Spike vs. Plug Aerator – What are the Differences and Which one is Better?

Joseph Gilpin
By Joseph Gilpin • Last Updated: June 15, 2022
Spike Aerator vs. Plug Aerator

Lawn aeration is one of the best ways to ensure your grass roots’ adequacy and healthy nutrients, as well as to alleviate soil compaction. Both, the spike and the plug aerator can help you with this, however they serve different purposes.

Generally, you should get a spike aerator if you own a small yard, as it is a great tool for getting rid of the MINOR thatch layer causing compaction.

However, you should get a plug aerator if you prefer the mechanical function and if you want to ease clay soil compaction. A plug aerator allows plugs of soil to be removed to make the soil loose.

Read more to learn the differences between these products and which we think are better for the two to achieve a healthy lawn!

What Is Aeration?

Aeration is the process of poking small holes in your lawn to alleviate the compaction in your soil – be it heavy clay soil, foam soil, or any other soil type.

The process prevents your soil from growing excessive thatch, and it increases the flow of oxygen, water, and nutrients to the root zone.

Lawn care professionals and lawn experts recommend using the two major soil aeration methods – core aeration (also known as plug aeration) and spike aeration!

With this process, your grass and lawn will be as healthy as ever!

The Differences of Spike vs. Plug Aerator

We’ll show you the MAIN differences between a plug aerator vs. a spike aerator right off the bat!

Knowing the differences between these products will help you achieve soil aeration faster! Take note that these aerators are DIFFERENT from a core aerator!

Built-in Spikes

Spike aerators have SHARP and SOLID SPIKES that easily penetrate the ground. They are best used to loosen up soil and grass.

Plug aerators have built-in HOLLOW TINES capable of removing plugs of thatch when penetrating the ground. They are best used to REMOVE soil and grass.


Spike aerators provide SHORT-TERM decompaction because they do NOT remove soil.

They let the soil be loose, but they do NOT remove it from the ground and grass. It makes for a WONDERFUL short-term product because of aerating the soil by loosening it.

A plug aerators provides LONG-TERM decompaction because it removes plugs of soil to create air spaces for the lawns to receive environmental factors.

Core aerators remove soil and grass from the lawn, making it long-term!

Suitable Sizes of Yards

Spike aerators, particularly manual spike aerators, are SUITABLE for removing soil compaction on small yards.

About its short-term usage, it could be MORE suitable for small yards. When using these products to aerate, they are best for smaller spaces!

Plug aerators, specifically mechanical plug aerators, are suitable for small, medium, and LARGE yards of soil decompaction.

Because of its long-term usage, it is preferred to use core aerators when aerating LARGE yards. Removing soil and grass on your lawn can heavily benefit the aerating process.

What Is Spike Aeration

What Is Spike Aeration?

Spike aeration, specifically a spike aerator, creates small holes that loosen the soil. Its main function is to LOOSEN the soil, not REMOVE soil, which a plug aerator does!

A single spike aerator can only poke holes in the ground to REMOVE compacted soil. It works well with a pre-emergent herbicide as both can get rid of weed!

Spike aeration works well for getting rid of mild compaction of soil; however, only SHORT-TERM.

Since it cannot remove soil plugs, its sharp tines PUSH the soil down and to the sides.

You can buy a curved mechanical spike aerator that can provide deep penetration – it can be 9 inches deep and will NOT cause a mess of plugs on your grass!

Does a Spike Aerator Work?

Spike aeration works GREAT, but it only provides short-term results. It is mainly due to its functionality – it pushes soil down and to the sides instead of removing the thick thatch.

Over time when you spike aerate, the soil will grow back to its original position, and the holes created will be closed.

The little holes do not reduce compacted soil but increase the compaction deep underground.

Spiked lawn aerator shoes take TOO MUCH time for it to do the job, especially if your yard is over 1000 square-foot. The foot traffic will be too much, and it requires unnecessary energy.

How Often Should Spike Aeration Be Done?

You should do spike aerating on your lawn AT LEAST 2 to 3 times every season! Aeration breaks up compacted soil.

However, if you use a plug aerator at least once, we HIGHLY RECOMMEND spike aerating just ONCE a season to get rid of minor compaction problems.

For the best lawn care, always test the thickness of thatch in your lawn twice each season to determine if you have compacted soil for the best spike aerating process.

If your lawn is too thick, you need to use a mechanical aerator and dethatcher to solve the issue.

Different Types of Spike Aerators

Lawns vary, from small lawns to big lawns, depending on your lawn’s size. You can choose a VARIETY of spike aerators that suit your lawn.

Here are some of the different types of spike aerators:

Spiked Shoes

Editor's Choice
Lawn Aerator Shoes by AbcoTech
  • PROFESSIONAL GRADE AERATION – Wear our Abcosport Lawn Aerator Spike Shoes and walk around to cover the entire length of your garden for a way greener, healthier and more beautiful lawn and grass. Even better- wear them while mowing your lawn so that you accomplish two important tasks simultaneously!
  • SUPERIOR BUILD – Our aerators are made up of a sturdy plastic base with good heel support, 13 heavy duty metal 48 mm spikes on each sandal, and 3 adjustable straps with strong buckles, designed to be highly anti-corrosive and durable. The shoes stay firmly on your feet and the sharp nails make it easy to dig the soil, and an effective core aerator.

Spiked shoes are made of narrow, sharp spikes under the sole of the shoes. You can use these on your soil surface to aerate it by WALKING all over it!

The spikes under the shoes are thin enough to reduce the RESISTANCE when you push them into the surface soil.

Tools like a solid tine or fork are GREAT with the shoes!

However, for an easier time, you may need to use an oscillating sprinkler to water your lawn so that it’s easier to aerate to your lawn.

You may need a heavy lawn aerator machine! But it is always a good idea to buy a GOOD pair of spiked shoes for a lighter and less energy-needed job.

Hand and Foot Manual Aerators

The hand and foot manual aerators are the types you hold with your hand to place them upright on your lawn and step on to push the TINES down into the soil to aerate.

By no means are the hand and foot aerators bad; in fact, we recommend trying these out! But using these aerators can be time-consuming and energy-intensive.

Despite being VERY time-consuming and labor-intensive, they are MUCH more affordable and easier to use.

It is never a bad idea to own these aerators for lighter aeration lawn maintenance!

Mower Wheel Spikers

These spikers are pretty rare to find, but they aren’t EXTINCT!

The mower wheel spikers are accessories usually added to the wheel of a lawnmower to aerate the core of the lawn while MOWING.

The biggest DRAWBACK to these accessories is their small size and incapability of making deep holes.

A poorly compacted lawn may not decompact properly with mower wheel spikers.

Push Spike Aerator

Editor's Choice
Goplus Rolling Lawn Aerator
  • Bring New Life to Lawn: With the length of 1.2-inch rolling spikes, you will be able to roll deeper into the ground. As a result, the soil will get loose, making it easy for water, oxygen, and nutrient to diffuse into the soil pores. As time passes by, the grass and plants will grow more rapidly and splendidly.
  • High-security & Space-saving Design: It includes a 3-piece steel tubular handle sections, which should be connected with a snap-fastener to ensure safety while in use. Also, these sections are very convenient to disassemble, making them easy to store away when not in use.

The Push Spike Aerator is a circular accessory, like lawn rollers, except for the sole fact that they have built-in spikes all over it.

When pushed, the spikes CREATE many holes in your lawn, decompacting the core of the lawn and grass.

Before using the accessory, it is recommended to prepare the ground by watering the lawn enough to be soft. A hard-felt soil will be challenging to loosen up.

The task of pushing the push spike aerator will be EASIER if the soil of lawns and grass is watered beforehand.

What Is Plug Aeration

What Is Plug Aeration?

A plug aerator, also known as a core aerator, is MUCH different from a spike aerator.

While a spike aerator loosens the soil, the core aerator REMOVES soil plugs of thatch from the ground.

The function of the aeration removing the soil and grass makes it the BEST product to use for relieving soil compaction for the long term.

How Do Plug Aerators Work?

When doing core aeration, you will notice that the products have hollow tines that remove an inch of thatch from the core when pushed into the ground.

Plug aerators are FULLY utilized when getting rid of soil compaction, even in clay soil yards.

Due to the nature of most plug aerators being mechanical, here are the ways they relieve core compaction:

  • The hollow tines rotate while rolling on the lawn
  • The tines REMOVE cores of soil that are an inch long and a dime’s diameter.
  • A core aerator is MORE successful in loosening up and removing soil compaction.
  • A core aerator provides larger holes filled with water during a rain shower, allowing for looser soil.

When Is the Best Time to Do Core Aeration?

The best time to use a plug aerator is during the growing season of your lawn!

When the soil is just growing, it can be easily removable and soft; that is why it is best to do the process when it is GROWING.

When aerating grass, there are different times when to use the core aerators at their best!

The best time to aerate COOL-SEASON grasses is during the early spring. While the best time to aerate WARM-SEASON grasses is during late spring or early summer.

Tow-Behind Plug Aerators

Editor's Choice
Brinly PA-40BH Tow Behind Plug Aerator
  • Aerate & Relieve Compacted Soil: 24 heat-treated, 16-gauge Steel plugging spoons penetrate compacted soil and remove up to 3-inch plugs of soil, allowing water, seed, and fertilizer to reach the roots. Brinly plug design is narrower with sharpened ends to allow easier penetration and require less weight.
  • Works safely on turns & uneven terrain: three independently rotating, Welded Tine sections minimize turf damage during turns and help provide consistent penetration on uneven ground

Tow-behind aerators are attached to your lawn tractor to do the aerating process as you drive or push the tractor.

You want to go at the SLOWEST speed to ensure excellent penetration and prevent tearing in your lawn for the best results.

The tow-behind aerators are GREAT for removing compaction so long as you have FULL control over the product.

If you want to try this product out, either buy it or check its rental cost to see if you cannot afford the product at FULL price.

Conclusion – Which Product Wins?

There y0u have it! If we were to pick which product is better than the other, we’d go for the PLUG AERATOR for its longevity and healthier results!

However, both have benefits and drawbacks that will be different for everyone, so don’t be ashamed if you think this one product is better than the other – it’s subjective!

We hope that this article helped you decide which product is best suited for you, and hopefully, it will help you fix the issues your beautiful lawn is currently facing.

Thanks for reading, and enjoy fixing and cleaning your lawn with these amazing products!

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Here are the most frequently asked questions regarding the topic! Hopefully, this article section will help you out if you still have concerns or questions about the topic.

How Far Can Core Aeration Plugs Go?

The best resulting core aeration plugs can go 1-6 inches underground of the soil layering while removing 0.5-0.75 inches wide plugs.

The mechanical core aerators, suited for LONG-TERM aeration purposes, are great to use because they remove plugs up to 6 inches apart; it makes the soil loose significantly.

Be CAREFUL when using core aerators because adding extra weight to the product can DAMAGE the tractor.

Should Plugs Be Picked up After the Aerating Process?

You do NOT need to pick up the plugs after the core aeration.

If you pick up the plugs, they are usually a thick mass of decomposing thatch with many nutrients.

Leaving the plugs on the lawn will help you break down and release nutrients into the soil, grassroots, and your grass seed.

Is It Safe to Aerate a Lawn Many Times?

You will fully realize the effectiveness of the plug aerators if you only use them once a season!

Using a plug aerator too often is NOT effective because the job is already done if you use it once. It becomes counter-productive if you aerate the lawn too many times.

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