Whether you’re out washing cars or watering gardens, you’ll need a good nozzle to control and shape the flow of water coming out of your hose to suit the task at hand. After testing several top-rated models, I’d get the Gilmour Full Size Zinc Pistol because it’s made well, easy to use, darn cheap, and it has a great spray pattern.
Our new favorite watering wand, the Dramm One Touch Watering Wand ($26) rains gently on hanging plants and has a detachable water breaker that can be removed for easy cleaning.
For this year’s update, we added an additional eight hours of research to sweep for new models, digging further into the question of material safety. In short: we recommend avoiding brass hose nozzles or fittings, which can have a considerable amount of lead in them. Even if you have lead-free nozzles, though, we still don’t recommend drinking from the hose, due to problems with mold, bacteria, and other contamination. We took a look at five additional nozzles and wands made primarily of materials other than brass. The Gilmour and Bon-Aire still came out on top, with the Dramm edging out last year’s watering wand pick.
Hose nozzles are pretty cheap, and upgrading will give you better control of the spray and a drip-free connection with the hose. If you’re not ready for a new nozzle yet, don’t worry. Judging by our reviewers’ and experts’ experiences, if you don’t have one of our top picks, your hose nozzle is probably going to fall apart soon anyway, so you can replace it then.
Nozzles come in different shapes, and the better ones offer adjustable spray options—from focused and high-pressure to diffused and gentle—for different tasks. Pistol-style nozzles have a trigger you pull to control the flow and force of water. Dial nozzles have a twistable barrel that adjusts a central opening. Wand styles pair shower-style heads with a stiff, long arm, which allow you to gently water high-hanging plants. All of these nozzles should allow you to keep the nozzle shut even when the tap is running so you don’t waste water while you move your hose to the right spot.
Most hose nozzles cost less than $20, and most nozzles don’t make it through more than one growing season. Many, many reviewers complain that nozzles need to be replaced yearly. In particular, any nozzle made out of plastic seems to crack and leak if it gets dropped on pavement. Dial-type nozzles with fancy spray patterns get gummed up with dirt or sand.
We avoided all-brass hose nozzles as brass generally contains lead, which can leach into water and transfer to hands during handling. How much lead actually gets into your water is not known or regulated. (For more information, read Is the Water that comes out of hose nozzles safe?)
To whittle down the list, we looked at top-rated models on Amazon, Home Depot, Lowe’s and Lee Valley, considering design, materials, quality and variety of spray, durability, and cost.
Over several weeks we used the nozzles for a variety of tasks, including watering the garden, cleaning sidewalks, filling buckets and washing the car. We attached them to different hoses to look at not only the connection but any performance issues due to a smaller diameter hose. We paid close attention to each nozzle’s ability to produce a range of spraying patterns, as well as seeing how far they could throw a solid stream of water (for when you want to reach that bed of plants at the end of your garden).
Keep in mind that your water pressure is also tied to your hose. If your nozzle merely drizzles and won’t give you the jet-spray of your dreams, you may want to upgrade to a hose with a larger diameter that will push more water into your nozzle more quickly. (You can read about our favorite in our garden hose guide.)
As its name implies, the Gilmour Full Size Zinc Pistol nozzle is pistol-shaped with a squeezable palm trigger. How hard you squeeze the trigger determines how water comes out. Pull the trigger a little and you get a wide spray that generates a fine mist, but pull all the way back and you get a constant stream that’ll soak plants twenty or thirty feet away. The pistol comes with a locking loop that you can use to keep the trigger compressed (a process similar to what you do when pumping gas). You can also adjust the tension of the trigger by turning the brass thumbscrew (this sets it to particular spray settings).
The Gilmour pistol is incredibly cheap at only $6, but feels solidly built. The body is cast out of solid zinc with a stainless steel spring. There are very few moving parts, minimizing the ways the nozzle can get broken or jammed. Compared to other pistol-style nozzles, the Gilmour might seem a bit simple, but that makes it easy to hold and aim. Most importantly, you can produce the kind of spray you want without having to refer to a user manual.
One of the benefits of the trigger system is that turning the flow off is as easy as letting go. Most other hose nozzles require quite a bit of twisting or actively flipping an on/off lever (a common failure point) on the hose itself.
Zinc has some peculiar characteristics, the most annoying of which being that it has a tendency to undergo electrolytic corrosion when used around salt water. For those who live close to the ocean, Gilmour makes a marine version of this pistol out of hardened plastic, but as with most things plastic it’s not quite as durable. Stoney, the reviewer from Amazon, mentions that he lives in Florida near the water and that his zinc pistols typically last about 5 years. (For a $7 hose nozzle in a less-than-optimal environment, that’s fantastic.)
It’s easy to generate the pattern that you want, but there’s one downside: you have to manually hold the trigger in position to keep the spray going. The pistol requires fairly firm hand grip. If you have issues keeping a grip for a long time, you might want to consider the firehose-style nozzle below instead.
The Bon-Aire offers five spray patterns: a slow, gentle pour, a soft spray, a diffuse spray, a narrower, more forceful jet, and a concentrated needle stream of water appropriate for blasting dirt off of things. The nozzle also twists shut in both directions.
The Bon-Aire has a reassuring heft that feels great in hand. It features two big hunks of rubber that wrap around the aluminum at the front and back of the nozzle, which make it easy to hold on to and twist. It also means that you don’t have to worry when you drop it on concrete. Another nice touch is that it’s possible to disassemble and clean the Bon-Aire using a 5/32″ hex wrench.
One downside of the Bon-Aire nozzle is that turning the water on and off isn’t immediate. You have to twist all the way to the left or the right in order for it to stop the flow of water, sometimes cycling through different spray patterns. When twisted all the way to the right, ours also tended to leak. If you forget to keep the nozzle in an off position before you shut the water off at the source, it’s all too easy to turn the tap back on and accidentally soak yourself or leave your hose running fifty feet away. On the other hand, the design does make it a lot easier to set and hold a particular spray pattern than it is with a pistol-style nozzle.
The Bon-Aire nozzle also suffered when attached to a thinner hose. With the 7/16” Water Right Ultra Light Slim Hose, the Bon-Aire produced more of a dribble than a drench. Finally, despite a 4.3 star rating from over 900 reviews, many Amazon customers complained that the Bon-Aire was susceptible to breaking if left out during freezing weather.
The Bon-Aire nozzle is one of the more expensive of the nozzles we tested at $17. We still preferred the cheaper pistol from Gilmour because it is simpler to use and easier to turn on and off (while also being able to produce an identical range of spray). However, the Bon-Aire is a great choice for folks with arthritis or weak grips, or who know they want to set and hold a particular spraying pattern for long periods of time.
If you know you’re going to be watering seedlings or a veggie garden, you may want to look into a watering wand. This specialized nozzle is especially useful if you need to water hanging plants, as the long arm can get water to the right place at the right pressure. You shouldn’t, however, expect to use a wand for all your watering needs as it won’t provide enough pressure to clean a car or have a high enough volume to really soak a garden bed quickly.
For gentle watering, the Dramm One Touch Watering Wand ($26) breaks hose water down into a gentle cascading shower suitable for soft-focus shampoo commercials, or watering patio plants. Tall people can get a 16” version, while short people can get 30” of plant-moistening relief to reach those high hanging baskets.
The Dramm One Touch Watering Wand has a thumb dial that allows you to keep the valve open without holding it down. Unlike the Gardena Gentle Watering Wand, our former pick, the Dramm’s dial also allows you to turn the water off completely, so you don’t need to buy a separate shut-off valve. And, if you decided that epic water fights are more your style than mere plant care, you can remove the Dramm water breaker and screw on a Bon-Aire nozzle instead, for a truly impressive backyard water sword.
If you’d rather just use your hose to water plants, and only to water plants, you can purchase the Dramm Water Breaker ($17) alone, without the aluminum extension.
Brass hose nozzles contain enough lead that we do not recommend them for home use. But what about other types of nozzles? Are they safe, or do they leach toxic chemicals into hose water?
The answer is: nobody knows. HealthyStuff.org and Consumer Reports have tested many different types of hoses and hose connectors and found large variations in how much hoses leach lead and heavy metals, BPA, and phthalates into water. But they didn’t test hose nozzles, and hose nozzle chemicals aren’t federally regulated. The federal Reduction of Lead in Drinking Water Act, which took effect in January 2014, only applies to plumbing, not hoses or hose nozzles.
The best information consumers can get is a California Proposition 65 warning label, which will tell you if there’s a toxic chemical from California’s list in the hose—but it won’t tell you how much of that chemical is in the nozzle, or how much leaches into the water during typical use. The poison is in the dosage, and the amount in these products might be a serious health risk, or it might not affect the water at all.
Our top pick, the Gilmour Full Size Zinc Pistol Grip Nozzle, carries a California Proposition 65 warning, probably due to lead in the brass valve inside the nozzle. Will it leach lead into your water? Probably, but no one has measured how much lead will get into your water during typical use—if any leaches in at all.
If you are concerned about excess lead, there are a few “lead-free” hose nozzles on the market without brass fittings. Our runner-up pick, the Bon Aire Original Ultimate Hose Nozzle, has workings made of lead-free aluminum and stainless steel. The Scotts General Purpose Adjustable Spray Nozzle is also made of aluminum.
If you’re concerned about contaminants from both hoses and hose nozzles, do not leave water sitting in your hose. The longer that water is in contact with your hose, and the warmer the water gets, the more toxins will leach into your water. Don’t leave a full hose lying in the sun. Drain your hose and nozzle after use. Wash your hands after handling any brass connectors or fittings. Do not drink from a garden hose. Even lead-free hoses can harbor bacteria, mold, and remnants of fertilizers, pesticides, or compost from your yard. Use a water bottle instead.
The Craftsman Hose Nozzle ($15 plus shipping or free store pick-up) looked familiar. Actually, it looked identical to the Bon-Aire nozzle. Side by side, the only differences we could see between the two nozzles was that the Bon-Aire has its external metal parts tinted green, not silver, and the Bon-Aire says “Bon-Aire” on the side instead of “Sears.” They performed identically in side-by-side tests, and they both carry lifetime warranties. If you’re not going to go by Sears, you could save a couple of bucks in shipping costs by ordering the Bon-Aire from Amazon along with your “Wild Spring Planting Mud Gardening Outtakes!” DVD.
Scotts brand produces lead-free aluminum hose nozzles. We tested the Scotts General Purpose Adjustable Spray Nozzle, a slimmer variation on the firehose models, and the Scotts 9-Function Turret Nozzle, a standard plastic dial nozzle. The Scotts General Purpose Adjustable Spray Nozzle produced a decent variety of hard and gentle sprays, but we could not shut off the spray at the nozzle. Twist it as far as you can to the left, and the nozzle stays open. Twist it to the right, and keep twisting, and twisting, and eventually the still-open nozzle falls off the end of the hose without closing off the flow. That was a particularly damp testing session.
The Scotts 9-Function Turret Nozzle, like all other plastic dial nozzles, leaks and dribbles at every setting except “center.” Unlike America’s political elite, I am not always aiming for the center. Skip this nozzle unless you like to water your feet.
The uber-simple Dramm Brass Hose Nozzle ($14) is a popular, classic design. Similar to the Bon-Aire, the Dramm uses a twisting system to turn on/off and to cycle through the different spray patterns. Their solid brass construction is bombproof and pretty much impossible to break. We were underwhelmed, though, with its ability to generate different spray patterns. Both the Bon-Aire and Gilmour produced not only a finer mist but also a longer throw. Unfortunately, because the Dramm nozzle is made out of solid brass it contains enough lead that they recommend you wash your hands after use. No thanks.
Dramm’s Revolution 9 Pattern Nozzle ($15) is new for 2015 and purportedly easier to turn on and off with just a thumb, but you still have to crank the ring around the nozzle to select one of the nine different spray patterns. It’s made of metal and plastic, and it costs twice as much as our main pick, so we’re not recommending it.
Among watering wands, Steve Masley of Grow It Organically says that the Gardena Gentle Watering Wand is the best of its kind. “Every other watering wand I’ve tried—and I’ve tried many—had too hard a spray, and blasted the plants and soil, even when it’s set on ‘shower’,” writes Masley. At about $20 it’s not a bad investment. However, unlike the Dramm, you’ll need to buy a separate shut-off valve, which adds to the cost.
We considered the Dramm Touch ‘N’ Flow ($24), another watering wand, but it shuts off if you don’t push down the handle.
The Gilmour Pistol Nozzle is all the hose nozzle that most people will ever need. It works well for a variety of tasks, including everything from watering your plants to cleaning your car or deck. And while you could spend more, you’d lose out on all the benefits that simplicity buys you. Pair it with our favorite hose, the Craftsman 50 ft. Rubber Hose, for a combo that gets your garden watered for less than $40.
Please take your shoes off.