Everything you need to know about choosing the perfect shower head

Shower head size generally corresponds with price, though — the bigger the head the more expensive it is. — file pic
Shower head size generally corresponds with price, though — the bigger the head the more expensive it is. — file pic

NEW YORK, June 17 — There’s no such thing as a perfect shower head in the same way that there’s no such thing as the “best” hamburger or headphones: Personal preference is too great a factor for there to be any objective assessment of quality.

Still, high-end shower heads, which generally range from about US$100 (RM428) to more than US$2,000, have some unifying characteristics that set them apart from what you’ll find at a hardware store. Companies like Dornbracht, Grohe, Hansgrohe (they’re different companies), Toto, and Zucchetti are considered superior within the industry.

But there are many different ways to transport and distribute water from pipe to human body, so to find out more about shower heads, we turned to the experts.

“They’re not a one-size fits all thing,” said Herb Fogliano, a visual merchandise manager for AF New York, a luxury kitchen and bath company in New York that sells fancy shower heads. “We try to match the lifestyle to the consumer.”

Maybe the force is with you

The first factor Folgiano said to consider is the “forcefulness” of the water. “Everyone uses showers for different purposes,” he said. “Some people are looking for something restorative, whereas other people are looking for something cleansing.” That, in turn, comes down to water pressure.

“There are three things that influence pressure,” said Peter Sallick, the chief executive officer of Waterworks, a high-end kitchen and bath company. “The first is pressure in the home” — aka PSI, or the pressure per minute at which water flows into your pipes. Then there is “the size of the valve that delivers and mixes the water,” the two sizes of which are usually .5” or .75.” (The larger the valve, the more water you get coming out. “And then the shower head itself.”

There’s one other factor, too: “You have to take building codes into consideration,” said Fogliano. “New York only allows two gallons a minute, but in California it’s [about to be] 1.8 gallons.” Before it ever gets to a shower head, in other words, the power, flow, and quantity of the water that comes out is largely already determined.

Once it actually does reach the nozzles though, different companies manage to do very different things with it.

“One of our shower heads might have 240 individual spray nozzles, and you’ll look at someone else’s and it will only have 75,” said Jason McNeely, the sales training manager for Hansgrohe North America, whose shower heads range from US$50 to about US$2,000. “If you have fewer nozzles, the force might be marginally stronger, but it will feel more needle-like, and less immersive.”

The balance, therefore, is between the number of nozzles, the size of those nozzles, your existing water pressure, and the height of shower head.

“A lot of it comes down to gravity,” said Fogliano. “Water is pretty heavy.”

Immersion vs submersion

The second factor Fogliano asks customers to consider is what he calls “body coverage.” This is pretty straightforward — the larger the head, the more comprehensive the coverage. Shower head size generally corresponds with price, though — the bigger the head the more expensive it is.

High-end sizes range from about three inches at the very smallest range, to 14 inches for a standalone shower head, to 20 inches for a flush, ceiling mounted installation. But people should pay attention to the distribution of the nozzles on the head rather than simply the head size itself, said McNeely. “Some competitors might advertise a six-inch head, where only three inches of the head have nozzles,” he said. “Ours fills out the entire thing.”

The trade-off, however, is that taken to its extremes, the size of a shower head can affect pressure. In the instance of the now-ubiquitous rain showers, with only a finite amount of water per minute spread across a broad range of holes, the force will invariably be less concentrated. This is doubly important when the water pressure is low, and the “rain” shower ends up an unsatisfying drizzle.

Conserving water (if not dollars)

Just because you have a lower level of pressure coming from your pipes, doesn’t mean you have to feel like you’re not getting a thorough shower. To compensate for the lack of flow Californians will soon experience, several high-end shower head companies have begun to include something called “air injection technology.” (This was pioneered by the brand Hansgrohe.)

“It pulls air into the shower head and then pushes it into the water stream,” McNeely said. “That makes the water droplets coming out of the shower head larger, so that when it hits your body it feels larger. The end result is that you feel like you’re getting more water than you actually are.”

After Hansgrohe introduced the technology, several of its competitors, most notably Toto (better known for its toilets) and Grohe, followed suit. The air-injection technology is particularly useful for buyers who, for whatever reason, are cursed with lower water pressure.

“When you’re not able to dictate what the water pressure in your home is like,” said McNeely, “that extra feel really makes a difference.”

Not every shower head has this technology, though, and for the time being, other factors including the style and form of the head seem to outweigh environmental concerns for many buyers.

What to buy for you

Ultimately, McNeely said, you can debate the merits of a shower’s specifications all you want, but buyers should actually go to a showroom that has faucets hooked up to water pipe, and try it out. “Would you buy a car without driving it first?” he asked.

Check out four examples of the shower-head types below:

A ‘forceful’ shower head

A Euphoria 110 “Massage” shower head by the German company Grohe, which has specifications that can handle up to 2.5 gallons of water per minute. US$109

An ‘immersive’ shower head

An 8-inch wide Modern Series Aero Rain Shower by the Japanese company Toto, which includes a rain shower configuration with Aero Jet (air infusion) technology; the shower head can handle 2.5 gallons per minute. US$765.

Eco-friendly shower heads

A Raindance Select E 300 by the German company Hansgrohe. This shower head, which is capped at two gallons per minute, mixes water with air to give the feel of a heavier spray; the technology requires up to 60 per cent less water than what the company derisively refers to as “conventional” products. US$798.

A Guinevere shower head from Toto is engineered to be high efficiency, and caps its gallons per minute at 1.75. US$370. — Bloomberg 

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