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Choosing A Cast Iron Sink

Amid the countless kitchen sink choices available, the cast iron sink has stood the test of time and looks to be with us for a long time to come.

The reasons for this are simple: it's durable, attractive and easy to maintain. And, it offers something that another popular and durable sink choice, stainless steel, doesn't --- color.

Yet despite it's advantages this type of sink isn't for everyone and there are considerations to think about.

The kind of cast iron sink you choose with respect to installation (drop-in or undermount) will determine whether special installation hardware is necessary.

Drop-in sinks aren't a problem since they sit on top of the countertop surface. But undermount cast iron sinks require some form of support from underneath.

There are also alternatives to cast iron that provide a similar look but are made from different materials, each with their own advantages and disadvantages. If you like the glossy look of cast iron but still aren't sure, these alternatives are worth looking into.

With advancements in both coating and casting technology, today's cast iron sinks are more shapely and durable and given reasonable care, might just outlast your kitchen. Taking a few moments to get to know them better will help you make a more informed decision on a sink that you won't need to replace for many years.

What Exactly Are They Made Of?

Although the makeup of these sinks may seem obvious simply by virtue of the name, there's a bit more to them that bears explanation.

cast iron sink

Cast iron is a heavy, brittle, but durable iron alloy that forms the foundation of the sink. Many are actually made from a high percentage of recycled or reclaimed iron, making it a reasonably good "green" option as far as kitchen sinks go.

The surface coating on the sink is porcelain enamel and this is what you see when you look at a cast iron sink. Porcelain enamel is a porcelain coating that's been applied over the cast iron and fired (baked) at very high temperatures. This results in a hard, durable coating that protects the underlying cast iron and gives the sink its smooth, glossy surface.

Don't be confused by the term "enamel" when you see it associated with cast iron sink descriptions. The word is often thought of to mean "paint" since the two terms are often used together.

When we're talking about cast iron sinks however, "enamel" refers to the porcelain "coating", not a paint. If you doubt our word just skip over to the Porcelain Enamel Institute's website. There you'll find more information about porcelain enamel than you'll ever really want to know.

To put it simply, cast iron sinks are heavy, they have an easily-maintained surface finish and they've been around a long time.

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Pros And Cons Of Cast Iron Sinks

The longevity of the cast iron kitchen sink as a kitchen fixture is due in part to it's durability and long life. There isn't too much that can go wrong but like most products, they have their highs and lows.

The Pros...

  • Long lasting durability - Cast iron isn't going to crack or dent like a solid surface or stainless steel sink. They're heavy and massive and barring any problems with their finish, they should last for a long time.
  • Appealing finish - The porcelain enamel coating provides a glossy finish that adds a beautiful visual appeal and is available in a range of colors that varies with manufacturer. The glossy shine adds sparkle to the kitchen and enhances the surrounding countertops.
  • Self-rimming styles easy to install - A top-mount (drop-in) cast iron sink is easy to install and doesn't require extra devices to hold it in place. It's weight combined with a sealant that surrounds the sink's perimeter is what keeps it secure. Its ease of installation makes it a good choice for do-it-yourself projects.
  • Surface less prone to water spots - It's glossy surface combined with white and other lighter colors tends to hide water spots and streaks better than other types of sinks like stainless steel. Wiping it clean after each use will keep it clean too but that can be inconvenient and impractical. Black sinks on the other hand may show more streaking than lighter colors.
  • Easy to clean - The porcelain surface is non-porous and smooth making it resistant to staining and easy to keep clean. It's not totally immune to stains however as you'll see in the cons section below.

...and the Cons

  • Porcelain can chip or wear - The porcelain enamel is a brittle structure and it can chip if it's knocked hard enough. It can also scratch and wear if you use abrasive cleaners and aggressive cleaning methods.
  • cast iron sink

  • Underlying cast iron can rust if exposed - If the porcelain chips, exposing the cast iron, the iron will rust over time as it's exposed to moisture. Repairs to the porcelain are available but they don't replace the original integrity or look of the porcelain coating.
  • Undermount sinks require solid fixturing - A cast iron undermount kitchen sink requires solid support because of its weight. The base cabinetry that supports it may need to be modified or custom made to provide that support.
  • Scuffing and long-term staining - Heavy pots and pans may leave a colored scuff mark if banged up against the sides or bottom of a lighter colored sink. These marks can usually be removed using the right cleaning methods. Cast iron sink manufacturers also advise not to keep strong staining materials like tea bags and coffee grounds on the sink's surface for extended periods of time because they can eventually leave stains.
  • Not compatible with aggressive cleaners - Abrasive cleaners that are typically found in the kitchen can scratch and wear away at a cast iron sink's porcelain finish. You'll need to use the right cleaning methods and materials to maintain the sink's finish.

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Some Additional Points And Alternatives To Consider

In addition to the pros and cons there are a few more points you may want to consider if you're thinking about buying a cast iron sink. We've also offered some alternate choices to think about for comparison.

  • Supporting A Cast Iron Undermount Sink
    Because of its weight, a cast iron undermount sink will require support from underneath. The sink shouldn't be attached to your countertop with the same hardware that's used for other, lighter sinks.

    Kohler makes an undermount sink kit specifically for a cast iron undermount sink (part number Kohler K-5807). It consists of two metal bars that attach to the front and back of the base cabinet allowing easy installation (and removal if necessary).

    Similar support kits are also available from other sink makers like CECO (www.ceco.com) and specialty hardware suppliers.

    Without such a kit you'll need to build some form of support structure inside the cabinetry to accommodate the sink. The installation instructions for a Kohler cast iron sink recommend either the aforementioned kit or fabricating a wooden support structure.

  • Items To Note On A Cast Iron Self Rimming Sink
    Some drop-in cast iron sinks may have slight waviness along the flange that sits on the countertop surface. This results in larger gaps between the countertop and sink flange requiring more caulk to seal the gaps.

    One handy product offered by Kohler is their Kohler Colors Caulk. It's produced in several shades that match some of their cast iron sink colors. Even better is the fact that it dries to a gloss, similar to the sink's glossy finish. The matching color and glossy finish do a nice job of camouflaging the seal around the perimeter of the sink.

    Make sure to check the edges of the sink's flange for any small areas of chipped or missing porcelain. Any bare areas expose the underlying cast iron to moisture which can cause it to rust. Any rust that develops tends to blister the surrounding porcelain enamel causing it to flake off leading to more rust.

    Despite the potential for these irregularities choosing a self-rimming cast iron sink may save you on installation costs compared with an undermount installation. This is because there's less labor involved with a self-rimming sink installation.

  • Know Your Required Number of Faucet Holes (Ahead of Time)

    cast iron sink

    If the type of sink you're considering has pre-drilled faucet holes, know how many you'll need ahead of time. It's not easy to add additional faucet holes to a cast iron sink. Doing so would probably require a specialist using the right tools and there's no guarantee the job would be "clean" with no damage to the enamel.

    There are some cast iron sinks like those made by CECO that don't include faucet holes. Faucets for these types of sinks are attached to the surrounding countertop surface.

  • Colors Other Than White May Increase Cost
    Some manufacturers charge extra for colors other than white. White is usually the cheapest followed by other colors which may be in a mid-bracket pricing tier with premium colors being the most expensive.

Alternatives to Cast Iron Sinks

If you like the look of a cast iron sink but still aren't sure if it's the right choice there are some alternatives. They may not have the same long term durability but if that's not your biggest concern, they're worth checking out.

One alternative is the enameled steel sink. It's similar to a cast iron sink in that the surface finish is the same. The difference lies in the base material which is sheet steel, making it lighter than cast iron.

The downside is that there's a higher potential for the coating to flake off because the steel is more flexible than cast iron. The likelihood of this happening is probably remote, unless you drop something pretty heavy into the sink. However, it's the characteristic that's given enameled steel sinks a bad rap. This type of sink can also be noisier than cast iron due to it's lighter construction.

Another option is the Americast sink from American Standard. It's made with a proprietary polymer-like material that forms the structure of the sink but comes with the same smooth glossy surface coating as cast iron. The result is a lighter sink.

The potential downside with this type of sink is similar to enameled steel sinks. The thinner and lighter the base material, the greater the chance for flexing which can crack and chip the coating.

The other alternative is an acrylic sink. Acrylic is basically a plastic. It's available in different colors and has the same glossy appearance as a porcelain enamel cast iron sink.

Its drawbacks include the risk for scratches and cuts due to its softer material makeup and the fact that it may not last as long as a properly cared-for cast iron sink.

Fireclay is another material that's an alternative to cast iron. It too has the same smooth glossy finish as enameled cast iron. On the upside it's color goes through the material and there's nothing underneath the surface that can corrode. The downside is that these sinks are also fairly heavy and can be expensive too.

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Here's More Related Info That Might Be Helpful...

Choosing Kitchen Sinks - Make sure you know all that's available and how to choose in this article on choosing a new kitchen sink.

Kohler Smart Divide Sink Review - Here's a review of the Kohler Smart Divide cast iron sink.

Copper Sinks - For a different look in a kitchen sink consider a copper sink. They're available in various finishes and patinas.

Stainless Steel Kitchen Sinks - Stainless steel sinks also have a good service record. Find out what there is to know about choosing this kind of kitchen sink.

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