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.
Hose nozzles generate a level of dissatisfaction similar to crappy hoses. Forums are filled with homeowners and car enthusiasts alike lamenting their search for a sprayer that’ll last more than a season. In large part this is because most hose nozzles suck. They frequently develop leaks and rarely generate the pressure or spray needed to do their job. The nozzles that overcome this tendency towards suckitude tend to be defined by one unifying factor: simplicity.
Walking down the aisles of Home Depot or Lowe’s (or Amazon, for that matter) you’ll find that there are two main types of hose nozzles. The first is styled after a pistol with a trigger you pull to control the flow of water; the second is cylindrical in shape and uses a twisting of the barrel to turn on and off. For around $7, the Gilmour Pistol is the best deal you’ll find in most hardware stores. I prefer the pistol type in general because I found it was easier to hold and aim. It was also easy to cycle rapidly through the various spraying patterns and turn it off and on.
As its name implies, the Gilmour nozzle is pistol shaped and used by pulling down on the 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. 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. That’s not the end of the world, but if you find yourself misting a lot of seedlings or needing to spray for longer periods of time it’s something to consider. With that in mind, the pistol does come 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). It’s not quite as easy to manipulate as some of the twist-based nozzles. One of the biggest benefits of the trigger system is that it’s really easy to turn off the flow of water—just let go! Most other hose nozzles require quite a bit of twisting or actively flipping an on/off lever on the hose itself. The lever is a common area of failure to boot.
In terms of build quality, the Gilmour pistol is cast out of solid zinc and has a stainless steel spring and a brass thumbscrew. There are very few moving parts, and this contributes to its success by minimizing the things that can go wrong. In what is one of the best reviews I’ve read on Amazon in quite a while, a customer by the name of Stoney summed it up succinctly: “You can get ‘prettier’ versions with plastic covers over the grip and plastic handles, if ‘pretty’ is your priority—but, functionally speaking, you can’t buy a better designed garden hose nozzle.”
Compared to other pistol-style nozzles, the Gilmour might seem a bit simple, but by forgoing all of the distracting design details it manages to work better than all the alternatives. It’s easy to hold and aim, and most importantly it produces the kind of spray you want.
There is one caveat. 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.)
What to avoid
My wife and I live on a small farm and have used a range of hose nozzles. I can say outright that most of them are terrible, especially when compared to the Gilmour Pistol. But there are a few key things that should be actively avoided. In particular, anything made out of plastic will rarely last through a season. It’ll crack and develop leaks the moment you drop it on asphalt or concrete. Second, nozzles with unnecessarily complicated designs for choosing the pattern of spray will nearly always fail after getting gummed up with dirt or sand.
I spoke with Genevieve Schmidt of North Coast Gardening who said that nozzles that rely on components that “click into place tend to develop leaks pretty quickly.” Schmidt added that as the owner of a landscape maintenance company she sees “a lot of people’s hoses and that type always seem to go.” At the farm we have a cardboard box filled with broken plastic pistols from Orbit, Gilmour and others that have all failed because of a combination of plastic build quality and overly-ambitious design.
How we tested
When we were looking for nozzles to test, we took Ms. Schmidt’s advice to heart and looked at the top-rated models on Amazon, Home Depot, Lowe’s and Lee Valley that stood out for their robust design, quality of spray, durability and cost. From this we culled the selection down to three from Gilmour, Bon Aire, and Dramm.
Over several weeks we used the nozzles for a variety of tasks, including watering the garden, cleaning sidewalks, filling buckets and washing the car. During this time we tested each model by attaching 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).
Better for weaker grips
Bon Aire Ultimate Hose Nozzle
Bon Aire's rugged Ultimate Hose Nozzle is a great choice for people who prefer cylindrical hose nozzles and is especially good for people with weak grips or arthritis (or for gardeners who spend a long time using a specific spray pattern). It also costs a little more money but like all hose nozzles it's inexpensive
A Firehose-Type Model
During our research Genevieve Schmidt recommended that we look at the Bon Aire Ultimate Hose Nozzle, which is a “fireman style nozzle that comes with a lifetime warranty, and is awesome.” It also happens to be the top-selling model on Amazon.
Why isn’t it our pick? After testing I found that even though I liked the Bon Aire Ultimate Hose Nozzle, I still preferred the pistol shape of the Gilmour. In contrast to the pistol style, the cylindrical Bon Aire nozzle is controlled by twisting the barrel, which moves a stainless steel baffle in and out. This controls the volume and pattern of water as it leaves the hose. Upon initial twisting you generate a wide cone that produces a fogging mist. Further twisting narrows this until you produce a solid stream of water. This kind of nozzle is known as a “fogging nozzle” and is used by firefighters because of its ability to break up streams of water into smaller droplets that generate a greater surface area (which cools down fires faster).
The Bon Aire nozzle is the most expensive of the nozzles tested at $17.
What’s particularly nice about the Bon Aire is its build quality. Though not built out of solid brass, it has a reassuring heft that feels great. This is because 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 major downside of this nozzle is that it’s not easy to turn the water off or on. You have to twist all the way to the left or the right in order for it to stop the flow of water, which is a bit of a nuisance (and when twisted all the way to the right ours tended to leak). If you forget to keep it in an off position when turning the water on at the source, it’s all too easy to accidentally soak yourself or leave your hose running fifty feet away. On the other hand, the design does make it a lot easier to twist to set and hold a particular spray pattern than it is with a pistol-style nozzle.
Another surprising detail that came up during testing was that the Bon Aire nozzle suffered when it was attached to a hose with a smaller diameter. In particular, when attached to the ½” Water Right Ultra Light Hose it produced more of a dribble than a drench. Finally, one of the most common complaints about the Bon Aire in Amazon reviews described a susceptibility to breaking if left out during freezing weather.
While the more expensive Bon Aire nozzle is a step up in some ways, I still preferred the pistol from Gilmour because it was cheaper, simpler 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.
Taking a step backward in complexity is the uber-simple Dramm Brass Hose Nozzle, available for $12 from Amazon. Similar to the Bon Aire, the Dramm uses a twisting system to turn on/off and to cycle through the different spray patterns. I first used these uber-simple brass nozzles growing up at my parent’s place (they still use that same old nozzle). In talking to my stepfather, it’s clear that these brass nozzles were long regarded as bog standard. That’s because their solid brass construction is bombproof and pretty much impossible to break. My first impression when testing a new Dramm nozzle was how heavy it was for being so small. I was 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.
Best for gentle watering
Gardena 9123 Classic
These are especially useful if you need to water hanging plants as the wand can get the water to the right place at the right pressure.
If you know you’re going to be watering seedlings or a veggie garden, you may want to look into some of the more specialized nozzles like a watering wand. These are especially useful if you need to water hanging plants, as the wand can get water to the right place at the right pressure. 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 if you plan on growing a veggie patch this summer. 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.
If you do think you’ll end up with an additional nozzle like the Gardena, a thing to consider picking up is a shut-off valve. Shut-off valves allow you to switch hose nozzles without having to go back to the spigot to turn off the water. They can also be used to control water pressure if you find that you’re municipal water is just too much for your nozzle to handle. While it’s a bit expensive at $16, I would get the Dramm Aluminum Shut-Off Valve. Not only does it get great reviews, but it has a big on/off lever for easy use, and unlike some others its wider diameter ensures you get full pressure and volume delivered to whatever you attach it to.
Wrapping it up
At the end of the day, 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.