You can buy a stainless steel sink at just about every home center, hardware store and even
some “we have everything from cow feed to tv’s store” So how do you buy? What should you buy? What manufacturers are best? Read below as we give you answers to the aforementioned questions and our thoughts about one of the most popular materials used in kitchen, lavatory, foodservice and institutional sinks.
What are the Types of Stainless Steel Used to Manufacture Sinks?
This is probably the most important dynamic is buying a stainless steel sink for any use. Sinks are most commonly made using two (2) types of stainless steel.
- The first is T-201 stainless steel contains between 16% and 18% Chromium but the nickel content is only 3.5%-5.5%, sinks made of this material are cheap and much less durable. Household cleaner detergents tend to be aggressive to this metal. Steer clear if possible.
- The other is T-304 stainless is made with between 18% and 20% Chromium and between 8% and 11% nickel. In layman’s terms it is way more durable, doesn’t discolor or stain except under extreme heat, it will not rust and is naturally resistant to most household chemicals. To be fair we don’t know of any major stainless steel manufacturer here in the US that uses anything other than 304. Watch for cheap imported stainless steel sinks.
Stainless Steel Wall Thickness is Important
Although metal thickness is important for durability especially with regards to dents and
dings it is not nearly as important as spray on sound deadening. We’ll explain that in a second. Suffice to say the thicker the sink the more durable and/or expensive it will cost. However there are some 20 gauge sinks with fine finishes and 16 gauge sinks with coarse finishes so gauge does not necessarily mean you’ll have a better finish. The below is a brief description of the common thicknesses you will find online and in the stores.
- 16 gauge – this the thickest stainless steel offered “off the shelf” for lavatories and kitchen sinks. When buying a sink of this gauge you can expect the best finish and the sink typically has very good sound deadening.
- 18 gauge – this is the most popular gauge for high end kitchen and lavatory sinks. Very nice satin finish very good sound deadening qualities. Manufacturers produce sinks in this gauge in every size and shape you can imagine. As a side note manufacturers that can produce fine finishes usually offer them on this gauge.
- 20 gauge – this gauge of sink is what you typically see in the home centers. Its finish is usually OK but it tends to be a little rougher, the grains coarser. Your range of sizes and shapes begins to get limited in this gauge but there is still a wide variety to choose from.
- 23 gauge – this is the thinnest gauge of metal offered and the thinnest we would recommend you buy. Its finish is what you would expect in a very cheap sink. It is typically manufactured in a very limited range of sizes and shapes. This a “builders special” sink.
Undercoating is Super Important
One of stainless steels inherent drawbacks is its ability to transmit sound. If you’ve ever lived in an apartment which I’m assuming most of our readers have at one time or another you know first hand what it sounds like to drop a glass or mug in a cheap stainless steel sink. It sounds like a gong and usually scares the crap out of you.
Not all sound deadening or dampening is created equal, Mark Hird from Elkay USA was
nice enough to go over their proprietary sound deadening which as you can imagine gets better with each price point. These different levels of undercoating are by no means universal amongst stainless steel manufacturers. So this is something you can ask your plumbing professional or supplier about. Please also be advised that the undercoating also serves a secondary purpose, it insulates the bowl lessening condensation. So here are Elkays levels of sound damping:
- Entry Price Point – undercoating is just sprayed on the bottom of the sink. It isn’t much but it’s something.
- Mid Price Point – Undercoating is sprayed under the entire bowl; bottom and sides. This is a very popular starting point with stainless steel.
- High End Price Point – Undercoating is sprayed under the entire bowl; bottom and sides but it is sprayed on with a thicker coating. Stainless steel sinks at this price are beginning to get pricey, think $400.00+.
- Premium Price Point – At this point Elkay sprays a thick layer of undercoating as well as places vibration isolation pads in strategic locations under the sink for maximum sound deadening properties. With this level of detail you can expect to pay premium prices from $600.00 to $1,300.00+ depending on the size and shape of the bowl.
Things to Help You Decide Which Sink is Right
When you are thinking about purchasing a stainless steel sink think about the size of the cabinet you are putting the sink in. Elkay has a ridiculous variety of sizes and bowl types, by far the most extensive of any of the stainless steel manufacturers.
What will you being doing in the sink? We know that sounds like a silly question but how
functional do you want your sink to be? Do you have big pans you need to clean. The radius’ of the sink makes a huge difference in usable space inside the sink. A sink with vertical zero radius corners or small radius corners have more usable space. The bowls have no or very little curve to the bottom of the bowl. In addition the horizontal radius is can be more important because glasses/stemware won’t tip over or slide towards the center of the bowl because it is basically flat.
Make sure you take a look at the depth of the bowl. A bowl that is 6” deep isn’t super usable in a non ADA residential application. 9” – 12” is a more desirable bowl depth in a residential application.
Are looking to buy American? For some it isn’t important but for others it’s a big deal. There are only four domestic manufacturers of stainless steel sinks in the US and they are Elkay, Just, Moen and Franke. Please don’t chime in that you know of others, there are plenty of job shop manufacturers of stainless steel sinks but they are specialty manufacturers and they do not have a full line of sinks.
Pay attention to the sinks finish. Domestic finishes are different from European finishes i.e. Moen, Just, Elkay vs. Franke, Oliveri, Blanco. The domestic finishes are left to right while the European or circular. Which is better? That’s for you to decide.
So get off the fence you ask? Which is the best stainless steel sink? That questions has many answers and we will attempt to be as clear as possible with our explanation.
- If we were advising a home owner that was building an 8 million dollar home and they wanted custom sinks you can’t beat Elkay. Their finish is as nice as any and they have the largest variety of sizes and shapes. Elkay is the leader in commercial, industrial and institutional type sinks but doesn’t get the respect it deserves for making some of the best sinks in the world.
- If we were advising a home/condo owner on putting in a premium sink for their kitchen you can’t do any better than going with Franke.
- If a middle class family wanted an upscale look and a ton of value for the money we would suggest Oliveri out of Australia. Very nice stuff at a mid price point.
- If we were advising a building owner on a rehab or new building and they were buying many sinks and wanted to stay in the upscale end of stainless we would suggest Kindred (Franke) They tend to be very competitive on job quotes and it’s a very nice sink.
- If a plumbing contractor was going to do the plumbing for a 500 home subdivision and they wanted quality but at a super affordable price we would suggest Just.
We certainly hope you enjoyed the article and hope it helps you buy the perfect stainless steel sink for you. If you have any questions or comments please don’t hesitate to ask.