Forget Brand Names
Months of testing showed that a kitchen or bathroom sink's maker isn't as important as its material. Similar materials performed similarly across brands, so the ConsumerReports.org based their evaluations of sinks entirely on materials.
Count the Holes
Most kitchen and bathroom sinks come with mounting holes drilled for faucets. If you're buying a new faucet for an existing sink or vice versa, you'll need to match the hardware to the number and spacing of the holes in the sink. You can install a base plate to cover an extra hole in the sink or countertop, but don't try to drill additional holes in an existing sink or countertop.
Think About Installation and Repairs
Replacing a faucet and sink together is easier because the faucet can be mounted in the sink or counter before the sink is put in place. Most kitchen and bathroom faucets come with a lifetime warranty that covers leaks and stains. But if you have a problem, the manufacturer will give you just the replacement part, it will be up to you to install it.
You may not cook everyday, but is there ever a day when you don't use your sink? We subjected more than 20 double-bowl sinks from major manufacturers to a barrage of hot pots, scouring pads, dropped weights, and stain. The results of the ConsumerReports.org sink tests are as follows:
Stainless: Gauge doesn't matter
More people buy stainless-steel kitchen sinks than any other type. We tested 18-to-23-gauge sinks; the lower the gauge, the thicker the steel. We also listened to the noise made by running water and dropped weights. We found the gauge had little to do with performance and sinks with sound-absorbing pads, placed on the exterior's bottom and side, were quieter than those with a spray coating.
Enamel: Colorful and Easy to Clean
These sinks, sold in two versions (enamel on cast iron or lighter, less expensive enamel on steel), are available in many colors and are easy to clean. Our hot-pot test didn't damage them, but when we dropped a 5-pound weight, similar to dropping a heavy pot, enamel-on-steel sinks chipped or cracked. Enamel on cast iron chipped when we dropped a sharp, light object, similar to a knife, on them. Damaged enamel can cause the metal underneath to rust. Acrylic sinks might look like enamel but they scratch more easily and heat can be damaging. Our hot pot melted the surface.
Solid Surface: Sleek and Seamless
These sinks can be paired with counters made of the same material for a seamless look. In our tests high heat and dropping a sharp, light object, similar to a knife, damaged solid surfacing.
Double-bowl sinks let you soak a pot in one bowl while you rinse in the other. Just be sure that at least one of the bowls is wide enough to fit large pots or roasters. The easiest way to do this is to take a large pot with you to the store to check size. Sinks that are rectangular shaped are standard, but D-bowls have a curved back and offer more space, front to back.
Think about Depth
Bowls are usually 6 to 12 inches deep. The deeper ones reduce splashes, but depending on your height, it may be uncomfortable to reach the bottom of a very deep sink. Remember that under-mounted sinks will be up to 1½ inches lower than a drop-in.
Types of Kitchen Sinks
While it may not be as fancy as the appliances or the cabinets, the kitchen sink is the focal point of the kitchen. In this case function is certainly as important as form because you'll be using the sink all day for everything from hand washing to scouring pots and pans.
Double-bowl sinks have a partition that separates them into two sections. A rectangular shape is most common, but D-shaped sinks with a curved back are also available. They're handy because they let you perform two tasks - say, soaking and rinsing - at the same time. But a single bowl may be more practical where space is tight. The narrower sections of a double-bowl sink may not accept large pots or roasters.
Also known as apron front, farmhouse sinks usually have a deep single bowl with the faucet installed in the countertop or wall. This stylish choice can provide a traditional or country-kitchen look, and stainless-steel versions can work well with modern designs. But they're expensive and require a special cabinet. Water can drip on and damage the cabinet.
Also called drop-in and self-rimming, these sinks are lowered into the counter, with the lip overlapping the countertop. On the plus side, they work with any countertop material and are relatively simple to install, so they're a good choice for a tight budget. But a top-mount sink can detract from the look of a fancy countertop. Grime can build up around the lip of the sink.
These are best for use as prep or bar sinks. They're narrow and long, from 8 to 14 inches wide and up to 50 inches long. If you don't mind sharing, the longer versions can be used by more than one person at a time. But trough sinks are expensive and more fun than functional. And because they're narrow, they may require custom cabinetry.
Rather than being lowered onto the counter, under-mounted models are raised into place from below. Under-mount sinks provide a sleek look and easier cleanup. Because they sit slightly below the surface of the counter, you can wipe spills and crumbs from the countertop directly into the sink. Also, there's no lip or crevice to catch dirt. But under-mounted sinks are more expensive to buy and install. The faucet may need to be installed in the counter or mounted on the wall. And because they are up to 1½ inches lower than top-mounts, they may require you to bend slightly more. And they shouldn't be mounted on a countertop that isn't waterproof, such as laminate or most woods.
Move over, porcelain: Glass and even stainless steel are among the choice of materials that are changing the style and shape of bathroom sinks.
Some of these new materials can cost about the same as standard porcelain, known as vitreous china, and several materials were better at resisting spills, and other mishaps. But most have at least one Achilles' heel. You can also install the sink beneath the countertop for a sleek look that emphasizes the countertop itself. These under-mount sinks are also easy to clean since there's no lip to catch debris.
Glass: Tough Up to a Point
Drain cleaner, nail-polish remover, and other tough staining agents didn't leave a mark on our tempered-glass sinks. Heat and scouring wasn't a threat. But these sinks shattered into small shards when we dropped a pointed 2.5-ounce dart from a height of 20 inches.
Pick the Mount
Under-mount sinks make cleanup easier. They sit below the surrounding counter, so there's no lip or crevices to catch dirt. But they cost slightly more, are harder to install, and usually require a waterproof countertop. So consider your countertop, then the mount.
Don't Forget the Faucet
Consider the height of a vessel sink when buying a faucet. Make sure that any faucet extends well into the sink to avoid drips onto the counter. Don't choose a large faucet for a small sink, which can cause splashing. We also suggest faucets with a physical vapor deposition (PVD) finish and a lifetime finish warranty. These finishes mimic copper, nickel, and other materials and have performed well in our faucet tests.
Types of Bathroom Sinks
Replacing a bathroom sink can be a good way to freshen the room without spending a lot of money. Here are the types of bathroom sinks to consider.
Some homeowners prefer pedestal sinks for smaller bathrooms such as a half bath that may seem crowded if fitted with a vanity. Pedestal sinks come in many styles, from old-fashioned to sleek and modern. But while a pedestal sink may make a small bathroom seem more open, you lose storage space beneath the sink and counter space above.
Also called drop-in and self rimming, these sinks are lowered into the counter, with the lip overlapping the countertop. On the plus side, they work with any countertop material and are relatively simple to install, so they're a good choice for a tight budget. But a top-mounted sink can detract from the look of a fancy countertop and grime can build up around the lip of the sink.
Rather than being lowered onto the counter, under-mounted models are raised into place from below. Faucets are installed in the counter or mounted on the wall. Under-mounted sinks provide a sleek look and easier cleanup. Because they sit slightly below the surface of the counter, you can wipe water from the countertop directly into the sink. Also, there's no lip or crevice to catch dirt. But under-mounted sinks are more expensive to buy and install. The faucet may need to be installed in the counter or mounted on the wall. Because they're lower than top-mounts, they may require you to bend slightly more. And they shouldn't be mounted on a countertop that isn't waterproof, such as laminate or most woods.
These above-mount models, the latest style option, rest proudly atop the counter. You'll find them in glass, stainless steel, and other materials. Make sure that the faucet extends well over the sink to avoid drips onto the counter. The style is the big attraction. But vessel sinks may require new faucets and other changes that are likely to add cost.
What a kitchen or bathroom sink is made of is the main factor that determines how well it stands up to everyday use. Some materials are sturdier than others, but most have some drawbacks. Here are materials to consider:
Enamel Over Cast Iron or Steel
These materials come in many colors are are easy to clean. In our tests of kitchen sinks, neither enameled cast iron nor enameled steel suffered any damage in our hot-pot and scouring tests. But when we dropped a 5-pound weight, similar to dropping a heavy pot, on enameled-steel sinks they chipped or cracked. Enameled cast iron chipped when we dropped a sharp, light object similar to a knife.
Our tests of bathroom sinks found that enameled cast iron wasn't as good as enameled steel at resisting stains and chipped when small objects were dropped on it. Damaged enamel can allow the metal underneath to rust.
This is the most popular material for kitchen sinks and it's becoming more popular in the bathroom. It tops both our ratings of kitchen and bath sinks. Stainless steel comes in different thickness, or gauges. While thicker metal typically costs more, gauge made little difference in our tests.
A skillful fabricator can integrate a solid-surface kitchen or bathroom sink with a countertop made of the same material for a sleek, seamless effect. But if either is damaged you'll have to consider replacing both. Solid surfacing resisted stains but heat was a problem. A hot pot and a hot curling iron marred the sinks.
It may look like enamel, but it scratches more easily, and a hot pot melted the surface and a hot curling iron left a visible mark.
Believe it or not, a tempered glass bathroom sink can take a beating. Drain cleaner, nail-polish remover, and other tough staining agents didn't leave a mark on the glass sinks we tested. But the sinks shattered into small shards when we dropped a pointed 2.5-ounce dart from a height of 20 inches, similar to what could happen if a pair of scissors or nail clippers fell out of your medicine cabinet.
This is a fancy name for old-fashioned porcelain. Vitreous china is still popular for bathroom sinks, even though some newer materials are tougher without being more expensive. Dropped objects are a particular problem with vitreous china. The surface chipped when we dropped a small, pointed dart on them.
This material offers a choice of colors. It withstood stains, scouring, and heat in both our kitchen and bath sink tests. But resisting chips and cracks from dropped objects was a challenge.
In our kitchen-sink tests, the fireclay cracked severely when we dropped a 5-pound weight on it, similar to dropping a pot. Our tests of bathroom sinks found that pointed darts, weighing only 2.5 ounces, chipped the fireclay.
You can spend as much or as little as you want on a sink. But keep in mind that the more you spend on the sink, the less you'll have for other parts of your renovation. Match the style of sink to your space, needs, and budget!
Copyright © 2006-2012 Consumers Union of U.S., Inc.