Tired of a shower that produces a weak sprinkle instead of an invigorating stream? Get a new showerhead. The best models we tested provide a strong flow and steady temperature, and some have adjustable settings for spray patterns ranging from a gentle mist to a forceful message.
The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that showers account for nearly 1.2 trillion gallons each year—about one-sixth of all the water used in U.S. residences for bathing. Before 1994, showerheads typically had a flow rate of 5½ gallons per minute. Since then, the Department of Energy has limited showerheads to 2½ gpm to conserve not only water but fuel for the water heater. Models that display a WaterSense label use no more than 2 ppm.
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What We Found
The good news is that the best showerheads we tested provided a pleasing flow while meeting the federal flow-rate standard. But the challenge for manufacturers is to meet the standard and even the voluntary WaterSense requirements without affecting the feel of the shower since an anemic flow can result in longer showers and even greater water use.
Water-Efficient Models can Satisfy
Our male and female test panelists evaluated the force of each model’s stream, the various settings, ease of adjustment, and other factors. Supplementing those subjective judgments were lab measurements of changes in flow rate and water temperature at various settings.
Not surprisingly, how well our panelists liked a showerhead often coincided with how much water is delivered. Most water-saving models achieved only middling scores. But our testers described one inexpensive water-saving model as “refreshing” and “stimulating,” despite its modest 2-GPM flow rate.
Don’t Go by Price
If you think you have to spend top dollar to get a strong performer, think again. Our top-rated multi-setting showerhead costs a quarter of the price of the model that finished second. And among single-setting showerheads, the least-expensive model we tested was the clear winner.
Are You Using Too Much Water?
If you‘re wondering whether a new showerhead can reduce your water consumption, here’s a quick way to measure your old model’s flow rate: Place a bucket marked in gallon increments under the showerhead, turn on the shower at the water pressure you normally use, and time how long it takes to fill the bucket to the 1-gallon mark. If it’s less than 24 seconds, you could save water with a low-flow showerhead.
Replacing most showerheads is a simple do-it-yourself project. Unscrew the old head with an adjustable wrench and remove the old plumber’s tape from the threaded part of the shower arm. Then apply fresh plumber’s tape over the threads for a good seal, and screw the new showerhead tightly in place. But some multijet “shower towers” require expensive plumbing alterations.
Even the simplest and least-expensive showerheads can provide a satisfying shower, but more money may provide more options. Here are the types of showerheads to consider.
These showerheads let you adjust the flow pattern to as many as 12 settings such as mist, massage, pulsing, wide and narrow stream, and a water-saving trickle while you soap up. Some offer a continuously variable setting. Multiple settings generally met with our panelists’ favor, but the mist setting on some models didn’t impress.
These simple showerheads provide only one set, as their name implies. They tend to cost much less than multi-setting models.
Three multi-head models we tested promised a spa-like experience and comprised a fixed or handheld showerhead (or both), and several additional body jets, all mounted on a vertical strip. But more recent action by the Department of Energy has changed how these products work. Initially, shower towers got around the federal 2½-gpm standard by limiting each head or spray to 2½ gpm. Thus, if the unit had four outlets, it could legally use as much as 10 gpm.
The individual taste should determine which features you choose. Here are the showerhead features to consider.
By mixing air with water, these showerheads form a misty spray to make the flow feel more substantial. Laminar-flow showerheads form individual streams of water instead. On the models we tested, aeration cooled the water from 5 to 15 degrees F on its way from the showerhead to where it would hit your back. Laminar-flow showerheads may cost a little more, but they save energy by maintaining the water temperature better. And they don’t create as much steam and moisture, a plus especially if you live in a humid region.
You can leave a handheld model in its holder or remove it to focus the spray on any part of your body. A rubber hose provides mobility.
With their large head and wide spray pattern to reduce pressure, they promise a soft, soothing flow, like raindrops falling on your head.