There are plenty of reasons you might want a stainless steel kitchen sink. They’re beautiful, they’re durable, and heck, most of them even look better with age. If you’re going for a modern kitchen decor, want a slightly more streamlined culinary chic, or are just plumb sick of kitchen sinks that stain, chip, or scratch, stainless steel sinks can add sophistication and heartiness to your kitchen in a single unit. Good stainless steel sinks will last for years, and if you know what to look for, you can get an incredible, high quality product for a fraction of the price.
The very most important thing you need to remember when you’re shopping stainless steel sinks is gauge. Put simply, the gauge of a piece of steel is how many times it’s been run through a press and thinned. So for example 1 gauge steel was rolled once, and 100 gauge steel was pressed thinner and thinner a hundred times. When it comes to stainless steel sinks, especially kitchen sinks, you won’t find a range quite that wide. Usually you’re looking at between 16 (the thickest) and 22 or 24 (the thinnest). For the very absolute best quality, you want a 16 gauge sink like this Double Basin Sink from Artisan, but you’re also going to pay the most for it.
That said, if you’re on a budget, anywhere from 18-20 gauge is just fine, and can dramatically lower the price of your sink – in many cases from somewhere in the $600+ range down to $100-200 or so. Now, even so, the lower the gauge on your sink the better, and anything over 20 I’d suggest avoiding altogether, but if you want good quality stainless steel sinks with a more reasonable price tag, dropping from 16 to 18 or even 20 gauge is a great way to cut costs without sacrificing much quality. Something like this 20 Gauge Sink from AmeriSink will serve you just fine outside an intensive commercial kitchen.
But what difference does it make, and what are you sacrificing by going with a higher gauge? There are a couple things you want to keep in mind if you’ve never had a stainless steel sink before. First is that it’s going to be noisier than your current sink. Everything you put in the sink (tossed in silverware, for a good example) is going to make a little tink or thunk when it hits the metal that it wouldn’t in a porcelain sink. The thicker your steel, the less “tink”-y and less prominent the sound will be, because the thicker metal absorbs the impact better. So something like this 16 Gauge Farmhouse Sink from Vigo Industries will make less noise than a 20 or 22 gauge sink and so on.
The other thing – also sound related – is that steel flexes when it’s heated and cooled. That means that while you’re pouring out that gallon or so of boiling pasta water, and for a while after, your sink is going to be flexing and pinging and being generally (albeit mildly) invasive. On the flip side, this really only happens when you’ve poured or placed something very hot in the sink, and it doesn’t last very long and isn’t very loud. So, if you don’t mind hearing stainless steel sinks singing you the song of their people once in a while, you can probably safely opt for a higher gauge stainless steel kitchen sink like this 18 Gauge Sink.
The other very most important marker of quality in stainless steel sinks is the quantity of chrome and nickel it contains as well. You see, while some materials (like copper) are better when they’re more pure, if you got a sink made of pure steel, it would, well, turn into a giant rusty mess the first time you used it. What makes steel “stainless” is the inclusion of chrome and nickel, which give the sinks their shine as well as their durability. You want to look for a sink like this 18/10 Double Bowl Sink from Dawn that has an 18% chrome content and between 8 and 10% nickel (10% being preferable).
This is one of those things that should be very clearly marked, or at least easy to find. If it isn’t, it probably means the sink isn’t quite made up to snuff. If you know a bit about stainless steel flatware, this is the same thing as the markings 18/10 is the best down the line to 18/0, but with stainless steel sinks it’s really not something you want to skimp on. A sink like this 18/10 Sink from LessCare will last you much, much longer than one without the right amounts of chrome or nickel, and in this case, it even costs (much!) less than similar sinks from bigger name brands.
In the same vein, stainless steel sinks are great in terms of longevity simply because they actually look better as they get roughed up a bit. Stainless steel sinks are a lot of things – stain resistant, easy to clean, difficult to chip or mar – but they aren’t scratch proof. It turns out, though, that that’s a good thing – like copper sinks, the weathering on stainless steel sinks causes a unique patina to develop. Which is mostly just a fancy way of saying that, instead of going “oh no, my sink is scratched!” when it gets scratched, it will just start looking more like it’s supposed to. So if you’ve ever scuffed up a pot or pan or piece of flatware and are worried you’d have to throw a stainless steel sink out with the dishwater, don’t be – something like this Nesta Sink from Ruvati is incredibly resilient and will only look better with time.
So if you’re seriously interested in stainless steel sinks but you’re worried that they’ll cost you an arm and a leg, don’t be. All you have to do to get a reasonable price on a good, high quality sink is remember this: gauge and metal composition matter a whole lot more than brand name. In fact, most companies have sinks that are fairly similar to one another, but can cost as much as $500 less. So play it smart, shop stylish, inexpensive brands – but read the fine print to make sure you aren’t skimping on quality. Any more questions about stainless steel sinks I haven’t answered here? Let me know in the comments!