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Choosing a kitchen sink.

We ask a lot of a kitchen sink. We want it sparkling clean--and looking as good as it did the day we bought it. Yet we dump grease and spaghetti sauce down its drain, pile it high with dirty dishes, scald it with hot water, and freeze it with ice. It's as if one moment we expect it to function as a glamorous hostess, the next as a scullery maid. It's a wonder it doesn't have a breakdown.

Increasingly, the kitchen is a place where family and guests congregate, and the sink is one of the room's most visible elements--you just can't hide it. Because of its new high profile, the sink has undergone subtle but significant changes in design and physical makeup in recent years. In fact, selecting a sink is somewhat like buying a car. You can get anything from a serviceable, stripped-down sedan to a fully loaded, injection-molded stretch limo.


There is no "best" sink. When choosing a sink, consider what best suits your needs, your design taste, and your kitchen. Then reflect on these questions before beginning the selection process.

How much space do you have?

The most common sink is 22 by 33 inches (outside dimensions) with a double-bowl or one-and-a-half bowl configuration--allowing you to use one basin for preparation, the other for cleanup. (If you've ever had to remove dirty pots and pans from a single sink to use the disposal or to rinse dirty dishes, you know why two-basin models are so popular.)

Some consumers prefer the one-and-a-half bowl configuration (an extra-large basin plus a smaller basin) because its extra-capacity bowl easily accommodates stockpots, woks, and other large pans.

But there are smaller and larger sinks in addition to the 22- by 33-inch sink, with a great variety of configurations. If you're remodeling, but keeping (or refacing) your existing cabinets, you may be limited to the existing base cabinet depth. Usually the best bet when space is really tight is the largest single-bowl sink that will fit, which allows easy washup of large kettles and pans. Most single-bowl sinks require a 25-inch-wide opening.

On the other hand, if your kitchen is large enough, you may prefer a second sink in another preparation area. It's great for a family with two cooks because it creates two separate, efficient work areas. A flat-bottomed, 18-inch-diameter round model is a good second sink because it provides ample basin space in a tight area or in an island. If it has a standard 3 1/2-inch drain opening, you'll have the option of adding a disposal. In a two-sink kitchen, see that the larger sink is near the dishwasher. Of course, a second sink means additional cost for plumbing hookups.

How do you use your sink? Do you use your kitchen as a family room or as a site for casual entertaining? Then you'll want a sink that complements your kitchen decor--and that TABULAR DATA OMITTED offers good looks without sacrificing durability.

Do you entertain frequently, enjoy cooking as a creative outlet, or share the kitchen with another enthusiastic cook? Look for a sink that has at least two good-sized basins and that is durable and easy to clean--or add a second sink in a separate work area. On the other hand, if you spend little time in your kitchen, eat meals out often, or keep food preparation simple, you might prefer a less expensive, utilitarian sink.

Do you stir-fry regularly, or make lots of soups and stews and dishes that require large, heavy pots and pans? Then you'll need a deep, extra-large basin in which to wash them--and a sink that can stand up to them--perhaps an enameled cast-iron sink or an 18-gauge brushed-surface stainless steel model.

If you love salads, you might include a separate vegetable or prep sink, maybe in an island--but definitely near your refrigerator. At the very least, you'll want a sink with two bowls, preferably with one shallow bowl that's easy to work in and that has a disposal. Your wish list may also include a pullout spray faucet, built-in colander, and removable cutting board that fits flush with the bowl top and has an opening through which you can push refuse directly into the disposal.

How much do you want to spend? At local home centers, you'll typically find the lower to middle range of styles, materials, and costs. Specialty kitchen showrooms usually have more diversity, better service, and higher prices. Also, keep in mind that the sink is only part of your cost. When you add faucets, sink-mounted fixtures, and accessories, it's easy to spend well over $1,000.


Sinks come in a great many materials and a rainbow of colors, but there are just four basic ways to mount them in your kitchen.

Self-rimming. The easiest sink to install--and the most commonly sold--is the self-rimming sink. It works well with any countertop material. The sink's bowl drops into a hole in the countertop and rests on the perimeter rim. Some require special clips and threaded bolts built into the underside to secure the sink to the counter.

The raised rim is the self-rimming sink's biggest drawback, because it makes it difficult to sweep water and debris from the counter into the sink. A self-rimming sink of stainless steel (or other metal) has the rim with the lowest profile. This installation is usually the least expensive and most easily handled by the do-it-yourselfer.

But remember that if the rim sits on top of the counter surface, it's possible for water to work its way under the rim, where it could damage a plywood or particleboard subsurface. Some models may have a rubber gasket on the underside; if not, a bead of silicone caulk applied to the underside of the rim will stop potential water damage.

Undermounted. Placing the sink under the counter material adds to the sleek, contemporary look of granite and solid-surface synthetic countertops (such as Corian, Avonite, and Fountainhead). And you'll appreciate being able to sweep preparation debris from the counter directly into the sink--there's no obstructing rim.

Installation is tricky, however, and should be done by a professional. The proper cutting and finishing of the opening is critical for a good-looking installation. Countertop holes for faucets and fittings may need to be cut separately. For a clean line, faucets and other accessories can rise through the countertop rather than mount directly to the sink. Undermounting is not recommended with laminate countertops because of potential water damage.

Flush-mounted. This installation method, popular with tile counters, positions the sink level with, or slightly below, the surrounding counter surface. Manufacturers of cast-iron sinks offer models with squared-off perimeter edges, and some solid-surface materials can be trimmed square with a table saw. Other models have a tight-fitting metal rim that can be used with a variety of counter materials.

Although the flush installation makes tile-counter cleanup easy, the cost of tile setting--coupled with the expenses of a cabinetmaker and a plumber--could be considered a drawback. And some designers voice concern about the longevity of the grouting between sink and tile.

Integral or molded. Sink and counter are one piece--either solid-surface synthetic or, less frequently, stainless steel. The look is contemporary, and counter cleanup is easy. The stainless steel version is fabricated as one piece. In solid-surface sinks, special glues matching the color of the components bond sink to countertop. The sink and counter can be either the same color or contrasting colors for visual punch.

Cost is the big factor. Because fabrication and installation require professionals, this combination is at the high end of the price spectrum.


The surprisingly diverse range of sink materials includes the cheerful colors of baked enamel, the luster of metals, the muted grays of granite, and the bright white of porcelain. To compare them, check the chart on page 89.

Enameled cast iron. This traditional sink material is probably still the most popular because it's relatively inexpensive and offers many styles and colors. White is least expensive; color adds to the cost.

Enameled steel. Enameled steel is less costly than enameled cast iron--and other sink materials--but its finish chips more easily because paint does not bond as well to the smooth steel surface. Although it's less costly in the short run, because it's less durable than most sink materials it could cost you more in the long run.

Stainless steel. This material ranges from bargain-basement 22-gauge stainless that is prone to dent and show scratches and water spots, to premium, higher-priced, heavier (20- and 18-gauge) offerings. The 18-gauge steel offers remarkable durability. It usually contains 10 percent nickel, providing a brushed surface that resists scratches and is less likely to show signs of wear and tear than a mirrored finish.

Noise is also a consideration with stainless steel. You'll find that heavier-gauge stainless steel sinks usually have undercoatings that help muffle the sound of disposals, cookware clatter, and impact sound.

Solid surface. These manmade products have a variety of names, but they are generally cast or compression-molded modified acrylic. The nonporous materials have color running throughout; if they get scratched, the damage is hard to see and can often be sanded out. Most brands offer styles with a granitelike appearance. These sinks tend to be more expensive than cast iron or stainless steel.

Composite. Composite sinks, a combination of natural materials and synthetics, are relatively new to this country but have a proven track record in Europe. Several manufacturers have sinks that mix finely ground quartz with acrylic resins or other chemical bonding agents. A recently introduced composite granite model is even more durable than the quartz combinations. You'll also find an engineered material that bridges the worlds of composite and steel sinks--Americast--a porcelain-enamel surface on metal backed by an injection-molded structural composite.

Porcelain. Porcelain sinks, made of high-fired clay with an enamel finish, are common in Europe but are not widely available in the United States.


The sink's interior shape has changed, too. The popular 22- by 33-inch sink offers many choices in interior size and configuration for the bowls within its boundaries.

And change is not confined to the bowls. To save valuable space, some manufacturers have offset the 3- to 4-inch-wide ledge (holding the faucet, air-gap valve, and pullout sprays) that runs across the back of older sinks to create one big basin encompassing the full 22-inch depth.

Another subtle but well-conceived change relocates the drain from the sink's center to the rear. It creates a broader flat area for food preparation or for stacking dishes. And pushing the drain (and disposal) to the rear creates more accessible storage space under the sink.


Like computers, faucets are becoming more user-friendly. You'll still find faucets with separate hot and cold handles and a high, arching neck that makes it easy to fill tall pots, but single-lever faucets are most popular. Such faucets give the sink an uncluttered look, and allow you to control the temperature and water flow with one hand. Some designers point out that the old-fashioned wall-mounted faucet allows the easiest cleaning of the behind-the-sink area.

A single-lever faucet with a self-contained pullout spray brings further convenience. Even when positioned to the side of the sink, it reaches and cleans areas that the older, center-mounted faucet can't. (One model even has a 59-inch-long hose.) Of course, there's a price to pay for the pullout faucet's convenience. These models range from about $200 to more than $500. Ask yourself, "How much do I use the spray now?"

Here's what to check for with a self-contained, pullout spray: Does the spray handle fit comfortably in your hand? Does it sit firmly in its receptacle? (You use it to pivot the faucet.) Is the control handle easy to reach? Is the hose of durable metal? Does the pullout have a lock-in spray that maintains spray if water pressure lowers (an especially good feature in areas with low water pressure)? What does the warranty cover? For how long? Does it have an antisiphon feature, so that backflow is prevented if the hose is left in the sink? Does it meet local code? (Some local codes have not been updated to encompass this type of installation feature.)

Other fixtures are usually found at the back of a sink. Some, like the air gap (vacuum breaker cover) that prevents backflow into the nearby dishwasher, are necessary, while others add convenience. Dispensers for liquid soap, hand lotion, and instant hot, cold, or filtered water are also available options.

Some sinks have predrilled holes in their decks for these features. You usually specify the number and positions of holes when you order. Some faucet sets need three holes; most now need just one. Other models have knockout holes started in their undersides. For undermounted installations, the counter installer must precut the holes. To add an additional hole to a cast-iron sink, you'll need to engage a specialist with the right tools. Expect to pay your installer as much as $70 per hole.


Special accessories make your sink a better work center. Colanders sized to a sink (usually a smaller sink in a double- or triple-sink configuration) are useful for washing vegetables and draining pasta. Some manufacturers offer vinyl-clad stainless steel baskets and bottom racks to protect enamel against scratches from heavy pots, and dish-drying racks to help with small-meal cleanup. Separate countertop dish drains are available from other manufacturers.

Wood or solid-surface cutting boards are sized to fit in some sinks. Look for a cutting board with adequate work room and a cutout section that makes it easy to sweep refuse directly into the disposal.

And remember, these accessories are lift-out items. They require storage space when not in use.

A word on cleaning

Treat a sink the way you treat your teeth. Clean it daily with only mild powders or paste cleaners, rinse with water, and don't let food that could stain sit on the surface. Use a gentle nylon brush or pad rather than steel wool, and avoid heavy-duty abrasive powders. (If you have a mirrored-finish stainless sink, you can use a special automotive polishing compound to maintain its sheen.)
COPYRIGHT 1993 Sunset Publishing Corp.
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Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:includes related article
Author:Whiteley, Peter O.
Date:Jan 1, 1993
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