Kitchen sinks are arguably the hardest working fixtures in the kitchen. Think about it for a moment. How many times per day do you use your current sink? Now compare that to the number of times you use your oven, or the microwave.
With the kitchen's evolution into the home's multi-functional hub of activity, sinks have had to keep up as well. The result is a legion of choices involving everything from materials to bowl configuration.
So how do you go abut choosing the right one?
The first part is knowing what kinds of choices and options are available. Sinks have come a long way over the years and they're no longer just a simple wash basin.
The second part is understanding what your needs and preferences are and whether you're simply replacing an existing sink or doing a bare-the-studs kitchen remodel.
Merging these two bodies of information will help you find matches that will get you a new sink you'll be satisfied with.
Within the vast realm of sink choices there are 3 basic differentiators that you'll want to become familiar with. They include -
Understanding what you want from among these basic features will help narrow down your list of available choices and focus your search.
From there you can then home in on the range of options offered by the various manufacturers that fit those basic three criteria.
|- Self-rimming (drop-in)|
|- Flush mount|
Self-rimming or drop-in sinks as they're sometimes called are the easiest to install. They simply fit into a cutout in the countertop on top of a base cabinet, supported by the flanges of the sink that overlap the cutout.
The main disadvantage is the barrier between the countertop surface and the bowl that's formed by the lip. You can't sweep food and liquids into the sink or if you try, you end up catching debris at the edge where the sink and countertop meet.
Undermount sinks are attached under the countertop. They either hang from the underside of the countertop or are supported from underneath by the base cabinet structure.
Undermount sinks allow you to brush items from the countertop directly into the sink without any "catch points" that can capture food particles and moisture. They require clips and other mechanical fastening devices to attach them to the countertop. Heavier kitchen sinks like ones made from cast iron or stone require a well-designed mounting system in an undermount installation.
A solid surface sink combined with a solid surface countertop is another form of undermount sink although it may not appear as such. In this situation the sink is glued to the underside of the solid surface countertop. The fabricator then smooths the joint between the two surfaces making the seam between them invisible, similar to what's shown in the picture on the right.
An undermount sink's "reveal" refers to the degree that the countertop extends over the edge of the sink. A positive reveal means the lip of the sink juts out slightly from the edge of the countertop. A negative reveal means the countertop surface overlaps the edge of the sink.
Flush mount sinks are also called "tile edge" sinks. They're similar to a drop-in sink except they're used with a tiled countertop. The tile is installed so that it's flush with the mounting flange of the sink providing a flush surface with the countertop. There's usually a grout line between the edge of the sink and the tile.
Both the size and the configuration are important because they directly relate to usability and effectiveness. Let's face it - you want a good looking sink but you don't want just a pretty face - you want it to work well too.
For example, a small galley kitchen might do best with a smaller, single-bowl configuration whereas a large kitchen may be able to accommodate a wide three-bowl, multi-depth chef sink. Another scenario involves the use of a corner sink configuration that makes the most of a kitchen's available area.
Choosing a size and configuration that suits your kitchen and lifestyle makes for the best match.
Kitchen sinks come in a variety of materials, each with their own highs and lows. The information below highlights what's available.
Stainless steel sinks have broad appeal for their neutral, clean looks and durability. Available in brushed and polished finishes, better sinks are made from thicker steel, measured by gauge thickness. Higher gauge numbers equate to thinner steels (in other words, 20 gauge steel is thinner than 16 gauge steel). Stainless sinks have a bit more "give" than a harder material like cast iron and are more forgiving on dropped dishes and glassware.
Good durability and longevity on quality sinks
Provides a consistent look with stainless appliances
Affordable (though sinks with more features add cost)
Thinner gauges (>20) may sound tinny and flex too much
Will show dried water and mineral spots unless wiped after use
Can scratch although they're less visible on brushed finishes
Cast iron has a long track record of being a durable sink material. They are finished with porcelain enamel, a coating fired at high temperatures that provides hardness and durability. It's not indestructible however as it's possible for the enamel to wear away or chip over time. Minor chips and scratches can be fixed with products like Por-a-Fix and Fill-a-Fix. They're heavy but durable, making undermount applications a bit trickier than drop-ins. If you like the look of glossy sink, cast iron is a good choice. (An alternative for the shiny look is an acrylic sink.)
You can find more information about choosing a cast iron sink here.
Offers a durable sink that's available in various colors
Easy to clean and maintain
Heavy mass retains heat longer (though it takes longer to warm up)
Porcelain finish has a nice sheen
Drop-in styles are easy to install
Undermount installation requires solid fixturing due to weight
Porcelain can wear/chip over time causing underlying iron to rust if it's exposed
Not compatible with abrasive cleaners; can dull the gloss finish
Heavy pans can leave marks on lighter colors (usually cleanable however)
Fireclay sinks are a form of ceramic, similar to vitreous china yet stronger and more durable. Fireclay is fired at a higher temperature than vitreous china which helps provide the added durability. These products can have either a glossy or matte finish depending on the brand you buy. Typical colors are in the white and off-white family although there are some blue, black and grey products too. Fireclay differs from cast iron in that cast iron forms the primary structure of the sink, which is coated in a porcelain enamel. Fireclay in contrast is a clay based structure with a topical glaze, that's fused with the fireclay base, analogous to ceramic tile.
Durable, hard, non-porous finish that's easy to maintain
Ceramic material isn't susceptible to corrosion when the surface finish is chipped, like what can occur with cast iron
Typical styles are massive and command a presence making them a definite style statement in the kitchen
Can be expensive
Despite durable surface finish chips can occur from hard knocks though there are chip repair kits available
Depending on manufacturer sizing can vary; having a sink on-hand before templating for countertop cutouts and installation may be necessary
Requires careful installation of drain and garbage disposal to avoid cracking that can occur due to over-tightening
Acrylic kitchen sinks offer the benefits of economy with an easily-maintained surface that's very resistant to stains. Acrylic is a plastic that's molded to form the shape of the sink. It's typically reinforced with fiberglass.
Smooth, non-porous surface that's easy to clean and stain resistant
Inexpensive when compared to other sink materials
Surface is renewable; scratches can be sanded and polished out
Lighter than fireclay & cast iron
Not tolerant to high heat
Susceptible to damage from petroleum-based products
Solid surface sinks are made from the same material as solid surface countertops. When coupled with a solid surface counter, these sinks offer a great seamless look, the ultimate in sink/counter design with no ridges or edges to catch gunk and grime.
Provides a seamless joint with solid surface countertops
Self-rimming solid sinks also available for easy installation
Durable surface that stands up to scrubbing
Color goes through the material - scratches are less noticeable
Deep scratches/cuts are repairable, similar to solid surface c'tops
More forgiving to dropped objects than cast iron and stone sink
Not tolerant to high heat and very hot pots/pans
Can crack or break under impact from heavy objects
Seamless installation with c'tops requires professional fabrication
Cracks/fractures require professional repair (usually replacement)
Copper & Bronze
A copper or bronze sink offers a distinctive look that will take on an aged patina depending on the type of care it's given. You'll want to be sure the copper contains no lead or mercury, elements that are sometimes alloyed (combined with) copper.
Click here to learn more about choosing a copper sink.
Non-rusting material with a unique visual distinction
Certain alloys of copper have antimicrobial properties (valid products must be registered with the U.S. EPA (Environmental Protection Agency)
Expensive to very expensive depending on size and design
Will need polishing to retain bright appearance
Stone sinks are made from a variety of stone types. A granite kitchen sink or sinks made from soapstone are among the most common, but there are also sinks made from travertine, marble and onyx. These sinks are heavy and they require substantial support. Stone sinks can be made by joining stone slabs together to form the basin or can be hewn out of a solid piece. Sinks that are made from slabs should have an adequately sloped bottom to minimize any residual standing water.
Robust and durable surface
Good sound-deadening qualities due to its mass
Definitely a unique and interesting style option
Style can look rustic; may not be compatible with all kitchen designs
They're heavy and may require custom-built cabinetry for support
Some stones are porous and require regular sealing
Enameled steel kitchen sinks are an alternative to cast iron, offering lighter weight and usually a lower cost for a similar look. These sinks come in a variety of colors and offer the same easily-cleaned surface as their heavier cast iron counterparts. Because they're made from lighter-weight material they may be noisier than sinks made from cast iron.
Lighter weight and lower cost than enameled cast iron
Relatively easy to clean and maintain
Similar look to a cast iron sink finish
Chips in the enamel expose the steel substrate to rusting, though these chips can be repaired
May be noisier than a cast iron sink due to thinner materials used in its construction
Some products can look cheap, not matching the substantial look of a quality cast iron sink
Concrete sinks are stylish, often custom made and heavy. Not everyone has a concrete sink so they offer a distinctive style choice. Their custom nature allows them to incorporate any design features you'd like drain boards, inlays or a unique bowl shape or size. Pre-cast concrete sinks are also available.
Nature of the material affords unlimited customization
Unique style option
Can be incorporated with a concrete countertop for seamless design
Requires periodic sealing to avoid stains and repel moisture
Heavy; requires sufficient base cabinet support
Can be costly typically when custom made
May exhibit cracks and fissures over time
Composite kitchen sinks are a combination of crushed stone, usually granite or quartz, and a resin binder. The result is a material that's somewhat similar to solid surface but more resistant to heat. Some composite sinks have a smooth surface while others have a slightly rougher texture. Blanco's Silgranit® and Moen's MoenStone are examples of composite kitchen sinks. You may see these types of sinks referred to as stone sinks but don't confuse them with solid stone sinks, made from stone slabs or hewn out of a chunk of stone.
Reasonable durability and resistance to scratching and chipping
Stands up to heat better than solid surface
Color goes through the material
Scuffs and scrapes can be harder to remove particularly in darker colors
Rougher-surfaced products like these can be harder to clean (relative to smooth-surfaced materials)
Some users have reported dulling of the finish
Beyond materials, installation type and configuration here are some additional points to ponder (let's call them the finer details) when choosing a kitchen sink.
There won't be any kitchen police running after you if you buy a sink that's too large for your kitchen but you'll be sacrificing countertop space and it may just look out of scale.
An extra-wide sink like Kohler's PRO TaskCenter triple bowl sink at 60" wide will require special base cabinets to accommodate it's oversize width.
However if you primarily use the dishwasher and only wash large pots and cookie sheets you may want a large single bowl or one of the low-divide double-bowl products that better accommodate larger pans.
Two things come to mind here: my mother's old Guardian Service cookware and my children's habit of 'tossing' their utensils into our sink. Washing cookware like the bullet-proof Guardian Service (which feels like armor plate) easily made scratches and scrapes on our enameled sink if one wasn't careful.
For a long time my young sons were too short to place their utensils at the bottom of the sink. Instead they usually just reached over the counter and dropped them in. The resulting clank could be heard a room away as our sink's finish took another hit.
The point is this: sinks are subject to real life situations so thinking through how you actually live in your kitchen will help you choose the right sink.
If you want the gleaming stainless steel look all the time you'll need to wipe it out after use. That might sound impractical but there are actually manufacturers that recommend these instructions in their maintenance recommendations.
Keep in mind that it doesn't take much slope for the bottom to shed the water. The stainless steel sink in the picture below has a pretty flat bottom but those creases actually form a very slight "cone" to the drain. But, the flatter it is, the more residual water you'll probably have.
Square-corner and zero-radius sinks look modern and high-tech but they're harder to clean in the corners than sinks with a more generous corner radius. It's easier to swipe-clean rounded corners than it is to get into tight corners. Unless you're diligent or really good at getting into those tight corners, they may show build-up over time from water and soap deposits.
Choosing a sink that's going to suit your needs involves understanding the kinds of features and innovations that are available in the marketplace.
They following isn't a completely exhaustive list but it will give you an idea of the options available for your consideration. There may be something here that you didn't know about that just might 'fit the bill' for your particular situation.
You can buy kitchen sinks with one, two or three bowls. The right choice depends on how you'll use your sink the most.
Some double bowl sinks take up the same amount of counter space as a large single bowl sink. However when you start getting up to the triple bowl sinks, the amount of kitchen real estate that's taken up grows accordingly. The size of your kitchen and cabinetry will (should) dictate your choice here as triple-bowl sinks can be quite large.
Some homeowners like large, wide, single bowl sinks and use adjacent countertop space for a dish rack/drainer. Others may prefer a double bowl sink that allows washing dishes in one bowl and draining them in the other.
Multi-bowl sinks are also available with varied bowl depths. A triple bowl sink may have 2 large deep basins with a smaller, more shallow food prep bowl off to the side or in the middle. Suffice to say, there are plenty of choices when it comes to bowl configuration.
New features include low-profile bowl dividers that "convert" double-bowl sinks into a single bowl. (In actuality, the low divider affords more room to handle larger pots and pans that you otherwise wouldn't be able to fit in just one of the bowls). Kohler's Smart Divide sink® is one example that uses this feature. You can see it in action by playing the video below and read a review of the Kohler Smart Divide sink here.
Integral cutting and drain boards are becoming a common feature that allow food preparation right at the sink. The boards slide from side to side and are removable for convenience and washing. Rather than prepping food at an adjacent counter, you can wash, rinse and chop right there at the sink.
Professional grade products like Kohler's PRO TaskCenter™ offer the features of commercial grade sinks for multitasking home chefs. Similar features are found in Elkay sinks, most notably, their Avado sink family. Wide, triple-bowl sinks with integral cutting boards and other accessories allow for multi-functional work. However be advised that these sinks can be expensive.
Innovations in the materials used to make kitchen sinks include the combination of metal and polymers as is the case with the Z-Series sinks from Bates & Bates. The combination of the metal (such as copper brass, bronze and stainless steel) and polymer provides the distinctive look of a metal sink but with a surface that's easier to maintain.
Pre-cast concrete sinks are available as stand-alone units or as part of a countertop/sink combination. Sonoma Cast Stone makes concrete farmhouse (apron front) sinks along with sink/countertop combinations. They also make their ChefCenter sink with a perforated stainless steel bottom that's incorporated right into the concrete to protect the sink from abrasions.
The message here is that kitchen sinks aren't the simple cast iron basins of yesteryear. They've kept pace with technology and offer a wide range of options and features that are worth noting. Taking time to become familiar with these features will give you a better chance at finding a sink you'll not only be satisfied with but will make your kitchen a more efficient work space.
Choosing a product like a kitchen sink is akin to choosing new furniture or which outfit to wear to the party. There's quality to consider, but a lot of preference is based on what look strikes our fancy. What works for some just won't work for others.
Subjectivity aside for a moment, here are my top 3 sink recommendations. This is based on my own experience and research on these products.
Click here for more information and recommendations on buying a stainless steel sink.
Yes, they scratch and chip but that can be minimized by how you protect it with sink grids and mats. The glossy surface, particularly on lighter colors tends to mask water marks better than stainless. More information on cast iron sinks can be found here.
Both stainless steel and cast iron sinks have their raving fans and their ardent haters. However there's no denying their popularity and longevity for the money. It simply comes down to preference for looks and performance.
My own kitchen sink is cast iron and it does have its fair share of scratches at the bottom of the bowl. However it cleans up well and I'd make the same choice again.
Silgranit definitely has a matte finish so if a glossy/shiny sink finish is something you want, this might not be the sink for you. I've also seen some darker sinks with scuffs on them that I couldn't "rub away" but it's hard for me to leave this type of sink out of the mix given the enthusiastic supporters it has.