Are expandable garden hoses actually worth it? A product tester advises

Expandable hoses can be useful but think twice before rushing to invest

Watering a yard with a hose
(Image credit: Getty/HMVart)

A good garden hose is invaluable. It's a garden essential, crucial for watering flowerbeds and ensuring a healthy lawn.

I've been a product tester for years, and I'm seeing more and more expandable hoses coming onto the market. You've likely seen them on infomercials; miracle hoses that expand to hundreds of feet and shrink down to nothing.

I've tested plenty of these in my career and found that while they're great for small homes, you might be better off with a traditional garden hose.

What is an expandable hose?

A coiled green expandable hose

(Image credit: Getty Images / robypangy)

Unlike traditional hoses, expandable hoses - unsurprisingly - expand. Traditional hoses use a soft inner tube surrounded by hard, durable rubber that can stand up to weathering and being dragged across the ground.

Expandable hoses use that same inner tube, but cover it with weatherproof fabric. This means that the inner tube expands and contracts depending on water pressure. This means that an expandable hose can shrink three times smaller than its full length. The idea is that this can save you a little space.

Expandable garden hose benefits

Expandable hoses are perfect for city gardens and small plots. It can't be overstated how much room an expandable hose can save. It takes up less than half the space of a hose reel, so it's great if you have a little herb garden but don't need yards and yards of hose. They're great if you're really hot on garden design because they're easy to pack up and hide out of sight.

Expandable hoses also save you from my least favorite garden chore - winding up a hose. Growing up, I used to love gardening with my parents, but they had a long, thin garden, so most summer days I'd have the monotonous task of winding 100 feet of hose up onto a reel. This isn't a problem with an expandable hose, because it expands and contracts by itself.

Because they're so pressurized, unlike a traditional hose, expandable hoses never kink. With an expandable hose, you never have the annoying moment when your water stutters to a stop.

Expandable garden hose drawbacks

Watering grass

(Image credit: Kinga Krzeminska via Getty Images)

However, my experience testing these has taught me that while they're excellent in small spaces, they have significant issues for larger homes.

The first issue is that the range on an expandable hose is always a couple of feet shorter than advertised. Because they're expandable, they become taut once filled with water. However, this tightening limits their mobility and range. I've measured lots of expandable hoses once full of water and they always come up a few feet short. I'd need to do more tests to establish it as a fact, but my experience is that this effect is worse the longer a hose is. The result is that you can feel the hose straining before you even reach the supposed limit of its range. I last tested this type of hose in an old Victorian house with a rickety faucet, and I always worried about accidentally ripping it out of the wall.

On top of that, these hoses don't only expand in length, but also in width, which means they feel a lot heavier in the hand than typical garden hoses. It makes them feel a little cumbersome. I'm notoriously clumsy, so take it with a pinch of salt, but I found myself banging expandable hoses into flowerpots and statues and furniture every time I used them. Expandable hoses also expand and contract a little as you use them, so you can take all the care in the world only to find that a segment of the hose has twitched behind you and knocked into something. This is especially true of coil garden hoses like this at Amazon, which are like dragging an old-school telephone cord around the yard.

The expansion is also awkward. It looks pretty sci-fi to watch an expandable hose expand to its full length, but you need to clear some room. They thrash around unpredictably as they get to full length, so you must move delicate flower pots out of the way. You also can't open the hose as it contracts. Once you turn the faucet off, there's still a lot of pressurized water in the hose. If you open the nozzle to drain the water will utterly drench anything in a five-yard radius. On top of that, there's the wait. Unlike a traditional hose, you can't just switch it on and give the plants a quick drink but have to wait for the hose to expand.

Most importantly, these hoses aren't very durable. The rubber core of the hose is fairly durable, but the fabric outer part is not. Over time, this will rip open from weathering, exposing the core. This core is durable, but it's weaker than the rubber exterior of a traditional hose. My family has used the same cheap Hozelock hose (available at Amazon) pretty much since I was born. There's a single tiny hole a quarter century later, and it's otherwise totally intact. An expandable hose I tested a couple of years ago, however, is already starting to look a little ragged.

Should you buy an expandable garden hose?

I think expandable hoses are perfect for patio plants. If you only have a kitchen garden or some containers on a patio, an expandable hose will save you a lot of space. However, if you have a larger yard with flowerbeds throughout, a traditional hose is much better suited to your space.

Garden hose FAQ

Can you repair an expandable hose?

Unfortunately, you can't repair an expandable hose. One the inner is ripped, it cannot be patched, because any repair would rip again when the hose expands.

For more help with watering, take a look at our guide to fixing a garden hose, or our tips on maintaining a garden hose.

Alex David
Head of eCommerce

As Head of eCommerce, Alex makes sure our readers find the right information to help them make the best purchase. After graduating from Cambridge University, Alex got his start in reviewing at the iconic Good Housekeeping Institute, testing a wide range of household products and appliances. He then moved to BBC Gardeners’ World Magazine, assessing gardening tools, machinery, and wildlife products. Helping people find true quality and genuine value is a real passion.