How to choose a kitchen sink
Never before have there been so many amazing choices for the kitchen sink. Whatever you imagine, there’s a solution. That said, if you are like most homeowners, you’re looking for the same thing: simplicity, ease of maintenance, efficiency, aesthetics, and good value.
Many people look for exactly the same things in a sink: a simple, elegant design and easy maintenance. The most requested features include a pull-down one-handle faucet with a sprayer. Many homeowners are starting to ask for a single bowl and about 25% want a soap dispenser. An equal number want a hot water or filtered water dispenser.
So where do you start?
There are hundreds of different types of kitchen sink designs and materials to choose from. Deciding which sink is best for you depends on:
- how you use it
- what your kitchen priorities are
- where it will be located
- how it will be installed
Here are some of the most common sinks available:
For many homeowners, this is the first choice. It’s very popular, probably because stainless steel appliances have a very high tech, industrial look and they look really nice in a modern kitchen with clean lines. Unless stainless is custom fabricated, it’s generally reasonably priced. The key to a good stainless sink is the gauge of the steel. The lower the gauge, the thicker and more durable it is likely to be. Look for 18 or 19-gauge Type 304 stainless. It has extra chromium and is less susceptible to corrosion. Under mount and self-rimming versions are available in a myriad of sizes and shapes with and without drain boards, prep sinks, and accessories. Although good quality undermount sinks are much more expensive than top mount. Keep in mind that you will not be able to change the sink unless you change the counter top so opt for quality.
Stainless steel is considered by many to be easy to clean, and if you drop a glass, it’s possible that it won’t break, which never happens with the cast iron sinks. However, some people think stainless is cold and too easily dented. Another objection some people have to stainless is that it’s noisy. To prevent that, manufacturers have addressed this issue with sound absorption technologies. For the cost and the life expectancy though, between 15–30 years, stainless steel is a very good buy. There are many kitchen sink designs available in stainless steel, and also many different sizes so you can be sure to find one that is right for you.
Nickel, Copper, and Brass
In addition to steel, it’s possible to get sinks made in various metals. Nickel, copper, and brass are all available for the kitchen as well as specialty sinks. Used for generations, metal sinks can be very beautiful, but correspondingly expensive. Nickel is harder and stronger than copper and a hammered nickel finish is gorgeous. Copper is particularly popular. Over time, a metal sink ages and gets a dark patina like an old penny. It requires no maintenance to speak of. A copper sink should be pure copper and copper should be welded, not soldered. A soldered sink will turn black at the joints and look ugly as it ages.
Porcelain enamel over cast iron
This is one of the most durable, widely available options for kitchen sink designs. The range in quality, style, and color is vast. The life expectancy for a high quality sink is about 25–30 years or more. The surface is ground glass melted and applied to the hot cast iron. This type of sink has been used for more than a hundred years. This sink type is available for under mount, self-rimming, and tile-in installations. A cast iron sink doesn’t retain heat particularly well, so it’s often necessary to replenish the hot water when doing a lot of dishes. It’s a good idea to use a sink mat too, because it’s easy to lose your grip on a tumbler and end up with a handful of broken glass. Especially the lighter color enamel sinks show metal marks from cutlery and cooking pans. It takes some maintenance but these marks can be easily removed.
Engineered sink materials include everything from solid surface materials like Corian and Swanstone to quartz, slate-acrylic, or granite-acrylic composites as well as cast acrylic.
Solid surface materials
Solid surface materials have a soft, warm feel and can be fused with a counter top for the ultimate in cleaning ease. There are no grooves or seams so there’s no place for kitchen dirt to collect. The downside is that solid surface really doesn’t hold up well to hot pans that might get put on the counter and it does get cut and nicked. When that happens the manufacturer recommends buffing with steel wool, but that isn’t always successful. It’s also relatively expensive, especially when you consider the sink project turns into a complete overhaul of the counters too. Swanstone is another warm, non-porous material that is available in a variety of styles but is more often treated as a separate sink unit available with either self-rimming or under mount installation.
Composite stone sinks are starting to gain popularity. They are made of various rocks including quartz, granite, or slate and combined with acrylic. They are very hard, warm to the touch, and have a matte finish. They don’t scratch easily. Ask a salesperson if you can try scratching one with a big paperclip. They might let you. If so, you’ll see first hand how hard these sinks really are. The range of sizes and shapes are abundant, but the colors are quite limited to a neutral palette of dark gray, almond, and white with a few variations depending on manufacturer. The price is very competitive with other sinks in the same price range.
Acrylic sinks are also available. They may come with impressive warranties, but in the paper clip test, they scratch easily and quite badly. As with other kitchen sinks, designs vary from single bowl to triple bowl choices.
Fireclay is an enhanced type of vitreous china that contains more quartz and feldspar. It is heavier and denser than regular clay, which makes it more durable than a standard china sink. It repels stains, requires no special cleaning, and is scratch resistant. Like porcelain over cast iron, its life expectancy is 25–30 years. Many farmhouse type sinks are made of this material and incorporate the old-fashioned backs with holes for wall mounted faucets and have drain boards built in. French farmhouse sinks are enameled. There are lots of choices, but these sinks are not low cost sink solutions, so be prepared to budget accordingly.
Arguably the most beautiful sink is made of soapstone. It is heavy, dense, beautiful, and impervious to stains. A sink and counter out of soapstone is spectacular, but very expensive. Soapstone is mined primarily in the north east United States, so shipping, due to its weight, is extremely high. Still, if you can afford it, it will give you and your great-grandchildren excellent performance.
It is important to plan your choice of kitchen sink and faucet at the same time. Your faucet type will require either one, two, three or four holes on the kitchen sink deck. If you are purchasing a top mount this is very important since the holes are very difficult to cut during installation.
Most top mount sinks come with three holes so if you want to install a single hole tap it you would still need to use the deck plate to cover the two extra holes. In this case you will want to special order your sink with only a single hole, or two holes if you want to add a soap dispenser. Just make sure you think about the faucet before you order the sink!
Mounting your new sink
There are a few basic sink mounting techniques:
This is where you would drop a self-rimming sink into the hole for the sink. This is the easiest method of installation and requires the least expertise. Because of the rim, it needs to be caulked periodically around the edge and it’s not as easy to clean up, because you won’t have the ability to wipe crumbs and stuff into the sink.
More difficult to install but much more functional from a cleaning standpoint. Requires a solid surface countertop or stone for mounting. Typically requires a professional installer. Grooves can be incised for a build-in drain area if desired. For today’s kitchen this is the favorite kitchen sink design if the counter is granite or quartz.
This approach is suitable for tiled counters and combines the advantages of the under mount and top mount. This sink has a flange and the tile installation butts right up to the edge of the sink. It’s a nice solution if you want to do a granite tile counter and save some big bucks. Depending on the sink there may be a rim trim piece.
This is generally considered the fusion of sink and counter such with solid surface material. If the sink is fused to the counter, installation isn’t really an issue. Drop it in the cabinet and hook it up to the waste lines. Because of the way a tile-in sink looks, this term may be used interchangeably.