Best Manual Lawn Aerators

Updated April 2020
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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
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Why trust BestReviews?
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
How we decided

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

15 Models Considered
6 Hours Researched
1 Experts Interviewed
218 Consumers Consulted
Zero products received from manufacturers.

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

Buying guide for best manual lawn aerators

Last Updated April 2020

You make sure your lawn gets the right amount of water weekly, whether from rain, a hose, or your sprinkler system. You fertilize regularly. You pull pesky weeds as soon as you spot them, and you routinely mow the grass once it’s a third above the desired height. Yet despite all your care, your neighbor’s turf looks greener and healthier than yours. If this scenario strikes a chord, the reason might well be a failure to aerate. Luckily, aerating your lawn isn’t difficult. And if your patch of grass isn’t too large, a manual aerator is enough to get the job done.

Grass roots need to “breathe” for optimum health, but when soil becomes compacted, turf roots struggle to take in the nutrients, water, and oxygen required to support healthy, green grass. That results in a patchy, unhealthy lawn, even though you’re otherwise providing good turf care.

There are a few different types of manual aerators available, so we’ve done the research for you and provided this handy guide to choosing and using the best manual lawn aerator for your needs, including some we think stand out from the crowd.

Compacted soil leads to a patchy, weak lawn. Aeration helps restore the good health of your grass.

Key considerations

Why does a lawn need aeration?

While most homeowners value a healthy, green lawn, the unfortunate fact is that most varieties of turf grass tend to be prima donnas, and keeping your lawn looking its best takes time, elbow grease, and even a bit of luck. There are quite a few tasks required to maintain a healthy lawn, including watering, fertilizing, weeding, mowing, disease and pest control, and aerating. Many home gardeners, however, aren’t familiar with that last task.

At the most basic level, aeration means poking holes into the soil beneath your lawn so that water, nutrients, and oxygen can easily reach the roots. When looking at a stretch of green, it’s easy to forget that there’s soil underneath, and that soil’s condition is crucial to the health of your lawn.

Over time, the soil beneath your lawn tends to become hard and compacted, particularly in areas with heavy or clayey soil. Foot traffic, mowing, heavy rainfall, and poor drainage all contribute to packing the soil down firmly, making it too hard for small grass roots to penetrate easily, and reducing the ability of water, fertilizer, and oxygen to circulate around the lawn’s root bed. Symptoms of a lawn suffering from compaction include the following:

  • Spongy feeling when you press on the grass
  • Water puddling on the lawn surface rather than soaking in
  • Dried, brown patches of grass despite regular watering
  • Thin areas where grass struggles to grow
  • Patches of weeds that are very hard to control
     

While heavy, clayey soil naturally compresses over time, there are several other factors that lead to excessive compaction that can damage your lawn:

  • Heavy foot traffic or children playing on the grass, especially when it’s wet
  • Driving on the lawn with a vehicle or riding lawn mower, especially when the grass is wet
  • Construction compacting the soil in new housing developments
  • Newly sodded lawns on unprepared soil
EXPERT TIP

Manual lawn aerators are best suited to small lawns or strips of grass.


Staff  | BestReviews

Features

Powered vs. manual lawn aerators

There’s no getting around it: aerating a lawn manually can be quite a workout. If your lawn is medium to large, a gas-powered aerator, whether it’s one designed to be pulled behind a riding lawn mower or one that pushes across the turf like a lawn mower is your best bet. You can rent gas-powered aerators at many home improvement or garden centers. However, if you have just a small lawn or strip of grass, a manual lawn aerator will get the job done, and no need to smell gas fumes or bother with the inconvenience of renting a machine.

Spike vs. plug

Before delving into the details of the types of aerators, it’s helpful to know the difference between the terms “spike” and “plug” or “core” aerators.

Spike aerators basically just poke holes into the soil. They do help loosen the soil and improve the health of the grass to a certain extent.

Plug aerators remove a little cylinder or plug of soil, roots, and grass. These aerators are more effective at loosening and improving the soil.

Types of manual lawn aerators

There are three basic types of manual lawn aerator: aerator shoes, handheld aerators, and rolling or push aerators, each with its own pros and cons.

Aerating shoes: These are spike aerators that strap over your regular shoes and have nail-like metal spikes on the bottoms of the plastic outsoles. Using them is easy: just strap them on and walk back and forth across the width and length of the lawn two or three times, changing directions at each pass.

Aerating shoes don’t strain the arms, are easy to use, and are fun for kids or preteens to use. On the downside, they’re only suitable for very small lawns, the spikes don’t penetrate deeply, so they aren’t the most efficient form of aeration, and the shoes can fall off your feet or flop as you walk.

Handheld aerators: These resemble a pitchfork with two or three sharp tines and a long handle. There are two basic forms of handheld aerators: those that remove plugs of soil and grass, and those that are just spike aerators. While the plug-type aerators are more effective, they’re also more tiring to use, because it takes more effort to push them deeply into the ground and then retract the plug of soil and grass. With either style, you should make several passes across the entire lawn in different directions to thoroughly aerate the stretch of turf.

Handheld aerators have longer tines than aerating shoes, and the sharp tines dig down easily into compacted soil and so are more effective. Plug-style handheld aerators are the most tiring type of manual lawn aerator to use and therefore only suited to small lawns.

Push aerators: These are also called rolling aerators or lawn spikers. They consist of a sturdy handle and cage-like rolling drum covered with sharp spikes. When it’s time to aerate, just push the device back and forth across the entire lawn, making two or three complete passes in different directions.

The majority of these garden tools are spike aerators, but there are some plug-style push aerators as well, and they’re the more effective choice.  This is the best type of manual lawn aerator for midsize lawns. The downside of this type of manual aerator is that many aren’t really heavy enough to penetrate the soil effectively. To improve performance, you can attach a couple of small dumbbells to the aerator’s handle to increase the tool’s weight.

There are three basic types of manual lawn aerator to choose from: shoes, handheld, and push.

Manual lawn aerator prices

As a rule, a manual lawn aerator won’t break your budget, especially when you consider the benefits that aerating provides.

Inexpensive: Aerating shoes are the least expensive type of manual lawn aerator. You can find cheap pairs for as little as $10, although these might not hold up very well to seriously compacted soil. Generally, you should expect to pay around $20 for a sturdy pair of aerating shoes with strong spikes and straps that will stay firmly fastened around your feet.

Mid-range: Handheld aerators typically cost more than aerating shoes but less than rolling aerators. Expect to pay between $20 and $25 for a spike-style handheld aerator, and $25 to $30 for a plug-style handheld aerator with a comfortable handle and sturdy spikes.

Expensive: The most expensive type of manual lawn aerator, and yet also the type that’s often the least effective, are rolling or push aerators. These garden tools typically cost between $30 and $40, with heavier and more efficient aerators toward the top of the range.

EXPERT TIP

A few days before aerating your lawn, mow it to half its usual height and water well.


Staff  | BestReviews

Tips

  • Mow a week in advance. The week before you plan to aerate, mow the lawn to half of its usual height. Under normal circumstances, however, you should never mow grass by more than a third its height.
  • Water a few days in advance. The soil should be moist, but not soaked, the day you aerate. Water the lawn thoroughly three or four days in advance.
  • Prepare the lawn. On aeration day, use chalk, small flags, or sticks to mark the locations of any sprinklers in the lawn. You don’t want to run your aerator over them. Rake away any fallen leaves or other lawn debris.
  • Wear gloves. Don a sturdy pair of work gloves before using a push or handheld aerator; otherwise you’re likely to end up with a blister or two.
  • Aerate the whole lawn. Using your chosen aerator, work your way back and forth across the lawn until you’ve covered its entire length and width. Repeat, working on a path perpendicular to your first path.
  • Complete your lawn care. Once you’re finished aerating, water the lawn lightly, and then apply any desired fertilizer. Seed bare patches and treat any weeds or diseased spots. Resume your regular mowing and watering schedule.

Other products we considered

While any of the manual lawn aerators in the matrix above will get the job done, there are other excellent choices available. If you have a small patch of turf, want the benefits of plug aeration, but hate leaving scattered plugs of soil on the lawn, you’ll appreciate the ingenious design of the Step ‘N Tilt Core Aerator. Just step on the platform to drive the double prongs deep into the ground, tilt and pull back, and two plugs of soil drop into the attached collecting container. Wheel forward and repeat.

If you already have a lawn aerator but need a similar type of device to weed, aerate, and soften soil in a flowerbed or vegetable garden, you’ll love the Yard Butler Twist Tiller. Push the four curved spikes into the ground, twist, and voila! It’s perfect for mixing compost or fertilizer into the ground, removing weeds, aerating, or breaking up clods of soil.

The most effective lawn aerators remove a plug of soil and grass, leaving behind a small hole.

FAQ

Q. When should I aerate my lawn?
A.
While spring is an acceptable time to aerate any lawn, the best time depends on the type of grass you have. As a general rule, aerate cool-season grasses, such as ryegrass, fescue, and bluegrass, in the early spring, after the last frost date for your area, or in the early fall, before cold weather sets in. For warm-season grasses, which include Bermuda grass, zoysia, and St. Augustine, late spring is the ideal time for aeration. 


Q. Should I clean up the plugs of soil scattered atop my lawn after using a plug aerator?
A.
If you find the plugs unsightly, go ahead and rake them up and dispose of them in your compost pile. But if you don’t want to be bothered with yet another step, it’s fine to leave the plugs on the lawn where they’ll be broken up by the lawn mower next time you mow.


Q. Wouldn’t it be easier to just hire someone to do the job for me?
A.
If you have a large lawn and don’t have the time or energy to aerate it yourself with a manual or gas-powered aerator, you can hire a gardener or handyman to tackle the task for you. But for small plots of grass, it’s far more cost-effective to do the job yourself with a manual aerator. Of course, you can always hire your teen or a neighbor’s teen to wield the aerator for you.

The team that worked on this review
  • Bronwyn
    Bronwyn
    Editor
  • Ciera
    Ciera
    Digital Content Producer
  • Melinda
    Melinda
    Web Producer
  • Michelle
    Michelle
    Writer

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