After taking more than 240 showers over the course of four months to test nearly a dozen showerheads, we believe the Delta In2ition 58480 is the best showerhead for most people. Offering rich spray patterns, water efficiency, the convenience of a handheld shower, and higher-quality components than its competitors, it’s not cheap—but it’s a great value.
The Delta In2ition 58480 combines the simplicity of a wall-mounted showerhead and the utility of a handheld—switching between them is a matter of holstering or drawing the handheld unit. At 2 gallons of water per minute, it meets the strictest federal efficiency guidelines, yet delivers satisfying results on multiple spray settings, from a gentle “rainshower” to a powerful massage. The 58480 replaces this guide’s former handheld pick, the similar Delta 58471, an excellent product many of our readers and a few editors use and love. This new Delta is more efficient than the other one’s 2.5 gpm, and its gentler spray options are more comfortable, which really helps when bathing kids or pets. The hardware installs in seconds with only an adjustable wrench, and includes a flexible, stretchable, tough stainless steel hose—superior to competitors in its price range, which often have stiff, non-stretch plastic hoses or complex installation requirements. It’s not cheap, but given its mix of practicality, pleasure, and top-shelf components, we consider it a worthy value.
If you just need an affordable new showerhead that’s reliable, functional, and capable of a better-than-average shower experience, the Delta 75152 is the ticket. Like our main pick, it has Delta’s H₂Okinetic engineering, which uses physically larger water droplets to give, as Delta says, “the feeling of more water without using more water.” On its 2.5 gpm setting (less so on the 1.8 gpm setting) the Delta 75152 delivers a powerful, soaking spray through its four nozzles, which create a much denser spray pattern than the ring of spray holes found on most budget showerheads. It won’t win any beauty contests, but it’ll slip into your bathroom decor without fuss, and at about $20, it’s as low a price as you could reasonably expect to pay.
A previous version of this guide had the Toto TS200AL65-CP as a pick. It’s also a fine showerhead, but it’s been consistently difficult to find for sale over the past year. If you see it, go for it; if not, these Delta models are both widely available.
All of our guides involve a huge amount of research, even before the testing begins. But we usually start with at least some basic understanding of our subject. For showerheads, I had none. So I began by speaking with product managers—the folks who oversee every aspect of a showerhead, from design and engineering to materials, manufacture, and quality control—from three of the largest manufacturers (Delta, Kohler, and Moen) in order to build a foundation of basic knowledge. Just before writing, I attended the massive Kitchen and Bath International Show in Las Vegas, circling back with the companies to confirm my facts and inquire about upcoming changes to their technologies.
It seems a bit absurd to have spent so much time researching showerheads. But bathing is a literal everyday event. Making it a pleasure, rather than a mere function, is a way to bring a little bit of joy into life. And we had the opportunity to do something most people can’t: really study and test what’s out there, make direct comparisons, and choose the best based on evidence.
If you’ve ever shopped for bathroom fixtures, you know this to be true: You are overwhelmed by choices. There are literally hundreds of models; there are multiple basic forms (rectilinear, curvilinear, “exotic,” for lack of a better word) and style classes (traditional, transitional, contemporary); and every manufacturer touts its unique spray technologies and gives them obscure names. But for all that variation, every major manufacturer, I learned, has some universal design goals for showerheads: They all must deliver consistent spray under any water pressure; produce a satisfactory shower even while conforming to today’s low-flow water-usage laws; and virtually eliminate the old problem of mineral buildup.
To narrow the field, we filtered the options through a hierarchy of considerations: quality of engineering; ergonomics; water usage; reviews; ease of installation; reputation and warranty; and aesthetics.
On engineering, here’s what you need to know: Almost all modern name-brand showerheads share two basic features, and both are a huge improvement over the old and/or budget models that a new home or first apartment often comes with.
The first involves the way water is delivered to the nozzles. For much of the 20th century, showerheads were essentially bell-shaped hollows pierced by holes at the working end, like the rose of a watering can. Water flowed into the hollow, piled up, and exited the holes according to basic laws of physics: low water pressure meant a dribble, and high pressure meant a geyser. Today, most showerheads deliver water to each nozzle independently, through a dedicated internal channel. The result is a steady spray under pretty much any pressure.
The other universal engineering improvement is found in the nozzles themselves. In the past, they were made of metal or hard plastic, both of which were prone to clogging through scale—the deposition of minerals naturally present in the water supply, akin to the formation of stalactites in a cave. To remove scale, you had to unscrew your showerhead and soak it in a vinegar solution. Today almost every major manufacturer makes its nozzles out of silicone or another flexible polymer, which are highly resistant to scale. If any scale does form, you simply rub the nozzles with your thumb and the scale flakes off.
Next, we considered ergonomics. With any multifunction showerhead, the dial that determines the spray pattern is your chief physical interaction. A sharp click and solid engagement between spray patterns is vital; mushy shifts and limp engagements are an annoyance when repeated every time you shower—hundreds of times a year. With handheld showerheads, the head also has to engage firmly with its holster. There are several styles, including the increasingly popular magnetic holster, but the main thing is that the head should drop into place easily and intuitively.
Water usage is a concern for many people, for environmental or economic reasons. Since 1994, manufacturers have been required by federal law to limit their showerhead water flow to 2.5 gallons of water per minute (though some skirted the law for years by producing multihead models that collectively put out much more water). There’s also a federal WaterSense guideline that showerheads can qualify for if they use 2.0 gpm or less. (In California, WaterSense is a state law.) For this guide, we looked at both 2.5 and 2.0 gpm models.
We looked at user reviews, editorial reviews, and prices to help narrow our list. First, we identified the best sellers and best-reviewed models in our sub-categories—traditional showerheads (the kind that are affixed to the spigot) and handhelds (which have a flexible hose).
Ease of installation was another priority. Our hypothetical best showerhead would involve nothing more than unscrewing the old one and screwing in the new one. This requirement eliminated a swath of handheld showerheads that require the installation of a slide rail, which means drilling into the shower wall. (Based on positive reviews, we did make an exception to test one such model, the Kohler K-98362; see The competition below.)
We further limited our search to major manufacturers, who offer lengthy warranties (up to lifetime on manufacturing) and readily available parts for maintenance.
Finally, we considered physical design. On this point, I’ll be frank: If our experience is anything like normal, after you install it, you’ll never again look at your showerhead—as long as it works intuitively and reliably. So we prioritized unobtrusive, so-called transitional aesthetics—which, as the name suggests, are likely to fit well with your existing hardware, whether it’s traditional, modern, or in between.
At last, with all of these considerations in mind, I asked the product managers to recommend showerheads that, according to their internal research, consistently deliver satisfied customers; and to suggest options at price levels from modest to extravagant. Our research team did a deep independent assessment, the results of which I cross-referenced against manufacturer recommendations. Amazon, Consumer Reports, and other outlets provided additional insight into build quality, value, and satisfaction. From all this, we were able to zero in on 10 test models from five leading manufacturers: American Standard, Delta, Kohler, Moen, and Toto.
We showered. A lot. We meaning me and my wife, employing two bathrooms for four months, and a lot meaning we took roughly 240 test showers, and every showerhead got at least 10 total uses between us. We compared notes, and did a final winnowing in a mass re-test over a single weekend. As the “plumber,” I also took detailed notes on the ease of installation and other practical points.
Our judgments of performance were necessarily subjective. But our concerns boiled down to this: Does the showerhead feel good and work well? And, if so, how does it compare to the rest?
One last point: We are lucky enough to have really good water pressure. If your pressure is weak, your experience may not exactly match ours. However, modern shower bodies—the units installed behind the wall to deliver the water—are built with pressure-balancing valves, which deliver steady pressure to the showerhead to compensate for fluctuations in the domestic supply. Generally, if your shower has a single handle, you have one; if you have separate hot and cold handles, you don’t.
The Delta In2ition 58480 was our favorite among showers we tested—both handheld and standard wall-mounted models. It’s a water-thrifty 2-gallon-per-minute model, but that doesn’t affect its performance. It has a drenching rainshower setting, a powerful pulsating massage, and a range of sprays in between. The nozzles are designed to produce a sort of wave pattern (dubbed H2Okinectic) that Delta says results in larger, heavier droplets and wider coverage. Whatever the case, the rainshower setting is likely the one most people will default to, and it’s very good, delivering a wide, soaking shower. The massage setting is the best of all the showers we tested. It gives you a real thumping, enough to work out the knots in a stiff spine or neck.
Another major plus: The 58480 comes with the best standard hose among the off-the-shelf hand-shower kits we tested. (You can buy a hand shower as separate components—the hand unit, the hose, and a method of attachment to the outlet pipe—or, which is far easier, as a complete package.) The 58480 package comes with a flexible 5-foot stainless steel hose. What’s more, the hose stretches to nearly 7 feet, and both the additional length and the stretch are valuable—the latter because it acts as a shock absorber, helping to reduce tugging and other wear and tear on your plumbing. Other hand-shower packages in this price category often come with plastic hoses, which tend to be quite stiff—meaning their loops are always getting in your way—and don’t stretch at all.
And the 58480, unlike many handhelds, installs as easily as traditional showerheads. You simply screw its outer unit to the outlet pipe, then attach the handheld via the hose. The process takes less than two minutes. This method isn’t unique to the 58480, but many hand showers require the installation of a wall-mounted slider bar or holster—lots of work for no appreciable gain in performance.
The 58480 consists of a fixed, ring-shaped outer showerhead and a hand shower that clicks automatically (with an assist from a magnet) into a central pocket. Water can be run to each component separately, or to both in combination; a simple toggle switches between the options. The hand shower—like most hand showers—also features a temporary-shutoff button, a necessity when rinsing off kids or pets.
On that note, the 58480’s hand shower is an improvement over our previous handheld pick—a similar Delta, the 58471, with a higher 2.5 gpm flow and fewer nozzles. The 58471 sends out a blast of water in every setting, which is pleasant for most grown-ups but a bit too rough for washing little two- and four-footed creatures. The 58480’s hand shower offers a gentle spray, making it perfect for the task many people will use it for. But it also offers three heavier spray patterns, including that thumping massage—and with that long hose, it’s easy to reach down to massage sore feet or legs. Tested side by side against the 2.5 gpm model, we never felt this delivered a shortage of water; in fact, its stiffest spray patterns are still more forceful than most others we tried.
Running about $125, the 58480 is not cheap. But it is designed to last for years and comes with a lifetime warranty against defects; even measured against a conservative five-year lifespan, that comes out to about 11 cents per day. Given its performance and utility—plus the simple pleasure of a great daily shower!—we consider it a real value.
If you need to upgrade a basic showerhead without investing much, the Delta 75152 is the best you’ll find in its price category (about $20). It’s reliable and functional, as you’d expect, and it stands apart from its competitors by delivering a shower that we’d go so far as to call delightful. If you’re in a new home or rental and need a quick shower upgrade, or if you’re a landlord outfitting your tenants’ bathrooms, this is an easy, satisfying purchase.
The key distinction: Like our main pick, this uses Delta’s H2Okinetic engineering, which delivers larger water droplets that the company claims create “the feeling of more water without using more water.” The difference comes down to how water is delivered to the nozzles. In most cheaper showerheads, water flows to a hollow chamber and spews out passively through an array of holes, with spray strength and dispersion determined by water pressure and gravity. A model like the 75152 channels water directly to each spray hole by a network of molded channels, giving you a steady, consistent spray from each nozzle hole regardless of your water pressure or the angle of the showerhead.
The 75152 delivers a powerful soaking spray through its four nozzles, which was far denser and more satisfying than the sprays on the other budget showerheads we tested. The effect is greater, obviously, when using the 2.5 gpm setting; the 1.8 gpm setting sacrifices some soakability for water savings. The appearance is totally basic, but on the other hand it’s not unattractive, and we’ve found it basically blends into your average bathroom unnoticed. Installation is virtually effortless: Just unscrew the old showerhead and screw on the 75152.
The Moen S6320 Velocity is, in the words of Sweethome senior editor Harry Sawyers, “a wonderful showerhead.” (He used one for more than a year.) He’s right. It has two settings, a wide, gentle rainshower and a narrower, standard spray; both of them are delightful, alternately relaxing and vivifying. We found it to deliver plenty of water, though many people note that you can easily remove the internal restrictor plate and boost it well beyond its 2.5 gpm factory limit. It’s also beautifully made—the only all-metal head in our test. But costing about $150, it is also among the priciest, and we found ourselves wanting a few more options—at least a massage setting. For less money, our pick gives you that, as well as the versatility of the hand shower. One other thing: The 8-inch-wide head is so broad that it makes hanging a shower caddy from the riser pipe almost impossible.
The Moen 26000 hand shower has six settings, including three levels of massage (from Reiki to Russian sauna). We liked its easy installation—like the Delta 58480, you simply screw it in like a traditional showerhead. What we didn’t like is the lack of an off/pause button, the non-stretch hose (which is, however, high-quality stainless steel), and how the screw-in portion of the unit is made of a dull, gray plastic. It should really match the chrome look of the rest of the showerhead.
The Delta 58471 is a previous winner, and the words we used to praise it—drowning, drenching, firehose—still hold. It makes 2.5 gallons per minute feel like a flood, and if that’s your aim, you won’t find a better model. And both our readers and our editors universally love it. But, as previously mentioned, its sprays are a bit too powerful for rinsing small children and pets—and our editors who’ve used this model long-term say it can actually be borderline uncomfortable on the massage setting. It’s also less water-efficient than our new 2.0 gpm pick, the Delta 58480. If either of these is a chief concern of yours, the 58480 is a superior choice.
We love the Toto TS200AL65-CP. For less than $50, it offers one of the best rainshower sprays among our test models and an unusual high-pressure mist spray that delivers both a bathlike soak to sore muscles and a super-efficient rinse to shampoo-sudsed long hair. There’s just one problem: It’s almost never available. This item was a pick in a previous version of the guide, but the constant supply problems became a disqualifier (Toto has repeatedly assured us that it’s still being manufactured). If you do find one, it’s worth strong consideration. There’s a temporary-shutoff option among its spray patterns, which is a useful, rare function that helps to conserve water. It’s aesthetically compatible with almost any existing bathroom, and it’s also extremely water-efficient with a water flow of 2 gallons per minute. It comes with a limited lifetime warranty for residential users, and you can install it in less than a minute using only an adjustable wrench.
The American Standard Flowise 3-Function is a solid traditional showerhead, and its three sprays—massage, concentrated spray, and rainshower—are all very good. But it costs just a couple of dollars less than the much superior Toto, and it has an annoying feature: When the water is turned off, it automatically reverts to the massage function. That means every time you turn on your shower, you get a big blast of water, and then have to switch to one of the other sprays—which you’ll use much more often than the massage. To be blunt, it’s a dumb design.
The Kohler K-10282 is a well-made, single-function traditional showerhead. It delivers a rainshower-type spray, and a nice one—nozzles cover its entire 5.5-inch face, ensuring a pleasant and effective drenching. But the 5.5-inch Toto delivers a rainshower that feels even heavier, despite being 2.0 gpm versus 2.5; adds multiple other spray patterns; and costs a little less, to boot.
The Kohler K-98362 hand shower was one of the nicest models in our test, and it lives up to Kohler’s claim that it’s one of the most powerful sprays in its lineup. The concentrated spray setting, in particular, is terrific: If competitors’ equivalents feel like a bunch of silky threads, the 98362 feels like a heavy silk rope. (After the test, we learned that Kohler offers the same showerhead as a traditional screw-in model. It’s only available at Kohler showrooms, but having now tested it, it’s worth every penny of its roughly $40 price.) But its complex installation, which requires drilling into your shower wall to attach a slide bar, helped eliminate it. Moreover, the 98362 package comes with a stiff plastic hose (not stainless steel, like our pick) that forms itself into tenacious loops that constantly get in the way of the shower spray. To be fair, you can buy a separate stainless hose, and there’s an optional holster that screws in like a traditional showerhead, eliminating the slider bar installation. But numerous online reviews say the holster loses the ability to hold up the weight of the showerhead. It’s not worth the hassle.
Finally, we tested the popular and unique Kohler K-15996-CP Flipside. A traditional showerhead with non-traditional mechanics, the Flipside toggles through its four spray patterns not with a dial but by flipping the entire head on a transverse axle. Great idea; but in practice it means that two of the sprays (Kotton and Kurrent, respectively a fine spray and a massage) exit the head in planar form—horizontal sheets of water rather than broad cones. They just don’t deliver the full-body coverage that you need for effective showering. You’re better off spending the extra 10 bucks for the Toto.
(Photos by Michael Hession.)
Originally published: October 27, 2016