When it comes to choosing a kitchen sink, there are a lot of options out there – from traditional porcelain and fireclay to modern composite stone. But personally I’ve always had a soft spot for stainless steel kitchen sinks. Though they’re often dismissed as a budget or utilitarian option (and some are certainly better made than others), they really are great workhorses, able to stand up to heavy use and abuse while still looking beautiful.
Why Choose Steel?
If you’ve ever rented an apartment or house, chances are good that you’ve had a stainless steel kitchen sink, but it’s worth noting that this isn’t because the sinks are inexpensive, it’s because they’re durable. Most other types of sinks come with at least one major flaw: they’re prone to chipping or pitting, staining or discoloring, or even losing their finish if exposed to certain kinds of food, liquid, or cleaners. But steel sinks are inert, easy to clean, and won’t be damaged by almost anything you leave on them. Well made steel sinks are also hard to damage or dent because the steel is too thick, and while the surface of steel sinks are prone to scratching, these marks build a pleasing patina of age rather than making the sink look damaged.
The Basic Top-Mount Sink
Now, if the stainless steel kitchen sinks you’ve seen were in an apartment or dorm, chances are it was a pretty boring, basic drop-in model with a rim around the edge that sat above the level of the counter. Now I’ll admit that typically this style sink is installed for budget reasons. Drop in sinks are the fastest and easiest to install, and require the last modifications: you simply set the sink in the hole in the counter top and you’re good to go. But while a lot of drop-in sinks are designed with convenience rather than aesthetics in mind (with rounded edges and corners that are easy to clean but not so easy on the eyes), increasingly there are sleeker, more contemporary designs that combine the best of both worlds. That said, keep in mind that drop in sinks will always have a rim around the edge where water and grime can accumulate, making them a little bit harder to clean.
Stylish Undermount Sinks
Far and away the most common designer stainless steel kitchen sinks, though, are mounted to the underside of the kitchen counter rather than sitting on top of it. This makes for a cleaner, more seamless installation, and the sinks themselves often have crisper, more contemporary lines and angles. Combined with the inherent industrial feel of stainless steel, this makes them a great option for a modern kitchen, as the seamless look helps contribute to an unbroken, minimalist counter top. That said, you’ll need to make sure the opening in your counter is an exact match for the sink, which can make this style sink more difficult to install or replace.
Sleek, Transitional Apron Sinks
Stainless steel kitchen sinks tend to skew more towards the modern, but that isn’t always the case. Stainless steel apron sinks (which is a style usually reserved for farmhouse-style porcelain or fireclay sinks) have started to become more popular in recent years, offering a slightly more traditional twist on the average industrial steel sink. Of course, these sinks do still have a more modern feel than, say, an embossed copper apron sink, but with the recent trend towards more transitional styled kitchens (and the huge popularity of silver and gray tones in kitchen design lately), a nice brushed steel apron sink can beautifully round out the look, with a soft silvery color and a traditional design, but a slightly more contemporary feel.
More than most other types of sinks, stainless steel kitchen sinks tend to come paired with a variety of accessories, from fairly basic basin racks and sink grids to keep food and dishes up off the bottom of the sink, to more unique features like colanders, cutting boards, drain boards, drain strainers, and even matching soap dispensers. In part, this is because having a lot of metal add-ons doesn’t run the same risk of damaging a steel sink as it would a porcelain one, but also because the minimalist, squared design of many steel sinks lends itself well to modular add-ons that rest on the rim of the sink and can slide along the edges of it as needed. And because they do tend to be a more budget-friendly option, many stainless steel kitchen sinks also come paired with matching faucets, too.
What To Look For
The most important thing to keep in mind when shopping for a stainless steel kitchen sink, no matter what the style, is that the quality of the sink depends almost entirely on the thickness of the steel. This is listed as the “gauge” of the sink, and as a rule of thumb, a lower number is always better, with 16-18 being ideal, while a sink in the neighborhood of 22 will be noisy to use, prone to denting, and generally a little flimsy. Noise-dampening coating or padding on the underside of the sink can also make the sink more pleasant to use, and prevent condensation from forming on the under side of your sink and dripping into your cabinets.
Stainless steel kitchen sinks are often treated as an introductory level sink, but if you invest in one with a little style and a solid construction, a good steel sink can easily last you a lifetime, without a lot of the muss or fuss of other common materials.