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Stainless Steel Sinks
Stainless Steel Sinks

What Should I Know About Stainless Steel Sinks?

Stainless steel kitchen sinks are made from, you guessed it — stainless steel. But what exactly is this stuff and is it all the same? If you’re a metallurgist or just happen to know a lot about stainless steel, you can skip this section. Otherwise, read on to get more up-close and personal with this material.

Stainless Steel-What It Is

Stainless steel in its simplest terms is steel that has been alloyed or “combined with” other elements that give it more beneficial properties than it would otherwise have on its own.

Two of these important elements that you’ll see (or should see) on specs for stainless kitchen sinks are chromium and nickel. They enhance the quality of the steel, giving it strength and corrosion resistance, an important feature when you’re dealing with sinks.

Stainless sinks are usually labeled with the amount of chromium and nickel contained in the steel. It’s usually designated by a ratio like “18:8″ or something equivalent. This particular example means there is 18% chromium and 8% nickel in the stainless steel. The higher the percentage of these elements that are present, the better the grade of stainless steel.

Two of these important elements that you’ll see (or should see) on specs for stainless kitchen sinks are chromium and nickel. They enhance the quality of the steel, giving it strength and corrosion resistance, an important feature when you’re dealing with sinks.

Stainless sinks are usually labeled with the amount of chromium and nickel contained in the steel. It’s usually designated by a ratio like “18:8″ or something equivalent. This particular example means there is 18% chromium and 8% nickel in the stainless steel. The higher the percentage of these elements that are present, the better the grade of stainless steel.

The grade is specified by its “series” number. Suffice to say for this conversation that stainless sinks are usually in the “300” series, usually 304 to be specific. This is a good quality steel with 18:8 to 20:10 chromium/nickel content.

The important point in all this is that by understanding some of the key characteristics of stainless steel, you’ll be better able to judge quality sinks when comparing various brands and their specifications.

Gauge Thickness

“Gauge thickness” is somewhat redundant because gauge implies the thickness of the metal. The important point to remember relative to gauge is that smaller gauge numbers mean thicker material. Yes, it’s counter-intuitive but that’s the way it was established long ago.

Stainless steel sink gauge ranges from 16 gauge (thicker) to 22 gauge (thin). The benefit of thicker material is that it’s more resistant to dings and dents, is less “noisy” than a thinner gauge sink and more robust in terms of handling things like the vibration associated with a garbage disposal. Good quality stainless steel sinks are usually 16 to 18 gauge.

Insulation and Coatings

Stainless steel sinks can be fitted with sound insulation and coatings to help deaden sound attenuation. It can also act to reduce condensation buildup on the bottom of the sink that could lead to moisture problems in the base cabinet that the sink is installed into. Not all stainless sinks come with this feature but it’s worth consideration for reducing the tinny sound, particularly from thinner gauge sinks.

Finish

Finish refers to the surface smoothness of the stainless steel material. A mirror finish has a high polish and is very smooth whereas a brushed finish is duller and more “frosted” in appearance. Most finishes, except for the polished mirror finishes, will exhibit a uniform “grain” direction that results from the brushing/finishing process.

The grade is specified by its “series” number. Suffice to say for this conversation that stainless sinks are usually in the “300” series, usually 304 to be specific. This is a good quality steel with 18:8 to 20:10 chromium/nickel content.

The important point in all this is that by understanding some of the key characteristics of stainless steel, you’ll be better able to judge quality sinks when comparing various brands and their specifications.

The Plusses and Minuses Of A Stainless Sink

Like virtually any product for your home there are pros and cons and stainless steel kitchen sinks are no different.

First, the positives…

  • Durability and longevity – Quality sinks with reasonable care should last forever. They’re made from a corrosion resistant steel that’s harder and tougher than other types of materials and won’t chip, crack or wear out.
  • Affordability – Yes, you can pay over a thousand dollars for some high-end stainless triple bowl kitchen sinks but there are plenty of very affordable models that provide the benefits stainless sinks have to offer.
  • Timeless look consistent with many appliances – depending on your perspective and taste, stainless steel sinks provide a consistent look in a kitchen with stainless appliances. Even without these types of appliances, stainless steel sinks have consistently been in fashion and immune from fluctuating style trends.
  • Sanitary surface – Stainless steel sinks are easy to clean and non-porous giving little refuge to bacteria and other nasties.
  • Bigger bowl capacity – Stainless steel’s relatively light yet strong properties allow it to be formed into larger and deeper bowls that might not otherwise be feasible with cast iron or other materials.

…and then of course, some of the negatives…

  • Not immune to scratching – Even though they’re metal you can still put scratches in a stainless steel sink. They also have a “grain direction” and any rubbing with an abrasive material in the direction opposite of the grain will result in visible scratches and/or a blotchy appearance inconsistent with he rest of the sink.
  • There’s maintenance involved in keeping it looking good – Stainless sinks are relatively easy to clean as they don’t really stain but keeping them looking new and fresh takes effort. Dried mineral deposits from standing water and drips can make a stainless steel sink look dingy pretty quickly. You’ll need to wipe out the sink frequently to avoid the drab filmy look.

What Kinds Of Choices And Innovations Are There?

If you think all stainless steel kitchen sinks are simple basins, think again. They can be as simple as a drop-in single bowl style or as fancy as a triple bowl design with integral perforated drain boards and removable platforms.

The point is, there are lots of options and styles to choose from. We’ve listed some highlights of stainless sink design to whet your curiosity. At the least it may make you aware of some feature you didn’t know about and give you something to consider as you shop for a stainless sink.

stainless steel sink zero-radius cornersZero-Radius Corners

  • One style trend is the zero-radius sink that emulates commercial and restaurant style sinks. The corners of these sinks are typically very sharp (90-degrees) with no curve or radius. One consideration however is the effort required to clean those tight corners – they’re not as “open” as traditional sinks with gentle curved corners.
  • Julien’s Urban Edge® and Elkay’s Avado™ are two examples of sinks that exhibit this modern styling.

Recyclability and “Green-ness”

  • Stainless steel is a recyclable material and many sinks are made from salvaged raw material. Stainless steel doesn’t degrade or lose any of its properties in the recycling process making stainless steel sinks a good green option. Some manufacturers like Julien feature sinks made from 90% recycled material.

Stainless Steel Apron SinksStainless Steel Apron Sinks

  • Do you like the style of a farmhouse apron front sink but want it in stainless steel? They’re available. Julien has an apron front stainless sink in their UrbanEdge® and Classic collections. Elkay’s Elite Gourmet and Gourmet series sinks feature stainless farmhouse sinks.
  • Kohler offers two styles of stainless apron front sinks in their Verity® line. One is an undermount style while the other is a countertop (drop-in) style with a 4″ apron that surrounds the sink on top of the countertop surface.
  • Blanco includes several apron front stainless sinks within their BlancoMagnum Series. Sinks are 18 gauge, include double and single bowl designs and are treated with a satin finish.
  • Not to be outdone, Houzer makes several models of 16 gauge stainless steel apron sinks. Their Epicure line contains models made from a combination of 16 and 18 gauge material.

Added Features, Options and Product Enhancements

  • Many stainless sink manufacturers offer added features and product enhancements. Each maker has their own brand of sound suppression coatings and silencer pads.
  • Other options include grids to reduce scrapes on the sink bottom and removable cutting boards shaped to fit a portion of the sink. This allows you to process food right at the sink while still maintaining access to the sink’s drain and garbage disposal.

High Design and High Functionality

If you’re looking for a stainless kitchen sink style that’s a conversation starter, consider Elkay’s Design Inspirations 08™ featuring the creativity of two top American designers, Jamie Drake and Fu-Tung Cheng. These designers have developed sinks with very unique styling and features sure to add distinctiveness not found in every kitchen.

Multi-function sinks feature tools and design attributes that make the primary sink not only a workhorse but an efficient one at that. Kohler’s PRO TaskCenter™ sinks come in double and triple bowl designs and feature accessories like wire racks, strainers and added removable basins for making food prep and cleanup available in one location.

Elkay’s professional grade Avado Accent drop-in sinks aim for efficiency and functionality with several versions and options available. Multi-bowl designs with varied-depth basins redefine multi-tasking sinks and kitchen space efficiency. These models feature commercial grade 16 gauge stainless steel in a polished satin finish with zero-radius corners.