There are a dozen good criteria for choosing a kitchen sink, but the important ones can be reduced to a few. They come down to material, configuration – number of basins, bowl depth and overall size, mounting method, and – perhaps the key – style.
Naturally, they overlap quite a bit. Material affects the style and style is largely a matter of personal taste. Yet, that style is also (partly) the result of the number of basins and size. Making things even more mixed, the mounting method will be influenced by material and perhaps bowl depth.
So, while I’ll cover individual options in separate sections, it’s good to keep in mind that there are options that cross boundaries.
Probably the most basic criteria any buyer will apply will be choice of sink material. You might think it would be size, since you’re naturally constrained by the space available in your kitchen. That practical consideration is essential, of course. But you can get just about any sink style in any size you need so that gets put farther down the list.
The stainless steel sink has been around for decades, though at one time it was considered the very latest in high-tech in the kitchen. Stainless steel has many virtues, not least its relatively low cost. It’s also highly durable. Though it can and does get scratched over time, it can continue to look good years after installation. Any scratches can often be buffed out to make the sink look new again.
If stainless steel is your preference, be sure to look for 16-18 gauge or thicker to help prevent dents. Choose a sink with good padding to dampen noise. Look for a sink that offers a brushed satin finish to hide water spots.
Before steel, enamel-covered cast iron was the latest fashion and it’s such a good material it’s still very popular. Enamels from the early 20th century are sometimes still being actively used in kitchens. Homes from that era built in the Eastern U.S., for example, are often restored by those who love the early style. The sinks in such houses are sometimes one of the few items that do not need to be replaced with modern lookalikes.
Before that, cast iron alone was the standard and it, too, is still widely used. It’s less common in kitchens today but garages still make use of this incredibly tough material. Unfortunately, unless specially treated, it does rust easily so it can require quite a bit of maintenance.
Brass or copper is less common today as a choice for sink material but is becoming a more frequent choice. Like iron, either one rusts if not treated, even the oxide is often considered attractive. Sculpture made from copper is often deliberately given that green patina just for the esthetic effect.
Brass and copper also happen to be tough stuff and have desirable heat conduction, which after all is a major reason for their continuing use in pots and other household items. They remain more common choices for bathrooms than kitchens but fashions change!
Some of the newer material choices are today’s frontrunners for style. Besides being considered highly attractive, some are the equal in durability, as well. One of those is ceramic of one kind or another. It’s a broad term but enamel can be reasonably put in that category and, as discussed above, it’s been around for a long time.
The downside is that, unless it’s made to a high standard, any ceramic is prone to chipping. Some types are tough enough to be used in rocket ships. Others will crack or chip from even a modest blow from a pan. Proceed with caution.
There are several types of stone sink and one kind is sometimes selected to match the countertop material. Even so, appearance is usually the first consideration here. But other qualities – durability, stain resistance (or lack of it) and more – should be taken into account, too.
Marble is a good example. Less common, chiefly because of its high cost, this material in fact goes back to the ancient Romans and beyond. Still, as a choice for a kitchen sink, you’d find few buyers who would turn down one that was the low price of stainless steel, for instance.
The problem with marble goes beyond cost, though. It is beautiful and inherently unique. No two pieces are exactly the same. But marble can chip easier even than a ceramic. Possibly worse, it can be easily stained by grease, acids, and other common kitchen compounds. Even regular cleaning can be a tricky proposition. If you go for marble, seek out a special contemporary mixture or coating that gives you some high-tech protection.
Slate is another option, though it’s more often used for floors or countertops. This is one of those cases where the sink might be selected to match another kitchen element. Still, there’s nothing wrong with contrast in kitchen décor and many better sink materials will go well with a slate counter or floor.
Granite is one good example. Less commonly used for a sink, because of high weight and cost, it does look beautiful. Unfortunately, despite its incredible density, it can be chipped by a good bang from a pot. Take care, if you’re considering this sink material. Choose a composite with high granite content to get the best of both worlds.
There are several man-made sink materials that combine a lot of the virtues of natural ones. Corian is probably the best known. It looks like marble or slate (depending on how it’s colored) but it has the toughness of a contemporary plastic. That shouldn’t be surprising since, as a kind of acrylic, that’s basically what it is.
Corian is also non-porous, making it resistant to stains and easy to clean up. Small wonder this is such a hugely popular choice for kitchen remodelers who want that Architectural Digest look.
There are other popular choices, though. Fireclay is a kind of halfway house, part natural part man-made. It’s resistant to chips and stains as well as to bacteria. Fiberglass is a better example of an artificial alternative, though. More commonly found in garages or laundry rooms, it sometimes makes it way into the kitchen. It’s low priced, available in every color, and easy to clean.
Important and fundamental as the choice of sink material is, it’s not the only important one. Size, number of basins, bowl depth, and number of holes also matter.
There’s the basic issue of size, of course. You have to match your space, naturally, but that’s easy. More importantly, you want to choose according to how you use your sink. If you typically make large meals for family or social gatherings, a big sink will make life much easier, it goes without saying.
Double or Single?
Less obvious, and at least as important, is the number and style of the basins. The basic alternative is between a single bowl and a double bowl.
The single may, on average, be less expensive. But sinks last so long that the price difference is pretty much “washed away” over time. More important is personal preference and habits.
Do you like to prep or soak dishes in one and clean in the other? Two basins are a must, then. Do you find it inconvenient to have to move a dish over that central barrier? The infirm might prefer the openness of a single bowl. Do you frequently wash truly large pots or big cookie sheets? That’s easier in a single. Is your space limited? One big bowl might be better than two medium-sized ones.
Answers to questions like these will help you narrow the choice.
When you do narrow it keep in mind that it’s not always a question of either-or. Many double-basin sinks have bowls that vary considerably in depth and width/length. You might get a double basin sink with a very large bowl on one side and a modest or small one on the other. There’s a practically unlimited number of options.
Bowl depth is one criteria that deserves a few more words. There’s the obvious: the need to accommodate a larger pot for soaking. Clearly, a 10-inch bowl is more useful there than a 7-inch. But there are several other reasons to consider the bowl depth you might need.
If you cook a lot, for example, you’ll probably want a place to rinse vegetables, prepare meats, and so forth. Or, you’ll want a place to fill a big pot or bucket. You might find yourself frequently cutting flowers, even. All that cries out for a nice deep bowl. That’s true whether you’re choosing a single or a double basin configuration.
Number of Holes
One key practical element that bleeds into the issue of style is the number of holes you require or desire in your sink or countertop. I say, “or countertop” because there are sink styles that provide you with an unlimited choice. Some designs have no holes at all because the rim doesn’t extend to the place you put your faucet and/or side spray wand.
For those sinks that have integrated holes for a faucet and/or separate spray wand, the number in the sink is key, of course. If you plan on having an integrated pull-out or pull-down faucet, you might need only one or two.
However, even those sometimes have more because they feature separate hot-cold controls. Don’t forget to include one for any integrated soap dispenser you might wish to install; some are included with particular faucet designs.
Fortunately, you can find pretty much any material, basin size and configuration, and so forth with any number of holes you need. And, as I said at the outset, some designs accommodate any number because the sink itself has none. And, remember, if the sink you love has too many (rare, but possible), you can always use a decorative cover to hide the extras.
In one way, mounting method is the most straightforward criteria. It appears at first blush to be just a practical choice of how you want to install your sink. However, that choice has a few other consequences, some of which are practical issues, others that have more to do with personal taste.
“Undermount” refers to a sink that installs from under the sink, usually being secured by a set of metal strips around the perimeter. They usually, though not always, are rimless. They typically, though again not always, sit flush with the countertop. By contrast, some sit a little lower and the counter forms a little rim around the sink.
They do require a very precise cut in the opening; any deviation will show, even if it’s well caulked to prevent leaks. On the other hand, they’re usually easy to clean. A flush mount means it’s easy to sweep food, etc. into the sink. Those that sit a little lower can partly eliminate this advantage, however. Anything on the counter goes in the sink easily but then you may have to remove it from the little ledge around the sink perimeter.
Top Mount or Drop-In
Top-mount sinks do just the opposite; they mount from the top. But beyond the way you put them in, they have a lip that fits over the countertop. Also known as drop-in sinks, because that’s essentially how they’re installed, they drop in to a pre-cut hole in the countertop.
That makes for a very secure mount but it does require careful sealing. Otherwise you invariably get dirt, mold, and other contaminants where you least want them – in a hard-to-reach crevice. A bit of silicone is the standard way to solve that potential problem. On the upside, with a top mount you don’t need to be exact about the opening cut. A rimmed sink will nicely cover small errors.
Apron – Tile-In – Integral
Apron sinks resemble an undermount but the front side is exposed. They’re sometimes called farmhouse sinks because they look like those traditional styles. They may offer more volume when your width is constrained. Tile-In sinks mount smoothly into a tiled surface, courtesy of flat edges and squared-off corners. They look seamless, providing one of their big virtues. Another is easy cleanup.
A style sometimes called “integral” may also be called a hybrid. It is a sink but it’s also continuous with the countertop and made from the same material. The idea goes back at least to ancient Rome where things were carved as often as they were assembled from parts. They’re also a type of flush-mount since the surface is even with the countertop.
They can look fabulous if made from attractive material. They do present a problem if you want to remodel later, though. Cutting one out is a lot harder than removing some screws or caulking. Be prepared for the possibility of having to replace the sink and entire countertop at the same time.
The long and short of all this is that there are tons of options for a sink. That may tempt you to tear your hair out but it should be an occasion for celebration. Choose a material you love, then look for the details of style. Any practical considerations – number of basins or holes, size and bowl depth, mount method, and so forth – are very likely to be available to suit every need and taste.