Which is Better: A Plastic or Metal Shower Head?

Photo of plastic waste, pollution, in what looks like a dried stream bed among trees.

Which is better to get: a shower head made of plastic or metal? (And are metal shower heads even available?) Let’s find out!

In an article in Popular Mechanics, an executive of one of the world’s largest kitchen and bath products companies flatly noted that “virtually all shower heads contain plastic parts.”
 

That was true when that article appeared in 2009. And startlingly, in a time of greater environmental consciousness about the impact of plastics pollution on the natural world, it’s still true today, over a decade later.

(Even many shower heads on the market that “look like metal” are still made almost entirely of plastic, with just an ultra-thin coat of metal plating.)

All-Metal Shower Heads are Rare

At High Sierra Showerheads, we’re one of a very few companies – not just in the USA but globally – whose shower heads are made entirely from metal. (Aside from a few rubber parts like seals, that is.)
 
Since High Sierra was founded, over a decade ago, we’ve always made our shower head bodies from durable, timeless solid brass and stainless steel. In Fall 2016, we replaced their sole plastic part – their tip that focuses the spray – with an all-metal part, formerly made from heavy-duty aluminum, and today, from zinc. And haven’t looked back since.
 

Metal is more expensive. But we believe it’s also better for your wallet and for the Earth. By paying for all-metal quality up-front, you save both money and headaches down the road. And you also make a devoted, personal commitment to sustainability.

Why All-Metal Shower Heads are Better

Three reasons your next shower head should be all-metal:

Photo of two gleaming Chrome-finished shower heads from High Sierra Showerheads

1. Metal is durable and built to last

Metal shower heads like High Sierra’s are highly durable. Because you typically won’t replace them nearly as often, you save money. They also use fewer resources, and that’s a big sustainability win.

Plastic shower heads are more breakable. When a plastic shower head has a chip or crack due to impact, it frequently must be replaced. Plastics also become increasingly brittle over time due to temperature fluctuations and the disinfection chemicals (like chlorine and chloramines) found in most water supplies.

Each time a broken plastic shower head is thrown away, it adds waste to landfills. Or worse, elsewhere in the environment.

As well, each time you have to unexpectedly get a new shower head because your old one breaks, that’s takes money out of your wallet. It’s disruptive and inconvenient. And it has a negative impact on sustainability, too, with yet more energy use and greenhouse gas emissions due to its manufacture, packaging, and transport.

2. Metal is far more recyclable

The metals in High Sierra’s shower heads are highly valued. And extensively recycled. For example, steel is the most recycled material on the planet, with an overall recycling rate of 86% in 2014. Recycling metals like steel and brass (a copper and zinc alloy) saves energy, compared with mining and refining pure metals. And these recycled metals perform equally as well as new materials. That makes metal products far more sustainable.

In contrast, the plastic in other shower heads, made from fossil fuel-derived chemicals, is cheap, bulky, and unwanted. Only 9% of plastic gets recycled. And unless its sources are pure, each new generation typically degrades in performance. There are many different types of plastic. Sometimes, a batch of recycled plastic containing a mix of types can contaminate that batch. In other instances, reinforcements, fillers, and colorants mixed into some plastic products in a batch will do the same.

Typically products made from plastics are discarded. Some of that discarded waste ends up in landfills, especially here in the USA. And a smaller amount is incinerated, which generates its own pollution. Yet globally, a vast amount of it continues to accumulate in our planet’s ecosystem.

Photo of plastic waste pollution on a beach

Today, global plastic waste totals approximately 381 million tons per year. The USA, along with nations like India and China, are among the largest polluters, but it’s a truly global problem.

Our shared oceans are particularly at risk. Some 8.8 million tons of additional plastic ended up in the world’s oceans in just a single year, 2010. That’s equivalent to pushing five plastic grocery bags of plastic trash directly into our oceans from every single foot of coastline around the world.

3. Metal is healthier for people & planet

Both metals and plastics have impacts on the environment when extracting raw materials, and when they’re produced, transported, and used. Arguably, however, plastics are worse from a sustainability standpoint.

That’s because such a vast share of plastics ends up as waste. And also because metals like steel and brass are relatively durable and inert. In contrast, plastics are more likely to fracture into smaller pieces, be wind-blown and water-carried, and pervade our environment. A 2017 United Nations conference fact sheet estimated plastic waste in and around Earth’s oceans kills up to 1 million seabirds and 100,000 sea mammals each year, along with deaths to marine turtles and countless fish.

And we humans are not immune from this impact: we’re increasingly ingesting plastic-related chemicals. Researchers have begun to discover that some chemical compounds and additives found in plastic products, including those which act as “endocrine disruptors,” might actually be taking a toll on human health and development.

Bottom line: When choosing a shower head, consider the materials used to make it!