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If your lawn is heavily compacted or has an abundance of thatch (a tough layer made up of stems, roots, and other natural materials that haven’t decomposed yet), it could be hindering the growth and health of your grass. Aeration is a lawn care practice that’s designed to alleviate these issues by creating holes in the lawn turf, helping air, water, and fertilizer to better penetrate the ground. In general, fall is the best time to aerate your lawn, but it can also be done in the late spring if the ground is heavily compacted.
If you think your lawn could benefit from aeration, there are several styles of lawn aerators you can choose from, ranging from pull-behind machines that attach to your lawn tractor to liquid formulas that break down soil.
Here, the best lawn aerators you can buy for a happy, healthy lawn.
Best Overall: Agri-Fab 48-Inch Tow Plug Aerator
Most experts recommend core aeration for heavily compacted lawns, as this method actually removes plugs of soil from the ground instead of simply poking holes, which can further compact the dirt. One of the best products for this task is the Agri-Fab 48-inch Plug Lawn Aerator, a pull-behind model that will make quick work of even the largest yards.
The aerator is 48 inches wide with 32 galvanized knives, and it can support up to 140 pounds in its weight tray. Extra weight can be added to the weight tray to increase the amount of penetration of an aerator's plugs or blades.
This tool has a universal hitch that will connect to any brand of lawn tractor, and it’s crafted from heavy-gauge steel for superior durability. It has a cantilever handle for easy raising and lowering, and the flat-free tires ensure minimal maintenance is required.
Best Machine: Sun Joe 12.6-in Spike Lawn Aerator
If you don’t have a lawn tractor to tow a pull-behind aerator, you can get a stand-alone model like the Sun Joe Spike Lawn Aerator. This compact machine looks similar to a push mower, but it’s equipped with adjustable steel tines that help to scarify or dethatch your lawn. Keep in mind that this aerator is only 13-inches wide, though, so it’s best for small to mid-sized yards.
The electric Sun Joe Spike Lawn Aerator has a 12-amp motor, and it starts up with the push of a button and requires minimal maintenance. You can tailor its raking depth with a five-position adjustment, and its steel tines are ideal for cutting grass roots and breaking up thatch. It even comes with a removable collection bag for easy cleanup, and its results are comparable to much more expensive models.
Best Manual: Yard Butler Lawn Coring Aerator
For those with small yards, you can save quite a bit of money by purchasing a manual yard aeration tool, and the Yard Butler Lawn Coring Aerator is a top-rated model, thanks to its ability to pull 0.5-inch plugs out of your lawn, helping to reduce soil compaction and thatch.
This tool is simple, but effective. It features a cushioned handle grip, as well as a foot bar to help you push it down into the ground, and with every push, it pulls out two plugs that are 3-½ inches long. While it does take some work on your part, using this aerator is relatively easy to get the hang of, but you may want to wet down your lawn first for maximum efficiency.
Best Pull-Behind: Brinly-Hardy PA-40BH Tow Behind Plug Aerator
Pull-behind aerators make quick work of larger lawns, and this Brinly-Hardy model is a worthwhile investment for homeowners who prioritize lawn care. The tow-behind aerator has a universal hitch that hooks up to lawn tractors or even ATVs, and its 40-inch wide frame boasts 24 steel tines that penetrate the ground and pull up 3-inch soil plugs.
This lawn aerator is made from heavy-duty steel, and it has a fully-enclosed weight tray that can support up to 150 pounds of extra weight—useful for treating heavily compacted soil or increasing penetration depth. It can be used on uneven terrain thanks to its independently rotating tine sections, and it’s easy to maintain thanks to its flat-free tires and individually serviceable tines.
Best Spike: Agri-Fab 40-in Spike Lawn Aerator
Spike aeration is a bit different than plug or core aeration. Products like the Agri-Fab Spike Lawn Aerator simply create holes in the ground using their tines, and they don’t pull out plugs of soil. On one hand, this saves you the hassle of cleaning up plugs from your yard, but it also isn’t as effective on heavily compacted lawns.
The Agri-Fab Spike Lawn Aerator is great for regular lawn maintenance and dethatching, as its star-shaped tines can penetrate up to 2-½ inches into the ground. The pull-behind design attaches to any lawn tractor, and there are 10 spike discs across the 40-inch frame. Plus, the unit has an easy-to-use lever to lower the tines, as well as flat-free tires. The unit is fairly light, so to get the most effective aeration, you may need to add some weight onto the weight tray, which can hold up to 100 pounds.
Best Liquid: Simple Lawn Solutions Liquid Aerating Soil Loosener
Most people opt for mechanical aerators, but there are also chemical solutions that can help break up compacted soil. The Simple Lawn Solutions Liquid Aerating Soil Loosener helps to break up soil colloids, loosen clay and dirt, and enhance soil structure, and the 32-ounce bottle can be used to treat up to 32,000 square feet of lawn.
This liquid aerator uses non-toxic ammonium lauryl sulfate as its main ingredient, and it should be applied about a month before planting new grass seed. A little bit goes a long way, making it a worthwhile alternative in both time and money to a mechanical aerator.
Best for Shoes: Ohuhu Lawn Aerator Shoes with Hook & Loop Straps
You can get your daily workout while aerating your lawn with the help of these Ohuhu Lawn Aerator Shoes. The unique product attaches to the bottom of any pair of shoes, and you can simply walk around your yard to poke 2-inch holes in the soil. The one-size-fits-all design attaches to your feet with velcro straps, making them easy to put on, and there are 13 stainless steel spikes on each shoe. Though it may take a bit to get used to walking in these shoes, it’s a great workout and surprisingly effective once you get the hang of it.
Best Spreader Combo: Brinly-Hardy 40 in. Tow-Behind Combination Aerator-Spreader
You can aerate and fertilize your lawn all at once with the Brinly-Hardy 40 in. Tow-Behind Combination Aerator-Spreader. This spike aerator features star-shaped tines to penetrate your lawn up to 2 inches, and it can simultaneously spread seed, lime, or fertilizer directly into the freshly-poked holes.
This aerator-spreader can be assembled in under a half hour, and it features a durable steel frame and hopper, which can support up to 100 pounds. It has a flow-control feature to minimize waste of whatever material you’re spreading, and can help you save time if you want to reseed and aerator your lawn at the same time.
Our best overall pick for heavily compacted lawns is the Agri-Fab 48-inch Plug Lawn Aerator (view at Amazon), which has three different rotating knife sections to cover maximum ground (even while turning). If you're looking for lighter dethatching, the Agri-Fab Spike Lawn Aerator (view at Home Depot) is a good alternative.
Why Trust The Spruce?
This round-up was written by Camryn Rabideau, a Rhode Island-based writer who has been contributing home and gardening content to The Spruce since 2017. As someone who grew up on a 70-acre farm, she’s no stranger to lawn care, and has written extensively on lawn mowers, weed killers, edge trimmers, and more.