Inexpensive and virtually indestructible, stainless-steel sinks aced most of Consumer Reports’ tests. The magazine found little difference between one that cost $115 and another that cost $420. Consumer Reports’ tests of five other sink materials, including solid surfacing and acrylic, found that you may need to be more careful to avoid stains and damage from hot pots and sharp knives.
Testers compared thick, heavy-gauge stainless with thinner versions, and heavy cast iron with lightweight acrylic and trendy fireclay. For months they stained, scoured, dropped objects, and put hot pots in 18 double-bowl sinks from big brands including American Standard, Elkay, Franke, and Kohler. Consumer Reports found that the manufacturer wasn’t as important as the material.
Here’s what else testers found:
Finish matters more than thickness. Consumer Reports tested 18- to 23-gauge stainless-steel sinks. (The lower the gauge, the thicker the steel.) Contrary to what some companies claim, Consumer Reports found that expensive, thicker-gauge stainless didn’t necessarily hold up better than thinner versions. They all withstood stains from common foods, cleaning products, and drain cleaners. They also resisted heat and dings, though they did dent when testers dropped a 5-pound weight—similar to a heavy pot—from a height of as little as 4 inches. Sound absorbing pads on the sink’s exterior bottom and sides minimized the noise of running water better than spray-on sound insulating coatings. And sinks with polished or glossy surfaces showed scratches and stains more than those with matte or random grain finishes.
Color requires compromises. You can add color to your kitchen by choosing a sink made of solid surfacing, enameled steel, enameled cast iron, acrylic, or fireclay. But each material has a weakness. Almost all were dented, dinged, or slightly chipped in impact tests. Acrylic sinks didn’t chip, but they did melt slightly when testers left a hot pot in them.
How to choose
If you’re keeping your current countertop and faucet, your new sink will need to match the old sink’s cutout area and the number of faucet holes. If you’re replacing all three, keep these points in mind:
Consider the style. Drop-in sinks fit in the counter and can be used with any countertop material. They’re also the simplest to install. Undermount sinks, which are installed beneath the counter, require waterproof countertop materials, such as stone or solid surfacing.
Seamless installations, where the sink and counter are made of the same material, have a nice clean look. But because they’re made as a unit, if the sink or counter is damaged you’ll have to replace both. Apron-front (or farmhouse) sinks usually have a single deep basin with an exposed front. They typically require a special sink cabinet. Tile-in sinks have flat edges and square corners and can be mounted at the same level as tile countertops.
Pick a bowl. Double-bowl sinks let you soak a pot in one bowl while you rinse in the other. Just be sure that at least one bowl is wide enough to fit large pots or roasters. The easiest way to do that is to take one with you to the store. Or consider a double-bowl sink with one large bowl and a smaller one. A single large bowl may be better for smaller spaces.
Rectangular-shaped sinks are standard. D-shaped bowls have a curved back and offer more space front to back. Rear drains provide for more storage space in the sink cabinet but will probably require additional plumbing.
Think about depth. Sinks are usually 6-to-12 inches deep. Deeper models reduce splashes but it might be uncomfortable to reach the bottom.