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A good shower head can make you look forward to the day

If your morning shower is more of a morning drizzle, a new shower head could be the solution. Not only have today's shower heads improved flow, even in water-saving models, but many have variable settings so you can pound those tight muscles with a water massage or be soothed by a gentle fall of rain.

There are two basic types of shower heads: fixed and handheld. Fixed shower heads are most common and range from extremely basic, with just a single spray setting, to more sophisticated, with a variety of spray choices just by turning a knob or dial. Fixed shower heads are generally easy to install, but they vary significantly in price. A no-frills model can cost $10 or less, while a high-end shower head with an adjustable flow rate and a variety of stream settings can cost as much as $100.

A handheld shower head offers more versatility. These models are shower nozzles attached to a flexible hose. Nestled into a wall-mounted cradle, it can function just like a fixed shower head or be removed from its mount and directed onto particular body parts. Reviewers say they're also handy for cleaning the shower or washing the dog. Most handheld shower heads have multiple settings, so you won't find them at truly rock-bottom prices, but we found good ratings for models priced between $25 and $80.

Fixed and handheld shower heads are available in low-flow versions. Shower heads are required to use no more than 2.5 gallons per minute (gpm), which is significantly less than the flow rate of some older shower heads. However, if you want to save even more water, you can choose a shower head bearing the Environmental Protection Agency's WaterSense label. Models with this label are guaranteed to use no more than 2 gpm. Older low-flow shower heads often felt either misty and anemic or sharp and needle-like, but newer models have worked around these problems, delivering a satisfying spray with 1.5 to 2 gpm. In fact, our two top-rated fixed shower heads both meet the WaterSense criteria. For those who really want to stretch their water as far as possible, there are ultra-low-flow shower heads, which use less than 1.5 gpm. However, we did not find many recommendations for shower heads in this category.

One of the hottest trends in shower heads is the rain shower. These can-shaped shower heads have broad, flat faces that drop water straight down onto the user to simulate rainfall. Many reviewers rave about the luxurious feel of this type of shower, but it's not for everyone. Most rain shower heads use the full 2.5 gpm allowed by law, and some people still find the flow too weak. Rain shower heads are pricier than other shower heads, starting at around $50, and installation can be more expensive, as well.

Shower towers are a luxury. The most expensive type of shower head is the multi-spray shower system, also known as a shower tower. This combines a traditional fixed or handheld shower head with a series of additional jets that spray out from the wall. These high-end showers may offer the ultimate in luxury, but they cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars and may require expensive alterations to your home plumbing. Moreover, at 2.5 gpm per jet, a four-outlet shower system can use 10 gallons of water per minute -- enough to drain a 40-gallon water heater in four minutes. A less pricey (and less thirsty) alternative to a shower tower is a dual shower, which combines a fixed shower head with a handheld so you can enjoy the spray from two angles at once. Dual shower heads cost as little as $65 and can be installed by a handy do-it-yourselfer. We did not find any professional reviews (and very few user reviews) of full-scale shower systems, but a dual shower head, the Ana Bath SS5450 Shower System (Est. $75) , earns our runner-up pick in the handheld shower category.

ConsumerSearch editors consulted professional tests, newspaper and magazine articles, and reviews from users on retail sites to pick the best shower heads on the market, including handheld and rain shower heads. One is sure to make your morning toilette a bit more refreshing.

Ana Bath SS5450CBN 5 Inch 5 Function Handheld Shower and Showerhead Combo Shower System, PVD Brushed Nickel Finish
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New: $84.99 $59.99   
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