If you're looking to replace a worn-out or inefficient showerhead, standard fixed showerheads are the most popular option. They're easy to install and usually inexpensive; basic replacement showerheads can cost as little as $10. More expensive options typically have extra features, such as water-saving or massage spray modes, and a more stylish design.
Handheld showerheads, another option, feature a handle and short hose, which some consumers find useful for bathing children and pets. This type of showerhead can also be a good choice for elderly individuals or people with limited mobility. Most manufacturers of fixed showerheads offer a handheld counterpart with identical (or very similar) features.
Shower towers, which include two or more showerheads but typically have lower pressure, are usually installed as part of a custom shower. However, these higher-priced products often require extensive plumbing work, so we've opted not to include them in this report. We focus on do-it-yourself replacement showerheads.
If you want a higher-flow setup with multiple showerheads but don't want to spend thousands of dollars on a custom shower, you may find a combination showerhead to be a good compromise. These items range in price from about $30 to $200 and they have two showerheads -- one fixed and one handheld -- that can be used simultaneously or separately. Combination showerheads do use more water than standard showerheads, however, and most only include extra spray options on the handheld portion.
Looking for a more luxurious experience? Consider a rain-can showerhead. These type of showerheads have broad, flat faces that drop water straight down onto the user to simulate a rain shower. Rain cans are no harder to install than fixed showerheads but some consumers add an extension arm so that the head can be positioned directly over the shower stall to get a more rain-like feel. Some downsides: Rain cans can be pricey and they aren't always practical. Most products cost at least $100 and some owners say they don't offer a great rinse -- especially if you have long hair. However, some rain cans do feature an extra spray mode for easier rinsing.
Individuals who live in water-strapped areas or those who simply want to conserve water may be interested in a water-saving showerhead. Though many early low-flow showerheads received criticism from consumers, today's technology have improved the pressure and efficiency of these products. Low-flow showerheads don't usually cost any more than standard showerheads and range from about $10 to $200. Many include a water-saver mode to limit water output while individuals lather up, while other products feature a "pause" button to totally turn water off until people are ready to rinse (called a "sailor's shower").
Interestingly, we found professional tests accurately evaluate how much water a showerhead uses. We saw no indication that manufacturers are fudging the numbers; testing shows that showerheads use exactly (or very close to) the claimed amount of water. Overall, we found the best professional review for showerheads comes from ConsumerReports.org. Editors tested 18 single- and multi-function models earlier this year. Panelists were asked to evaluate showerheads for comfort and ease of use, while objective tests measured whether showerheads used as little water as manufacturers claimed. This is also the only review we found that measured the temperature of hot water coming from the showerhead -- an important consideration since the technology that increases water pressure can cause water to feel tepid.
The editors at Good Housekeeping magazine also tested showerheads in 2008, but never published a full report of their findings. There are some references to the tests in a couple of brief articles that can be found in back issues and on GoodHousekeeping.com, but a report from Seattle's Channel 4 KOMO News covers this test in more detail. While their methodology seems solid enough, only a few of the tested showerheads are thoroughly discussed.
Additionally, Australia's Choice magazine offers an insightful review of showerheads with plenty of discussion for each tested model, but none of the products mentioned are available in the United States. Another solid evaluation of showerheads comes from The New York Times. In their August 2009 article, reviewer Stephen Treffinger tests 17 water-saving showerheads in a quest to verify that the products use the amount of water manufacturers claim. The reviewer also gives his impressions of each product's spray settings. Unfortunately, he only talks about the handful of showerheads that most impressed him and doesn't reveal which ones he found lacking.
Aside from these, we found several articles detailing expert recommendations for showerheads from Fine Homebuilding and Real Simple magazines, and websites like PlanetGreen.com, MetaEfficient.com, Tibesti.com and KitchenBathIdeas.com. All claim to provide unbiased reviews and recommendations, but none discuss methodology. The language in these reviews also prompts us to wonder whether the showerheads mentioned were tested or even seen in person.
As usual, owner reviews also provide interesting insights. Amazon.com offers the most owner feedback; several models have more than 100 reviews each. We also found quite a few reviews at home improvement retailers like HomeDepot.com and Lowes.com and at review sites like Buzzillions.com and Epinions.com. In addition to information about how comfortable a particular showerhead is, owner reviews offer valuable insight into installation troubles, clogging over time (from minerals in hard water) and performance with different levels of home water pressure.