What is a low-flow showerhead?

There is a lot of confusion today about what a low-flow showerhead really is. While many people don’t know this, or really even need to know this, the flow-rate for showerheads was restricted to 2.5gpm, or 2.5 gallons per minute, for all shower heads made and sold in the US after January 1, 1994. However, because there are plenty of ways around this regulation, one of which was comically pointed out in the Seinfeld episode, The Shower Head, not all shower heads in use or even sold in the US meet the 2.5gpm maximum flow rate standard.

This, in part, is why there’s so much confusion regarding the differences between a so-called low-flow shower head and a traditional shower head. Here is our take on this low-flow shower head conundrum.

Old (antique) vs New(ish) Showerheads

It’s been about 8 years since this low-flow legislation was passed. Before 1994, it was legal for US showerhead manufacturers to make and distribute showerheads that had a gpm (gallons per minute) flow rate in excess of 2.5 gallons per minute. Today it’s not. However, that doesn’t mean that higher-flow showerheads don’t exist or that they’re illegal, only that you’re not likely going to run to a Lowe’s or Home Depot to find a replacement showerhead with a 3gpm – 5gpm flow rate.

Yesterday’s high-flow shower heads are still in existence; they’re still sold and many are still in use in private residences. When looking at the potential number of higher-flow shower heads that are still around, a 2.5gpm shower head is still considered a low-flow showerhead, despite there being showerheads available with flow-rates as low as 0.5gpm.

Low flow versus ultra-low flow

The industry has introduced a new term to represent replacement shower heads that have a flow rate below 2.5gpm — ultra-low flow showerheads. While there are no firm definitions as to what constitutes ultra low flow, the consensus is that when you have a showerhead that uses 1.5 gallons per minute or less, these shower heads are considered ultralow flow whereas the 2.5gpm standard is considered a low-flow showerhead.

So, what is a low-flow showerhead?

A low-flow showerhead, according to industry standards, industry jargon and the online user consensus, is a shower head that has a flow rate of 2.5 gallons per minute or less. While this seems like a contradiction due to the legal manufacturing-and-sale limits being set at this rate, at least as of today, shower heads with a 2.5gpm flow rate are still considered low-flow devices.