Plug vs Spike Aerator: Comparison & Differences

Maintaining a healthy, green lawn or garden can challenge homeowners, landscapers, and enthusiasts. Aeration is an essential maintenance task that helps to improve your lawn or garden’s health and appearance.

Two popular methods for aeration are spike aerators and plug aerators. In this comprehensive guide, we will compare and contrast the benefits and drawbacks of each method, so you can decide which aerator best suits your specific soil and yard conditions.

What is Spike Aerators?

Spike aerators are mechanical aerators that use spikes to puncture the soil, creating small holes. The size and weight of the spike depend on the model but generally range from 1/2 inch to 2 inches in diameter.

Types Of Spike Aerators

Spike aerators come in 4 different styles such as following:

  • spiked shoes,
  • manual aerators you step on like a shovel,
  • tow-behind aerators, and
  • push spike aerators.

Spiked Shoe Aerators

Spiked shoe aerators are designed to be worn like shoes and feature a row of spikes on the bottom. These aerators are lightweight and easy to use, ideal for smaller lawns or areas with softer soil.

Manual Aerator:

Manual aerators consist of a metal wheel you step on like a shovel. This type of aerator is more suitable for larger lawns, as it can puncture thicker and harder soil with greater ease.

Tow-Behind Aerators:

Tow-behind aerators are the most powerful option, designed to be pulled behind a riding mower or tractor. These aerators feature multiple rows of spikes much longer than other types.

Push Spike Aerators:

Push spike aerators are the lightest type of aerator, designed to be pushed rather than pulled. This makes them a great option for smaller lawns with softer soil. They feature spikes that are shorter and not as wide as other models, making them ideal for more delicate areas.

What is Plug Aerators?

Plug aerators are mechanical aerators that use long, cylindrical plugs to remove cores of soil from the ground. These plugs are usually 2 or 3 inches in diameter and [3-4] inches deep. 

Plug aerators remove large chunks of soil from the ground, creating air channels that allow water and vital nutrients to reach the roots of grass and plants. This aeration method is more effective than spike aerators because it pulls plugs from the ground rather than pushing spikes into it.

Types of Plug Aerators?

Plug aerators come in two different styles: tow-behind and hand-held. Tow-behind plug aerators are large, heavy machines that can be towed behind a riding mower or tractor. Hand-held plug aerators are designed for one person and feature adjustable handles that can be adjusted to suit the operator’s height.

Tow-Behind Plug Aerator:

Tow-behind plug aerators are the most powerful option, designed to be pulled behind a riding mower or tractor. These aerators can be used on more extensive lawns, as they feature long cylindrical plugs that can penetrate through thick and hard soil.

Hand-Held Plug Aerator:

Hand-held plug aerators are designed for one person and feature adjustable handles that can be adjusted to suit the operator’s height. These aerators are lightweight and easy to use, ideal for smaller lawns or areas with softer soil.

How Spike Aerator Works

Spike aerators puncture the soil surface with tines or spikes, typically mounted on a drum or wheel. These spikes penetrate the ground creating small holes in the soil. The holes allow water, air, and nutrients to more easily penetrate the soil, which stimulates root growth and improves overall lawn health.


  • Lower cost: Spike aerators tend to be less expensive than plug aerators.
  • Easier to use: Spike aerators are lighter and more maneuverable than plug aerators, making them easier to operate for most users.
  • Less disruptive: Spike aeration is less invasive than plug aeration, resulting in a faster recovery time for your lawn or garden.


  • Compaction: Spike aerators can potentially compact the soil rather than loosen it, especially if the lawn has dense or heavily compacted soil.
  • Less effective: The level of aeration provided by spike aerators is usually not as thorough as that of plug aerators.

How Plug Aerators Work?

Plug aerators, also known as core aerators, remove small plugs or cores of soil from the ground. These hollow tines penetrate the soil and extract cylindrical soil cores that are then deposited on the surface. The gaps created by removing the soil cores allow for better water, air, and nutrient penetration, aiding in root growth and overall lawn health.


  • Reduced soil compaction: Plug aerators are more effective at reducing soil compaction, as they remove entire soil cores rather than push the soil aside.
  • Improved aeration: Plug aerators create more significant, spaced-apart holes, providing a better opportunity for thorough aeration.
  • Better for heavily compacted or clay soil: Plug aerators are more effective in breaking up heavily compacted or dense clay soil, making them the preferred choice for more challenging yard conditions.


  • Higher cost: Plug aerators are generally more expensive than spike aerators in terms of initial investment and ongoing maintenance.
  • More labor-intensive: Since plug aerators are heavier and often more cumbersome, operating them can be more physically demanding than using a spike aerator.

Difference Between Spike vs. Plug Aerator

When choosing the correct aerator for your lawn, there are several variables to consider. The two main types of aerators – spike, and plug – differ in price, use, material, and shape.


Spike aerators are cheaper than plug aerators due to their smaller size and fewer moving parts. Plug aerators, however, can be more expensive due to their larger size and additional features such as adjustable handles.


Spike aerators are best suited for small lawns with softer soil, while plug aerators are better for larger yards with thicker or harder soil. Spike aerators are also easier to use and require less physical effort, while plug aerators are more effective and provide better overall aeration.

Material / Shape

Spike aerators feature multiple rows of short spikes designed to puncture the soil. Plug aerators, on the other hand, have long cylindrical plugs that remove cores of soil from the ground.

When it comes to aerating your lawn, it’s essential to consider the type of soil and size of the area you must cover. 

A spike aerator may be more suitable for smaller areas with softer soil, while larger or heavily compacted regions may require a plug aerator. 

Careful consideration is essential when choosing an aerator to get the most out of your lawn maintenance efforts.

Spike vs. Plug Aerator: Which is Best for You?

When selecting the best aerator for your needs, consider the following factors:

  • Soil type: A plug aerator is likely the better option if your soil is clay-heavy or prone to compaction. They are more effective in breaking up compacted soil and improving aeration. A spike aerator may provide adequate aeration for looser, sandy soils with less effort and cost.
  • Budget: Spike aerators are typically more affordable than plug aerators, so if a lower cost is a priority, opt for a spike aerator.
  • Frequency of use: Since plug aerators tend to be more labor-intensive, they are better suited for larger or more challenging yards where frequent aeration is necessary. A spike aerator may provide adequate results with less effort and cost for smaller lawns or gardens that don’t require as much maintenance.

Which One is More Effective?

A plug aerator offers superior aeration compared to a spike aerator. Spike aerators create holes in the soil without extracting any soil, pushing dirt downwards and towards the sides during penetration. 

While this may alleviate mild compaction, the surrounding soil eventually fills the holes, leading to contraction over time. Additionally, the downward pressure from the spike increases core compaction, diminishing the effectiveness of spike aeration.

In contrast, plug aerators utilize hollow tines to penetrate the soil and remove soil and grass plugs. This process allows the surrounding soil to fill in the void left by the pins, effectively loosening compaction.

Consequently, plug aeration proves more effective as it reduces the soil volume in the lawn, creating additional space for the remaining soil. 

The outcomes achieved through plug aeration exhibit longer-lasting effects than those achieved through spike aeration.

Which One Is Used By Lawn Services?

Lawn services typically use plug aerators more often than spike aerators, as plug aeration is deemed the most effective mechanical soil aeration. 

  • Plug aerators create larger holes in the soil with greater spacing between them, resulting in improved water and nutrient penetration to a larger area of soil. 
  • Plus, they can break up heavily compacted soil or clay soil more effectively than spike aerators. While plug aerators tend to be more expensive and labor-intensive, their long-lasting results often prove worthwhile.
  • However, spike aeration can provide adequate results at a lower cost and effort for smaller yards with light compaction. In these cases, a lawn service may opt for a spike aerator as an alternative to a plug aerator. 

Ultimately, deciding which type of aerator to use will depend on the condition of your lawn and the desired goals for its health and appearance.

Regardless of which type of aeration is chosen, regular aeration can be beneficial in keeping your lawn healthy and looking its best. Aerating your soil every one to two years helps to promote healthy root development, prevents soil compaction, and encourages a lush, green lawn. 

Additionally, aeration can help reduce the risk of diseases in your lawn and improve drainage and nutrient uptake, making it essential to maintaining a beautiful property.

Suppose you are unsure which type of aerator is best for your lawn. In that case, it is recommended to seek the advice of a professional lawn care specialist who can assess your soil conditions and recommend an appropriate solution. These steps can help ensure your grass stays healthy and remains green all year.

Final Words

A spike aerator features sharp tines that penetrate the ground, creating holes to aerate the lawn. On the other hand, a plug aerator utilizes hollow tines to extract plugs of soil from the core. Spike aeration is recommended for small yards with mild compaction, while plug aeration is suitable for addressing severe soil compaction in larger areas.

Spike vs. Plug aeration can be a difficult decision, as each type of aerator has advantages and disadvantages. While spike aerators are more affordable and easier to use, plug aerators offer superior results and last longer in the long run. 

If you are unsure which type of aerator is best for you, it’s always best to consult experts in the field who can assess the condition of your soil and offer appropriate advice. Following their recommendations can help ensure your lawn looks its best and stays healthy.

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