earlier in the growing season while turfgrass is still young.
You can use it on small lawns

A scarifier has the following advantages and disadvantages.

Scarifier prosScarifier cons
Removes excess thatchNot suitable for use on young turf grass
Aerates the soilcan harm turf grassroots
Faster and more convenient than a handheld dethatcher
It can expose more bacteria

Which tool should you pick?

Your choice between a dethatcher and a scarifier should be based on what you’re looking to achieve. 

For instance, you should choose a scarifier if you want to dethatch the lawn and aerate the soil simultaneously. 

On the other hand, a dethatcher is the better option if you only want to dethatch the lawn. Unlike a scarifier, it won’t damage your turf while removing the thatch.

Additionally, a dethatching rake is more convenient than scarifiers that don’t have collection bins. Such scarifiers only fling the lawn debris closer to the surface of the lawn, forcing you to use a rake later to remove the loosened thatch.

Does scarifying remove thatch?

Scarifying removes thatch from lawns. However, the tools used are more invasive. Still, removing thatch by scarifying is more beneficial, especially when the soil is heavily compacted and you want to aerate the soil, too. 

Scarification removes thatch by pulling it out of the base of the shoots and into a collecting bag or pulling it upwards for easier removal. 


North Carolina State University Cooperative Extension: Dealing With Thatch in the Lawn

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