Power Rake vs Dethatcher – Which One Do You Need?

In our seemingly never-ending quest to achieve the perfect lawn, there’s always another obstacle to overcome.

And a layer of life-choking thatch can be a significant one.

But how do you remove it – I hear you ask?

Well, you have two main options, and in this article we take a look at the power rake vs dethatcher debate.

What are the differences? Are they not just the same thing? How do you use them? Are you as confused as I am?

Read on to find out.

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Power Rake or Dethatcher – In a Few Words

Here, especially for anyone who is in a rush with no time to read a full article, is the answer to our conundrum.

A power rake is essentially a more heavy-duty version of a dethatcher.

They both do exactly the same thing.

That’s it in a nutshell – but if you want to know more, including some extra tips and tricks for using them – then make sure you stay tuned.

What is Thatch?

In order to understand why you might need one of these tools, we should examine why they’re in existence in the first place.

Thatch is the name given to the mix of dead and living material that builds up in layers between the soil surface and grass blades in a lawn.

If you were to use soil sample probes (which are very useful by the way – particularly for seeing how much moisture is reaching into the root system), you would see the thatch layer sandwiched between the soil and grass.

orange rake on green lawn with thatch

This can choke the life out of your lawn, preventing sunlight, water, and other nutrients from penetrating the soil. Your lawn can look tired, withered, and dehydrated – and it might eventually die out as a result.

However, a moderate layer of thatch is actually beneficial to a lawn – and you shouldn’t just charge in with the most powerful machine available ripping it all away.

You can read about the whole process in more detail in my ultimate guide to dethatching, and check out this article if you want to know how to fix troublesome yellow patches on your lawn.

The Power Rake

In order to prevent a gung-ho approach that could potentially damage your lawn, let’s take a look at the differences between these two tools.

And this is where things can get a little confusing, as they are often mistakenly interchanged, and even many landscaping professionals believe them to be the same thing.

Here’s my two cents on the matter:

Power rakes might also be called dethatchers, but a dethatcher isn’t a power rake.

Someone give me a Nobel Prize already.

As mentioned, a power rake is essentially a more heavy-duty version of a dethatcher. It’s a larger, heavier, gas-powered machine that is designed to strip away material from lawns with a more serious thatch problem.

This Billy Goat 20-inch machine is a fine example, backed with a 160 cc Honda engine no less. It certainly puts the “power” into power rake, and you can easily destroy thick thatch with this beast.

You can fully adjust the height to suit the problem, and even switch out the tines depending on your needs.

As you can tell, it works by using a gas-powered engine to rapidly spin heavy-duty tines which scrape lawn debris up with each pass.

But the fact that they’re very expensive and more commonly used by landscape professionals rather than homeowners, means that you must have a serious thatch problem if you’re thinking of buying one.

And you can always rent one if need be, anyway.

The Dethatcher

Dethatchers are commonly more compact, lightweight machines that are much more accessible for the homeowner.

And here’s what might really confuse you – they’re also known as scarifiers. Why we can’t all be singing from the same hymn sheet I’ll never know?!

lawn dethatcher closeup

Just doing a quick search online, you’ll see the market is full of such units.

But I can save you the trouble, if you head over to check out this article on the best dethatchers on the market.

One of the most popular and successful models, however, is this version from Greenworks. It has received glowing reviews from just about anyone who has used it – including lawn care professionals, and YouTube channel gardening gurus.

I fully plan on picking one up at some point soon, when I’m allowed to purchase more power tools…

Dethatchers are usually corded electric models, but you can get battery-powered units, too.

They are also available as tow-behind tools for lawn tractors if you have a larger property – but more of that in a moment.

Dethatchers work exactly the same way as a power rake – with tines that dig into the turf and lift unwanted material and debris.

They just do it less aggressively, and with less power, which makes them more suitable for light work – and/or for most casual weekend gardeners and residential homeowners.

How to Use a Power Rake/Dethatcher

If you do decide to purchase a power rake – or if you go down the more common rental route (Home Depot currently offers one for $50 for four hours at the time of publishing this article), you’ll still need to know how to use it. 

The same can be said for dethatchers – as the actual operation process is much the same.

Thankfully, it’s not rocket science, and the following bite-sized guide covers both walk-behind machines to get you started ASAP.

Quick tip: First, you should make sure your lawn isn’t bone dry, and has been covered with at least one inch of water the day before you dethatch.

Make sure your yard is clear of anything that might get damaged – such as irrigation systems, toys, and children. Mark utility lines or other immovable hazards with highlighting flags.

If the deck height can be set on the machine, make sure it’s at the right setting for your lawn/level of thatch.

Do a test pass in a small area to see how much thatch (or lawn) you’re removing and adjust accordingly.

person working on lawn dethatching

When you’re ready, make passes over the lawn as you would with a mower – ensuring you overlap each pass to cover the whole area.

Your lawn will look like it’s having a very bad hair day – so take a good garden rake and clean up the material once you’re done.

That’s it! But if you want to know more and learn some extra tips and tricks, I’ve covered everything in this full lawn dethatching guide.

Power Rake Vs Pull Behind Dethatcher

So, what about tow-behind dethatchers that you attach to your lawn tractor if you have a larger area to cover? How do they match up against a power rake?

Well, when it comes to power, the clue is in the name. A power rake will be much more efficient at removing thatch than simply dragging tines over the surface.

But that’s just not practical if you have acres of lawn that needs treatment, so a good-quality tow behind version is the ideal solution.

This model from John Deere is a great example. It’s called the “thatchaerator,” claiming to dethatch and aerate your lawn with an all-in-one tool.

John Deere Tow-Behind Thatcherator

Make a few passes with that with one of these awesome garden tractors, and you’ll be done in no time.

The Benefits of Dethatching

As if you needed any further encouragement to dethatch your lawn, there are several, awesome benefits to ridding your long-suffering grass of too much thatch.

Especially if you live in warmer regions, or when experiencing a particularly long, hot, dry spell. The heat of summer can really stress out our lawns.

Quick tip: Dethatching allows nutrients and much-needed moisture to get down into the root system, and even after one pass with any of the machines mentioned in this article, and you’ll notice a big difference.

Check out this post for a more in-depth guide to the benefits of dethatching, and you can go here if you want to know more about how to care for your lawn after winter.

Post Dethatch

So, what happens now? Well, you can leave it there, but now is an excellent time to aerate your lawn, as a tightly compacted soil can have the same damaging effect that thatch does.

The two actually go hand-in-hand to make a perfect storm of troubles for the life of healthy green grass.

lawn aerating with spikes

Read this article on the differences between aerating and dethatching, and head on over to this piece for a full lawn aeration guide when you’re ready to take the next step.

But you’re more than welcome to simply put your feet up and relax, while your lawn finally enjoys the sunlight, oxygen, and water it’s been denied for so long.

FAQs

Is a power rake and dethatcher the same thing?

They’re very similar, and some would consider interchangeable – but there is one key difference between a power rake and a dethatcher.

And that’s power.

I might even go so far as to say that if it’s a gas-powered machine it’s a power rake – and anything else is a dethatcher. Let me know in the comments what you think makes them different – if anything at all.

Do I need a dethatcher?

No – you don’t need a dethatcher. In fact, most US homeowners probably don’t have one – and may have never even heard of it. But for dedicated lawn-care enthusiasts and professionals, it’s a household name.

You can always use a metal-tined garden rake to achieve the same effect – but be warned – you need to be physically fit to tackle even on the smallest plot of land.

I honestly wish someone told me that before I attempted it…

Is it good to power rake your lawn?

If and when required – yes. But you shouldn’t overdo it – as too much can damage the surface, and you could end up tearing out huge chunks of turf.

When in doubt, a light raking can be very effective – especially if you don’t have a lot of thatch, or your lawn is particularly sensitive.

How often should I dethatch my lawn?

It depends on how much thatch has built up. Don’t do it on a set schedule – do it when it needs it.

Having said that, most professionals advocate dethatching one or two times a year – in the spring – after the snows have gone, and in the fall, when the temperatures have dropped off and your lawn is suitably recovered.

How can I tell if I need to dethatch my lawn?

Simple – go out into your yard and check the lawn surface – if you have more than 0.75-1 – inch of thatch, then your lawn will benefit from a raking.

Remember – some thatch is good – especially as it helps protect the topsoil and grass from the hot sun – or areas of heavy traffic – so it’s important we don’t remove it all.

Does power raking damage a lawn?

Yes, it can do – if the depth has been set incorrectly, or if there is no material to pick up. Only power rake your lawn when it needs it – and not as a regular practice.

It’s also a good idea to make a short test pass first when using a power rake – just to make sure your settings are in order, and there is actually material to remove.

Can you use a regular rake to dethatch?

Yes, of course. I highly recommend the Groundskeeper II. Just be aware it’s backbreaking for even moderately-sized plots of land.

Summary

Power rake vs dethatcher – which one comes out on top?

Given that they both do pretty much the same thing, this is something of a dead rubber as a contest.

A power rake offers more power for tougher thatch – simple.

Drop me a comment below if you have any tips or advice on dethatching – or if you can think of a new name for this tool just to confuse folks even more.

Happy dethatching, y’all!

About the Author: Andy Gibson

My name's Gibson. Andy Gibson. I like to think of myself as the Bond of the backyard, that is if yard work ever became sexy. I write about everything about indoor and outdoor gardening and the dread-it-but-still-need-to-do-it chores around the yard, like cleaning out the gutter guards.