The Best Lawn Aerators for Healthier Grass

To find the best lawn aerator for your lawn-care needs and budget, start with our top tips and recommendations.

Best Overall

Brinly-Hardy 40-Inch Tow-Behind Plug Aerator on a white background

Brinly-Hardy 40-Inch Tow-Behind Plug Aerator

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Best Bang for the Buck

Corona YardBreather Aerator on a white background

Corona YardBreather Aerator

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Upgrade Pick

John Deere 48-Inch Tow-Behind Plug Aerator on a white background

John Deere 48-Inch Tow-Behind Plug Aerator

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Maintaining a lawn is demanding—there’s no question about it—but a lawn aerator may be a great help. Grass requires regular watering, mowing, and weeding to stay verdant and lush. If bare patches persist despite your best efforts, compacted soil is the likely culprit. Compaction is when the space between soil particles becomes so tight that air, water, and nutrients can no longer circulate around the roots. 

Soil compaction often occurs in lawns with heavy clay soil that receive a lot of foot or wheeled traffic. Drainage suffers, and a thick thatch layer—a mix of dead stems, leaves, and roots—may develop between the soil and the grass. A yearly pass with a lawn aerator opens space for air and water to reach your lawn’s roots. This could be the key that unlocks the gate to greener pastures. 

We also spoke to Taylor Olberding, co-founder of Heroes Lawn Care, a nationwide lawn maintenance company, who shared his expert advice with us. We then scoured the market to present a list of top picks in a variety of categories. After reviewing the specifications, features, and customer reviews for each of the products below, we tested them in our own backyard. Read on to learn more about our shopping considerations, how each aerator performed, and why we believe these are some of the best lawn aerators available.

  1. BEST OVERALL: Brinly-Hardy 40-Inch Tow-Behind Plug Aerator
  2. BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: Corona YardBreather Aerator
  3. UPGRADE PICK: John Deere 48-Inch Tow-Behind Plug Aerator
  4. BEST MANUAL: Yard Butler Manual Lawn Coring Aerator
  5. BEST HEAVY-DUTY: Agri-Fab 48-Inch Plug Aerator
  6. BEST WALK-BEHIND: Ryan Lawnaire IV Walk Behind Aerator
  7. BEST LIQUID: Covington Naturals Liquid Lawn Aerator
The Best Lawn Aerator Options
Photo: Debbie Wolfe for Bob Vila

How We Tested the Best Lawn Aerators

Our lawn aerator tests consisted of 2 days of product assembly, application, measurement, and observation. We marked out 5,000 square feet of lawn for each of the tow-behind and walk-behind models. For the shoes and handheld models, we marked out 100-square-foot test plots. The liquid lawn aerator required an A/B test of two identical 500-square-foot plots to compare the treated area with a nontreated area, with a monthlong care and observation period.

After assembly, we calculated the number of spikes per square foot for every model by dividing the area covered with one full turn of the reel assembly (width times circumference in inches, divided by 144) by the total number of aerating spikes. Aerators with fewer spikes per square foot penetrated deeper with less weight but required more passes for equal effect. Conversely, models with a higher number of spikes per square foot required more weight for equal penetration, but aerated thoroughly in a single pass.

We prepared the lawn for the aerator tests by mowing a notch lower than the normal maintenance height, then watered deeply to promote deep spike penetration. After 24 hours, we tested each aerator, adding a moderate amount of weight to the tow-behind models. After aerating, we randomly collected 50 extracted plugs from each plug aerator to calculate their average penetration depths. Our favorite models were plug aerators that penetrated at least 2.5 inches on average, and pulled at least 2.25 plugs per square foot.

Testing Stats
Products tested9
Hours spent testing48
Tests performed6
Price range$30 to $3,000

Who Should Aerate Their Lawn

Before you run out and poke holes in your lawn, understand that not all lawns require aeration. But if one of the following scenarios applies to your lawn, you should consider it. Otherwise, let the green be.

  • For newly constructed homes, aeration is almost always a good idea. Between the work crew’s trucks and heavy equipment passing over the soil, there’s a good chance you need to aerate your lawn.
  • Is your lawn the neighborhood ball field? When a yard sees a lot of use, such as children, parties, pets, and other foot traffic, you should think about lawn aeration.
  • For lawns built up from sod, a yard aerator can be a necessity. Until the sod can take root and make a connection to the rough soil underneath, it’s just a grass carpet sitting on top of the soil. Lawn aeration promotes that connection. 

“Yearly aeration is recommended in cool season lawns, specifically in the fall. Aerate more frequently if there is poor water absorption or a lot of compaction in the lawn.”


Your soil may not be breathing because there’s a thick layer of thatch on top. Thatch is made up of living and dead grass stems and roots that form at the soil surface, usually in response to poor drainage. In that case, a lawn dethatcher will help to remove the thatch layer. These tools simply scrape and remove the thatch without digging into the surface. After removing the thatch, aerate the lawn to repair the soil structure.

The Best Lawn Aerator Options
Photo: Debbie Wolfe for Bob Vila

Should You Buy or Rent a Lawn Aerator?

It doesn’t always make good financial sense to purchase lawn equipment that you will rarely need. In fact, many homeowners grow gorgeous lawns without aerating. If you are new to your home and not sure whether aerating will be a one-time task or a recurring chore, your best bet might be to borrow or rent a lawn aerator. Most tool rental companies offer both walk-behind and towable lawn aerators for rent by the hour, half day, full day, or week.

On the other hand, some homeowners have problem areas that need yearly aerating. For them, dealing with the hassle of coordinating a rental pickup and return every year, and paying the fee over and over, makes owning an aerator much more cost-effective. 

Aeration Methods

Depending on the method of aeration that’s best for your lawn, you may use one of two types of tools: a spike or a plug (also called a “core”).

Plug Aerators

A lawn plug aerator penetrates the lawn with hollow tines that remove plugs of soil. Home landscapers can either leave these plugs in place to decompose or collect them with a rake or lawn mower.  

Candidates for plug aeration include lawns where:

  • Water pools in the grass or runs off onto sidewalks after a rainfall.
  • Soil is difficult to dig into.
  • Frequent foot traffic has hardened the soil. 

Whether your lawn has all or just one of these indicators, it will benefit from a plug aerator. The holes create spaces in the soil that allow roots to expand, water to soak in deeper, and air to circulate. The result is a healthy root system below and a lush lawn above.

Spike Aerators

Spike aerators don’t remove soil from the yard. Instead, they puncture the soil with long spikes and allow air and water to reach the roots. They typically work well on less compacted soil and sod. They might not do the trick for dense soil.Spike aerators tend to work best with looser soil, especially if the goal is to increase root exposure to fertilizer or create spaces for grass seed to settle without running off the soil’s surface. We do not recommend using a spike aerator to repair compacted soil. Although they may appear to reduce lawn stress in the short term, repeated use of a spike aerator for a few successive seasons can actually exacerbate soil compaction.

The Best Lawn Aerator Options
Photo: Debbie Wolfe for Bob Vila

Our Top Picks

Whether you’re looking for a handheld aerator to work a few square feet beneath the kids’ playset or a large tow-behind model to aerate several acres, we’ve got you covered. Read on to find out more about these tools, how they performed in our tests, and which one may be the best lawn aerator to care for your property.

Best Overall

Brinly-Hardy 40-Inch Tow-Behind Plug Aerator

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Our Ratings: Ease of Use 4.4/5; Effectiveness 4/5; Durability 4/5; Value 4.3/5

Product Specs

  • Type: Tow-behind
  • Spike length: 3 inches
  • Spikes per square foot: 2.5
  • Weight tray included: Yes


  • All-steel design is durable and built to last
  • Weight tray can support up to 150 pounds
  • Universal hitch compatible with most garden vehicles
  • Durable flat-free wheels can handle most terrains


  • Assembly required (about 1.5 hours)
  • Low number of spikes per square foot
  • Cannot operate the transport lever from the driver’s seat

DIYers who take lawn care seriously should consider Brinly-Hardy’s 40-inch tow-behind plug aerator. It features 24 individual 3-inch heat-treated plugs, all-steel construction, and a weight tray that can handle up to 150 pounds. All of these factors add up to a durable tool that provides optimal aeration. 

This model features a universal hitch that can attach to ATVs, UTVs, and lawn tractors. The transport lever allows landscapers to disengage the knives to pull the aerator across sidewalks and driveways. “No-flat” tires enhance the unit’s overall durability.

In our tests, the Brinly-Hardy lawn aerator proved to be a top contender for routine maintenance applications. It was also the lowest-priced tow-behind plug aerator we tested. In average conditions with 120 pounds of weight added, it penetrated to an average of 2.75 inches deep. The steel coring spikes are strong but not sharpened, and they are rolled to a “C” shape instead of a complete circular plug shape, which helps with cleanout but might hinder penetration somewhat. Because this aerator punches only 2.5 plugs per square foot, we had to make two or three passes with it for the best results. 

Get the Brinly-Hardy lawn aerator at The Home Depot or Walmart.

Best Bang for the Buck

Corona YardBreather Aerator

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Our Ratings: Ease of Use 4.5/5; Effectiveness 4/5; Durability 4/5; Value 4.3/5

Product Specs

  • Type: Handheld
  • Spike length: 3.5 inches
  • Spikes per square foot: 2
  • Weight tray included: N/A


  • Comfortable grip helps prevent user fatigue
  • Broad, slip-resistant step makes it easier to use
  • Sharp edges for easy plugging
  • This compact garden tool is easy to store


  • Only suitable for small areas; large areas would take a lot of work

Those with only a small patch of yard to aerate might want to consider an inexpensive, easy-to-store handheld aerator like the Corona YardBreather. The YardBreather measures 40 inches high, with plugging spikes spaced 8 inches apart, and it weighs a little more than 3.5 pounds. 

This rugged tool removes two 3.5-inch soil plugs at a time with a simple stepping motion. The tool ejects soil plugs from the top of the hollow spikes with each step. The footplate and plugging spikes are made of heat-treated steel for a long working life. Thick padded handles and a wide nonslip footplate eliminate stress points and reduce user fatigue. 

With a little practice, we were able to remove an average of 100 plugs per minute with the YardBreather. It worked more effectively in heavily compacted and dry soils than any of the tow-behind aerators we tested because the user’s entire weight bears down on just two spikes instead of six or eight spikes at a time. In average soil conditions, the spikes consistently penetrated to the full depth of 3.5 inches. Although it is not an ideal solution for even the smallest whole-yard treatment, this tool would make an excellent purchase for those who regularly deal with pet paths around the property border or a worn pathway from the house to the toolshed.

Get the Corona lawn aerator at Lowe’s or Tractor Supply Co.

Upgrade Pick

John Deere 48-Inch Tow-Behind Plug Aerator

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Our Ratings: Ease of Use 4.6/5; Effectiveness 5/5; Durability 5/5; Value 4/5

Product Specs

  • Type: Tow-behind
  • Spike length: 3 inches
  • Spikes per square foot: 4.24
  • Weight tray included: Yes


  • Closely spaced coring spikes great for compacted earth
  • Penetrates up to 3 inches even when making end turns
  • Pneumatic tires for better weight distribution on soft ground
  • Top-quality construction is a heavy-duty option


  • Cannot operate the travel lever from the driver’s seat
  • May be too large for some lawn tractors

John Deere’s 48-inch aerator makes quick work of aerating the lawn. It boasts 12 four-way plug assemblies on the spool for a total of 48 spikes pulling 4.24 plugs per square foot. The heavy-duty body weighs in at 101 pounds and holds up to 250 pounds of additional weight for a total of about 350 pounds of downward pressure. The heat-treated plugging spoons penetrate up to 3 inches. The universal drop-pin towing hitch is compatible with most lawn tractors and riding mowers. Unlike the other towable aerators in our lineup, this one rolls gently on pneumatic tires while in transport mode.

The John Deere tow-behind plug aerator may be priced a bit higher than the other models we tested, but as they say, you get what you pay for. This one is a major upgrade. In a side-by-side comparison with the similarly sized Agri-Fab 48-inch tow-behind plug aerator, John Deere stood out immediately in terms of both material quality and overall design. The John Deere weighs 9 pounds more than the Agri-Fab model (101 vs. 92 pounds), and it can hold 250 pounds of added weight compared to 140 pounds for Agri-Fab. Not only that, but with 4.24 plugs per square foot, the John Deere works about 50 percent more efficiently.

With 120 pounds of added weight, this aerator penetrated the soil an average of 2.5 inches. It continued to penetrate well even while making 180-degree end turns. We especially liked that this model rides on inflated tires that distribute the weight better on soft ground instead of causing ruts as hard wheels do. If we could have operated the transport lever from the driver’s seat, this would have been a nearly perfect implement. This aerator’s size and heavy-duty build make it an ideal choice for larger properties with lots of open lawn space.

Get the John Deere lawn aerator at The Home Depot, Green Part Store, or The Build Club.

Best Manual

Yard Butler Manual Lawn Coring Aerator

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Our Ratings: Ease of Use 4.3/5; Effectiveness 4/5; Durability 4/5; Value 4/5

Product Specs

  • Type: Handheld
  • Spike length: 3.5 inches
  • Spikes per square foot: 2
  • Weight tray included: N/A


  • Compact manual tool is ideal for small yards
  • All-steel build is a durable choice
  • Padded T-handle makes it more comfortable to use


  • Tool can clog easily with dirt and pebbles

DIY lawn-care experts know the value of a quality manual aerator. Whether it’s for a small yard or tight grass pathways, the Yard Butler manual lawn coring aerator is up to the task. With a durable all-steel one-piece construction, it’s strong enough to sink the 3.5-inch tines into tough, compacted soil while the wide footplate provides plenty of leverage.

The Yard Butler measures 37 inches high, so users can maintain a comfortable posture while they work. At just over 3.5 pounds, it’s also easy to lift with the padded T-shaped handles. 

While both are capable tools with nearly identical designs that easily remove two 3.5-inch soil plugs at a time, Yard Butler surpassed the YardBreather in a couple of key testing metrics. Their weights are nearly identical, at just over 3.5 pounds, but the Yard Butler is more compact: It is 0.25 inch thinner, 3.5 inches shorter, and the spikes are spaced 0.5 inch closer together. 

The shorter height made the Yard Butler easier to pull out of the soil when we were working with it, while the narrow spike spacing increased overall plug density for more thorough aeration. Interestingly, even with the 0.5-inch reduction in spike spacing, Yard Butler’s footplate is just 0.25 inch narrower than the competition (4.75 inches vs. 5 inches), so those of us with big feet could still use it. Although the competition offered a more comfortable handle and nonslip footplate, we preferred the sleek dimensions of the Yard Butler for both working comfort and storage.

Get the Yard Butler lawn aerator at Amazon or Walmart.

Best Heavy-Duty

Agri-Fab 48-Inch Tow Plug Aerator

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Our Ratings: Ease of Use 4/5; Effectiveness 4/5; Durability 4/5; Value 4/5

Product Specs 

  • Type: Tow-behind
  • Spike length: 3 inches
  • Spikes per square foot: 2.67
  • Weight tray included: Yes


  • Control the travel lever from the driver’s seat
  • Large powerful unit is ideal for large yards
  • 9.75-inch flat-free tires can handle most terrains
  • Universal hitch for a versatile usability


  • Assembly required (about 1.5 hours)
  • Low number of spikes per square foot

For large yards or those with extremely compacted soil, a heavy-duty aerator like this model from Agri-Fab might be the best bet. The 48-inch-wide path on this tow-behind plug aerator makes quicker work of expansive lawns. Heavy-gauge galvanized steel knives with 32 spikes get the job done.

A 175-pound weight tray pulls enough weight for some of the most stubborn soil. A pair of 9.75-inch flat-free tires supports travel over rough terrain, and a transportation lever lifts the knives clear of sidewalks and driveways. The universal hitch fits ATVs, UTVs, and lawn tractors as well. 

In our tests, the Agri-Fab 48-inch tow-behind plug aerator delivered stronger, more efficient penetration than the smaller Brinly-Hardy model, thanks to its heavier build and relatively low density of sharpened plugging spikes. Fewer spikes meant that each one bore more downward pressure, and the heavier frame produced more pressure than the lighter model. The spikes penetrated to an average depth of about 2.5 inches. 

However, punching only 2.67 plugs per square foot, we had to make two passes for thorough results. Like the other tow-behind aerators we tested, the rolled steel spikes were “C” shaped, not completely round, which meant that most soil plugs were not fully extracted from the ground. But cleanup was easy since very few plugs stuck inside the coring spikes. The Agri-Fab lawn aerator makes an affordable choice for maintaining larger properties.

Get the Agri-Fab lawn aerator at Amazon, The Home Depot, or Walmart.

Best Walk-Behind

Ryan Lawnaire IV Walk BehindAerator

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Our Ratings: Ease of Use 4.3/5; Effectiveness 5/5; Durability 5/5; Value 4.7/5

Product Specs 

  • Type: Walk-behind
  • Spike length: 2.75 inches
  • Spikes per square foot: 5.63
  • Weight tray included: Removable weights and a water weight included


  • Self-propelled up to 4 mph; easier to operate
  • Closely spaced coring spikes provides thorough aeration
  • Easily navigates curves, slopes, and narrow corridors
  • Provides fast, professional results


  • Premium price point compared to other aeration tools
  • Requires gas engine maintenance

When professional groundskeepers and landscapers perform lawn aeration services, Ryan aerators are commonly the machines of choice. The self-propelled Lawnaire IV walk-behind aerator covers a 19-inch-wide path with 5.63 coring spikes per square foot. A single pass with this machine is equivalent to two or more passes with most tow-behind units. 

Traveling at speeds of up to 4 miles per hour, it aerates up to 0.67 acres (29,000 square feet) per hour. With two removable 25-pound weight cylinders and a fillable water drum, this aerator provides a maximum of 304 pounds of downward pressure to penetrate up to 3.5 inches despite the 2.75-inch spike length.

In our tests, the Ryan Lawnaire IV easily outperformed the rest of our lineup in terms of pure results, with the possible exception of the John Deere on flat straightaways. John Deere covered ground faster, but Lawnaire IV penetrated deeper with greater spike density. The Honda engine started with a single pull. The controls were well-placed and easy to operate. The machine moved quickly, aerated thoroughly, and was surprisingly easy to maneuver around curves and across moderate slopes. 

We were easily able to maneuver the machine along a narrow grass corridor between two landscape beds where the lawn tractor could not drive, and this self-propelled machine had no difficulty moving up one short but particularly steep slope where the lawn tractor bogged down pulling the heavily weighted tow-behind models. 

The coring spikes consistently penetrated 2.75 inches into the soil with only the cylinder weights installed. Although most homeowners won’t spend this much to buy a professional-grade machine, renting one could be a great option. It is amazingly effective at fast, thorough aeration and may be one of the best tools to prepare a lawn for overseeding.

Get the Ryan lawn aerator at Mowers at Jack’s.

Best Liquid

Covington Naturals Liquid Lawn Aerator

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Our Ratings: Ease of Use 4/5; Value 3.3/5

Product Specs 

  • Type: Liquid chemicals
  • Spike length: N/A
  • Spikes per square foot: N/A
  • Weight tray included: N/A


  • Contains plant food supplements as an additional benefit
  • Also contains beneficial soil microbes
  • Ingredients help support healthy soil as well as aeration


  • Results are difficult to measure
  • Not backed by scientific evidence

Before we dive into this one, it is important to note that we could find no scientific data on the efficacy of liquid lawn aerators. Internet search volume indicates increasing consumer interest in these products, so we decided to test the Covington Liquid Aerator because of its strong customer reviews and our own curiosity. 

The concentrated product contains low levels of manganese, sulfur, iron, and amino acid complexes to support plant growth along with microorganisms (20 percent), molasses (10 percent), humate (10 percent), and kelp (5 percent). Users are instructed to apply 2, 4, or 8 ounces of the product, depending on the severity of soil compaction, for every 1,000 square feet of lawn, every 45 to 60 days. The company recommends deep watering every 3 to 4 days following application. Presumably, the microorganisms (the “active ingredient”) include soil-building bacteria, but the label provides no further details.

We applied Covington Liquid Aerator on a 500-square-foot compacted pathway area as directed for moderate compaction. We also left an adjacent area untreated and watered both areas according to the prescribed follow-up schedule. After a 30-day testing period, our results were inconclusive. The area looked great, but then it didn’t look horrible before. It was difficult to parse the effects of the plant food versus any actual improvement in soil compaction, which would likely require significantly more time to develop anyway. 

We found no noticeable difference in the physical appearance of either area beyond the lush green grass, which we would have anticipated from the added water. The good news is that it didn’t harm the lawn, and we did see improvement to grass health.

Get the Covington liquid lawn aerator at Amazon or Covington Naturals.


Agri-Fab 40-Inch Spike Aerator

The positive effects of spike aerating are short-lived—a month or so at best—but frequent spike aerating actually compresses the soil over time. So we are generally opposed to spike aerating on the principle that this equipment often causes more harm than good. The argument in favor of spike aerators is that they do not leave unsightly soil plugs lying on the grass. 

For those who prefer spike aerating, this may not be the best tool for the job. While the frame is adequately constructed to carry 100 pounds of added weight, we found the 7-pointed star-shaped spike rollers lacking. They are made of thin galvanized steel, approximately 0.06-inch thick, and only penetrate to a maximum depth of 2 inches at the apex of each point. Because of the triangular blade shape, very little soil is disturbed below a typical 0.5-inch thatch layer. A better spike aerator design would use nail-shaped spikes that penetrate at least 3 inches.

Plantnomics Lawn Aerator Shoes

To reiterate, spike aerating is less than ideal because the benefits are short-term and because they can exacerbate soil compaction. But some gardeners prefer to use spike aerators to avoid leaving unsightly soil plugs on the yard from plug aeration. 

These aerator shoes seemed like a handy design, but the effect was negligible at best. They fit size 10 (men’s shoes, not work boots) or smaller, and even then the strap system was not secure on our tester’s feet. The spikes sometimes grabbed chunks of grass and tore them out of the lawn. It was difficult at times to stay balanced while wearing them. Also, the nail-shaped spikes are only 2 inches long. Even if the soil is soft enough for them to penetrate to the maximum depth, they hardly reach to the base of the root zone. If these work on a particular lawn, then it probably doesn’t need to be aerated.

Jump to Our Top Picks

What to Consider When Choosing a Lawn Aerator

A nicely aerated lawn can be thick, vibrant, and the envy of the neighborhood. But there’s a lot that goes into choosing the best lawn aerator. The following sections break down the most important factors to consider.

Types of Lawn Aerators

The size of your lawn and the amount of physical labor you can handle will determine which type of aerator works best for you. 

Push Aerators

Push aerators work best in small areas, especially those with obstacles like playsets and trees that require a little finesse to navigate. These aerators most often have spikes, not hollow tines, which make them better suited to lawns without compaction. 

A bit harder to find, push aerators require more effort to force the tines into the soil. If the goal is to break down compacted soil, opt for a handheld or tow-behind plug aerator.

Handheld Aerators

Handheld aerator models typically work best on small lawns. They come in both plug and spike varieties. A dual-handle grip (placed high on the tool to prevent back pain) and a strong foot platform allow landscapers to step onto the tool to drive the hollow tines or spikes into the soil repeatedly across the entire lawn. Aeration with handheld tools takes a little more time and physical effort, but it works. 

Tow-Behind Aerators

If you have a riding lawn mower, you probably have a large lawn. In this case, a tow-behind aerator might make sense. Connect the lawn aerator to the tow hitch on the mower and quickly cover a lot of ground. To dig deeper, tow-behind aerators come with a tray above the tines for adding extra weight.

Walk-Behind Aerators

Professional landscapers offer aeration services, and most of them use walk-behind plug aerators. These self-propelled machines operate at variable speeds of up to 4 miles per hour to aerate lawns quickly and thoroughly in a single pass. They are extremely heavy, more maneuverable than tow-behind models, and feature densely spaced coring spikes that penetrate about twice the depth of most tow-behind models. While the cost of buying one may be prohibitive for most individuals, this is the rental tool of choice for professional-quality results. 

Aerator Shoes

Lawn aerator shoes let you aerate the lawn while you walk. But they’re a good idea only for mildly compacted soil and light maintenance. The sandal-like device fits over shoes with adjustable straps and solid spikes on the soles. As with other spike aerators, regular use may make compacted soil worse.


Durability is always a factor when shopping for yard equipment. Aerators see particularly rough use as landscapers drive them deep into the ground. Therefore, the aerator’s construction materials are an essential consideration.

In general, the best lawn aerator uses stainless, galvanized, or heat-treated steel for the spikes or knives that dig into the ground. These tough materials resist rust and stand up to rocks and other rough terrain. The same goes for shoe-style aerators: Stainless steel spikes are best.

Also consider the framework of tow-behind aerators. Powder-coated frames, trays, and other components will help resist rust and aerate your lawn for years to come.

Yard Size

When choosing the best lawn aerator, shoppers need to consider whether they’d like to power the aerator themselves or tow it behind a lawn tractor.

Manual lawn aerators, such as the shoe style and the step-on design, require users to repeatedly drive the spikes or knives into the ground and pull them out again. The manual labor may be tolerable for small yards, but large lawns likely need a tow-behind model.

Tow-behind models are by far the most convenient for large lawns, but they do take some time to set up. Users have to attach the aerator to the tractor and place the appropriate amount of weight on top to ensure the spikes penetrate the soil. The right weight varies considerably between lawns, so there are no rules of thumb to follow.

Weight and Mobility

Weight and mobility can be tricky to balance when it comes to lawn aeration. On the one hand, an aerator needs to be heavy enough to get into the soil. On the other hand, a bulky, hard-to-maneuver aerator might not be of much use.

Large tow-behind aerators can weigh more than 90 pounds. It’s important that they’re heavy so they can really dig down into the soil. However, they’re hard to maneuver around garden beds, and the setup time might not be worth it. 

For smaller yards, a lighter manual option might be a better fit. These models often weigh less than 5 pounds, which makes them easier to lift out of the soil. They’re incredibly mobile, so they’ll work in the tiniest plots of grass.

Additional Features

Some of the best lawn aerators have additional features that may make them more desirable in certain scenarios.

  • Knife or spike length: The farther the spikes drive into the soil, the more air and water make it to the roots. But tines that are too long make the aerator difficult to operate. The optimal length is around 3 inches.
  • Aerator/spreader combs: These models have hoppers that carry seeds and spreaders that distribute the grass seeds while the knives are aerating the soil.
  • Handle shape: On manual models, look for an ergonomic handle design.

The Benefits of Aerating Your Lawn

Aeration can bring big benefits to lawns where:

  • Pets tend to relieve themselves in the same spot.
  • Thatch is thick and keeps water from absorbing into the soil.
  • Soil can’t soak up water after heavy rains.

By loosening the dirt around pets’ go-to spots, the grass will get the nutrients, air, and water it needs to fight back against pet urine. The tines or spikes on an aerator dig through thatch and help it break down more quickly. 

Plug aerators create air pockets and loosen the dirt around the hole. This allows water to drain quickly and efficiently instead of forming puddles after heavy rains.


The following section aims to answer any remaining questions you may have about aerators for lawns. Look for the answers to your questions below.

Q. Which is better: spike or plug aerators?

Ultimately, plug aeration is better than spike lawn aeration as it physically removes mass from the yard instead of merely poking into it. Repeated spike aeration may lead to more soil compaction over time.

Q. What is the best month to aerate my lawn?

The best month to aerate your lawn depends on the climate and grass type. The first month of spring weather is best for warm-season grasses and for lawns in cool climates. It’s also helpful to aerate in the fall before overseeding a cool-season lawn.

Q. Is it best to aerate the lawn before seeding?

Yes, aerating allows seeds to penetrate the surface for the best possible germination.

Q. How deep should I aerate the lawn?

For the best results, it is important to aerate deeply into the grass root zone. A depth of 3 to 3.5 inches is more than sufficient in most cases.

Q. Should I mow before or after aeration?

Mowing a notch lower than normal a day or so before aerating helps to ensure the best spike penetration. Mowing after using a plug aerator can help bust up the clumps left behind.

Q. How often should I re-aerate my lawn?

Once a year is usually sufficient, but any time the lawn is more compact than usual is a good time to poke a few holes.

Q. What is the lifespan of a lawn aerator?

Lawn aerator lifespans will depend largely on the quality of the materials of that particular model. Inexpensive options with plastic parts may last a few seasons, while a more robust—and pricier—unit can last decades. Ultimately, as with most tools, proper maintenance helps extend their lifespan even further.

Q. How much do lawn aerators cost?

The models we tested ranged greatly in price, because we looked at a wide array of models, from small handheld tools costing as little as $25, to much larger motorized walk-behind options that can cost in the region of $3,000.

Q. How many passes should I make with a plug aerator?

According to Olbdering, “one pass of an aerator on your entire lawn impacts 3% of your total lawn. A single pass is fine, but double or triple pass if your lawn is extremely compacted.”

Meet the Tester

Mark Wolfe is a writer and product tester with a background in the nursery and landscaping industry. For more than 20 years he mowed, edged, planted, pruned, cultivated, irrigated, and renovated beautiful landscapes. Now he tests and writes reviews about the latest outdoor power equipment, hand tools, lawn care products, and other outdoor-living goods.

Tom Scalisi Avatar

Tom Scalisi


Tom Scalisi is a freelance writer, author, and blogger with a passion for building. Whether it’s a DIY project or an entire website, Tom loves creating something from the ground up, stepping back, and admiring a job well done.