Why Rain Shower Heads Aren’t All They’re Cracked Up to Be

updated May 3, 2019
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(Image credit: William Strawser)

Have you ever stayed in a nice hotel and come home vowing that you were redoing your bathroom to be more like the one in your room? Same. If there’s one envy-inducing feature in every posh hotel bathroom, it’s those glorious rain showerheads. Nothing says “I’m on vacation and life is good” like standing under one (or even two!) of these oversized heads that literally rain down upon you. It’s so very soothing, so luxurious. You emerge a new person.

We’ve enjoyed these showers at some of our favorite hotels around the globe. So when it came time to redo our bathroom this summer, high on my husband’s wish list was a rain showerhead. It’s easy to understand why: We were going from a cramped and dark little stall of a shower, circa 1980, where you could barely turn around to a big, walk-in, glass-paned shower with room for two. Why not go all out and outfit it with at least one rain head?

But when it came right down to it, I didn’t want one after all. And you may not either. Why?

Well, to put it in the words of my always-practical plumber, Mike Streible, “[I’d] rather have more and use less than want more and have less.” He’s talking about water and pressure. Because they’re so much bigger than the average showerhead, but still provide the same amount of water (which can vary by water-saving mandate depending on where you live), it’s just math: The same amount of water delivered across a bigger surface = less pressure.

That’s not the only drawback. “You may need to increase the size of the pipe from the source,” the plumber explained. If you have a standard half-inch pipe feeding your shower and want to upgrade it in order to try to get more pressure, that’s no small undertaking. In our case that would have meant swapping out plumbing all the way from the basement to the second floor—which entails opening up walls. Um, no thanks.

And if you do opt for the bigger pipes? Now you have to watch out for your hot water, Streible added. You’ll be emptying it faster, so if the water heater isn’t big enough, you’ll either be taking cold rainfall showers, or you’ll need to pony up for a new water heater as well.

It seems I’m not alone in opting out of the rain shower in my remodel. This once-ubiquitous trend may be nearing its end, according to the National Kitchen + Bath Association. It’s all about soft and gentle now, they say.

The latest trend in showering is simpler, kinder to the environment and in keeping with a growing wellness trend. Call it soft and gentle, with leading manufacturers on three continents all introducing new wellness-oriented concepts that seek to nurture users, while also meeting ever-stingier water restrictions.

As one example, they cite PowderRain from Hansgrohe USA’s parent company, with “technology that sends water out of a hand-held or fixed showerhead in micro-droplets, almost like a mist… so fine it melts into the skin rather than bounces off of it. The emphasis is on a quiet, non-splashing, soothing quality.” Another new entry from Toto is a Warm Spa system, which “delivers a single, silent voluminous stream of water from an overhead rain shower, which then flows over the body in what the company describes as ‘relaxing warmth, without heat loss or splash.'”

As long as I don’t end up with hair like Kramer in the low-flow showerhead episode of Seinfeld, that all sounds nice. In the meantime, I’m perfectly happy with our compromise, the Delta In2Ition Two-In-One Shower. Anyone looking for more of a rain head experience can use the full showerhead, while I opt to use the inner head only, for more vigorous pressure.

Have you gone the rain head route? What did you think, and do you have any regrets?