Everything about the kitchen sink

Too many choices?

Undermounted cast iron and porcelain sink

Do you hate your kitchen sink? It can be porcelain over cast iron or stainless that has seen better days, but if your sink is starting to show its age, you might be pondering a replacement.

An even more compelling reason for replacing your sink could be because it doesn't work the way you do. If you find yourself compensating for its deficiencies because of the way you cook and clean, a replacement can save you time, effort, and annoyance. If you have a double bowl sink, you might find it frustrating that your big frying pan doesn't fit or you can't wash things like the vegetable bins in the refrigerator. Maybe the faucet itself doesn't allow for deep pans. The soap dispenser may accumulate crud and periodically require cleaning with a toothbrush. Taken together these little irritations can make housework more labor intensive and time consuming than it needs to be.

If you have a fantasy about what kind of sink you would like, it might pay to do a little more research and make the change. For a modest investment you can have a more functional kitchen. You may want a big, single bowl sink with a drop-down faucet with a built-in sprayer that's easy to clean and no extra geegaws like a hot water or soap dispenser. Maybe you want the hot water dispenser. Whatever you imagine, there's a solution. Never before have there been so many amazing choices competing to replace your humble kitchen sink.

That said, if you are like most homeowners, you're looking for the same thing: simplicity, ease of maintenance, efficiency, aesthetics, and good value.

Repair, recycle, or replace?

If your sink is just old, and you like it because it still works the way you want it to, it may just need resurfacing. Don't waste money on a new sink. Find one of the many resurfacing professionals that specialize in repairing the old enamel finish. It can save you hundreds of dollars. Treat yourself to a new faucet. It's almost like getting a new sink for a fraction of the cost.

If you have strong feelings about replacing your sink because it doesn't meet functional requirements for the way you use it, replace it. If the sink is in decent condition, donate it to a house parts recycling company. The sink can be refinished and sold used to someone who likes it.

Speaking of recycling companies, check around your city for house parts, especially if you are looking for a vintage sink. They can be hard to come by because the mundane kitchen sink often got tossed into the landfill after years of use, but occasionally you can find a good old cast iron farmhouse sink with minimal rust and lots of character that can be refinished and given a whole new life in your cottage kitchen.

All about new sinks

Many people look for exactly the same things in a sink; most people want 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.

Where do you start? There are thousands of different types of kitchen sinks to choose from. Deciding which sink is best for you depends on

The following is not a comprehensive list, but hits all the high points.

Stainless steel

Stainless sink and counter

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 a plethora o' accessories.

Stainless is considered by many to be easy to clean, and if you drop a glass, it's possible it won't break. (That 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.

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 at the moment. Over time, it 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 sinks. 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.

Engineered materials

Engineered sink materials include everything from solid surface materials like Corian® and Swanstone® to a quartz-, slate-, or granite-acrylic composites as well as cast acrylic.


Fireclay farmhouse sink

Fireclay is a 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 NE United States, so shipping, due to its weight, is extremely spendy. Still, if you can afford it, it will give you and your great-grandchildren excellent performance.

Mounting your new sink

There are several basic sink mounting techniques:

Top mount—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 swoosh crumbs and stuff into the sink.

Under mount—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.

Tile in—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.

Flush mount—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.

Making the sink happen

The amount of remodeling or updating you want to do and how much cash you have to spend on your sink project is going to determine what end up with.

The way you work, the type of home, and the style of your kitchen are all equally important aspects for deciding what kind of kitchen sink will work best for you.

If you can't decide, get help. Kitchen designers at some of the larger home improvement stores are happy to answer questions or provide guidance. And if you need more help, you can always hire a professional handyman to replace an existing sink and faucet.

You can find out more about kitchen design and the latest technologies available in Taunton's New Kitchen Idea Book by Joanne Bouknight.

Books to read

Looking for a kitchen contractor to install your new kitchen sink and faucet? Contact Update Renovate for qualified pros.

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