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Weed Eater vs. Weed Whacker: Is There a Difference?


There are a lot of names out there for string trimmers. The terms seem to be used interchangeably, but are they actually the same thing?

Is there a difference between weed eaters and weed whackers? Essentially, no. These terms are used interchangeably for the same type of lawn care equipment. This equipment is used to trim grass and weeds that grow in locations you cannot access with a lawnmower. At retail stores, it is commonly called a string trimmer or a line trimmer.

There is a lot of confusion around all this terminology, and “weed eater” and “weed wacker” aren’t the only terms used. I thought it was just people here in the south who mixed these terms but I’m learning that it’s a lot more common than I realized. And so, here’s some history and clarity.

Weed Eater Or Weed Whacker: They’re The Same Thing

There is usually no difference at all between what a person means when they say “weed eater”, “weed whacker” or “weed wacker”. Each of these terms refers to the same piece of equipment.

It’s a string trimmer, plain and simple.

For a while, I thought that weed whacker was referring to a heavy-duty brush cutter (with a metal blade) but it turns out that most of the time this is just another term for a string trimmer.

Why are there different names? Let’s go over the reasons these two terms have become muddled.

Repurposing Brand Names

The inventor of the Weed Eater coined the name, but then others began making similar products by different names. Purists might say that weed wacker is an incorrect term because it isn’t what the inventor called it, but that is up for debate as “Weed Eater,” and “Weedwacker” are both brand names, meaning they are not intended to refer to the non-branded product.

Turning a brand name into a generic term is actually pretty common. Think about things like Band-aids, Velcro, and Sheetrock. Each are part of our everyday lives. These are all brand names that entered our everyday vocabulary, and we use them as generic terms now.

Regionalisms

Additionally, there seems to be a regional element to which name people prefer to use, according to Gold Eagle. The southwest region of the United States seems to prefer “weed eater.”

I can attest to this. Here in Southeast Texas, every brand of string trimmer is a weed eater. I have a Stihl weed eater 🙂

Regionalisms are very common in the United States. One of the most well known is whether people call sugary carbonated beverages soda, coke, or pop. So the weed eater isn’t the only product out there with an identity crisis.

What is the Real Name for a Weed Whacker or Weed Eater?

Honestly, this is a matter of debate! A good generic term for a weed wacker is “string trimmer.”

This makes a lot of sense because weed whackers use a monofilament or nylon line (or string) to trim weeds and grass. A nice, straightforward name, though maybe not as catchy as “weed eater.”

You will find the term “string trimmer” used by home improvement stores and other retailers. However, if you talk with your average everyday person, they would probably say “oh you mean a weed eater?” 

Common terms for string trimmers:

  • Weed eater
  • Weed whacker
  • Whipper snipper
  • Weed whip
  • Line trimmer
  • Weed cutter
  • Stick trimmer
  • Grass trimmer
  • Strimmer (this term is used in British English)

So, if you hear someone talking about any of these, just know that they are probably talking about a string trimmer.

What Isn’t A String Trimmer?

There are also some terms people use for a string trimmer that are actually erroneous. Don’t be confused when looking at some of the following:

  • Edger: An edger is used to create a clean edge along sidewalks and other edges of the lawn.
  • Brush cutter: This term is both used for a trimmer that has a blade instead of a monofilament string and a lawnmower-like machine used for trimming brush. 

Technically speaking, these are not string trimmers. Some people would still consider a brush cutter a “weed eater” or a “weed wacker” because it serves the same purpose, but it is still distinct from a string trimmer. Let’s get into the differences a little more, so you can see why neither of these pieces of equipment should be called a weed wacker or a weed eater.

What’s The Difference Between A String Trimmer And A Brush Cutter?

String trimmer (weed eater)
String Trimmer
brush cutter
Brush Cutter

The functional difference between a string trimmer and a brush cutter is that brush cutter can chop down thicker brush that a string trimmer simply can’t handle. String trimmers are generally meant to cut down grass and maybe some small weeds, while brush trimmer can handle thicker vegetation.

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To achieve this, a brush cutter typically uses a blade or very thick, heavy-duty line as its cutting device instead of a string, and they usually have more powerful gas engines. This also means that they are heavier than string trimmers.

What Is The Difference Between A String Trimmer And An Edger?

string trimmer used for edging
Weed Eater
Edger for lawn, sidewalks, and flower beds.
Edger

An edger is a completely different piece of equipment with an entirely different purpose. The blade on an edger sits vertically, and it cuts into the ground about ½ inch, precisely trimming the parameter of the lawn to create a perfectly straight edge that gives a well-manicured look.

Can You Use a String Trimmer as an Edger?

With a little practice, you can use a string trimmer to create an edge. It’s not going to be as polished as you’ll get with a dedicated tool but I get by just fine. See my illustrated guide on The Best Way To Edge With A String Trimmer.

That being said, it’s not an ideal solution. Here are the reasons you may not want to use a string trimmer as an edger:

  • Unless very experienced, you could mangle the edge of your lawn. It could take a while for your lawn to look normal again, depending on the extent of the damage. My lawn looked like it had the mange until I got the hang of it.
  • It’s a little uncomfortable compared to using a dedicated edger. The reason for this is that you are holding the string trimmer in a way that it was not designed to be used, essentially turning it upside down and resting it on your shoulder (see the guide I mentioned earlier for a better understanding of how I do this).

It’s worth noting that some trimmers like the WORX WG170 GT (link to Amazon) actually come with an edging wheel so that you can properly edge your lawn without buying an extra piece of equipment. If your string trimmer is designed to be used as an edger, then go ahead and use it! Otherwise, a dedicated tool is usually your best bet for truly manicured results.

Comparison Chart of String Trimmer, Brush Trimmer, and Edger

For a quick comparison between the different stick-style pieces of equipment that should not be confused with each other, check out this chart.

String TrimmerBrush TrimmerEdger
Blade typeCuts with monofilament lineBlade or heavy-duty lineMetal Blade
Blade PositionHorizontalHorizontalVertical
Electric Motor AvailableYesYesYes
Gas Motor AvailableYesYesYes
Heavy dutyGenerally no, Can be depending on the model YesUsually yes, but will depend on the model

Conclusion

Whether you call it a weed eater, weed wacker, whipper snipper, or string trimmer, it doesn’t really matter as long as you have the right product! Just make sure you know what you’re buying and that it is capable of doing its intended job, and call it what you want.

Can’t decide if you need a string trimmer, brush cutter, or edger? Why not have one tool that does all of this and more? Check out my review of the best multi-attachment yard tools.

You may also be interested in these string trimmer troubleshooting guides:

Weed Eater Dies When Giving Gas? Quick Steps To Troubleshoot

Can You Use Ethanol-Free Gas in a Weed Eater? Know The Facts

Gas Weed Eater Won’t Start: Causes and Steps to Troubleshoot

Paul Brown

Paul has a two-acre yard on red clay soil in Southeast Texas. He knows exactly what the challenges are to nurturing a thriving yard in difficult soil. He takes a practical approach to yard improvement and enjoys putting best practices and “golden rules of lawn care” to the test. Click here for Paul’s author page

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