Sprayers vs Spreaders: What is The Difference?

Sprayers and spreaders are both commonly used in agriculture, facilities management, and lawn care to apply various substances such as fertilizers, de-ice products, herbicides, etc, to a variety of different crops, plants, or surfaces. While they may seem similar at first glance, there are key differences between the two that can impact whether they will be effective for your situation. 

The primary difference between a sprayer and a spreader is that a sprayer applies liquid substances, while a spreader distributes solid substances over a specific area. Read on to learn more about the differences between these two pieces of equipment, as well as the advantages and disadvantages of both sprayers and spreaders.

What is a Sprayer?

A sprayer is a device that disperses liquid in a mist or spray. It uses a pump to generate a steady flow of liquid through a nozzle or series of nozzles. Sprayers are useful for applying liquid substances evenly, precisely, and efficiently over a large area. There are several different types and if you are interested, I have an article that shows the different sprayer types based on specific applications. 

A basic sprayer consists of a pump, hose, tank, and spray nozzle(s). There are several different types of each of these components. The specific application determines the type of component and the size. One example of this is the type of pump used. Centrifugal pumps are used for high-volume agriculture sprayers while high-pressure diaphragm pumps are used for commercial tree spraying. You can see a full list of the different components that make up a sprayer in this guide to understanding sprayer parts

What is a Spreader?

A spreader is a piece of equipment that distributes solid material such as granular fertilizers or seeds over a specific area. A spreader broadcasts or “spreads” the material with a spinning disc that has vanes or fins in it. This is similar to an impeller of a pump. 

The material is held in a hopper. A small “gate” In the bottom of the Harbor is open to allow the material to spill onto the desk. The rotation of the disk propels material away from the spreader as it moves forward. This results in an even distribution of the material. 

Depending on their size, spreaders can be pushed by someone like you would push a lawn mower or they can be pulled by a lawn tractor, ATV, or large tractor. Spreaders can also be mounted on equipment or self-propelled similar to large agricultural sprayers. 

Advantages of a Lawn Sprayer Vs Lawn Spreader

When compared to a lawn spreader, sprayers have several advantages: 

  1. Precision: Sprayers can be directed to apply liquid exactly where you want it to go. Whether a boom sprayer or spot sprayer, the nozzle is directed at a specific area, In order to hit the target surface. You can also get very close to the target if needed to ensure the area is thoroughly covered. A spreader is limited to one type of distribution pattern and does not stick on many surfaces, only the ground.
  2. Uniform Coverage: Boom sprayers are designed to provide even, uniform coverage. Even a backpack or hand pump sprayer can be used in a manner that will provide uniform coverage. A spreader will provide generally even coverage but as the material varies in size and shape, the coverage will vary slightly.
  3. Adjustments: It is generally easier to make adjustments as you spray. The pressure, volume, speed, etc. can be adjusted on the go if needed. Adjusting the rate on a spread requires you to open or close the “gate”. Typically you will have to stop spreading in order to do this.
  4. Versatility: A sprayer can be used to apply herbicide, insecticide, fertilizers, water, de-icing products, dust-control products, etc. Many dry materials can be dissolved in water and used with a sprayer. A spreader is limited to dry materials only. Many herbicides and pesticides are not available in granular form or are less effective. 

Advantages of a Lawn Spreader

Lawn spreaders might not provide the versatility of a sprayer, but they do have their advantages:

  1. Simpler to Operate: A lawn spreader is mechanical and does not rely on a pump to operate. There is no need to make adjustments to pressure, flow rate, etc. The material simley drops through the slide gate and is “thrown” out by the spinning disc. The operator sets the gate opening to apply the desired amount and then pushes it by hand or pulls it with a mower/lawn tractor. A sprayer has more components to adjust and control. If you are a beginner it can be complicated to get started.
  2. Cheaper: Generally speaking, both the products you spread plus the spreader itself are going to be less expensive overall than a sprayer.
  3. Easier to Store/Maintain: Spreaders do not require the upkeep that a sprayer does. Sprayers need to be rinsed out and winterized. Spreaders should be rinsed out as well but it is not as crucial as with a sprayer. Troubleshooting a sprayer is more complicated, especially for beginners. A sprayer can leak or the pump can fail to work. A spreader is mechanically driven and generally has fewer components that can fail. 
  4. Calibration: Calibrating a sprayer is more difficult. With a spreader, you simply set the opening in the gate according to how much you want to apply. A sprayer requires knowing the nozzle size, spacing, speed, and application rate. You must calibrate your sprayer by driving over a small area to ensure you are applying the right amount. 
  5. No Drift: Spreaders do not have the same risk of drift as a sprayer. Liquid droplets from a sprayer can be blown off target by wind. This can result in unwanted damage to other plants or animals. As spreaders apply solid material, there is little if any risk of drift.

Different Types of Sprayers and Spreaders

There are different types of sprayers and spreaders available. The main reason for the differences is the size of the area they are intended to cover. Both sprayers and spreaders come in a wide range of sizes. From small units designed for lawns and gardens to large ones made to cover entire farms. 

With such a variation in size, there are also several different features designed for specific applications that set the different sprayers and spreaders apart. 

Here are some of the most common types of spreaders:

  1. Handheld spreaders: 
  2. Tow-behind spreaders: These are larger spreaders that are attached to a lawn tractor or ATV.
  3. Self-Propelled Spreaders: 

Here are the most common types of sprayers:

  1. Hand Sprayers
  2. Backpack Sprayers
  3. Pull-type sprayers

There are several more types not listed. For a more comprehensive list, see this article on the different sprayer types and their uses


Ultimately knowing the difference between a sprayer and a spreader will help you determine which is right for your needs. Simply put, if you only need to fertilize your lawn or apply salt to a driveway or lot, a spreader will be simpler and cheaper. If you need the versatility to apply herbicides and pesticides to different areas and also want to apply fertilizer over a large area it may be worth looking at a sprayer.


I have more than a decade of experience using, building, studying, and testing sprayers in several applications. With the knowledge I have gained I want to provide straight forward and detailed answers for DIY homeowners, farmers, and commercial turf and tree care pros.

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