Comparison of Kitchen Sink Materials

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It's not the price that determines a quality kitchen sink, but the materials.
It's not the price that determines a quality kitchen sink, but the materials. (Image: Martin Poole/Photodisc/Getty Images)

It’s not the price, design or manufacturer that sets the standard for a kitchen sink; what really matters are the quality of materials and the type of fabrication. You can’t test drive a kitchen sink, but testing companies have done the work for you. Consumer Reports performed a series of tests on kitchen sink fabrications, roughly tossing pots, pans, weights and sharp knives at them. All survived, injured and damaged to various degrees, indicating the intensity of wear each kitchen sink material can take. Shop armed with the right information on which type of kitchen sink is best for your lifestyle.

Stainless Steel

A stainless steel sink glimmers when paired with stainless kitchen appliances. Available in polished, brushed and matte finishes, a little everyday maintenance keeps water spots at bay. The brushed and matte finishes also hide scratches -- better than the polished finish. The gauge of most stainless steel sinks ranges from 16 to 23 with the lower gauge thicker than one at the upper end, heavier and less noisy. Check underneath for the sink’s sound absorbers. If sound-absorbing pads surround the underside, it’s quieter than one that has a sprayed-on sound absorber.

Cast Iron

Popular over the centuries, cast-iron sinks are the workhorse of many kitchens and the darling of creative sink designers. A porcelain enamel coloring is fired over the cast iron, giving the sink its durability and hardness. Heavy, it’s difficult to install a cast-iron sink as an undermount without supports. Cast-iron sinks often chip if they’re abused or come face-to-face with a flying cast-iron skillet. Scratches are erased with a gentle cleansing agent. A little-known fact about cast iron is that it speeds up the defrosting process. Just an hour or so in the sink, and that frozen hamburger is ready for the frying pan.

Enamel-Over-Steel

A variation of the cast-iron sink is one that has a colorful enamel coating over steel. Less durable than cast iron, these kitchen sinks don’t hold up well to hard use, and the steel isn’t stainless. When the enamel chips or cracks, the steel rusts. Lighter than cast iron, the enamel-over-steel sink can be undermounted, but supports are suggested.

Composite Sinks

More popular in the European market than in the U.S., the composite sink is making inroads into the market. Molded from a granite or quartz and blended with resins, the composite sink is tough and resistant to stains. The granite-based composite sink is more durable than most other sinks; however, fading occurs over time, and the finish can become dull.

Solid-Surface Sinks

A countertop made from a solid-surface material such as acrylic and polyester can have the kitchen sink molded into the pattern. No lips are over the counter, and no caulking is necessary. The sink, however, is vulnerable to damage from high heat and scratching. Fissures in the sink’s surface can occur, especially if a hot pan is laid to rest in the sink.

Fireclay Sinks

One look at a kitchen sink that overlaps the front of the counter tells you you’re probably looking at a fireclay sink. Known as Belfast or apron-front, these high-priced sinks undergo a lengthy production process. Porcelain enamel is applied to a clay mold that’s been dried at a high temperature for up to 40 hours. The sink is then kiln-dried at a high temperature for up to 20 hours. More durable than a cast-iron sink, the lengthy fabrication process results in a high price.

High-Maintenance Copper

The patina of a copper sink is distinctive, but it requires extensive daily upkeep. At the higher end of kitchen sink prices, a decorator item such as copper may be better reserved for a bar sink or for secondary use. Also be sure the copper doesn't contain dangerous alloys such as mercury or lead.

Stone Sinks

The excessive weight of a granite, marble, travertine and onyx sinks puts them in lesser demand than more conventional kitchen sinks. Beautiful to look at, the porous stone requires daily upkeep to prevent staining. Sealant is required as well, and the sink should be tested for adequate sealant every few months.

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