Stainless steel sinks have taken off in popularity in recent years. Their sleek appearance and long-term viability make them a practical, attractive choice for the hardest-working room in your home. However, all stainless steel is not created equal. Stainless steel sinks are rated on thickness, with lower numbers indicating a thicker steel. Deciding which thickness is best for your situation isn't difficult at all.
Benefits of Thickness
Thicker steel, characterized by a low gauge count, makes a better quality sink. Thicker steel lasts longer and looks better after heavy use than thinner versions. When you drop a heavy dish into a thicker sink, it's less likely to ding or dent and will produce less sound. When combined with strong vibration from something like a garbage disposal, lower-gauge, thicker sinks will be more robust.
Common Uses: 18-Gauge Vs. 16-Gauge
Most residential kitchen sinks come in 18-gauge and 20-gauge options. Thinner 20-gauge sinks will be more likely to show wear and feel cheaper than the alternatives. Typically, 16-gauge sinks are used more often in commercial, harder-working kitchens, though today many people opt for the higher quality sink in their home as well.
The benefits of a thinner, higher-gauge stainless sink are almost exclusively related to cost. Thinner sinks will be more likely to ding and dent, but you'll save some money up-front. In July 2011, a popular home improvement store sold 18-gauge stainless sinks starting at $70. Thicker 16-gauge sinks started at $90.
In addition to the sink gauge, an important sign of quality is the finish of the steel. A satin-smooth finish will maintain its luster over time, even adding an attractive patina with age. A stainless steel sink with a surface gloss will wear more easily, show imperfections and will be more likely to need replacement before the alternative.
Other Sink Considerations
When evaluating your sink, also consider sink size and capacity, and the size and number of bowls. Neither of these choices will be right or wrong, but some sinks will work best for your family and your situation than others. Finally, consider whether you'd prefer an undermount or top-mount sink. Undermounted sinks are easier to clean but typically cost more upfront.