The vast majority of showers feature a single, fixed showerhead. This type of showerhead is easy to replace and usually inexpensive. The most basic fixed showerheads have only one setting (full spray); more expensive models include additional spray modes and sometimes a lever to regulate how forceful the shower feels.
Conversely, more miniature handheld showers cost more and aren't as popular. However, they do have a few advantages. They can make it easier to clean your shower and are helpful for washing pets and children. Handheld showers can also be beneficial for those who have limited mobility or need to sit down while showering. They're just as easy to install as fixed showerheads but are sometimes difficult to hang up securely after showering.
Overall, there is little difference in performance between equivalent fixed showerheads and handheld showers. Reviews are much more plentiful for fixed showerheads, however. If you think you'd prefer a handheld shower, it makes sense to find a well-reviewed fixed showerhead and purchase its handheld counterpart.
Among standard fixed showerheads, we read the best reviews overall for the American Standard FloWise 1660.717 (*Est. $45). For a relatively low price, 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 2.0 gallons per minute, depending on spray pattern -- owners say the spray feels generous and strong. It's also a top performer in professional tests, where it earns particularly high marks for hot water temperature. The American Standard FloWise 1660.717 is mainly sold in chrome; other finishes, including stainless steel and polished brass, are available for about $30 more. The handheld version of this showerhead is the American Standard Water-Saving Soft Personal Shower 1660.602 (*Est. $50).
If you like a variety of spray patterns, the 12-mode Waterpik Medallion NSL-033 (*Est. $50) might be worth considering. This showerhead includes high- and low-pressure versions of six spray patterns: full spray, massage, concentrated spray, combination concentrated/full spray, combination massage/full spray and mist. This showerhead is a strong performer in tests and the handful of owner reviews we found at HomeDepot.com are positive. One owner does note that it tends to leak if not screwed in very tightly. This showerhead is sold exclusively at Home Depot, but the identical Waterpik Linea 12-Mode NSL-033 (*Est. $50) is available elsewhere. Both have a chrome finish. Handheld versions are the Waterpik Medallion 12 Spray Handshower NSL-063 (*Est. $60) at Home Depot and the Waterpik Linea 12 Spray Handshower NSL-063 (*Est. $60) elsewhere.
The much-simpler Alsons Fluidics 655 (*Est. $30) is recommended by experts at KitchenBathIdeas.com and Tibesti.com, but a Good Housekeeping magazine test finds that panelists don't like the feel of this showerhead as much as others. One user remarks that the spray "feels like needles." On the other hand, the Alsons Fluidics receives mostly complimentary reviews at Amazon.com, where it receives an average rating of 4.5 stars (out of five) after about two dozen comments. The Alsons showerhead uses 1.6 gallons per minute of water and has full spray only. It's available in two finishes: chrome and (for $15 more) satin nickel. There is no handheld version of this fixed showerhead.
We found stronger recommendations for the Oxygenics SkinCare 60120 (*Est. $20), a single-mode, water-saving showerhead that uses 1.5 gpm. This model aerates the water to create a stronger spray. Some say that the aeration is quite loud; MetaEfficient.com editor Justin Thomas describes the sound it makes as "jet-like." Still, the Oxygenics showerhead receives very high ratings from owners posting reviews to retailer websites, and people who have relatively low water pressure in their homes seem to be especially pleased with how forceful the spray feels. It's available in three finishes: chrome, gold (for $15 more), and a combination of chrome and gold (for $8 more). For $10 more, you can get the same showerhead with a comfort lever that allows you to adjust the strength of the spray. While there is a handheld version of this showerhead, the Oxygenics BodySpa SkinCare 100-XLF25 (*Est. $25), it skips the water-saving feature and uses a full 2.5 gpm.
Another inexpensive water-saving showerhead, the Niagara Earth Massage N2915V (*Est. $15) uses 1.5 gpm in "soak" mode and 1 gpm in "soap" mode. Consumers can save water by using soap mode while lathering up and soak mode while rinsing. It has an infinite adjustment dial so it can produce a fine needle spray, a brisk jet of water, or anything in between. There's no massage setting, however. At $15, this showerhead sounds like a great deal, but it performs poorly for comfort and ease of use in tests, and we were unable to find owner reviews for it. The Niagara Earth Massage is available in chrome and white finishes; a handheld version, the Niagara Earth Massage N2945 (*Est. $30) is also available.
If you just want a cheap replacement for a worn-out showerhead, we found some mentions for the Whedon Ultra Saver (*Est. $7). It uses 1.5 gpm and has a water-saver button to pause the spray while you soap up. Not surprisingly, considering the price, this is very much a no-frills showerhead with a single-spray mode and no pressure adjustment. MetaEfficient.com and Tibesti.com recommend this showerhead, but neither publication seems to have tested it, and we're read some reports that this model is prone to early failure. According to MetaEfficient.com editor Justin Thomas, the Ultra Saver showerhead only lasts for "about two years" because the high pressure it produces "erodes the water holes," creating an uneven spray over time.
Another option is a shower system or shower tower. These use multiple showerheads to produce a high volume spray, often coming from multiple directions at once. Most shower systems are extremely expensive and require professional installation, but some combination fixed-handheld shower systems are affordable and relatively easy for a do-it-yourselfer to install.
One standout, the Peerless 2-in-1 Shower System 76950 (*Est. $35), is a low-priced shower system that installs just like a standard fixed showerhead. It has a full-spray-only fixed showerhead and a four-mode handheld shower wand. The two showerheads can be turned on individually or simultaneously, and the handheld shower can be placed in the center of the horseshoe-shaped fixed showerhead to make an oversized single showerhead. The Peerless shower system receives plenty of praise from owners posting reviews to Amazon.com and Buzzillions.com, most of whom seem to love its generous spray and the convenience of having both a fixed and handheld showerhead. A few do report that it's a bit tricky to tighten up enough to prevent leaks. It also receives some criticism for water usage; each showerhead consumes 2.5 gpm while in use. This model is manufactured by Alsons; similar models, like the Alsons In2ition Two in One Shower System 6564CPK (*Est. $60) and the Delta In2ition 75580 (*Est. $55), have similar features but cost more.