I know what you’re thinking… Really, Michelle? A full mini lesson on kitchen sinks. White or stainless steel. What else is there to choose? What’s the big deal?
Well, even if, like me, you don’t cook most days of the week, you do probably use your kitchen sink every single day, and probably several times a day.
The kitchen sink is one the hardest working fixtures in the entire house. So, we need to choose the best sink for our kitchen routine and our kitchen design.
Some sink materials are tougher than others. Taking the time to become familiar with different sink features and materials will help you find a sink that will make your kitchen look great and function well. This week we’ll go over the pros and cons of the most common kitchen sink materials, then I’ll give you a few tips for choosing the best sink size and style for your home and habits.
Before we get to this week’s mini lesson, let’s go over this week’s Pro Term: Farmhouse sink
PRO TERM: Farmhouse Sink
A farmhouse sink, also called a farmer’s sink or an apron sink, is generally deeper than many modern sinks. The farmhouse sink was first used in times when there was no running water. That large sink held all the water that was retrieved from nearby wells, lakes and rivers.
A farmhouse sink has no countertop space between the user and the sink, so you can stand right next to the sink when you are washing dishes or rinsing vegetables.
The finished front of the sink is exposed, which is why it’s sometimes called an apron front or apron sink. A farmhouse sink can be installed so it is flush with the edge of your countertop, or it can be mounted so it juts out just a little bit beyond your countertop edge.
Previously, only very traditional, vintage farmhouse sinks were on the market. Today, farmhouse sinks come in both traditional and contemporary designs.
Ok, moving on to this week’s mini lesson.
When choosing a kitchen sink, material is more important than manufacturer. Most all well known brands make numerous quality sinks, so what’s most important for you to consider is the material that the sink is made of.
Choose a sink material that will hold up to your cooking and clean up routine. Will your sink be used for regular washing of large, heavy pots? Do you and your family members tend to toss knives and other utensils into sink, instead of gently placing them in the sink? If you answered yes to either of those questions, you’ll probably want to choose durable sink material that is less prone to chipping.
If you’ve been hard on your sinks in the past, you’ll most likely be hard on the sink in your new house. Don’t expect to change your habits. Instead, choose a material that will hold up to your habits like stainless steel. A stainless steel is probably the most durable long, lasting sink material out there.
Stainless steel sinks are durable and resistant to corrosion. Not only are stainless steel sinks themselves resistant to damage, but they are also less likely to damage dishes and glassware that are dropped into the sink. That’s because stainless steel is slightly flexible; it “gives” a little as compared to super hard sinks like cast iron.
Stainless steel sinks are some of the most affordable on the market. You can find even good quality stainless sinks for a reasonable price.
Stainless steel also has a timeless, neutral look that works well in almost any style of kitchen. Stainless sinks are available in brushed, polished and hammered finishes.
You want a 300 series sink (typically 304), which means the stainless steel has the right ratio of chromium and nickel to make the stainless steel adequately resistant to corrosion and stains.
For all their advantages, stainless steel sinks have a few downsides. They show water spots, especially if you have hard water. If you want a gleaming stainless steel sink all the time, you'll need to wipe it out after use. Stainless sinks are also prone to scratches, but a brushed or hammered finish hides scratches better than a polished finish.
Another disadvantage is that stainless steel sinks can be noisy, especially thinner, lower quality sinks. You may hear clinging and clanging as you move your dishes around in the sink.
Better quality sinks are made of thicker steel. Look for lower-gauge stainless steel. "Gauge" refers to the thickness of the metal used to make the sink. Contrary to what you might expect, the lower the gauge, the thicker and better quality the stainless steel.
The average home in the US has a 21-gauge stainless steel sink. A very good quality sink is 18-gauge. And If you're really going high end, choose a 16-gauge sink, which is very thick and durable, but also very expensive.
You can remember those target gauge numbers because they are all milestone ages—Sweet 16 is the top of the line and it’s all downhill from there. Choose a 16 or 18 gauge sink if you can afford it. A 21 gauge sink is not the best, but it’s ok. And you definitely want to avoid a 22 (or higher) gauge sink. That's just too thin.
Thicker, lower gauge sinks are more resistant to dings and dents and they are also better at handling the vibrations associated with a garbage disposal. Seek out sinks with a lower gauge steel plus rubbery undercoatings and pads, which deaden the sound of running water and clanging dishes.
Another popular choice is…
Cast iron has been a long time favorite of many homeowners. Most of our grandmothers had a cast iron sink. Cast iron sinks are coated with porcelain enamel. That enamel coating is baked on at high temperatures, making the coating very hard, easy to clean and durable.
Although a cast iron sink is durable, it’s not indestructible. The enamel coating can wear and chip over time, causing the underlying cast iron to rust when it's exposed. Thankfully, minor chips and scratches can be fixed with products like Por-a-Fix and Fill-a-Fix.
If you like the look of a glossy white sink or a colorful sink, cast iron might be right for you. But realize that heavy pots and pans can leave marks on the shiny surface. Those marks can often, but not always, be removed with a little elbow grease, but you shouldn’t use abrasive cleaners on cast iron.
If you want a glossy sink that’s not quite as heavy, or as expensive, as a cast iron sink, consider enameled steel or acrylic.
Enameled steel sinks are as easy to clean as their heavier cast iron counterparts, but because they’re not as hefty as cast iron, enameled steel sinks are usually noisier.
Although higher quality enameled steel sinks look a lot like genuine cast iron sinks, the cheaper ones look cheap. And like the enamel on cast iron sinks, the enamel on these steel enamel sinks can chip too.
Acrylic is a plastic that’s usually reinforced with fiberglass and then molded into the shape of a sink. Acrylic sinks are shiny and attractive and they come in a variety of colors. Unlike enamel coated sinks, acrylic sinks are the same color throughout, so minor scratches are harder to detect and they can be buffed out. These sinks are easy to clean and maintain. Because acrylic is non-porous, it’s resistant to day to day staining, but some discoloration may occur over time.
Because they’re lightweight, acrylic sinks fairly easy to install, making them a good choice for DIYers. Acrylic sinks are more budget friendly than many other options, but, they’re not as durable as cast iron or stainless steel.
Like most plastics, acrylic can burn or melt if it’s exposed to high heat, so you should avoid placing hot pots and pans in an acrylic kitchen sink, or resting a hot curling iron in an acrylic bathroom sink. Acrylic can also be damaged by chemical drain cleaners or petroleum based products.
Fireclay sinks are made of clay based ceramic that’s stronger and more durable than typical ceramic. That clay base is topped with a glaze, similar to how a ceramic tile might be covered with glaze. These sinks can have either a glossy or matte finish. They come in white, off white and a few other colors. Many of these sinks have a farmhouse style.
Fireclay sinks are durable, stain resistant and easy to clean and maintain. But they can scratch and chip, but chips can be repaired.
Most fireclay sinks are very large so they may not work well in a small kitchen and they can be expensive and tricky to install since they can be crack if the drain or garbage disposal aren’t put in carefully.
Those are the most popular sinks today. Let’s quickly cover more specialized sink materials.
Solid surface sinks are made from the same material as solid surface countertops, Corian, for example. This is man made material comprised of resins and minerals.
When coupled with a solid surface countertop, these sinks offer a great seamless look. Solid surface material is durable and stands up to scrubbing. The color goes all the way through the material so small scratches are not very noticeable and larger scratches can be buffed out. These sinks are very tolerant of high heat but they can crack if very heavy pans are dropped into the sink.
COPPER OR BRONZE
A copper or bronze sink has a very distinctive look and they take on an aged patina over time. If you want them to retain their original sheen, you’ll need to polish them periodically. The main downside of these sinks is that they’re expensive and they’re not readily available in certain sizes or in certain areas of the country.
Stone sinks are made from a variety of natural stone types, most commonly granite and soapstone, but also travertine, marble and onyx. Many people want to extend their stone countertop material into their sinks for a seamless, monochromatic look.
Stone sinks are heavy and they often require extra support, so make sure your cabinet maker knows if you’re planning on purchasing a stone sink.
Other downsides are that stone can scratch and chip. And stone sinks are expensive and pretty high maintenance since they need to be sealed regularly and they often require special cleaning products. Unfortunately, even with regular cleaning and sealing, some stone varieties will eventually stain.
Like stone sinks, concrete sinks are unique and heavy. They too can give a seamless look if you are also installing concrete countertops. Cons of concrete sinks are that they need to be sealed regularly and the can crack and fissure over time.
Composite kitchen sinks are made of a combination of crushed stone, like granite, plus a resin binder. Composite sinks are resistant to heat.
You might see composite sinks referred to as “stone” sinks, but don't confuse them with solid stone sinks, made from 100% natural stone.
The downsides of composite sinks are that they are expensive and, since they haven’t been around for very long, their long-term durability has yet to be determined.
So, those are the most common sink materials. Now, let’s go over some things you should consider when deciding on the size and style of your kitchen sink.
1. Choose an undermount sink if you want to easily sweep countertop crumbs and liquids right into the sink. Undermount sinks don’t have the rim of the sink resting on the countertop. Food and liquid can be smoothly swept into the sink without being hindered by the lip of the sink. Undermount sinks are the most popular sink configuration seen in most custom homes.
Heavier sinks, like ones made from cast iron or stone, often need a special mounting system with an undermount installation.
2. A drop-in sink, also called top mount or self rimming sink, has sink rim that rests on the countertop. They’re easier to install than undermount sinks, but the lip of the sink can catch crumbs and debris when you’re trying to wipe down your countertop.
3. White or off white sinks hide water spots better than stainless steel and colored sinks. So go for a white sink if dried water marks really bother you. By the way, darker countertops will also show dried water spots more readily than lighter countertops will.
4. A large single bowl sink is what’s most on trend today. These sinks are practical because you can wash big pans and cookie sheets in the large single bowl. The single bowls work especially well if you wash most of your dishes in the dishwasher because you don’t need one bowl for washing and a separate bowl for rinsing.
If you primarily wash most of your dishes by hand, you’ll probably find a double bowl sink more practical. But look for models with a low profile divider between the bowls. That way you can still easily wash big pans and platters.
Or choose a model with one large bowl for washing and a second small bowl for rinsing. If you have the space and you want to get really fancy, you can choose a sink with 3 bowls or with an integrated cutting board.
5. Although most of us want a very large kitchen sink, be careful not to go too large if your kitchen is on the smaller side. That gigantic sink might look out of place and, more importantly, it’ll take up lots of valuable counter space. And some extra large sinks are too large for stock cabinetry, so you’ll need custom cabinets where you install your sink.
6. We want large sinks and we want deep sinks, but don’t go too deep. Most bowls are usually 6 to 12 inches deep. A 6 inch bowl is generally too shallow and is prone to splashing. Plus it can’t hold very many dishes. Go for sinks that are at least 9 to 10 inches deep.
Deep sinks reduce splashes and give you a lot of room for dishwashing. But if the sink is so deep that your hands don’t naturally reach the bottom of the sink, you could strain you back. That back strain comes from leaning over to reach the bottom of an excessively deep bowl.
Be especially cautious of extra deep sinks if you’re shorter than average, or if you often have children helping you in the kitchen. Test a few sinks out in a kitchen showroom to see what feels just right. And remember that undermount sinks will be an inch or so lower than a top mounted sink.
7. Use a plastic wash basin or mat or a metal grid (see 3 bowl sink image above)
to protect your sink surface. You can remove them and put away in a drawer or cabinet when you not using them. But this simple solution can greatly minimize the damage that will naturally be done to your sink over time.
8. Be aware that those super sleek, modern sinks with squared off corners and sharp 90 degree angles look great, but they’re difficult to clean. All those tight corners can accumulate gunk and debris. Whereas a sink with rounded corners can simply be swiped clean.
It’s easier to wipe down curved corners than it is to get into tight, 90 degree corners. Many homeowners who have those squared off sinks say that after a few years, those sharp, tight corners show build-up of debris and water and soap deposits. This may be a time when function should prevail over form and fashion.
9. Choose a sink with the drain located toward the back or corner of the sink. That way you’ll have more usable cabinet space underneath the sink because the plumbing will be pushed further back. Just make sure that you have enough clearance near the back of the cabinet to have your garbage disposal installed.
Alright, that’s the mini lesson for this week. Now let’s do a couple quiz questions to test and review some of what we’ve gone over.
1. Which is a better quality stainless steel sink, a 16 gauge sink or a 22 gauge sink?
The answer is the 16 gauge sink. Remember sweet 16 is the top of the line. The lower the gauge the thicker the steel. Choose a 16 or 18 gauge stainless steel sink, if you can afford it, and definitely avoid a 22 gauge sink.
2. Which sink material is made of a clay based ceramic that’s harder than regular ceramic?
D. Solid Surface
The answer is B, Fireclay. Fireclay is made of ceramic, but it’s an extra strong ceramic.
Acrylic is plastic and fiberglass. Composite sinks are made of crushed natural stone and resins, and solid surface sinks are made of a man made material that’s a combination of resins and minerals.
Please remember that the purpose of this podcast is simply to educate and inform. It is not a substitute for professional advice. The information that you hear is based the only on the opinions, research and experiences of my guests and myself. That information might be incomplete, it’s subject to change and it may not apply to your project. In addition, building codes and requirements vary from region to region, so always consult a professional about specific recommendations for your home.
Well, that was kitchen sinks. I hope you learned as much as I did. Thank for stopping by and thank for hanging in there to the very end of this episode of Build Your House Yourself University.
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