Power Rake vs Dethatcher: Differences & Similarities

Written by Mike Futia

Updated January 12, 2023

Struggling to keep your lawn under control? 

Wondering how to deal with that pesky layer of thatch

Read on and find out whether a power rake or dethatcher would be right for you when dethatching your lawn, as we delve into their differences and similarities below.

Power Rake vs Dethatcher: Differences And Similarities

Both a power rake and a dethatcher works to remove thick layers of thatch from your lawn, as dethatching has many benefits.

This thatch is made up of debris like lawn clippings, dead leaves, grass roots, and stems which builds up just above the layer of the soil. 

What Is Power Raking?

This can be somewhat confusing, because a power rake is technically a kind of dethatcher—it removes thatch, after all.

However, the mechanism a power rake uses to remove thatch is different to how a dethatcher does so. 

A power rake has a motor which drives a dethatching blade and uses a series of rotating flails to lift debris and remove it from your lawn. 

Because this is an aggressive tool to use, it’s important to know the best ways of operating it, and to be sure that you keep on top of your lawn care to allow the grass to recover after you power rake your lawn.

How To Use A Power Rake

  • Test to see that there’s more than half an inch of thatch covering your lawn. Take a sample out of the ground with a small spade or other tool, and check the thatch-depth
  • Put the deck of your power rake on the highest setting
  • Start the power rake up
  • Make one test pass to see how much thatch is being pulled up
  • Lower the deck one notch at a time until it’s picking up enough thatch
  • Go over the entire lawn systematically, ensuring the whole area is covered
  • Ensure all the debris left by the power rake is cleared from your lawn
  • If necessary, go over the lawn a second time, working in the opposite direction

When To Use A Power Rake

Removing thatch with a power rake is best done in late winter or early spring, before the growing season sets in and the grass starts to green up. 

If you have cool-growing grass for your lawn, such as Kentucky bluegrass or perennial ryegrass, then power raking is best carried out at the beginning of fall.

How Often To Power Rake

As we will see below, using a power rake is a much more aggressive way to remove thatch than using a dethatcher. 

This means you should only use a power rake when the organic debris has built up to a level more than half an inch from the surface of the soil! 

Don’t use a power rake more than once a season unless you absolutely have to.

What Is A Dethatcher?

The difference between a power rake and a dethatcher is the way in which they remove the thatch.

A dethatcher uses spring-driven tines to break up the thatch in a way that is much gentler than a power rake. 

A dethatcher might be powered, but there are also manual dethatchers which look a lot more like a heavy-duty rake.

When To Use A Dethatcher

It’s definitely worth remembering to keep some thatch on your lawn, as it is beneficial to an extent. 

Up to a quarter inch of thatch will help to protect your lawn from extremely hot or cold temperatures, and combat soil erosion.

You should use a dethatcher when there is between a quarter of an inch to half an inch of thatch, or when you want to overseed your lawn.

How Often Should You Dethatch Your Lawn

Unless you experience a heavy weather event that puts a lot of debris on your lawn, you shouldn’t have to use a dethatcher more than once a year. Again, this should be in the early spring or in the fall. 

Although dethatching is less aggressive than power raking, it can still cause damage. Therefore, you shouldn’t rush just to use your dethatcher—always understand the pros and cons of dethatching.

Power Raking Vs Dethatching: Pros And Cons

Power Raking Pros

  • Removes the most thatch in the least amount of time
  • Can restore a severely distressed or neglected lawn
  • Breaks up deep or compacted thatch

Power Raking Cons

  • Can severely damage your lawn if not used properly
  • A more expensive tool to buy or rent
  • More labor-intensive, and often requires professional assistance

Dethatching Pros

  • Smaller and less expensive to buy
  • Can be used without power
  • Easier to operate for a homeowner

Dethatching Cons

  • Less efficient for large lawns
  • Won’t break up heavy thatch
  • Can still damage your lawn if used too often, or incorrectly

Other Factors To Consider 

Here are some other factors to think about when selecting a thatch-removal device for your lawn:

The Lawn Size

The size of your lawn will very much influence whether a power rake is a better fit for you than a dethatcher. 

Because dethatchers tend to be smaller and less efficient, they might not be the best tool to use if you have a lot of grass to cover. 

In the same way, if you only have a small lawn, you don’t need to bother with the hassle of a power rake!

Power Sources

A power rake is just that: Something that needs power! They’re almost all gas-powered, since the flails need the extra torque. 

On the other hand, dethatchers come with a variety of power sources: 

  • Manual dethatchers: With the appearance of a particularly aggressive rake with large tines, some have wheels attached to help you push it along the lawn.
  • Tow-along dethatchers have a similar construction to a manual dethatcher, but attach to the back of a mower so that you can mow your lawn and dethatch at the same time.
  • Electric or gas-powered dethatchers, which operate in a similar manner to a push-mower. 
  • If you're thinking about using a regular rake to dethatch, don't bother—they don't work! 

Auxiliary Equipment

For particularly large plots of land– or if you want to use your power rake for turf installation or seedbed preparation– you may want to consider one which comes as an extra component that attaches to a ride-on mower or tractor. 

These are professional products, however, and the average homeowner won’t have any need for them.

Dethatching Tips

Here are some other dethatching tips.

Power Rake vs Dethatcher: The Verdict 

There’s no objective “best tool” in the contest between a power rake vs dethatcher. 

Which one is best for your needs will depend on what you’re looking to use it for.

A power rake will remove heavy thatch and revive a lawn that is almost choked with debris. 

If you are looking to remove light thatch, have a small lawn, or don’t want another large machine to store, then a dethatcher is a great tool to keep your lawn looking its absolute best.

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Mike Futia

My name is Mike, and I'm the owner and founder of NerdLawn.com. My lawn care advice has been featured on Family Handyman, Home & Gardens, Gardening Etc., and Apartment Therapy. I love nothing more than helping my readers achieve their dream lawns. That's why I started NerdLawn.com, where I share all of my best tips and tricks for keeping a lawn healthy and well-maintained. You can read more about our mission on our About Page.

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