Garden hoses have always been a source of frustration for gardeners and lawn care enthusiasts alike. With that in mind, I've spent more than 20 hours over the past few months scouring to find the best hose. 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, and lifetime warranty.
What makes a great hose
When I first started researching garden hoses I was sure that someone—anyone really—would have done an objective evaluation comparing hoses. I was stunned to find out that almost all information available online was anecdotal in nature, often wrong (and seriously so in some cases), and of very little use to homeowners. I leafed through gardening magazines like Home and Garden and Fine Gardening only to find that recommendations were almost always based on superficial features like color and spoke little of their actual use. Even more frustrating was the frequently quoted adage of “do yourself a favor and buy a nice hose” with little to no description of what that was.
Genevieve Schmidt, a garden writer and owner of a landscaping company in Northern California, knows hoses and is acutely aware of all the grief they can bring. “My number one bug is when I’m over 50 feet away and I get a kink and then I have to walk all the way back to fix it,” says Schmidt. “That is super annoying to me.” It is no surprise, then, that most brands of hose are marketed as “kink-free.” Alas, as Schmidt points out “every hose brand will kink, but some brands are better than others.”
So what makes a hose less likely to kink? Some companies, like Tuff Guard, have implemented unique designs to combat kinking. Schmidt explains that the Tuff Guard Perfect Garden Hose is basically a “springy energetic coil”. The double helix design uses a stiffer polypropylene plastic that wraps around the hose that provides a structure which resists collapse. “I tried tying it in knots, and couldn’t get it to kink,” says Schmidt.
Schmidt also explained to me that it’s easy to decrease the likelihood of any hose kinking, not just the Tuff Guard.
“The number one thing [that causes kinking] is not putting the hose away properly. Hoses have a memory, and if you wind them up every single time, and keep them really neat they don’t sustain the same kind of stresses. Hoses get brittle when asked to sit kinked in all different directions. Never ever leave it kinked or it will develop a permanent spot that always kinks.”
For the most part, though, any hose that promises to be “kink-free” is an example of marketing gone wrong and should be taken with a huge grain of salt. And even those hoses that do kink less often, like the Tuff Guard, may not be the best choice as Schmidt explained that even she has reservations about it because it is not drinking water safe.
Water Safety and Hose Materials
Lead and BPA are not things you want in your drinking water (or the water that nourishes your vegetables for that matter) because they’ve been linked to undesirable outcomes like cancer and birth defects, unfortunately a lot of hoses contain a lot of both of those things. While most drinking water in the U.S. is protected by the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) anything that comes out of a garden hose is not so you have to make sure the hose you buy is clean–otherwise the water that comes from it won’t be.
Healthystuff.org, a non-profit website run by the Michigan based Ecology Center, recently examined over 179 common garden products including 90 garden hoses only to find that more than two thirds of the products tested warranted what they describe as “high concern”. 30% of these products contained more lead than is considered safe by the Consumer Product Safety Commission Standard. One particular model tested was the Apex Neverkink Heavy Duty 2000 hose, a popular well-reviewed model on Amazon. Not only did it contain high levels of lead in the brass fittings, but also significant levels of phthalates (like BPA) that would violate CPSIA standards if the same levels were found in children’s toys.
What to look for
Most garden hoses are made of one of three different materials (or a combination of two): 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. Healthystuff.org recommends PVC-free hoses, and I’m inclined to agree with them, so hoses containing PVC are not high on my list of recommendations. Rubber on the other hand is naturally flexible while also being very durable without the nasty habit of leaching contaminants. Polyurethane, though a polymer like PVC is less likely to contain lead, BPA, or phthalates, and is a lighter weight alternative to rubber.
Outside of the hose itself, it’s important to consider hose fittings. Most fittings are made out of brass, chrome/nickel coated brass, aluminum, or plastic. Brass is often touted as being what to look for, but given that it contains lead (unless it’s specifically marketed as lead-free brass) and is prone to oxidation (especially after the lacquer wears off) it may not be the best choice. Aluminum and plastic should also be avoided as both are prone to failure due to cracking or bending. The best choice is nickel or chrome-coated brass as it eliminates lead contamination while also minimizing corrosion due to copper oxidation which means it won’t be impossible to remove because of crud that builds up in the threads. Nickel is also a lot harder which reduces the chance of stripped threads which is a major cause of leaks.
How long should it be?
One of the most important decisions when buying a hose is length. Most hoses come in 25, 50, or 100 foot varieties, however, that doesn’t mean you should be buying the longest one you can find. Instead, 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. While not necessarily cheaper, it means that for tasks that don’t need the distance you have a lot less hose to deal with. It also has the added benefit of making sure that if anything does break or spring a leak that you only have to replace that particular section, as opposed to a much longer hose.
In our tests, we found that the fifty foot hose was great for most tasks around the yard. Twenty-five feet, on the other hand, was a bit too short, especially if you only have one spigot. It also means that you’re limited if you’re trying to move your sprinkler around the yard. Lucky for us, fifty feet seems to be the standard length for most hoses, including our favorite (which is also available in a 100-foot length).
With all that in mind, we decided to get together a bunch of hoses and run them through the gauntlet.
What We Tested
So, what hoses did we test? After talking to experts and reading everything we could online we ended up with six hoses from Water Right, Craftsman, Goodyear, Tuff Guard, and Gilmour.
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 locally available at outlets like Home Depot, Lowes, and Sears.
Of the six we tested, two are rubber, two are polyurethane, one is polypropylene, and one made of PVC and rubber. We also kept cost in mind, and the range here was between $29-$55 for a 50-foot hose. While there are cheaper hoses on the market they’re not likely to last more than a season or two before breaking down (as can be seen in excoriating reviews on Amazon and Home Depot). Funnily enough, all the hoses we ended up testing were made in the USA which was a nice surprise.
How We Tested
Hoses don’t have moving parts which means testing was simple and fairly limited. We looked at several key features. 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.
Unfortunately, one of the most important qualities for a hose can’t easily be tested, specifically how it holds up over time. We’ll be updating this site over the next few months with new results as they come in. The last thing to consider is the hose warranty. 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.
The Craftsman Premium Rubber Hose is our pick for garden hose, not only in terms of price but also durability, build quality, and warranty. 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.
Outside of being a stellar hose in its own right, one of the best features of the Craftsman hose is that if and when the hose breaks you can easily get it replaced in-store (at both Sears and Kmart), no questions asked. This is because Craftsman (which is produced by and sold through Sears) has one of the better return policies on the market. “They honor their guarantee. It’s the only one you want,” explained Beauregard, “Everything else is faulty, the connectors will strip, and it won’t be good for long.”
Besides its stellar warranty, the Craftsman Premium Rubber Hose is also built like a tank. This is thanks to its heavy rubber construction and the use of nickel plated brass for the connectors. That mean the lead in the brass won’t get into the water, and that it’ll hold up better over time. Rubber, too, also minimizes contamination from plasticizing agents, and is recommended as a material to look for by Healthystuff.org. That thick rubber also contributes to its kink-resistance. While not kink-proof, in our tests it 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.
Imperfections (on break downs over time in a lot of sun)
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. 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.
This is not a defect in design nor a dealbreaker, as any hose will break down in the sun with enough time, but we understand the black markings that readers are reporting as a black rubber hose breaks down might be annoying.
The thing is, every type of hose exposed to enough sunlight begins to degrade. And this is especially true for rubber. Rubber is rubbery because of 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. When this review was first published several commenters mentioned that their older Craftsman and Goodyear hoses began to leave black marks after being handled. Since then, I’ve tried to replicate these findings on the hoses that I tested, with no such luck. With greater friction, a black streak of rubber is left behind, but I’m guessing my hoses haven’t been exposed to enough UV. We’ll keep testing to see how long it takes. Again, if you do buy a rubber hose and it does begin to leave black marks you should be able to return/replace it is as it is an issue with manufacturing which is covered under the Craftsman warranty.
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 and is often the reason it is not suitable for outdoor uses. 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 the polyurethane based Water Right Slim and Light.
A lighter (albeit pricier) garden hose
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. For those looking for higher volume output, Water Right recently released a 5/8” model but it is even more expensive ($75 for fifty feet).
So what’s the Craftsman like compared to other rubber hoses?
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.
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.
As for non-rubber hoses, when we spoke to Genevieve Schmidt she explained that outside of kinking one of the other most important features she sought out in a hose was light weight. “I would definitely say that lightweight is really important. Most garden hoses are really heavy, and if they flop on something they can crush your plants,” said Schmidt. She recommends the Tuff-Guard Perfect Garden Hose, which impressed her because it was lighter (at six pounds) and very resistant to kinking. She also mentioned that she was excited to try out the ultralight hoses from Water Right.
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 knots to no avail. It just refuses to kink. And that’s incredible, because every other hose we tested kinked pretty consistently when bent.
Unfortunately, there are a number of things that keep us from recommending it as our top pick starting with its high price tag of $55. Furthermore, several Amazon reviewers mentioned that their hoses failed after the material close to the brass fitting where it connected to both the spigot and sprayer sheared away. I figured something like that might happen after a few months of use, but within a few minutes of taking it out of the box and hooking it up I noticed it was leaking. Upon closer inspection it’s pretty clear why as there was a significant weak spot where it was missing one of the two plys 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 will come undone. And because it’s not sold anywhere nearby, in order to get it replaced I’ll 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).
What’s clear from both my experience and from reading reviews on Amazon is that the Tuff Guard has issues tied to quality control. This can, perhaps, be explained by the fact that it’s still a relatively new product and has only been out for a little more than a year. Given that it is by far the most kink-proof of any hose we’ve tested there’s reason to reevaluate it’s place in the market once production has been improved. 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.
Taking Care of Hoses
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.
Wrapping it up
After spending weeks looking into the question of the best garden hose I’m confident in recommending the 50-foot Craftsman Premium Rubber Hose for $30 as our pick. It’s a solid hose 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.
Craftsman Rubber Hose at Sears
The best garden hose on the market is made out of black rubber. You buy them from Sears, they're 100% guaranteed as long as you have them. You can run over them with a car and they'll still be good. They honor their guarantee…That's the only one. Everything else is faulty, the connectors will strip, and it won't be good for long. Instead of leaving it in the yard you should wind the hose when you're finished with it, so you don't run over it with tractors or lawn equipment, they'll last a lot longer.
"My favorite hose is the Tuff Guard hose. Springy energetic coil. It never kinks, and has this weird tubing on the outside of the house. It has rings around the outside of the hose and is constructed really differently. I stomped on it, ran over it with my truck. Tried tying it knots, and couldn't kink it. It didn't sustain any damage. It's also really light weight, weighing less than a couple of pounds [for 50 ft of hose]. But it's not drinking water safe! The number one thing [that damages hoses] is not being put away properly. Hoses have a memory, and so if you wind them up very single time, and keep them really neat, then they don't sustain the same kind of stresses that a hose that is being left out and pushed in all directions. Hoses can get brittle when asked to be sit in all different positions. If we work with it and get a hose pot or hose reel, and place that out of direct sunshine, out of the elements, that can really help."
Finding the Garden Hose of My Dreams, Garden Rant, January 11th, 2013,"The 50-foot length weighs just 3 pounds. That’s versus 11.6 pounds for a 50-foot Craftsman brand. 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."
Avoid PVC: PVC needs potentially hazardous additives and stabilizers to make it “rubbery”. Instead, try a top-quality, food grade polyurethane hose that meets Food and Drug Administration (FDA) standards or an old fashion natural rubber hose. Search on-line “polyurethane garden hose” or “rubber garden hose” for options. Watch the brass: The Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) limits lead in brass in residential water fixtures to no more than 2,500 ppm. Garden hose ARE NOT regulated by the SDWA, and our test show 29% of brass connectors contained greater than 2,500 ppm lead. Opt for a hose that is drinking water safe and lead free. Non-brass fittings (nickel, aluminum or stainless) are more likely to lead-free.
Finding the Best Garden Hose, The Family Handyman"Perform your own tests on the hoses right in the store. Remove a few twist ties from the hose packaging and unroll about 2 ft. of hose. Then coil it back against itself to see if it kinks. A hose that kinks in the store will kink even easier after it's been baking in the sun all day. Next, compare the wall thicknesses of different hoses by bending them at a 90-degree angle. The hoses with thicker walls will be harder to bend because they're made with more material. Sure, they cost more, but they also last longer."