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The Lawn Review: Home » What Is Dethatching? How-to and Product Guide (2023)

What Is Dethatching? How-to and Product Guide (2023)

Dethatching is one of those things I had never heard of before I owned a home.

In fact, I didn’t even know what thatch was.

But once my lawn went from green to yellow after a few years of the same old fertilizer and aeration treatment, I started to get confused.

Why was I getting worse results after doing the same thing year after year?

That’s when I found out about dethatching – and more importantly – electric dethatchers.

They saved my lawn when they became a part of my lawn care routine in the fall.

You see, the Fall is a great time to turnover your lawn if you have cool season grass. And the same is true for the early Spring if you have warm season grass. 

Sounds complicated? It’s not.

Let’s get started:

Why we started this site

We started The Lawn Review out of frustration. We couldn’t find clarity around what type of products were actually good and reliable. All the fertilizers we tried didn’t work. We ended up with a dying lawn, wasted time, and wasted money.

So we started buying and reviewing lawn tools and figuring out which ones were the best. And now we’ve moved onto actually keeping that grass nice and healthy all year around. 

We’ve spent thousands of hours building this content for people just like you and me – normal people.

Lawn thatch: the silent killer

Lawn thatch is basically a bunch of old, dead grass and weeds that takes a while to decompose. The way that I realized I had too much thatch in my lawn was when I took my six month old daughter into the yard. She started clawing at the ground and pulling dead grass out of nowhere. 

lawn thatch
Thatch from our yard.

While she is an inexpensive dethatcher, there are child labor laws that prevent me from cutting her loose on the whole lawn (kidding).

Anyways, lawn thatch can essentially waterboard your lawn – blocking sunlight and nutrients from getting to the soil and choking your grass to death. 

In small quantities however, thatch can have insulator-type qualities. Think of it like you think of mulch. Mulch has great protective qualities for keeping weeds at bay. Too much mulch that isn’t replenished starts to decay and become harmful to surrounding plants. 

So…what should you do about it?

Dethatching explained

Dethatching is the removal of thatch from the top surface of your soil. When dethatchers remove thatch from the surface of your lawn, it opens up the lawn and allows it to breathe. 

I know you may think this doesn’t make a difference, but you would be surprised to see how much thatch comes out of your lawn.

Ever used one of those things that cleans out your ears? The amount of wax that comes out is crazy and changes you forever.

The same thing is true of dethatchers. Whenever I use one, it makes me feel like I have been holding my breath for years and finally get to breathe.

How to tell when it’s time to dethatch

Hopefully you won’t have to wait as long as I did to realize what was going on in the yard. It’s actually pretty easy to tell when you need to dethatch your lawn:

nice lawn
My neighbor DEFINITELY dethatched this year.
  1. You can wait and slowly watch your lawn die (not recommended)
  2. Your lawn retains water well after you think it should have evaporated
  3. You notice more weeds and/or mushrooms in your lawn
  4. The lawn is becoming unseasonably yellow
  5. Your lawn looks like it has male pattern baldness

If you’re not sure or are feeling paranoid, feel free to go out and dig a nice little cross section of your lawn. You’ll be able to see how deep the thatch goes. 

If you have a decent layer built up in your yard and you see more than a quarter inch or so on top of the soil, it is time to dethatch.

We wrote a great long post about the best time to aerate and overseed your lawn as well.

The difference between dethatching and aerating

Dethatching and aerating are commonly mixed-up lawn care processes. Both involve removing things from your lawn and you really do them in tandem.

But dethatchers are simply focused on the top layer of soil in your lawn. They are helpful to allow nutrients, sun and water reach the top of the soil, but are really skin-deep. Dethatchers do not get into the soil themselves.

aerating vs dethatching
Using a core aerator after dethatching.

On the other hand, aerators pull up chunks of soil that almost look like dog turds. This allows for the soil to open up, become less compact, and essentially mix together. The aeration process pulls plugs from the soil to the top of the lawn.

aerator plugs
Don’t freak out! These are soil plugs from aerating.

 Both are done around the same time of the year in this order.

  1. Scalp your lawn and get the grass super short, being sure to bag it.
  2. Dethatch your lawn thoroughly, being sure to get all the thatch off the surface
  3. Use a core aerator on your lawn to pull up plugs
  4. Overseed
  5. Water (2x/week for 50 minutes on each area)
  6. Enjoy!

Types of lawn dethatchers

The O.G. lawn dethatcher is a lawn dethatching rake. Which looks like a normal rake but is more intense. 

manual dethatcher rake
Not an ancient torture device, but a manual dethatcher.

This rake can help pull up all of the thatch and works well.

But it is a back destroyer. It’s like shoveling for snow except the snow is all ice and your shovel is made of plastic. 

You can make the process WAY faster, remove more thatch, and not be bed-ridden for the next week by using an electric dethatcher.

Electric dethatchers work by basically looking and operating like a push mower, but underneath there are small tines that dig up the thatch and bring it to the surface of your yard. Electric dethatchers are some of the most satisfying tools on the planet and are addictive.

Most electric dethatchers are corded electric tools, but newer battery-powered dethatchers are coming into the market. These aren’t super common tools right now, but I imagine most folks will have an electric dethatcher in the next few years.

Recommended electric lawn dethatchers

We at The Lawn Review have had the distinct pleasure of using lawn dethatchers ourselves. 

We’ve written extensively about the Sun Joe corded electric dethatcher and used it in our ultimate fall lawn care routine YouTube video

We also reviewed it in a single long-form YouTube video if you want to learn more.

Basically, the Sun Joe dethatcher is an affordable electric dethatcher that works really well. I believe they recently released a battery powered lawn dethatcher, which we haven’t used but are interested in trying.

electric dethatcher
The Sun Joe electric dethatcher we used.

You can find the corded Sun Joe dethatcher on Amazon as well as the new cordless Sun Joe dethatcher.

Greenworks also has a corded electric dethatcher. We liked this one as well, but didn’t love that it came without a collection bag. It is a great budget-friendly electric dethatcher, so I highly recommend it as well. You can get the Greenworks electric dethatcher on Amazon for a great price.

Greenworks dethatcher review
Greenworks electric dethatcher.

Frequently Asked Questions

We get these all the time from people considering dethatching their lawn. This will be an ongoing list collection, so if you have any questions, feel free to let us know.

What is lawn thatch?

Lawn thatch is a layer of dead and decomposing grass between your soil and grass blades. It is okay in small quantities but can also prevent your lawn from thriving.

What is lawn dethatching?

Lawn dethatching is the process of removing dead grass stuck to your soil in order for your lawn to receive better nutrients.

What’s the difference between dethatching and aerating?

Dethatching is the process of removing dead grass from your soil, whereas aerating pulls soil from the ground on top of your lawn. Both are important parts of your lawn care cycle.

What’s the difference between a dethatcher and a scarifier?

Dethatchers and scarifiers often work together to pull up thatch from your grass. Scarifiers are blades that cut up and loosen thatch while dethatchers physically pull it from the grass.

How often should I dethatch my lawn?

Totally depends on your environment. For folks that get a lot of snow, I recommend dethatching yearly to pull up all the grass that got killed underneath the snow.

For others in drier climates, once every few years might be enough. I know that I like to do it every year as part of my fall lawn care routine with cool season grass.

When is the best time to dethatch my lawn?

For those with cool season grass, early fall is the best time. For warm season grass, early spring.

What is better, aerating or dethatching?

Both are used in combination to prepare your lawn for overseeding.

nv-author-image

Alex is a lawn tool enthusiast who cut his teeth as a normal Joe lawn dad. After burning through expensive, fancy tools, Alex became dedicated to finding the best tools on the planet. He is now a leading expert on electric lawn tools, quoted in the Washington Post among other publications.