Anyone who’s spent a night in a dingy motel knows that not all shower heads are created equal. And these days, when self-care is a priority and we’re spending more time at home than ever, upgrading your shower head is a no-brainer. First up: deciding the flow that’s right for you. Are you a rain shower devotee or someone who prefers intense water pressure pointed directly at your back’s aching muscles? Next up: finding a quality head that is easy to install, doesn’t leak, looks great and, of course, delivers one heck of a shower.
To help you narrow down the selection — trust us, there are thousands out there — we spent hours researching the top options on the market and decided on 11 shower heads to test, retest and triple-test over the past several months. The good news (beyond the fact that we’re very, very clean) is that all those IRL showers resulted in four winners:
Best shower head overall: Kohler Forte Shower Head (starting at $81.90; amazon.com)
The primary reason the Kohler Forte topped our list is because of the immersive shower experience it provides. Delivering a powerful rainfall spray, comprised of big, full droplets of water, the shower head’s main “full coverage” setting is all-encompassing and perfect for daily use. The intense pressure makes washing shampoo and conditioner out of your hair a quick process, and it’s super helpful when rinsing off soaped-up little ones who are much shorter and farther away from the head.
The water also manages to be gentle due to those full droplets that are created, thanks to the brand’s “Katalyst” air-induction technology, which forces 2 liters of air per minute into the shower head. Whereas competitors’ streams seem to blend together, we could literally feel each droplet being issued out by this Kohler standout.
Fear not — Forte’s other settings are equally great. The pulsating massage can target specific areas, making it perfect for a post-workout shower, delivering a pummeling force of water to sore muscles and other aches. And then there’s the “silk spray” setting. Typically, this type of setting is ineffective at best, creating a steamy mist that isn’t able to rinse off anything. The Forte’s mist setting, however, produces a dense spray that is ultra light but also still full enough to get all your washing needs done.
The Forte manages to achieve all of this while also being low flow. At only 1.75 GPM (2.5 is the federally mandated ceiling for GPM; more info on GPM below), the shower head is not only WaterSense-certified but also California Energy Commission-approved — disproving the notion that low-flow shower heads are synonymous with low pressure.
Elegant in design, Forte comes in six finishes — the French gold hue is hot in the bathroom design world right now, but it will cost you an extra $37. The 5.5-inch-wide shower head isn’t the biggest on our list, but it’s also not the smallest. While it won’t be the focal point of your bathroom (turn to Glacier Bay’s giant square shower head if you’re looking for wow factor), Forte’s graceful sloped shape and broad head will blend in beautifully with glamorous and no-frills bathrooms alike.
This shower head was also incredibly easy to install; it took less than two minutes from opening the box until it was attached and running. It came preinstalled with a washer (many of the others required us to manually install those), so all we had to do was screw the head onto the shower arm, though the instructions suggested using a wrench to tighten.
And it’s easy to clean too: Just rub the head’s silicone jets and any mineral buildup will come right off. Truly, the only thing we could find wrong with this product was its limited warranty, which covers it for just one year — this was the lowest warranty of all our tested shower heads, which typically offered five- to 10-year (or, in some cases, lifetime) warranties.
Overall, if you’re looking for a shower head that checks all the boxes and delivers a consistently powerful water stream, the Forte is a sure bet and worth its relatively high price.
Best low-flow shower head: High Sierra Classic Plus Shower Head (starting at $39.95, originally starting at $49.94; amazon.com)
The importance of water conservation in the United States and world beyond is clear, and if it’s a top-of-mind concern for you, then let us introduce you to the High Sierra Classic Plus. The lowest of the low-flow heads on our list, the Classic Plus boasts a 1.5 GPM, making it both WaterSense-certified and California Energy Commission-approved. As mentioned above, there is certainly a high-efficiency shower head stigma, with some believing these heads would deliver nothing but an ineffectual trickle of water. The Classic Plus dispels the notion, however, by producing a bursting stream of high-pressure water, easily rinsing off soap and dirt.
Perhaps what we loved most about this head during multiple tests was just how purist the product is. Single-function and made solely of metal — trust us, this is not the shower head industry norm! — the Classic Plus is small but mighty. Measuring 1 inch by 1 inch by 3 inches, the fixed shower head weighs just about half a pound, and yet it’s able to produce a wide, forceful stream that easily rinsed products out of even the longest hair. More eco-friendly details to know: Made in the USA, the Classic Plus’ compact size correlates to a smaller carbon footprint, as the company uses less material and energy during the manufacturing process.
The nozzle’s patented design is worth mentioning too, as it’s unlike any other shower heads we tested. Shooting water out of one single orifice — rather than, say, via a pressure regulator and through dozens of tiny silicone jets — the Classic Plus is virtually clogproof. This design also makes installation a breeze; just screw it onto the shower arm, and voila, it’s attached. Same goes for cleaning, as you just run your finger through the hollow cavity to do so.
We also liked the product’s customizability. Available in four finishes (chrome, nickel, oil-rubbed bronze and polished brass), the Classic Plus comes in three flow rates as well (1.5, 1.8 and 2 GPM). If the shower arm height is over 6.5 feet high, the brand recommends opting for a 1.8 or 2 GPM, which dispel larger water droplets, to ensure that optimal rinsing can be achieved. And if you want to save even more water, opt for the trickle-head version, which comes with a turn-off valve that reduces water to a trickle while you’re lathering or shaving (or chasing a toddler to get back into the shower).
Perfect for smaller and outdoor showers, the High Sierra Classic Plus emits a surprisingly strong, consistent spray for its miniature size. If you’re looking for something with more bells and whistles, this isn’t the shower head for you. But if you’re A-OK with a simple product that delivers a nonstop drenching stream, all while conserving water, the Classic Plus is your best bet.
Best dual shower head: Moen Attract Dual Shower Head and Handheld Shower Head ($89.98; homedepot.com)
One look at the Moen Attract and it’s easy to see that the shower head would be right at home in a fancy hotel. Simultaneously tasteful and luxurious-looking, the Attract’s oversize “rain shower” head (measuring 6.75 by 3.75 inches) topped our list not only because of its lustrous aesthetics but also because it delivers a doozy of a shower. It’s no wonder the head has raked in nearly 1,900 likes on Home Depot.
For one, there’s the fact that it’s a dual shower head, offering up a powerful stream via the rain shower head, in addition to six effective sprays via the handheld. When testing it out, we felt pampered by the three-in-one optionality, whether succumbing to rainfall deluge from the main head alone, opting for one of the intense handheld sprays or combining both for all-encompassing water coverage. The shower heads continually deliver a blissed-out experience akin to something you’d expect from a spa.
In addition to the superb water pressure coverage and consistency, we were also smitten with the Attract’s highly intuitive design. Specifically, we’re talking about the “Magnetix” technology, wherein the handheld lives in a magnetic dock, easily releasing and snapping back into place. Unlike other dual shower heads on the market, where you have to maneuver the handheld back into a slippery, narrow dock adjacent to the main head, the Attract seamlessly lands on the magnetic dock, conveniently located directly under the main head. This positioning is genius, because when combining the two heads, they’re able to work in unison, delivering one giant stream of immersive water. More to know: We appreciated the water-conservation-friendly “pause/trickle” button on the handheld — which allows users to stop water flow midshower while they, say, shave their legs or lather up — and the fact that the water temperature stayed consistent once the pause button was released.
Speaking of water conservation, a chief selling point of the Attract is that while being totally luxurious, it’s also a high-efficiency shower head, emitting 1.75 GPM (which is toward the lower end of the heads we tested). WaterSense-certified and California Energy Commission-approved, the Attract proves that low flow doesn’t have to mean low quality.
Like most dual shower heads, the Attract comes with more parts and pieces, which added to our installation time. All in all, from box opening to shower running, the installation took about 10 minutes. In terms of cleaning, the silicone nozzles are easy to wipe off, and the chrome version we tested out was indeed spot-resistant.
The Moen Attract checks all the luxe boxes — it’s beautiful to look at, it’s smartly designed, it delivers an incredible shower experience and it’s eco-friendly to boot. The only reason it didn’t make it as our top overall shower head is because, well, not everyone has the room or need for a dual shower head.
Best budget shower head: Wassa High-Pressure Shower Head (starting at $15.97, but currently unavailable; amazon.com)
Here’s the thing about the Wassa High-Pressure Shower Head: When we heard that it was $19 and had more than 11,000 positive reviews and a 4.8-star rating on Amazon, we were pretty much sold. Testing the head in-person proved what the many reviews touted, which is that this shower head delivers an incredibly powerful rain spray given its compact, 3-inch-wide head size and budget price. Reminder, folks: It costs less than 20 bucks.
If water pressure is your top priority, then you should seriously consider this shower head. Described as both “heavenly” and “magical” by myriad Amazon reviewers — one even called it a “power wash” for your shower — we were eager to discover for ourselves what exactly all the excitement was about. And, no surpris here, Wassa lived up to the hype. Shooting water out of 45 silicone jets, we found the stream to be intense and direct, and we could literally feel every single one of those 45 jets bearing down on us. While some Amazon reviewers complained that the pressure was too extreme to, say, wash your face, we’d have to disagree; the pressure is strong, for sure, but not to a level of discomfort. And if you’re worried about stream coverage, fear not, as a swivel ball joint makes it easy to maneuver the head, directing the stream to your desired angle.
There are some downsides, however, such as the head’s 2.5 GPM flow. Yes, this makes it WaterSense-certified, but it’s at the higher end of GPM levels in heads that we tested and it’s a no-go for Californians (more on that below). There’s also the fact that this shower head is single-function, with zero fancy settings to choose from. The product’s simple design, however, works to its advantage when it comes to installation and cleaning — both were easy and fast.
While the Wassa is missing some of the luxe features you’ll experience with pricier competitors — namely, a multitude of spray settings — you won’t find a better shower head at this price point. It’s totally sufficient for any bathroom out there.
How we tested
After scouring the shower head market for bestselling, top-rated, trending and critically hailed options, we corralled a test group of 11 shower heads that (on paper) met the standards buyers are most interested in, including design, build, function, aesthetics and price.
We then tested each unit by taking a minimum of three showers — including a quick rinse, a long luxurious soak and the ultimate test: washing down four kids after a long summer day. Our testing process was intensive, lasting several months. In addition to those overall shower experiences, we also evaluated:
- Water pressure and coverage: This category was clearly a biggie. Here, we were looking for an intense, consistent stream that was maintained throughout different settings and when switching from main shower head to handheld.
- Stream coverage: We noted the width of each head’s stream and whether or not they could deliver a full-body drench.
- Spray settings: While some of the heads we reviewed were single-function, others had as many as nine spray settings. We analyzed whether the settings were decipherable and effective, and noted the user-friendliness of switching back and forth between settings.
- Leakage: We assessed whether the shower head leaked from its connection to the wall, from the head itself when turned off and from the head when switching between settings.
- Build quality: We ranked the shower heads on signs of damage over time, build quality, quality of materials and the tangible feel of the products in hand. Specifically, we also noted what each shower head was made of (e.g., metal, chrome finish, plastic, etc.).
- Ease of clean: After each shower, we took note of how easy it was to clean the shower head’s spray jets (and handheld, if applicable) and the surrounding hardware.
- Ease of assembly: We noted how long it took to unbox each shower head, how many parts were in each box and whether the parts were clearly labeled.
- Ease of installation: We assessed if the directions were clear and accurate, whether any special tools were required and how long it took to install the shower head and its additional parts (if applicable) from start to finish.
- First impression: We observed our first impression of each shower head, homing in on the design, the size, the shape and whether it looked attractive on a standard subway-tiled shower wall. We also noted what type of bathrooms the heads would be best suited for, from commercial use to a luxe master suite.
- Market comparison: We compared and contrasted the shower head to the vast options on the market, noting the design merits and flaws of each.
- Color options: We researched if the head came in any colors besides the standard chrome.
- We checked the number of years of warranty of each product.
Water flow guidelines
- Since 1992, all shower heads have been federally mandated to have a lower flow rate — specifically 2.5 GPM — in order to conserve water nationwide. The bonus for consumers is that it’s also going to save you on your utility bill (yay!). Some regions have gone even further in their regulations. California, for example, has instituted a mandatory 1.8 GPM standard. As a result, brands are responding, creating high-efficiency shower heads that meet or surpass the federal standards. Any product with a 2.5 or lower GPM receives a WaterSense certification label from the EPA.
How we rated
Based upon the categories and testing procedures listed above, we gave all 11 shower heads a score in each subcategory, then combined those numbers for a maximum score in each category, then totaled those numbers for a final overall score. We broke down the scores as follows:
- Function had a maximum of 50 points: water pressure consistency (10 points), water pressure intensity (10 points), stream coverage and width (10 points), leakage (10 points), number of settings (5 points), ease to switch settings (5 points).
- Build had a maximum of 45 points: ease of installation (15 points), quality (10 points), ease of cleaning (10 points), aesthetics (5 points), does it meet current water flow guidelines (5 points).
- Warranty had a maximum of 5 points: five+ years (5 points), two to three years (2 points), fewer than two years (0 points)
In addition to the overall score, we also factored in the price of each shower head.
Other shower heads we tested
Glacier Bay Modern 1-Spray 8-Inch Single Wall-Mount Fixed Rain Shower Head (starting at $29.98; homedepot.com)
For the aesthetically driven, this sleek, ultra-modern rain shower head from Glacier Bay takes the design cake. The extra-wide — it’s 9 inches wide, people! — square-shaped head offers up a whopping 81 rub-clean jets that work to deliver a wide rain shower. Available in five finishes, including trendy hues matte black and gold, the shower head can be installed in under two minutes and features a 1.8 GPM, making it WaterSense-certified. Ultimately, the head didn’t make our “best” list because its water pressure didn’t overwhelm. While rain shower heads overall tend to be delicate, this one felt extremely soft to us after multiple test drives. Bottom line: This shower head looks and feels much fancier than its price tag suggests.
RainSpa 3-in-1 Rainfall Combination Shower Head ($24.99, originally $29.99; bedbathandbeyond.com)
Similar to the Moen Attract, this dual shower head features a fixed rainfall head, clocking in at 6 inches wide, in addition to a high-power handheld. How it differs, though, is in price. With the RainSpa head, you get a huge shoulder-to-shoulder stream, six spray settings (including a pause option) and easy-to-clean jets for under $25. If you’re a Bed Bath & Beyond Beyond+ member, you can snag it for $19.99. Though it’s a great choice for those looking for a dual shower head at a bargain, the product did have some weaknesses. Its myriad components, coupled with the chrome-finished material that has a cheaper feel, led to a less satisfying overall experience than the higher-end Moen. So, although they perform similarly, we think you’re better off spending more on the Moen for a better build quality that’s likely to hold up longer.
Delta In2ition 2-in-1 5-Spray 6-Inch Dual Wall-Mount Fixed and Handheld Shower Head (starting at $79.98; homedepot.com)
Boasting one of the more clever design schemes of all the heads we tested, the Delta In2ition features a built-in handheld that magnetically attaches by sliding into the main shower head. The two units can be used in unison or separately, together delivering a wide stream of extra-large droplets. We found the handheld’s water pressure to be rather low, or “gentle,” making it a good option for kids. We also experienced some leakage when switching the water from the shower head to the handheld. It did earn points for its innovative design and compact footprint, however, not to mention its 1.75 GPM and WaterSense certification.
American Standard Spectra+ Touch 4-Function Shower Head (starting at $24.99; amazon.com)
If you’re looking for a big ol’ fixed shower head, this is a decent option. At more than 7 inches wide, the Spectra+ offers up a full-body drenching stream. What’s different from most heads is that you can switch between settings by simply touching anywhere on the outer ring of the circular head — no levers or pulleys required. We love the four pretty finishes too. Ultimately, the downside for us was the Spectra+’s less-than-intense water pressure and its plastic composition, which lent a slightly cheaper look and feel than some of the others in our testing pool.
AquaStar Elite High-Pressure 6-Setting Luxury Spa Hand Shower ($34.99; amazon.com)
AquaStar Elite works as both an overhead shower and a handheld, but its big selling point is the antimicrobial jets that repel bacteria, thanks to built-in Microban, which never washes away. We found the head’s settings to be strong and effective, with the pulsating massage to be the most powerful of any we tested. The narrow stream coverage is what kept it from earning a top spot on our list, but all in all, we’d say this is great for a guest or kids bathroom.
Hydroluxe 1433 Handheld Shower Head & Rain Shower Combo ($25.99, originally $54.99; amazon.com)
Beloved by more than 10,000 Amazon reviewers and rocking a 4.4-star rating, this dual shower combo is a solid purchase for anyone on a budget. Boasting all the bells and whistles of a fancier brand — five highly effective spray settings (everyone, truly, should experience “power rain”), an oversize 4-inch-wide face, rub-clean jets and a sleek chrome finish — this shower head is a steal at this price. That said, if powerhouse water pressure is a must, you’ll want to look elsewhere.
Waterpik PowerPulse Massage Shower Head ($39.98; homedepot.com)
For those who simply can’t get enough spray settings, let us introduce you to Waterpik’s PowerPulse, which has a whopping nine on offer. And having tested them all out multiple times, we can attest that the water pressure intensity and consistency remain forceful throughout. Designed specifically to deliver a therapeutic, massagelike shower, the head’s targeted stream does just that. The downside: Its simple, utilitarian look might be a bit out of place in a glam bathroom. It was a hair off from being chosen a winner for its performance (it scored just as well as our top pick) but came up significantly short in terms of build quality. Still, this is a great choice for those who don’t care about appearance and want a cheaper option than the Kohler Forte.
Read more from CNN Underscored’s hands-on testing: