Selecting kitchen sinks can become very personal because they contribute to the design of the room, and they have to be able to perform to the standards of the people using them. There are a number of sink types and styles from which to choose, and people tend to approach the selection process in different ways.
Some people zero in on the finished look, whether the sink rim is placed on the counter or if the entire sink is under the counter, called an undermount. Then there are those who want the latest apron front or farmhouse look. Others start with the material from which the sink is made. They want a stainless steel sink or a sleek new composite. Many let their practical sides show through and start with the number of basins they want the sink to have.
There's no right place to begin the search, and picking one element means you still have to make decisions about the others as well. Most sink manufacturers offer products in materials that can be installed in a number of ways and are available in single-basin, double-basin and triple-basin designs.
Drop-In Kitchen Sinks
Drop-in is the most common style as well as type of installation, although undermount sinks are gaining in popularity. This type of installation is the simplest and offers a DIY opportunity. In a drop-in sink, the basin turns outward to form a rim. The rim rests on the counter once the sink is installed. Old House Journal provides an overview of installation.
If you are placing an existing sink, you simply buy the same size sink as the original. If you are installing new countertops at the same time, you or your installer will cut a hole in the countertop to place the sink. Sink manufacturers often provide a template to aid in cutting the counter. Hidden clips help hold the sink in place. Some drop-in sinks include attached drainboards.
This type of sink differs from others in that there are predrilled holes in the rim for the faucets. The faucet you select has to match the number of holes. Many sinks also contain knockouts for a spray attachment, soap dispensers and the like.
A drop-in sink will work with any type of countertop. Once the sink is in place, you can make the plumbing and waste-line hookups. Sinks usually do not include faucets or the strainer basket and drain. Those are the responsibility of the installer.
The last step in the installation is to run a bead of caulk around the edge of the sink rim. It's an important step because moisture that gets between the countertop and rim could damage some countertops, such as laminates. The laminate material is waterproof, but it is usually bonded to a plywood or particleboard base that can be harmed by excessive moisture.
Undermount Kitchen Sinks
This is a very popular option because it provides a clean, seamless look to the countertop area, and there is no rim to catch crumbs and other debris. You can simply wipe off the counter directly into the sink
Rather than having a rim that rests on the counter, undermount sinks are supported by clips and fasteners that are attached to the underside of the countertop. A bead of caulk along the top rim of the sink seals the opening between the countertop and sink. Holes for the faucet are drilled through the countertop material.
Because the installer will cut a hole through the countertop and edges will be exposed, undermount sinks work only with solid countertops, such as natural stone, quartz and solid-surface material. Because the edge of the countertop material remains exposed, laminate countertops with their particleboard base will not work.
There are a few different mounting styles. In the most common, the side of the sink and the countertops are flush with one another. An alternative is the positive reveal, where part of the top edge of the sink is exposed. With a negative reveal, the countertop overhangs the sink slightly. This is not very common in kitchen sinks, but it is an option.
Another option that falls into this category is an integrated sink, where the countertop and sink are made from the same material and are fused together. Solid surfacing is the most common type of material used. This is definitely a professionals-only job because most of the work takes place at the fabricator's workshop.
Apron or Farmhouse Kitchen Sinks
With an apron-front sink, the front of the sink is exposed to the room rather than hidden by the base cabinets as with other types. This type works well with a variety of kitchen designs. While there are drop-in, apron-front sinks, most are undermounted. In some cases, the top of the sink is even with the countertop and many protrude slightly beyond the face of the countertop and cabinets.
Apron-front sinks come in all types of materials, but those made of cast iron or fireclay will be extremely heavy, and it takes two people to lift them into position. Installation methods vary, but some very heavy sinks require wood frames that extend to the bottom of the cabinet to support them.
Because of the exposed front, standard sink base cabinets won't work. The front needs to be cut away to accommodate the apron. Some sink manufacturers provide templates for the cutting. Some cabinet manufacturers make base cabinets for apron-front sinks.
Other Kitchen Sink Types
There are other styles of sinks used in kitchens. Corner sinks are just that — they are installed where the countertop makes a 90-degree turn. It is often not the best location for a sink, but sometimes a corner is the only available spot. Corner sinks are usually made of stainless steel.
Many homeowners and designers are installing a second prep or bar sink in their kitchens. These are smaller than the main sink, and some of them are round, which is unusual for a kitchen sink. They come in handy when two or more people are working in the kitchen at the same time. They are available in the same materials and installation configurations as the main sink, except for apron-front designs.
Trough sinks are long and narrow. Some can be as long as 45 inches, but they are only 8- to 10-inches wide. They do make a dramatic design statement, but they are not as practical as a standard sink.
True wall-mount or wall-hung sinks do not rest on cabinets because they are attached directly to the wall. These can be heavy, so the wall framing must be reinforced to support the weight. They are rare in today's kitchens, but installing one gives the room an instant vintage look. There are also wall-mount sinks that look like traditional versions but are primarily supported by a sink base cabinet. These have a high back where a wall-mount faucet is installed.
How Many Basins?
Sinks come in single as well as double and triple basins. They range in size from about 23 inches to 36 inches in length (the measurement across the face of the countertop). Double and triple basins usually are 30 inches long and up. Sink depth ranges from 7 to 12 inches.
Some people have strong feelings when it comes to the number of basins. There is the wide-open-spaces group who like the large, unobstructed area of a large single basin sink. They can pile dirty dishes and cookware in the space for soaking. The open area gives them plenty of room to clean and prepare fruits and vegetables.
Multibasin sinks let the user segregate tasks. One side is used for washing and the other for rinsing, or one side holds dirty dishes for soaking or washing, and the other side is reserved for food preparation.
Some double and triple basins have full height dividers. The downside to these is that they restrict space within each basin. Most will not fit a pot or pan and its handle. If that is a problem, there are sinks with very low dividers so that the base of a pot can be in one basin while its handle is over the other basin.
Kitchen Sink Materials
Stainless steel. These are among the most-often specified types of sink. Some include integrated drainboards. They are tough, and they fit with a number of contemporary kitchen designs. The popularity of designs that resemble professional kitchens gave stainless steel a boost.
The material in stainless steel sinks is classified by gauge, and lower number gauges are heavier and thicker than higher numbers. Sinks usually fall between 15 and 24 gauge. Residential sinks usually fall in the 18- to 22-gauge range. The material resists most stains, but water spots can be noticeable. Thinner-gauge sinks can be noisy, although some manufacturers attach sound-absorbing materials to their products.
Enameled cast iron. These sinks have been around for decades. They range from bright white to a number of different colors. The iron base is coated with a baked-on porcelain enamel finish. The finish is strong, but it can chip. If it chips badly enough, the underlying iron can be exposed and can rust.
Copper. These sinks can quickly become a focal point of any kitchen. This natural material develops a patina over time, so the color will change. People who want a copper sink accept the change. Thin copper will scratch and dent easily. Acidic materials can cause discoloration of the patina.
Solid surface. This is the same man-made material used in solid-surface countertops. The sinks are available in a number of colors. Scratches can usually be sanded out. The products usually require professional fabrication and installation. A drainboard can be fabricated into a solid-surface countertop.
Granite composites. These sinks are made of granite combined with resins. You get the look of natural stone and a durable, stain-resistant finish. The color goes all the way through the material, so making minor repairs is easy. Unlike other materials, it is only available in matte finish.
Fireclay. These sinks look like cast iron enamel sinks. In fact, they have a protective coating that is baked onto the molded-clay base. If they are not installed correctly, the sinks can chip and crack, especially around the drain hole. Fireclay sinks come in different styles, but they are often associated with farmhouse or apron-front sinks.
Kitchen Sinks and Cabinets
In addition to the other considerations, selecting a sink involves matching it to the right-size sink base cabinet. Sink bases differ from other base cabinets in that they do not have a back panel. This makes it easier to accommodate the water supply and the drain lines. They do not have working drawers for the same reason, although they do have false drawer fronts to match the other cabinets. Some drawer fronts feature pull-down storage compartments for sponges.
When shopping for a sink, look for the manufacturer's requirement for the appropriate cabinet size. It is usually listed in the product literature. If it isn't, consult the sink retailer about the size of cabinet to use.
Fran Donegan is a writer and editor who specializes in covering remodeling, construction and other home-related topics. In addition to his articles and blogs appearing in numerous print and digital media outlets, he is the former executive editor of the consumer magazine Today's Homeowner and the managing editor of Creative Homeowner Press, a book publisher. Fran is the author of two books: Paint Your Home (Reader's Digest) and Pools and Spas (Creative Homeowner Press).