Choosing a sink is one of the most important decisions to be made when designing or remodelling a kitchen. The many materials and styles available offer numerous options in terms of design, practicality and performance. Other key features to look at are size, depth, shape, and number of bowls.
Faucets complete the look of your new sink and reflect your chosen kitchen style. It is usual and advisable to choose faucets at the same time as the sink. This guide describes the main types of sink on the market and important aspects to keep in mind when purchasing a new sink for your kitchen.
What is the countertop made of? Melamine, solid surface, stone?
Will the sink be under-mounted or surface-mounted?
If you are replacing an existing sink, how big is the hole in the countertop and where are the water and drain pipes situated?
How much counter space do you have and how big is your kitchen?
Is this the main kitchen sink or a secondary one?
The sink is an essential and prominent feature in the kitchen. Over the years, kitchen sinks have come a long way in terms of design, but their basic features remain the same. Faucets have a major influence on a sink's overall look, whether traditional or more contemporary. For this reason, choosing faucets is an essential part of the sink-buying process.
Sink size is of the utmost importance, especially if you simply wish to replace an existing sink without modifying the cabinetry. Remember that the hole in the countertop can be made bigger but not smaller, i.e. you can buy a larger sink for your existing countertop but not a smaller one.
The size of your sink will depend largely on the cabinet it sits in. The sink cannot be wider than the interior width of the cabinet. If the countertop has an integrated backsplash, the maximum width of the sink is 20 ½", compared to 22" for a counter with no backsplash.
Number of bowls
Three types of sink exist: single-, double- and triple-bowl models. Some come with an integrated drain board. If you decide on a double- or triple-bowl configuration, make sure that the dividing wall between the bowls is lower than the outside rims, to prevent water from spilling over onto the countertop or the floor.
Single-bowl sinks: These can be square, rectangular or round. They are often used as secondary sinks, on bar counters or if space is at a premium. Single-bowl sinks generally range from 10" wide × 17½" long, to 33" wide × 22" long, and are ideal for small kitchens.
One-and-a-half-bowl sinks: These sinks have two bowls – one large, deep main bowl and another small, shallower one. The waste disposer is typically installed under the smaller bowl. This type of sink is perfect as the main kitchen sink in combination with a dishwasher.
Double-bowl sinks: The bowls in a double-bowl sink are generally the same size, though their depths may vary. Two-bowl sinks are ideal for washing dishes by hand. They can be up to 50" wide.
Triple-bowl sinks: These sinks generally have one main bowl, a smaller second bowl and an even smaller third bowl. Triple-bowl sinks are practical, counter space permitting. Most three-bowl sinks are at least 40" wide and can be up to 60" wide.
Bowl depth is generally between 6" and 12", with a 7" depth being the most common. The smallest bowl on a three-bowl sink might only be 4 ¾" deep. Bowl depth is an important aspect to consider when replacing a sink if you do not want to touch the plumbing underneath. Choose the deepest model possible for your space.
Sink shapes vary from a rectangular or square basin to a round one; the edges can be straight or curved. Look at the inside slope of the sink; the smaller the radius at the base of the bowl and the straighter the sides, the larger the useful capacity of the sink. Corner sinks are practical for tight spaces and for L- or U-shaped counters.
Thermal shock is an essential factor to take into account. Kitchen sinks are repeatedly exposed to sudden temperature changes – anywhere from 40°C to 140°C in a matter of seconds – causing the sink material to expand and contract, which can lead to cracks and wear. While a stainless steel sink is highly resistant to thermal shock and will not suffer damage, acrylic sinks will eventually show signs of wear.
Most kitchen sinks come with pre-drilled holes ready to mount the faucets. However, solid surface or composite sinks often do not have holes, leaving the choice of faucet location up to the client. Faucet holes are 1½" across and spaced 4" or 8" apart, centre to centre, to match the faucet configurations.
When buying a sink with pre-drilled faucet holes, you will need to choose a faucet set to match, which is why these two elements, though sold separately, are usually purchased at the same time. If for some reason you end up with an unwanted faucet hole, it can be concealed with a cover, called an escutcheon, designed for that purpose.
A sink may have up to four faucet holes, to receive one of the following configurations:
One hole: One handle controlling hot and cold water flow through a single spout.
Two holes: Separate handles for hot and cold water, each with their own spout.
Three holes: Separate handles for hot and cold water and one common spout.
Four holes: As above, with additional hole for a side sprayer.
Undermount sinks (installed beneath the counter) do not always come with faucet holes, and in this case the faucets are mounted directly on the countertop. Before you buy, make sure your chosen sink and faucets are compatible.
Drain hole and strainer
The strainer is an attachment installed in the sink drain hole providing the connection between the sink and the drain pipe. It is usually included with the new sink and is made of stainless steel, regardless of the sink material. All sink drain holes are 3½" in diameter. Most are situated in the centre of the sink or towards the back. Rear or offset drain holes are more practical since they provide a bigger flat surface in the bottom of the sink and more cabinet space underneath.
If a waste disposal unit is installed, it is usually fitted on the drain of the smallest bowl.
The sink edge, or rim, plays an important role in the sink installation method (drop-in or undermount) and in terms of cleaning. Drop-in or self-rimming sinks rest on the countertop and have a finished edge or raised rim designed to help prevent water spilling over the side. A drop-in sink must be secured and sealed with a waterproof adhesive caulk to prevent water and debris collecting under the edge. This is the easiest type of sink to install.
For undermount sink installations, three types of rim "reveal" are possible:
• Part of the sink rim is exposed (positive reveal);
• The counter edge is flush with the bowl, so the rim is hardly visible (zero reveal); or
• The counter edge overhangs the bowl edge, so the rim is completely hidden (negative reveal).
When selecting a countertop and sink, you will need to mention your chosen type of reveal, so that the hole can be cut in the counter accordingly.
Two thirds of all kitchen sinks sold are made of stainless steel, with either a polished, shiny finish or a brushed, satin finish. Sinks can also be made of enamelled cast iron, acrylic, solid surface or composite materials, or stone.
The choice of colours – white, coffee, dark grey, cream, beige, taupe, etc. – depends on the type of material. Composite and solid surface sinks offer the greatest selections in this regard. Stone sinks have the colour of natural stone; stainless steel is treated on the surface only and will always retain its original appearance.
The vast majority of sinks are built in to the countertop, either with the rim resting on the surface (drop-in, self-rimming installation) or mounted beneath the counter (undermount installation). However, other options exist in the form of apron (farmhouse) sinks, which have an exposed front, or solid surface sinks that are seamlessly integrated with the countertop. Laminate or melamine countertops are easy to cut, whereas stone or solid surface counters must be pre-cut by the manufacturer. Opting for one of the latter materials means you must choose your sink at the same time as the counter. A template is provided with the sink to have the hole cut to the right size.
The easiest type of sink to install is a drop-in sink, whose rim rests on the countertop. The sink is lowered into the hole in the countertop and secured and sealed with a waterproof adhesive caulk to prevent leaks and build-up of debris around the edge.
Undermount sinks, which are fitted beneath the countertop, are trickier to install. Since the majority of countertops used with this type of sink are made of stone or solid surface, they will be shaped and pre-cut by the manufacturer. At this stage, therefore, you will need to choose the type of reveal, as described earlier, as well as the position of the faucets and any other accessories. The installation is generally done by professionals.
Finally, some sinks can be moulded to the countertop to make a single seamless piece, which is then installed as one unit.
If you want to avoid using commercial cleaners, it's easy to make your own non-toxic cleaning solutions. Try a mixture of 1 part vinegar to 4 parts water, or a salt water solution, or even lemon juice in water.
Toothpaste is a very mild abrasive and can be used to clean light stains and scratches. If you must use a scouring pad, opt for one with plastic mesh rather than metal.
Faucets come in a wide variety of styles and designs to suit all decorating styles and budgets. Sprayers are an extremely practical and increasingly popular feature. It is obviously easier to install a side sprayer when fitting a new sink rather than adding one later.
Soap dispensers free up space on the work surface. Again, this kind of accessory is much easier to put in when installing the new sink.
Some manufacturers sell a range of accessories to go with their sinks, including dish racks and strainer baskets, grids, colanders, and even cutting boards made to perfectly fit the sink bowl.