The best shower head

  • Delivers a strong stream of water. Professional reviews generally find that testers are most satisfied with shower heads that produce a powerful stream and plenty of coverage.
  • Reduces water use. Even a standard 2.5-gpm shower head will save water compared to an old 5-gpm dinosaur, but some shower heads use as little as 1.5 gpm while still providing plenty of pressure.
  • Keeps hot water hot. ConsumerReports.org explains that aerating shower heads can cool the water significantly between the time it leaves the shower head and the time it reaches your skin, while newer (and pricier) low-flow models maintain temperature better.
  • Installs easily. Most models are fairly simple to install yourself with just an adjustable wrench and some plumber's tape, but a good set of instructions -- and a customer help line, just in case -- can make the process a lot easier.
  • Is simple to adjust. Some shower heads have only a single flow pattern, but those that have many should be easy to switch from one to another.
  • Holds up well over time. The shower head itself should not break or leak, and the finish should not wear off easily.

Know before you go

Do you need a handheld shower head? Handheld shower heads are more versatile than fixed models. They can function just like a fixed shower head when sitting in the bracket, but they can also be removed to focus spray on a particular body part. Many users say they find a handheld model with a long hose handy for cleaning the shower enclosure or for washing pets in the tub. However, fixed shower heads generally fare better in reviews, so it probably isn't worth choosing a handheld unless you really need it.

What spray pattern do you prefer? Some users like a firm, invigorating spray, while others prefer the gentle trickle of a rain shower. Some like a traditional wide spray that provides a lot of coverage, while others prefer a pulsing massage jet. Whatever shower style you like best, look for a shower head that does a good job on that spray setting. If you're the only one who will use the shower, then you probably don't have to worry about additional settings; most tend to pick a single spray pattern they like and stick with it. However, if you share a bathroom with someone else who prefers a different spray pattern, then look for a shower head that suits both of you.

How tall are you? Some shower heads can pose problems for users who are either very tall or very short. A very large shower head, for instance, may hang down too far for tall users to stand under it. Other shower heads are fine for tall users, but they're so high up that short users can't reach them to change the settings. If you're particularly tall or short, measure your shower enclosure before you buy and figure out what the height and angle of the shower head will be once it's installed.

How strong is the water pressure in your home? Today's shower heads, which have a maximum flow rate of 2.5 gpm, can still deliver a strong enough stream to satisfy most users. However, people with low water pressure in their homes often find that standard shower heads produce only a feeble trickle that isn't strong enough to rinse away soap and shampoo. Some have resorted to removing the pressure regulator that limits water flow, but doing this will increase water use significantly. A better solution is to choose an aerated shower head, which adds air to the water stream to boost pressure without using more water. The Oxygenics SkinCare (Est. $30) gets particularly good reviews from owners with low water pressure.

Value expectations: The dollars and cents of it

Durability has a big impact on a shower head's long-term cost. A $30 shower head that wears out after a year will cost a lot more in the long run than a $60 shower head that lasts 10 years. Replacement parts, such as filters, can also add to the cost of ownership. If you choose a filtered shower head, make sure to check on the cost and availability of the filters. Also, be aware that additional parts, such as the shower arm, usually aren't included with the shower head; adding them can more than double the total price.

Speaking of shower arms, if you find a shower head you like but it's up too high -- or if you have 9-foot ceilings -- a shower arm pipe extension can be purchased in the plumbing department. It will add to the cost and is an extra installation step, albeit a simple one.

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