Mistakes Everyone Makes When Buying A New Sink

If there's a defined space in a home, someone has put a sink in it at some point.

Some examples? The bedroom sink has historical precedents, according to These Three Rooms. The more you drink, the more tempted you are to dump the old ice in a potted plant: bar sink. Want to wash vegetables while washing dishes? Overachiever's sink, or prep sink. Delicate hand-washables you can't trust to your $2000 washing machine: laundry sink.

There are sinks in gardens, workshops, craft rooms, and living rooms, and sinks in whatever a powder room is. We're not sure where utility sinks go, but TruBuild Construction discusses a lot of utility sink possibilities, including one whose legs go all the way down to the floor. Yowza. Most of these are as simple as possible: faucet, basin, drain. Garden sinks sometimes manage to get even simpler than possible by eliminating the drain plumbing and sticking a cheap plastic bucket underneath your beautiful $800 antique sink.

The one that tends to not be so simple is the kitchen sink, so that's the one we'll spend most of our time with here... but touching on bathroom sinks from time to time as the need arises.

How do you use a sink?

It's always important to define use cases when you're in the requirements-gathering stage of a project, and nothing brings an interior design project down to earth like use cases and requirements gathering.

Keep in mind that the question here is about how you personally use it, not about seeking instruction on putting water into a thing. Sinks are basically fairly simple mechanisms. You might have slightly nonstandard uses for yours. Perhaps you prefer to bathe your baby there, or maybe you do a lot of garden preparation indoors where there's air conditioning. Both are perfectly sensible, and both could affect your purchasing choices. Appliances Connection says flatly that pleasing design is fine, but a good sink is one that works like you need it to.

There aren't many clearer cases of when form needs to follow function. The basic shape and capabilities of your sink should be driven by the way you cook and wash dishes, says Real Simple. Family Handyman advises that you think about how you wash and choose your faucet first, letting that be a major input into your sink-purchasing decision. (It'll also tell you how many holes you need... more on that later.)

That antique store find is a plumb bad idea

Who hasn't dreamed about converting some old junk-shop plumbing fixtures into functional décor that makes your home look like an early-twentieth-century sanatorium? There are two problems with this design approach. First, it's a gateway design that leads to things like making your kids sleep on old hospital gurneys. Second, it won't work. At least not easily or cheaply.

The Baltimore Sun reports that there are lots of problems that can arise when retrofitting vintage fixtures... they're inordinately expensive; compatible fittings, faucets and drain pipes can be difficult or impossible to find; supply and drain lines enter or exit in odd, nonstandard places; finishes tend to be stained and degraded; and sinks with integral backsplashes are heavy and often require custom cabinetry. Oh, and you probably can't get a perfect-fitting sink caddy, except by accident.

None of this makes retrofitting an old sink impossible, just maybe inadvisable. Flexible rubber and neoprene couplings, sealing washers, O-rings, etc. can erase a lot of fiddly plumbing problems with the wave of a wrench. Family Handyman calls this a "cheat," and is all for it.

Some vessels sink, and some do not

Some modern bathroom sinks look like a cutting board that's experienced some regrettable manufacturing defect.The rationale behind these low-volume sinks is simple enough: you don't need to immerse many things in a bathroom sink, so it's basically a place to attach a drain pipe. This has given rise to the vessel sink. You can spit toothpaste in a coffee can, so why not use a coffee can for a bathroom sink? DIYs.com has a starter list to inspire such questionable ideas.

But think through how your trendy, kitschy, or rustic found object will actually work as a bathroom sink. How will you cut the drain hole? How will you treat a wood bowl? Wouldn't a coffee can rust? Are you sure you don't need the overflow feature found on basically all commercially available bathroom sinks? Hannah Louise at Family Handyman warns that overflows are inevitable, and also that vessel sinks tend to be uncleanable, unstable, unreachable for kids, and unpopular with some home buyers.

If you're still determined, go ahead and break out the hole saw and make your sink. When you realize you've cut a kitchen sink-sized hole in your bathroom sink vessel, at least you'll have gotten some practice.

A word about galvanized steel vessel sinks

So you've decided it would be cute to make a sink out of that galvanized tub some guest brought beer in last New Year's Eve (see the first item in that DIYs.com rundown). This is not uncommon, especially for people who have been sucked in to the black hole of Pinterest. The trouble is that galvanized steel is prone to leaching toxic nickel under certain circumstances (like when in contact with acidic foods or drinks, or when heated), and it usually contains lead. Probably nothing that commonly goes on in a bathroom sink is going to get that zinc or lead into your or your kid's mouth. But there are some things it's best not to toy around with, and lead is one of those things.

There's also a potential issue with mixing metals. The American Galvanizers Association advises that some metals, in combination with galvanized steel, can potentially cause accelerated corrosion. You can read "accelerated corrosion" here as "leaks." Of course, you can investigate the particulars, which will involve lots of phrases like "the ratio of the cathodic area to that of the anode must be carefully considered," or just use something else.

Sink or swim? Sink size has gotten gloriously out of control.

There's not much downside to a large kitchen sink, even though they're starting to resemble lap pools more than sinks. You'll interact with your faucet every day and, unless everything is perfect, constantly think about any failings it has. But a sink that's big enough mostly fades into the background... unlike the constant irritation of a too-small sink.

Whether a sink is physically oversized is a fairly simple question to answer. For a drop-in sink replacement, your cutout should match the new sink, or be expandable to fit, says Remodelista. Kitchen remodels allow for more flexibility. If you want a deeper sink bowl, Family Handyman says you can determine how much room you have by measuring the tailpiece from the basket strainer to the tee. Best Online Cabinets and many others warn that an overly deep sink can hurt your back.

The size and style of your kitchen will also influence sink size. In a tiny kitchen, you don't want a huge sink that leaves you no counter space. Consider a small sink and a second prep (or bar) sink, says Remodelista. If you have a lot of large commercial elements in your kitchen (sheet pans, say, or a chinois the size of a satellite dish), it will probably look odd to have a tiny sink.

Shaped like a sink is not one of your options

Sink shopping is often about style, form and materials, and less about brand.

Basin layout is probably the best place to start sussing out your needs. You have three basic options, and some variations, according to HD Supply. Single-basin sinks hold the most and are best if you find yourself needing to accommodate large pots, colanders, etc. Double-basin sinks stick a divider in the middle, which allows you to multitask (for example, cleaning dishes on one side and vegetables on the other). Low-divider double-basin sinks like the Kohler Smart Divide reduce the height of the divider so they act more like a single-basin sink. Triple-basin sinks typically add a small third bowl for use as a hand-washing or prep sink.

European Cabinets & Design Studios describes five basic mounting options: top-mount (drop-in), undermount, flush-mount, integrated, and farmhouse. Top-mount sinks have a flange that rises above counter height and can be prone to collecting debris. Undermount sinks eliminate this by being attached from below, and flush-mounts by being attached at the same height as countertops. Integrated sinks are formed seamlessly from the same materials as the countertop. Farmhouse sinks have a front face, called an apron, that protrudes beyond the front of your cabinets.

Materials, or how to break a sink you don't really like

If function is the key to a good sink, its materials make the function possible. Consumer Reports says materials are more important than manufacturers, and the variety of materials can be overwhelming. All materials have strengths and weaknesses, and sink materials are typically rated against their vulnerability to common problems. Is it durable... that is, prone to scratching, staining, chipping, cracking, or scuffing? Is it easy to clean? How is its heat-resistance? Are water spots particularly visible? Will it instantly shatter when a spark plug or pointed dart falls out of your shirt pocket?

Consumer Reports runs down the most common materials. Stainless shows water spots and can scratch. Copper discolors weirdly, albeit temporarily, when in contact with certain foods (via Sinkology). Fireclay is prone to cracking and chipping, as are enameled sinks. Natural stone varies by type, and Houzz advises that you get a sample to test staining potential, though it might be easier to read reviews rather than setting up a testing lab. Manufacturer Chica has a thorough discussion of granite composite sinks, and the material is a good choice... though perhaps not as good as the other material Chica uses: stainless steel.

Mistake: not buying stainless steel

One simplifying strategy for sink-buying is to think of all your favorite features, find a sink that has them and is made of stainless steel, and buy it. This is a pretty sound approach, especially if you're on a budget, and this is not exactly a fringe idea. Consumer Reports says stainless steel is the most popular sink material because it performs well regardless of the gauge (thickness) of the metal. Thinner-gauge stainless is noisier, so it's a good idea to place sound-absorbing dampening pads on the undercounter faces. Consumer Reports says these make sinks quieter than the spray coatings available.

Sure, you want the fireclay farmhouse sink, but if you spend so much on your sink you can't afford water it won't matter which sink you buy. Buy the biggest stainless steel sink you can fit and afford. Worry about finding accessories later. Houzz observes that you can now get stainless in various hues (bronze, gold, pewter, black, etc.) and styles (such as apron-front sinks), though these options surely eliminate most of the budget advantage.

Kitchens.com puts the right mix at 18% chromium and 8% nickel to maximize strength and corrosion-resistance; armed with this info, you should be able to really annoy the salesperson at Home Depot.

Mistake: not considering your faucet

Consider your faucet choice when choosing a sink. The faucet, including any attached sprayer, is the nexus at which you interface with your sink, dishes, and water, and it can have a dramatic design impact on kitchen aesthetics. So, it's a pretty good place to start. Wide- or power-spray faucet features will probably not work particularly well with small or shallow sink bowls, and large commercial sprayers might just look ridiculous with an undersized sink.

Whatever its failings in choosing company names, Interiors Place gives good advice on matching faucets to sinks. You should match the size (or scale) of sink and faucet. Both should match the style of the room itself. Fairly standard guidance. But they go on to explain that double basins go well with pull-down, detachable, and high-arc faucets because of the larger area that needs to be covered.

Lowes has another, more pragmatic reason to choose your faucet before you choose your sink: it will help you get a sink with the right number of holes. More about this in a moment,

Mistake: counting the wrong number of sink holes

After a few hours of being confused by the Florida sinkhole epidemic (are too many holes in your sink really that big a problem?), you have decided to choose a faucet first and let that dictate the number of holes you need in the sink itself. This is the best strategy for picking the right sink, or at least the best strategy for thinking less about sink holes.

In case you're the type to insist on "knowing things" and "understanding stuff," here's a rundown of what those holes are about, here's a rundown, via Lowes. Four-hole sinks are for two-handle faucets and a soap dispenser (or perhaps another accessory). Three-hole sinks are for two-handle faucets and people who don't want to crawl under their counter when the soap runs out. Two-hole sinks are for a single-handle faucet and an accessory like a sprayer to rinse off all the soap that got spilled on things under your countertop. One-hole sinks are for those cute little flower vases that fit in sink holes (via TruBuild Construction). Or, you know, a single-handle faucet. One-hole sinks don't come with deck plates (also known as escutcheons), which are used to hide holes you thought you needed but didn't.

That sinking feeling: their prices vs. your budget

Without going to much trouble, you can spend $70 or $2000 on a sink right now, and almost certainly be dissatisfied within two weeks. That's what we in America call efficiency!

If you're not in the habit of paying a lot to get frustrated, there are tons of budget options available... beautiful sinks that no one will ever know were practically free. Don't buy high-end brands unless there's truly some feature you can't live without. Some people will shop for preferred brands no matter the circumstance, and the impulse probably serves them well. But a sink of an appropriate shape and material has no moving parts and is unlikely to vary much in reliability from brand to brand.

On the other hand, Jodi Durr at the Meaningful Mama blog did the opposite and advises that you do too. She seems mildly obsessed with Kohler products, but it has served her well and her reasoning is sound enough. Durr doesn't address any specific reliability or durability advantages of Kohler, but she does appreciate the particular set of features her sink has. Most of these exist in cheaper sinks, but this particular combination (like many cheaper combinations) appears to be unique.

Mistake: not shopping the salvage and thrift stores

If you're on a tight budget but you really want a high-end sink without the hassle and court expenses of stealing one, spend a few (or a few hundred) hours digging through piles in your local thrift stores, charity shops (like Goodwill and Habitat ReStore), and salvage outlets. It's not at all unusual to find discarded, once-expensive sinks that won't fit, just like that $1000 one you bought at Samuel Bucktoothingham's Sink Boutique and Tophattery. This approach is also handy if you happen to need a 1965 IBM Selectric typewriter or 72 bread machines for cheap.

These thrift store finds can be high-quality sinks discarded by homeowners who are upgrading, but do your homework first. Many thrift stores (for example, this one, this one, and this one) simply don't accept sinks (and other specific items). Construction- and home improvement-focused thrift stores, like Habitat ReStore, are your best bet, and these are fairly common in some markets.

Mistake: forgetting that you sometimes cook and clean at the same time

If the sink you choose doesn't have every feature you wanted at the outset of your search, you can often find accessories to fill that gap. Remember, your goal is to have a sink that works the way you work in the kitchen, and many accessories are designed to do just that. One of the most common purposes for sink accessories is to make it possible to multitask... for example, to soak a large baking pan while still being able to use the sink for meal prep.

Accessories range from the indispensable (strainer/baskets) to the practical (dish drying racks) to the novel. One of the more novel is the glass rinser, a recent innovation, according to Food & Wine, that makes up for your dishwasher's shortcomings and, allegedly, makes pouring beer more likely to be "successful," according to the Allagash Brewing Company. One might argue that if you can no longer successfully pour beer, you probably don't need to drink more beer.

Sink accessories can be designed for your particular sink model or as generic add-ons for many sinks. Some mount above the basin (dish racks) or within it (bottom grids), while others are fixed in place nearby (over-sink shelving), or are freestanding (some soap and lotion dispensers).

Mistake: paying someone to do it for you

Professionals will always warn you that some projects might not be suitable for DIY execution, according to Family Handyman. DIY electrocution, on the other hand, is very easy to accomplish in a weekend. Plumbing jobs that could flood your house and modifying cabinetry that holds 300-pound sinks... these are just the kinds of things the National Plumbers' Association of Stop Doing Your Own Plumbing was warning you about. But if you research carefully, obtain any required permits, and become professionally licensed in your state, the sky's the limit. Oh, and don't forget your will; it's a lasting gift to save your loved ones from the pain and embarrassment of probate.

Sometimes DIY websites are a bit sparse when it comes to instruction. How to create a vintage vessel sink? Step 1: create a vintage vessel sink. Step 2: don't forget to accessorize! But, predictably, Fine Homebuilding does a great job at walking you through the intricacies of setting up a vanity and vessel sink.

Indeed, there are many times when replacing a sink is simple enough for a homeowner to do, particularly when cabinets don't need modification. Tony Carrick and Joe Provey at Bob Vila give you 10 steps and about four hours for a HIY ink replacement. You can do it! Pay no attention to what the NPASDYOP has been saying about you.