Why would you even consider a water softener shower head? Are you going through bottles upon bottles of conditioner just to keep your hair feeling soft?
Does your skin feel tight and itchy the moment you step out of the bath?
Do you notice an unpleasant odor coming from your shower head every morning?
All of these signs point to potentially harsh chemicals and minerals in your home’s water. While the compounds commonly found in tap water are generally harmless — if you’re at all concerned, please get your water professionally tested ASAP — they don’t always play nice with our hair and skin.
Fortunately, installing one of the best water softener shower heads on the market can help.
What You Need to Know About Water Softener Shower Heads
The home improvement sphere is full of tools and gadgets promising to upgrade your day-to-day life. So when it comes to water-softening shower heads, are they really worth your time and money?
Before you can make that decision, it’s important you fully understand what a water softener is and how a shower head filter can (or cannot) replicate one.
What is a water softener, and how does it work?
There are many different water filtration systems on the market, with water softeners being just one sub-type.
True water softeners work by exchanging harsh mineral ions for sodium (salt) ions. Calcium and magnesium are the minerals most frequently targeted by this method.
Other filtration systems use physical filters (like activated carbon ) to remove unwanted particles and chemicals in your tap water. These systems mimic the benefits of water softening without facilitating the actual process.
But this all begs the question:
Do water softener shower heads actually soften water?
Right now, we don’t know of any shower heads that qualify as true water softeners.
Because the water softening process takes a long time (much longer than it takes for water to pass through your shower head). Instead, the best water softener shower heads work hard to duplicate the benefits of soft water without the bulk or expense that comes with a full-size system.
Since each filtration medium targets specific contaminants, it’s never a bad idea to test your home’s water before choosing a shower head. The best water softener shower head for your home won’t always be the best option for someone else.
Can a shower head filtration system benefit the hair and skin?
Yes! Actually, healthier hair and skin is one of the most talked-about reasons for installing a water softener or filtration system in the home.
When we shower, our goal is to step out of the bathroom feeling 100-percent clean. But bathing in hard or unfiltered water can lead to a buildup of harsh minerals — no matter how hard you scrub.
Mineral buildup along the hair follicle can make post-shower styling more difficult and even cause your dye job to fade faster. Hard water can also interfere with the skin’s natural oil production, leading to dryness, enlarged pores, redness, and other unwanted side effects.
While the best way to combat hard water is with a whole-home water softener, investing in a physical filtration system for your shower can also make a huge difference.
8 Best Water Softener Shower Heads
There’s no shortage of shower head filters available on the market, with some offering better results than others. But for our review, we focused on the best filtration systems that provide results similar to soft water.
To select the best products, we compared customer reviews, product specifications, filter media, and third-party certifications. The following reviews are in no particular order.
Paragon Integrated Shower Filter WMF1
Rating: 5.0 out of 5.0 stars
The Paragon Integrated Shower Filter WMF1 offers a simple, low-profile way to improve your shower’s water quality. The shower head features five spray settings and an attractive chrome finish. Once installed, no one will even know it doubles as a filter.
The filter cartridge itself uses KDF (Kinetic Degradation Fluxion) and proprietary media to target harsh and unpleasant chemicals in your water. Each cartridge will filter approximately 10,000 gallons.
This shower head filter is NSF-certified for chlorine reduction, removing up to 99-percent of chlorine. It also claims to reduce water-borne chemicals like hydrogen sulfide, radon, and calcium.
- Filters 99-percent of chlorine
- May improve hair and skin health
- Removes calcium found in hard water
- No tools required for installation
- Requires frequent filter changes with regular use
- Limited shower head features
Culligan WSH-C125 Filtered Shower Head
Rating: 4.8 out of 5.0 stars
The Culligan WSH-C125 Filtered Shower Head is another option for softer water without the bulk of a large filtration unit. It features five adjustable spray settings and installs easily without any special tools.
Like the Paragon shower head, this one houses a small filtration cartridge inside the nozzle itself. Each cartridge filters up to 10,000 gallons (approximately six months of regular use).
The replaceable Culligan cartridge uses KDF media to remove chlorine, sulfur, and scale. It also includes a patented layer that specifically filters bacteria from your water and prevents bacterial growth inside the shower head.
- Filters out 99-percent of chlorine
- May reduce hard minerals like calcium and magnesium
- Simple installation process
- Covered by limited five-year warranty
- Requires filter changes at least every six months
- Massage spray setting is too powerful for some
Culligan ISH-100 Inline Shower Filter
Rating: 4.5 out of 5.0 stars
The Culligan ISH-100 Inline Shower Filter delivers filtered water to your shower with a slightly different shape than the other water softener heads we’ve looked at so far. While the shower head design is still compact, it’s not quite as streamlined as the Culligan WSH-C125.
This shower head only comes with one baseline setting. However, it does provide a slightly higher water output than the Culligan WSH-C125 (2.0 versus 1.8 gallons per minute).
In terms of filtration, the Culligan ISH-100 Inline Shower Filter works just like the Culligan WSH-C125. Both use the same Culligan WHR-140 filter, just housed in a different style of shower head.
This shower head effectively filters out 99-percent of chlorine, along with removing sulfur odors and other harsh chemicals. It also contains Culligan’s patented antibacterial layer to remove and prevent water-borne bacteria.
- Removes 99-percent of harsh chlorine
- Eliminates and prevents bacterial growth
- May filter out chemicals that damage hair and skin
- Filter must be changed at least every six months
- Non-adjustable spray head
- Not as attractive as other Culligan shower head filters
- Some users report leaking around the filter compartment
Aquasana AQ-4100 Premium Shower Filter
Rating: 4.6 out of 5.0 stars
At first glance, the Aquasana AQ-4100 Premium Shower Filter is one of the bulkiest options out there. But that bulk hides a powerful filtration cartridge that promises to deliver.
The NSF-certified Aquasana filter uses coconut shell carbon and KDF media to remove up to 90-percent of chlorine and other harsh chemicals. It also claims to balance your water’s pH level.
Because this shower head attachment uses an upflow design, you don’t need to worry about weakened water pressure after installation. The extra-large filter compartment also maximizes the amount of contact between your shower’s water and the filter materials.
- Multiple shower head options
- One-year manufacturer warranty
- Claims to improve the efficacy of hair and skin products
- Filters must be changed twice per year
- May not filter as much chlorine as competitors
- Bulky filter housing
- Some users say the filter is hard to change
AquaHomeGroup Handheld Shower Head with Filter
Rating: 4.5 out of 5.0 stars
If you prefer a handheld wand to a regular shower head, the AquaHomeGroup Handheld Shower Head with Filter is another great option. This stylish filter includes a sleek chrome finish and easily doubles as a wall-mounted shower head when needed.
While this water softener shower head only has one setting, its default spray and water pressure are well-liked by users. Many compare it to a smaller version of a luxury rain shower.
The standout feature of the shower head filter is its use of 15 filtration layers. Some of these layers use trusted media like activated carbon and KDF. Others claim to infuse beneficial vitamins and minerals (like vitamins C and E) into the water rather than remove harmful ones.
- Filters out chlorine and fluoride
- Doubles as a wall-mounted and handheld shower
- Claims to add beneficial vitamins and minerals to water
- Each filter lasts only six months
- Layered filtration may affect water pressure
- No adjustable spray settings
- Chrome finish is prone to flaking off
WaterChef SF-7C Premium Shower Filtration System
Rating: 4.4 out of 5.0 stars
The WaterChef SF-7C Premium Shower Filtration System is yet another option that doubles as both a wall-mounted and a handheld shower head. With its flexible 60-inch hose and five spray settings, this filter is great option for homes with pets or small children.
The shower head itself features rubber nozzles to prevent clogs and make routine cleaning a bit easier. Similarly, the hose leading from the filter to the shower head is lined with silicone to prevent harmful buildup and odors.
While this filter uses catalytic carbon to specifically target chlorine, it may also remove other harsh chemicals. Each cartridge features ThermalGuard technology, which helps ensure effective filtration even at high temperatures.
This water softener shower head comes in three finishes to best match your existing bathroom fixtures. Compatible filters last an average of six months and are easy to replace.
- Long, flexible hose for easy handheld use
- ThermalGuard filter works at any temperature
- Available in three attractive finishes
- Too bulky for some showers
- Requires frequent filter changes
- May impact water pressure
- Handheld unit is too heavy for some
SparkPod Filtered Shower Head
Rating: 4.7 out of 5.0 stars
The SparkPod Filtered Shower Head boasts an impressive 12-layer filtration cartridge. As we’ve already seen, more isn’t always better in the world of water filtration. But this shower head is still one of the top models currently on the market.
This shower head filter features three spray settings. The shower head itself is equipped with specialized nano nozzles that help maintain high water pressure at all times. Switching between settings is also made simple with the easy-to-access lever.
The filter cartridge includes activated carbon and KDF as two of its layers, both of which target chlorine, fluoride, and other harsh chemicals. Among its other ten stages, you’ll find ceramic balls, vitamin C, and magnets — though some of these materials aren’t proven to make a difference in overall water quality, they also won’t do any harm.
- Easy to switch between spray settings
- Nano nozzles help deliver higher water pressure
- Uses filtration media that targets chlorine
- Filter cartridges only last three to four months
- 12-stage filtration may impact water pressure
- Some filtration stages may not be effective
- Users report little improvement in filtered water
The Reign Shower Head
Rating: 4.3 out of 5
Compared to many of the other filters we’ve reviewed, The Reign Shower Head is extremely sleek and modern-looking. Made entirely of metal (not painted plastic), this filtration system looks just like a normal shower head until you take it apart.
While this head only comes with one default setting, it delivers a rainwater-inspired shower that many users enjoy. The laser-cut micro nozzles help ensure the best water pressure possible.
The filtration cartridge claims to remove 80- to 90-percent of the chlorine in your water along with dissolved solids. Although each filter should last up to eight months, some users reported only getting two or three months out of one.
- Sleek, luxury rainwater-style shower head
- Easy to install in almost any shower
- Filters up to 90-percent of chlorine
- Filter cartridge lifespan varies greatly
- Removes less chlorine than competitors
- Micro nozzles may clog easily
- Filter housing is prone to leaking
Is a Water Softener Shower Head the Right Choice for You?
As we know, shower head filters aren’t truly capable of transforming hard water into soft water. But many homeowners (and renters) still stand behind the benefits of such fixtures.
So should you invest in a shower filtration system of your own? Do you need to install a water softener to see real results? Or are you better off just leaving well enough alone?
Shower head filters vs. whole-house water softeners
Whole-home water softeners are expensive and require regular maintenance. For many homeowners, the investment is entirely worth it. For others, the slight benefit of having soft water falls short of the sheer cost of such a system.
Another key point to consider is whether or not a water softener will “fix” your home’s water. While these systems work great against hard minerals like calcium and magnesium, they won’t do anything to remove chemicals like chlorine.
On the other hand, shower head filters excel at removing harsh chemicals like chlorine and fluoride.
Although these chemicals are technically harmless in small amounts, some people find that their home’s unfiltered water dries out their hair and skin. By removing chlorine and other common chemicals, shower head filters can mimic the effects of a water softener without the expense of one.
Are there any drawbacks to using a water softener shower head?
Depending on the filter you use, some shower heads can negatively impact your water pressure. If this is a concern for you, stick to filtration systems that only use one or two different media to get the job done.
Fortunately, the issues most often associated with whole-house water softening systems don’t apply to shower head filters. And if you want to enjoy the benefits of cleaner hair and softer skin, there’s no need to worry about it affecting the water throughout the rest of your home.
Transform Your Shower Experience in an Instant
Oftentimes homeowners will jump straight to blaming hard water for their problems, but whole-home water softeners only target very specific minerals. In many cases, though, you can get similar results with a water softener shower head.
Whether you go for the Paragon Integrated Shower Filter WMF1, the Aquasana AQ-4100 Premium Shower Filter, or one of the other great filtration systems we’ve mentioned, you can start enjoying better water with your next shower.
Of course, water softener shower heads are just the beginning. For more information on the best whole-home water softener systems, be sure to read our review. Or to learn more about the water softening process as a whole, check out our blog post on how water softeners work.