What is a Handheld Showerhead?
A handheld showerhead (aka Adjustable Shower Head or Shower Spray Unit) consists of a long, flexible hose with a showerhead attached at one end. The other end is attached to a nearby water outlet, which can include the water supply for a standard showerhead, the tub spout, or a sink faucet.
Benefits of a Handheld Showerhead
A handheld showerhead makes it easier…
- for a user to perform bathing tasks from a seated position
- for a caregiver to assist someone else with bathing
- for parents to bathe children
- pet owners to bathe pets
- to rinse down the shower after use
A Dizzying Number of Options!
A handheld showerhead is a rather simple product, yet for all its simplicity there are a surprising number of different types, styles, and options. The key differences lie in where they are designed to be attached (shower arm, bathtub spout, sink faucet, or diverter valve) and in the type of parts included with the unit.
In this guide, we provide an overview of the different handheld showerhead options, beginning with a quick description of the parts involved, followed by a list of handheld showerhead types, and at the end you’ll find a list of things to take into consideration to aid you in selecting the best type for your bathroom and needs.
Understanding the Parts
To start, it will be helpful for you have a basic understanding of the terminology and the parts involved in order to pick the one best suited for your home and needs. If you aren’t inherently handy, don’t worry! It’s not hard. Aside from the showerhead and the hose it is attached to, there are four other parts its helpful for you to know, which include: shower arm, diverter valve, vertical slide bar, and shower head holder.
1. SHOWER ARM
2. THREE-WAY DIVERTER VALVE
3. VERTICAL SLIDE BAR
4. SHOWERHEAD HOLDER
Handheld Showerhead: Types & Options
Handheld showerheads come in a number of different types and can include a variety of different parts that may be mixed-and-matched together in different ways. We have provided a list of the most common options below.
Handheld Showerhead: Features
It is important to not only choose the general “type” of handheld shower head, as covered in the list above, but to also pay close attention to the features the shower head includes to ensure they meet your needs as well. In the list below, we have provided an overview of some of the features handheld shower models can offer.
- Location of On/Off Control: Some handheld showerhead models are designed to be operated via the standard shower controls located on the front wall of the shower, while other models have an on/off switch (or pause button) located on the showerhead itself. The latter type, ones with an on/off switch on the showerhead itself make it much easier for a seated user to control the water, especially in cases where the shower seat is not located within easy reaching distance of the shower controls.
- Vertical Slide Bar/Grab Bar: In most instances, the vertical slide bars that are included with handheld showerhead kits are not intended for use as a grab bar. There are a small percentage of models that are equipped with vertical slide bars which have been specially designed to dual as a grab bar as well, meaning that when they are installed correctly they can be used by bathers for support when stepping in and out of the shower or tub.
- Handle/Safety Straps: Some models include a C-shaped handle or a strap that you can slip your hand through, making it possible to hold onto the shower head without needing to firmly grip it. If you have weak or arthritic hands, then this type is a good consideration.
- Showerhead Shape: Adjustable showerhead models can differ in both their style and shape. The classic-style models have a showerhead with a handle that has a slight curvature, which helps to naturally direct the water downwards over a user’s head. Modern versions are available in straight cylindrical shapes, cube shaped wands, flat paddle shapes, or may have a ring-shaped head with the center portion cut out.
- Switches: The switches attached to shower heads (or the diverter valve) may include: a button, knob, or lever-style switch. If you are limited by arthritis or reduced finger strength, pay careful attention when picking a handheld showerhead to ensure that the style of switches attached to it are ones you can operate.
- Weight of the Showerhead: If your hand strength is limited, opt for a showerhead made out of a lightweight material. In general, plastic models will tend to be lighter than metal versions.
- Materials & Finishes: Handheld shower heads can be found in many colors, materials and finishes, which can range from plastic models to copper, gold, silver, brass, or ceramic, to shower heads finished in bronze, pewter, nickel, oil rubbed bronze, and many more.
- Water Conservation/EcoFriendly: Low-Flow handheld showerheads (ones that use 2.5 GPM or less) are more environmentally friendly and can also help you to reduce your energy and water bills. The “WaterSense” certification is one of the markings that indicates a showerhead meets low-flow standards. If you cannot find a low-flow handheld showerhead in a style you like, there is another option: You can purchase a small part called a “water-saving shower-head adapter” and screw it in place between the shower arm and the handheld showerhead to reduce the water flow.
- Non Positive Shut Off Control: Per the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), the handheld showerheads that are installed in public facilities are required to have a non-positive shut-off control. In the past, it appears this specifically referred to models that required a user to continuously squeeze a button on the showerhead to activate the water. When the button was released, the water automatically stopped. The intent of this feature was to prevent the water from accidentally shooting outside the shower stall while the bather was applying soap or shampoo, however, it came with the drawback that a user needed to continuously squeeze the button to run the water while they were bathing. Nowadays, models with a pause button or on/off control located on the handheld showerhead itself, which allows a user to reduce the water flow down to a trickle, have also been deemed to meet this ADA standard.
Handheld Showerhead: Which is Best for You?
The answer to this will depend on your physical needs, the architectural features of your shower, whether you live alone or with others, and whether you rent or own the home. We have provided some general guidelines below for helping you select which option(s) from the list of showerheads above that are most likely to suit your personal needs.
I. What is Your Primary Goal?
Are you completely remodeling/building new or only seeking to install a handheld showerhead? We have provided tips for picking the best handheld showerhead for each scenario below.
1. REMODEL/BUILD NEW BATHROOM
If you are building new or are completely remodeling your bathroom, installing a separate overhead showerhead and handheld showerhead, each with it’s own separate set of controls, is a good consideration. Ideally, choose one with a slide bar that doubles as a grab bar. That way the slide bar can be used for balance when stepping in and out or when leaning down to shave. A “handheld showerhead & overhead combo set” is also a consideration, which includes a matching overhead showerhead and a handheld showerhead. A combo kit can help reduce the time required to select and individually piece together different shower components.
If you opt to install a handheld showerhead/standard showerhead combo set, be aware local building codes vary in regards to whether two showerheads can be used simultaneously in the shower or not and if they can what the flow rate of each can be. If two showerheads cannot be used simultaneously, then the installer will need to configure the piping inside the wall (I.e. using a diverter valve) so that only one showerhead can be turned on at a time. We recommend to contact your local building code department prior to selecting a handheld showerhead combo set to determine what flow rate and installation guidelines the showerheads must meet.
2. ADD HANDHELD SHOWERHEAD ONLY
If the plumbing in your bathroom is old or was overly tightened when it was installed, attempting to unscrew the existing showerhead, shower arm, or tub spout could damage the pipes residing behind the wall, causing water to leak down inside the wall. In a home with old plumbing the safest approach to take is to replace whatever part, or parts, are easiest to unscrew. For example, if you can readily unscrew the showerhead, then replace the showerhead. If you cannot easily unscrew the showerhead, but you can unscrew the shower arm, then replace both the showerhead and shower arm. Or alternatively, if you can easily unscrew the tub spout, remove the existing one and replace it with a new one that includes a diverter valve so you can attach a handheld showerhead.
If you cannot easily unscrew any of the parts, consider one of the handheld showerhead models that attaches to the tub spout via a rubber cup. As noted in the guide above, this type typically features a “universally” sized cup, which notably will fit some tub spouts well, but unfortunately does not fit all tub spouts well because spouts can differ widely in their size and shape. If the cup fits your tub spout too loosely, an O-clamp or metal worm gear clamp can be purchased and attached around the outside of the cup to hold it pressed more tightly against the spout.
If the plumbing in your home is new and it is easy to unscrew all parts, then any of the options in the list of showerhead types in the guide above would be viable options from an installation standpoint. So, the next consideration for you to take into account would be how many people are living in your household. Visit the section below on “Household Situation” for more tips.
II. What is Your Household Situation?
When picking a handheld showerhead, it is also important to take into account the number of people living in the home and whether you are a renter or the home owner. We have provided tips for picking the best handheld showerhead for each scenario below.
1. LIVE WITH OTHERS
If you live in a multi-member household and are are able to stand up and reach the overhead showerhead or have long arms and can reach an overhead showerhead from a seated position, then any of the handheld showerhead options in the list of ‘Showerhead Types’ above will work.
If you are unable to reach an overhead showerhead (I.e. you are shorter in stature, a wheelchair user, or someone with limited arm reach), we recommend avoiding models designed to replace the overhead showerhead that get clipped to the shower arm and to also avoid the models whose water flow is adjusted via a diverter valve attached to the shower arm. Reason being, a person in your household who stands to shower may leave the showerhead clipped to the shower arm or will adjust the diverter valve controls to direct the water through the overhead showerhead and may forget to readjust the controls so the water will flow through the handheld showerhead when they are finished, leaving you unable to use the handheld showerhead. If your showerhead is located inside of a bathtub, one good option to consider is replacing the tub spout with one that has a diverter valve fixed to the side and attaching a handheld showerhead hose to the side of it. The showerhead and the controls will then be at a lower, more easily accessible level. Or, consider one of the models that attaches to the existing tub spout via a rubber cup. If you are remodeling, installing a separate overhead showerhead and handheld showerhead, each with its own controls is a good consideration.
2. LIVE ALONE
If you live alone, any of the handheld showerhead options in the list of “Showerhead Types” above would be viable options, regardless of your ability to reach the overhead shower arm. Why? If you opted to install a diverter valve between the shower arm and existing overhead showerhead and attached a handheld showerhead hose to the diverter valve, you can simply ask the installer to set the valve control so the water will only exit the handheld showerhead – and it will always remain that way since you are the only user. If you opt for a model with a hose that attaches directly to the overhead showerarm, you can store the showerhead itself in a place you can easily reach and once again, since nobody else is living in the household, it will always remain in a place that you can reach. Any of the options that connect to the bathtub spout are considerations as well.
According to the Fair Housing act, if you have a disability that limits your independence, it is against the law for your landlord to refuse to allow you to make reasonable modifications to the rental unit to accommodate your physical needs. A handheld showerhead falls within the realms of reasonable modifications. You will normally be the one responsible to pay for the modifications. You may also be required to return the rental unit to its original state again when you move out…so save the original parts!
Make sure to consult with your landlord, prior to installing a handheld showerhead. Why? If the plumbing in the place you are renting is old, there is a possibility the pipes inside the bathroom wall will be damaged if you attempt to remove the showerhead, shower arm, or tub spout causing water to leak inside the wall. Your landlord may require you to use a handyman or plumber they trust to do the work to prevent the likelihood of damaging the pipes inside the wall. Or, if you prefer not to get your landlord involved, you can opt to install one of the handheld showereheads with a rubber cup that simply slides over the bathtub spout.
Handheld Showerhead: Installation
If your bathroom’s plumbing is in good shape and the person who installed the existing showerhead did not overly tighten it, then it may be possible for you to install a handheld showerhead in minutes, tool-free, using just the strength of your hands to screw and unscrew the parts.
If you install it yourself, experts recommend wrapping the shower arm threads with teflon tape or applying pipe dope to the threads prior to screwing the parts together to help prevent leaks. Teflon tape and pipe dope (such as Rectorseal) are usually not included in handheld showerhead kits, so you will need to purchase these separately.
In a bathroom with older plumbing, installing a handheld showerhead could be more problematic. It can be difficult (or impossible) to unscrew the different parts if they have become calcified. And, if are you too aggressive in trying to unscrew the parts, or the parts are too rusted, it can cause water leaks inside the bathroom wall. If you are not comfortable installing it yourself, we recommend hiring a handyman or a plumber to perform the task. A handyman is usually cheaper. If you have an old home and you know or assume the pipes are in poor condition, then hiring a plumber is usually the preferable option.
Handheld Showerhead: Holder
If you plan to install a “holder” for the handheld showerhead, we recommend installing it on the wall adjacent to the shower seat. Ideally, it should be located a few inches above the height of your head when you are seated on the bath seat, so you can place the showerhead in the holder and let the water run over you while you are washing your hair or shaving, thereby preventing you from being forced to hold the showerhead the entire time you are bathing. It should not only be placed above your head, but also a bit ahead of you on the wall, so the water spray can be directed at an angle backwards towards you. Why? If you have a tub/shower combo and it were installed directly over your head the water would likely spray out the side of the shower. Finally, make sure to install the holder at a height that will still allow you to reach the showerhead to take it down for use when rinsing off all areas of the body.
What’s the easiest way to detemermine the best height and location for the holder for you? Sit down on your shower seat and measure from the floor to the top of your head and then then add a few inches to this number. Then measure approximately 12 inches forward from this point. Next, reach your hand up to that point on the wall to determine if you could easily reach the showerhead it if were located there. If you cannot, then select whatever height and location you can comfortably reach and install it at that point.
Handheld Showerhead: Cost
Handheld showerheads can cost as little as $10 and up to $500 or more, depending on the material, finish, and type of model selected.
If you hire someone to install the showerhead, you can expect to pay on average somewhere between $60-$150 to have a handheld showerhead installed. Prices may be lower or higher depending on the region in which you live, distance the installer has to drive to reach you, installer’s professional skill level (i.e. handyman or plumber), and condition of the existing plumbing.
The Homeability Advice™
In conclusion, there are many possibilities to consider when selecting a handheld showerhead and there is not one type that will work for everyone in all cases. In general, for the majority of people we recommend picking a handheld showerhead model that includes an on/off switch (or pause button) on the showerhead itself because it makes it easier to control the water when seated on a bath seat. If you plan to install a model with a vertical slide bar, we highly recommend selecting one rated to dual as a grab bar to provide a safe handhold when stepping in and out of the shower. And, if you are completely remodeling your shower, a “handheld showerhead combo set,” which includes both an overhead showerhead and a handheld showerhead each with their own set of controls is a good consideration.
- Shower Curtain for Accessible Tubs & Showers
- Curbless Showers – A Great Age-Proof Bathing Solution!
- Grab Bars: Which Type is Best?
- Curbless Shower: 8 Ways to Contain the Water Inside
- “Clear Floor Space” Guidelines for Accessible Bathrooms