For folks looking to keep their garden lush, cars clean, and sprinklers sprinkling, the best choice is the Craftsman Premium Rubber Hose because of its great price, durability, build quality, lack of plasticizers, and lifetime warranty.
The sturdy Craftsman Premium Rubber Hose is built with heavy rubber construction and connectors of nickel-plated brass, which stops any lead in the brass from seeping into the water. The rubber construction also minimizes contamination from plasticizing agents, and the thick material contributes to this hose’s kink resistance. These two components, more than anything, helped this Craftsman hose achieve its low toxicity rating from HealthyStuff.org. While it isn’t totally kink-proof, in our tests the Craftsman kinked far less than the equivalent hybrid rubber/PVC hose from Gilmour.
If you have some extra cash, our absolute favorite model is the Water Right 50 Ft 600 Series 5/8″ Polyurethane Garden Hose. It pulls straight with no kinks and has enough volume to give your spray power. This Water Right hose uses food-grade polyurethane and contains no lead, phthalates, or BPA. Its fittings are also made of a lead-free brass alloy.
For an extra lightweight alternative, we also liked the $55 Water Right Slim and Light hose, also made of polyurethane. The 50 ft model weighs only 3 pounds, a quarter of the weight of a heavy rubber hose. At 7/16” in diameter, though, its water pressure can be a bit wimpy.
For our original guide to hoses, we spent 20 hours researching and testing six top-rated hoses. To respond to readers’ concerns about lead, phthalates, and BPA, we tested six additional hoses not made of PVC for this update. After an additional 17 hours of research into the topic of contaminants in hose water, along with testing, we’ve come to the conclusion that the Craftsman Premium Rubber Hose is still the best value with a low risk of water contamination.
If you have a hose you like, keep using it. What you’ll gain by getting a new hose is a longer hose life-span, no leaks (at least for a while) fewer kinks, and peace of mind if you’re concerned about water contamination. But really, there aren’t that many stunning advances in hose technology from year to year. We’re talking about a long tube with water in it.
Drain and coil your hose after each use, keep it out of the sun as much as possible, and put it away indoors for the winter, and your hose should last years. Put it across your driveway in Arizona in July and drive your cement truck over it a couple of times a day, and you’ll need a new hose every week. Maybe two.
There aren’t many objective evaluations comparing hoses. Almost all information available online was anecdotal in nature, often wrong (and seriously so in some cases), and of very little use to homeowners.
We looked for hoses that were constructed with the highest quality materials, and that were the least likely to contaminate the water. In addition, we culled the top-rated hoses on Amazon after reading through hundreds of reviews in order to eliminate any that had a high rate of failure. We also selected hoses that were widely available at outlets like Home Depot, Lowes, and Sears.
Most garden hoses are made of one of three different materials: rubber, PVC (polyvinyl chloride), or polyurethane. The material least likely to be drinking water safe is PVC as most vinyls use lead (among other metals) and plasticizers containing phthalates in their production. We focused on rubber and polyurethane hoses for this piece. (For more, read “Drinking-Water Safe” Hoses.)
Outside of the hose itself, it’s important to consider hose fittings. Most fittings are made out of brass (which can contain lead), chrome/nickel coated brass, aluminum, or plastic. The best choice is nickel or chrome-coated brass as it eliminates lead contamination while also minimizing corrosion due to copper oxidation. Nickel is also a lot harder than aluminum or plastic, which reduces the chance of stripped threads, a major cause of leaks.
Most hoses come in 25, 50, or 100 foot varieties. On their own, 25-foot hoses are almost useless—you can barely run one behind a car and back. In our tests, we found that the fifty foot hose, the standard length, was great for most tasks around the yard. If you need more than 50 feet, most of the experts we talked to recommended buying multiple hoses instead of one longer one and connecting them when you need the added length. If anything does break or leak, you only have to replace the leaky section instead of buying another long, expensive hose.
Kinking is a major complaint with many hoses. Genevieve Schmidt, a garden writer and owner of a landscaping company in Northern California, tells us, “Every hose brand will kink, but some brands are better than others.” But designs marketed as kink-free don’t matter as much as proper storage technique (see Care and Maintenance below).
To test the hoses, the first thing to test was the connection between the hose and the water line. Did it leak? Were the threads robust? Was it easy to connect and disconnect? After that we tested water flow rate (we only saw a significant difference between ½” and ⅝” hoses, but it did influence nozzle performance). Once connected to the water source, we fitted different nozzles on the hoses to test compatibility, pressure and to see if leaks formed at the nozzle end. During this use, we also evaluated how easily a hose kinked, and how easy it was to unkink.
One of the most important qualities for a hose can’t easily be tested, specifically how it holds up over time. I heard time and time again that all hoses fail. It doesn’t matter how careful you are, they will eventually spring a leak, or stop working the way you want them to, so having a solid warranty is essential.
For the original guide, we tested six hoses of different materials. For this update, we avoided PVC models and called in two polyurethane hoses, two additional rubber hoses, and two hoses made of a mystery copolymers.
The Craftsman Premium Rubber Hose is built like a tank, with heavy rubber construction and connectors of nickel-plated brass. Because of this plating, any lead in the brass won’t get into the water, and the couplings should hold up better over time. Rubber also minimizes contamination from plasticizing agents, and the thick material contributes to its kink-resistance. While not totally kink-proof, in our tests the Craftsman certainly kinked far less than the equivalent hybrid rubber/PVC hose from Gilmour.
The Craftsman is also considered to be a low toxicity risk by HealthyStuff.org. Their tests showed it to have no lead, and only trace amounts of other toxins.
Master gardener Cathy Beauregard, who owns a landscaping company in Connecticut and frequently teaches at UConn’s master gardening program, spends a lot of time working with hoses and agrees that there are none better than the Craftsman. “The best garden hose on the market is made out of black rubber, and you can buy them from Sears. They’re 100% guaranteed as long as you own it. You can run over it with a car and it’ll still be good,” said Beauregard.
While we liked the Craftsman hose the best, it is not without its downsides. In particular, it’s heavy. It weighed in at 12-pounds unfilled, and nearly 15 when the water was turned on. Of the hoses we tested the weights ranged from 3 to 12 pounds, with the average being about 6 for a 50-foot hose. This might be a big turnoff for people who drag their hoses around their gardens as a heavy hose has the potential to crush small plants and snap or damage taller ones, especially given that there are great lightweight alternatives (albeit, at a cost).
Another issue came up after we published that piece, which is some people reported that after prolonged sun exposure in high UV areas over many seasons, the hose broke down in the sun and could leave black residue on hands and surfaces. We weren’t able to reproduce this flaw on our model. However, if that happens to you, we recommend you utilize the warranty and get a new one. And for the record, as we note below, it is best not to leave a hose sitting in direct sunlight if possible, but coiled on a hose reel in the shade.
One of our testers, Simon Baumer, sent us this report from his use of our top pick for the last year in Hawaii, on the island of Oahu, where the sun shines nearly three-quarters of the year and temperatures average 77 degrees. Despite leaving it outside partly in the sun, the hose hasn’t broken down or degraded as some other users have reported: “The hose has been permanently positioned on the eastern side of the house which is exposed to sun for half the day every day. It’s been stored on a reel, but for around 70-75% of that time, half of the hose was left out on the back yard (exposed to sun the full day) with a sprinkler attached. I’ve run my hand along the entire length (both the half that was fully exposed for a majority of the time, and the half that was stored on the reel the entire time) to make sure no black residue was coming off, or any breakdown was happening.”
Even without sticking to our storage guidelines (keeping it wrapped on a reel and out of the sun) he didn’t seen any of the reported ill effects. However, owners of this hose who live in areas that see extremely high and/or low temperatures should more closely follow our care and maintenance tips to ensure the best results.
Water Right now sells a 50 Ft 600 Series 5/8″ Polyurethane Garden Hose. Water Right’s polyurethane meets FDA standards for drinking water and contains no lead, phthalates, or BPA, and Water Right uses a lead-free brass alloy in its fittings. Unlike the Water Right Ultra-Light Slim hose we tested in 2013, which was a mere 7/16” diameter, the Water Right ⅝” hose has the volume to power any hose nozzle or attachment you can find. The hose material is sturdy but light (6.5 lbs), and it easily pulls straight. I even tried to make this hose kink by coiling it, then by pulling it out quickly, but it just would not kink. If you want a safe, sturdy, light hose in the attractive shades of gunmetal gray, olive, or eggplant, this is the hose to get. If it weren’t so costly, it would be the top pick.
If the Craftsman’s 12lb weight is just too much, the $55 Water Right Slim and Light hose is a great choice for those who spend a lot of time in the garden dragging a hose around potentially fragile plants, or for those who are simply tired of hauling around a heavy unwieldy hose. The quality of the hose is top notch, and definitely warrants spending a little bit extra if you want to lose a few pounds–their 50 foot hoses weigh only 3 pounds, a fourth the weight of the Craftsman rubber hose. The hose is also more ideal for someone who lives in an extremely sunny area and does not want to deal with the UV breakdown that might happen with the Craftsman or other rubber hoses over time.
For being so light, the Water Right hose is remarkably robust, and doesn’t kink very easily. When it does kink a quick flick of the hose seems to free any problems. Susan Harris, a garden writer at Garden Rant, had this to say about the difference in weight when compared to the Crafstman Rubber Hose: “The difference is so big, I was shocked when I first lifted one. Imagine just flinging the the hose to wherever you need it in one motion.”
However, it’s worth noting that the Slim and Light hose uses a 1/2” diameter whereas almost all other garden hoses are 5/8”(the chrome-plated fittings, however, are standard size for most spigots). This lead to pressure issues when we tested it with the Bon Aire Ultimate Hose Nozzle. The result was more of a dripping than a drenching. From what I’ve read, the smaller diameter is also likely to affect the performance of many sprinklers so keep that in mind if you were hoping to water your yard.
First of all, The Sweethome agrees with Patty Davis, a spokeswoman for the Consumer Product Safety Commission, who stated that “the commission would never recommend that any consumer drink from a garden hose” in a 2012 New York Times article. Davis reiterated that advice when I called her, stating that the risks from bacteria, mold, insects, and chemical leaching from hoses were just too high.
That said, even if you’re not standing in the backyard chugging from a hose, the water from hoses runs into kids’ wading pools and water-guns, into pets’ water bowls, and onto plants that grow food. Why spray toxic chemicals on your yard if you don’t have to? Unfortunately, some hoses do exactly that. Depending what a hose is made of, water left standing in hoses can contain hazardous quantities of lead, phthalates, and bisphenol-A (BPA), according studies from 2012 and 2013 by HealthyStuff.org, a research division of the Michigan-based nonprofit Ecology Center.
So how can you make sure you’re getting a healthy hose? Well, it’s harder than it should be to find one. There is no federal oversight of hose water. The reps I contacted at the Environmental Protection Agency’s media relations couldn’t even figure out who I should be talking to who might regulate hoses. The federal Reduction of Lead in Drinking Water Act, which took effect on January 4, 2014, mandates strict standards for lead in all sorts of plumbing… but not hoses.
Some hose companies say their hoses are “drinking water safe.” That statement doesn’t have any legal meaning.
Some companies send their hoses to an independent certification organization such as the the NSF (formerly the National Sanitation Foundation) or the Water Quality Association for testing. Those organizations put the hoses through their standard tests for plumbing, which involves passing water at a temperature of 73ºF(23ºC) through a hose and seeing if any lead is leached.
Unfortunately, hoses aren’t pipes. That testing may work in Camelot, where the climate must be perfect all the year, but in a typical yard hoses are left out in the sun in August. The hot water in those hoses leaches chemicals more easily than cold water. It’s the same principle you use when you make tea with hot water instead of cold water. HealthyStuff.org left hoses made of PVC outside in the sun for two days, and found alarming levels of lead (0.28 ppm or 18x the federal limit), BPA (0.34-0.91 ppm or 3-9x the NSF limit), and phthalates (0.011-0.017 ppm of the phthalate DEHP, or 2x the federal limit)in water that had sat in those hoses.
If you want to drink from your hose, Jeff Gearhart, research director at the Ecology Center, recommends using a hose made of food-grade polyurethane, which is free of lead, BPA, and phthalates, such as Water-Right hoses. HealthyStuff.org lists several polyurethane models in their 2013 Garden Hose Study, but none of them are certified as food-grade—and HealthyStuff found the brand Gearhart mentioned, Water-Right, had high levels of lead in the hose connector.
Our pick, the Sears 50 ft Craftsman Premium Heavy-Duty Rubber Garden Hose, was rated as being “Low” concern, with no detectable lead or other heavy metals in the water, the hose material, or the couplings. However, the hose is prominently labeled “Not Approved for Drinking Water” on the front, and carries a California Proposition 65 warning that reads WARNING “This hose contains chemicals including lead, known to the state of California to cause cancer, birth defects and other reproductive harm.”
How could this be? According to a Craftsman representative I contacted, there is lead in the “nickel plated brass couplings.” This is an example of how the Prop 65 warning sounds an alarm for nothing, as the lead in the Craftsman is entirely encased in nickel.
The American Cancer Society’s page on Proposition 65 reads, in part:
The Prop 65 labels only tell you that a product has something in it that might cause cancer or affect reproduction. They don’t say what the substance is, where it is in the product, how you might be exposed to it, what the level of risk is, or how to reduce your exposure.
In short, the Proposition 65 labels don’t actually tell you anything useful. If you want to know your risk, you need to contact the manufacturer, or perform tests—which is what HealthyStuff does. The lead in the Craftsman Premium Rubber Hose’s connectors may never ever touch the surface of the earth, much less the water in your hose.
When you are thinking about hoses, you may decided that you don’t want to buy hoses that contain any lead, because lead is inherently harmful and unnecessary. Environmental advocates such as William McDonough would agree with you. There are plenty of options for lead-free hoses, such as the Water Right hoses, but they are more expensive.
The bottom line: HealthyStuff.org’s tests rated the Craftsman Premium Rubber Hose as being of low concern. If you’re dead-set on drinking from a hose, flush the sitting water out first, and use a polyurethane hose—but watch out for lead in brass connectors if you’re putting them in your mouth. Consider getting a water bottle instead.
Every single person we talked to took time to share a few words of advice: the likelihood of kinking and the durability of your hose is singlehandedly determined by how well you take care of it. A hose that is kept in a hose pot or hose reel, that is kept out of the sun, and is drained before winter, will fare far better than a hose left kinked in the yard baking in the sun. Genevieve Schmidt also added that it’s not a bad idea to always keep a nozzle on your hose if only to protect the relatively delicate threads from stripping or being scuffed on asphalt or pavement.
Also, every type of hose exposed to enough sunlight begins to degrade. And this is especially true for rubber. Rubber is rubbery because its elastomers have been vulcanized, a process wherein long chains of polymers cross-link during curing. This is done to preserve the elastic qualities over time. However, even after vulcanization rubber is sensitive to UV exposure.
John Loadman, an analytical chemist who specializes in rubber, describes the process of UV degradation on his site Bouncing Balls. “The mechanism for light-catalysed oxidative degradation is that the energy of UV light may be sufficient to break a C-H bond and generate a radical species which can then react with oxygen to initiate the same chain reaction sequences as occur in direct oxidation.” In layman’s terms, UV light breaks a key chemical bond which then allows for further degradation. Even simpler, UV light causes rubber to break down over time.
Luckily, most rubber has been adequately vulcanized that this isn’t a problem in the short term. However, as hoses age the rubber will begin to degrade and soften. When this happens rubber can slough off and leave a residue after being handled.
Finally, it should be noted that rubber is not the only material sensitive to UV light. Hoses made out of any polymer, including PVC and polyurethane, will eventually degrade when exposed to enough UV light. PVC, in fact, is well known for being sensitive to UV degradation. This is why PVC hoses often develop cracks and leaks after spending a few seasons being exposed to UV light. However, those sorts of hoses won’t necessarily leave scuffs and residue as they do, which is why if this is an issue for you, you should consider a polyurethane-based hose.
The GatorHyde Drinking Water Safe Hose was our runner-up pick before its maker discontinued it. If you find one hidden on the top shelf of your local hardware store, grab it. This model is still a great hose with a loyal following, and we’re sorry to see it go.
The Dramm 17005 ColorStorm Premium 50-Foot-by-5/8-Inch Rubber Garden Hose ($47), with its nickel-plated couplings, looks and feels identical to the Craftsman Premium Rubber hose, except that A) it comes in pretty colors like purple and yellow! B) There are tiny parallel grooves along the length of the hose, and C) it costs $3-$15 more than the Craftsman hose, depending on where you’d buy the Craftsman hose. How much would you pay to buy a hose to match your favorite Skittles?
All candy jokes aside, if your hose is going to be lying in a place where passersby could trip on it, it might be worthwhile to buy a neon-orange Dramm hose instead of the dour black Craftsman model. Otherwise, The Sweethome cannot judge the value of color aesthetics. Apart from reflecting different wavelengths of light, these hoses are the same, and Dramm offers a lifetime guarantee… just like Craftsman. The choice is yours.
Goodyear produces a rubber hose that is very similar in build quality and price (around $30) to the Craftsman, and it’s sold at Home Depot so I picked one up to compare. While similar in weight, it doesn’t have the fit and finish of the Craftsman. In particular, its brass couplers lacked the nickel-coating and had trouble screwing onto the spigot. Outside of that, it’d be hard to tell the difference between the two especially if you’re more than a few feet away. One of the most substantial differences outside of build, in my eyes, is the Craftsman warranty, and the ability to return the hose to either a Kmart or Sears. That being said, Home Depot has a very liberal return policy, and if it’s all you have close by the Goodyear rubber hose would be a decent choice.
The Swan Premium Rubber Hose ($48), like the Dramm and Craftsman hoses, is heavy (10 lbs). And as with the Craftsman hose, HealthyStuff rated it as a low overall risk, with no detectable lead in the couplings or the hose itself.
The Swan hose comes with a limited lifetime warranty for manufacturing defects, which requires the UPC code and the original receipt. It’s slightly more expensive than the Craftsman hose and doesn’t come with as good a warranty. It’s a decent hose, but you can do better.
The Flexzilla hose ($48) sounds like an abbreviated monster double feature. It’s made of a “premium hybrid polymer material,” whatever that is, and aluminum couplings, and feels and looks a little like Play-Doh. It’s slightly soft to the touch, not stiff like PVC or polyurethane hoses, and it’s fairly light at 7.2 lbs. Amazon reviewers praise its flexibility at a range of temperatures, and its ability to stand up to high-pressure water systems without leaking or exploding.
The Flexzilla’s claim to fame is that it’s not supposed to not kink under pressure, but it is certainly capable of kinking when the hose is new and empty. Here at The Sweethome, we are skeptical of all claims of non-kinking hoses. Although it’s a charming shade of lime green, the possibility of plasticizers in the “polymer material” is off-putting. If you need to wend a snakey-looking hose around a series of obstacles, this might be a good match for your needs. Otherwise, you can save a few dollars and get the Craftsman hose for similar performance, or spend more money for a truly lightweight, subtly colored Water Right Slim and Light hose.
We also tested a rubber/PVC hose from Gilmour, but as mentioned previously, it was far less kink-resistant than the Craftsman so there’s no reason to get it if you have the option of getting that or the Goodyear.
Genevieve Schmidt recommended the Tuff-Guard Perfect Garden Hose, which impressed her because it was lighter (at 6 lbs) and very resistant to kinking. The Tuff-Guard is set apart by its rigid helical polypropylene backbone, which prevents it from collapsing. The closest analogue I can think of is the hose you find on some vacuum cleaner cleaners. Like Genevieve Schmidt, I tried tying it in knots to no avail. It just refuses to kink.
Unfortunately, it started leaking soon after we hooked it up to the spigot. There was a significant weak spot where it was missing one of the two layers of polypropylene, and where the polyester fiber used as reinforcement was tearing. With a little more force (or time) it’s pretty clear that the whole thing would come undone. And because it’s not sold anywhere nearby, in order to get it replaced we’d have to take a trip to the post office plus the cost of shipping (which for a bulky 6.5 lb hose isn’t cheap). I should also note that many of the reviewers who described their hose failing on Amazon have been sent replacements, so it sounds like Tuff Guard is responsive and eager to resolve these issues.
The Scotts MaxFlex Premium Heavy Garden Hose ($40) has lead-free aluminum couplings and its packaging says that it is “Drinking Water Safe”—a meaningless designation that, in this case, appears to mean that it meets Federal Safe Drinking Water Act standards for lead, which doesn’t apply to hoses in the first place. (See “Drinking-Water Safe” Hoses above.) Aluminum couplings are lead-free, but they’re also a bit softer and lighter than brass and more likely to get crushed or broken. That said, the MaxFlex’s couplings are large and much easier to screw on and off outdoor faucets than any other hose in the sample. If you hate twisting hose couplings, this might be the hose for you.
The MaxFlex is made of a “copolymer.” Scotts is patenting the stuff, so the Scotts rep I contacted wouldn’t tell me precisely what it was made of, but said that it is phthalate-free. It’s hard to tell what else might be in it, though.
The MaxFlex is lighter than the Craftsman hose (8 lbs. vs. 12 lbs. for the Craftsman), but not as light as the Water Right (6.5 lbs). It doesn’t cost much less than the Craftsman hose, but it doesn’t come with the superior Craftsman warranty. Like the Swan Premium Rubber Hose (which is made by the same company), the Scotts MaxFlex only comes with a “Limited Lifetime Warranty,” for manufacturer defects. A Scotts representative wrote, “If it fails (a construction defect, coupling issue etc) it is covered. If dragged a across a rough surface daily and it wears a hole in the product, that is consumer usage and not covered.”You can’t find the details on the hose packaging or the Scotts MaxFlex Hose web site, though.
Given the uncertainty surrounding the MaxFlex’s contents and warranty, the potential weakness of the aluminum couplings, and that it costs slightly more than our top pick, I do not recommend the MaxFlex Hose.
The 50-foot Craftsman Premium Rubber Hose is made with safe, reliable materials and the fit and finish that should last years if cared for properly. Not only is it well built and affordable, but it comes with a warranty that covers you when, not if, the hose eventually breaks. Pair it with our favorite hose nozzle, the cheap but sturdy Gilmour Full Size Zinc Pistol, for spray power.
Originally published: August 27, 2014