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Low-flow shower heads come into their own

Among standard fixed shower heads, reviewers have nothing but good things to say about the Speakman Anystream S-2252 (Est. $70) . Made of solid brass, this shower head offers 48 individual spray jets that can function in three different patterns, from a gentle rinse to a full-flood stream. To switch between settings, there's a side-mounted lever that's easy to grip even with wet or soapy hands. Although this shower head isn't evaluated at ConsumerReports.org, it's a popular choice with professional reviewers, who describe the spray as "invigorating" and "rewarding." Professionals and owners alike are impressed with the Speakman's heavy-duty construction and stylish looks. However, some users say it doesn't work very well with low water pressure. The Anystream comes in five finishes: polished brass, polished chrome, polished nickel, brushed nickel and oil-rubbed bronze.

The Anystream has two big drawbacks: its 2.5-gpm flow rate (the maximum allowed by law) and its $70 price tag. The American Standard FloWise 1660.717 (Est. $35) addresses both problems. At half the price of the Speakman, it has a nice selection of three spray patterns (full spray, turbine massage spray and combination spray) and a stylish flared design. Although it uses less water than most -- between 1.5 and 2 gallons per minute, depending on spray pattern -- reviewers say the stream feels generous and strong. It's also a top performer in professional tests, with high scores for water feel, ease of adjustment and hot water temperature. One feature users don't generally love is the fact that the shower head automatically resets to its lowest-flow setting when you turn it off. The American Standard FloWise 1660.717 is available in polished chrome or satin nickel, which costs about $15 more. American Standard also makes a handheld version of this shower head, the Water-Saving Hand Shower 1660.502 (Est. $65) .

Another low-flow model with strong overall ratings is the Oxygenics SkinCare (Est. $30) . Oxygenics makes several versions of this shower head, ranging from 1.5 gpm to the full 2.5 gpm allowed by law. However, its high-powered aeration amps up the pressure, so even the low-flow versions produce a powerful stream. This shower head is particularly popular with homeowners who have low water pressure; they say it has made it possible for them to enjoy a powerful shower again. However, some users complain that the heavily aerated water flow is very noisy and tends to feel sharp and prickly. The Oxygenics SkinCare comes in chrome only; some versions include an optional "comfort control" lever to adjust the strength of the spray. Oxygenics also offers a handheld version, the Oxygenics BodySpa SkinCare (Est. $40) , but it uses a full 2.5 gpm of water.

Since most people shower at least once per day, which, even at $70, makes the cost of ownership of any of these shower heads very low, the Speakman Anystream comes out on top for its versatility, ease of use and stylish appearance.

Ultra-low-flow shower heads great for a limited water supply

If saving water is your top priority, you probably want to look to Bricor. Anca Novacovici, an "Eco Expert" at Tibesti.com recommends two Bricor models: the B100 Ultra Max and the Elite-E Hotel Shower Head (Est. $80) . The Ultra Max is Bricor's lowest-flow shower head, using a mere 0.55 gpm. Bricor says this model is designed "for RVs, campers, airplanes, boats and other conditions where you might have an extremely limited water supply." It uses aeration to make the most of limited water flow, spreading it out over a larger area to deliver more coverage and a stronger stream. However, we could not find any user reviews to confirm that this Bricor shower head actually delivers the goods in real-world situations.

The other Bricor shower head, the Elite-E, uses significantly more water -- 1.25 to 1.5 gpm, depending on which version you buy. It's also slightly more expensive than the Ultra Max, but Novacovici says it offers a better shower experience. Unlike the tiny Ultra Max, which measures less than 2 inches across, the Elite-E is 3 inches wide, made of solid brass and has a 36-hole pattern. Bricor describes this as a "luxury" model, saying it's "installed in major hotels all across America." An alternate version of the Elite shower head, the Elite-R, is a runner-up pick in the latest tests at the Good Housekeeping Research Institute, delivering a strong stream with only 1.5 gpm of water. The two models differ mainly in their styling: the Elite-E has a flared shape, while the Elite-R is more rounded. However, the Elite-R is not available with the lower 1.25-gpm flow rate. The standard finish on both shower heads is chrome; satin and brass versions are available for about $20 more.

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American Standard 1660.717.002 Flowise 3 Function Water-Saving Showerhead, Chrome
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Oxygenics 60120 SkinCare Showerhead, Chrome
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Bricor B100 Super Max Showerhead
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Speakman S-2252-PC-BP Anystream® Classic 48 Spray Showerhead, Solid Brass Body, Polished Chrome
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New: $56.58   
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American Standard 1660.502.002 Water Saving Personal Hand Shower, Polished Chrome
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New: $70.00 $35.00   
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Oxygenics BodySpa SkinCare Handheld Shower Head - Chrome Kit - 1012310123
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New: $39.99   
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