Eco-Friendly Kitchen Sinks

Seekers of eco-friendly sinks, I have some bad news and some good news. The bad news first:

Affordable, new kitchen sinks aren’t 100% eco-friendly.

When choosing a sink you’ll be balancing different aspects of sustainability. We’ve tried to give you a starting point for all the buying choices you’ll have to make.


Kitchen Sink Brands

Kohler
Franke
American Standard
Elkay
Swanstone
Blanco

Stores That Sell Kitchen Sinks

Lowe’s
Home Depot
Ikea
Menard’s
Online
Other


Kitchen Sink Accessories

Kitchen Sink Faucets
Cabinets Under The Sink
Kitchen Sink Drains
Kitchen Sink Sprayers
Kitchen Sink Protective Mats
Kitchen Sink Caddies


Most sinks sold in the U.S. are made from stainless steel. To make stainless steel, you start with iron ore, a non-renewable material that must be mined. Nearly 3 billion tons of iron is taken out of the earth every year, mostly at gnarly open-pit mines like this one.

Other popular materials for new sinks are porcelain-enameled cast-iron, copper, concrete, and composite (sometimes called “granite composite”). None are renewable resources.

The only kitchen sink made from renewable resources I was able to find is a bamboo version; a quick glance at the Amazon reviews shows that you’d be wise to avoid it.

Truly Eco-Friendly New Sinks Are Very Expensive

You can get a new sink made out of recycled materials, but it’ll cost you.
copper sink by premier copper productsPhoenix-based Premier Copper Products sells a standard size kitchen sink made from 99.7% recycled copper, it’s handmade in Mexico and costs around $1,500.

copper sink by native trails
Native Trails also works with Mexican artisans, their least expensive recycled copper sink starts at $2,598. (It is gorgeous, though.)

Now, for the good news…

The Most Eco-Friendly Sink Is Also The Cheapest

The most environmentally responsible choice? Buying a used sink.

It’s cheap: At the awesome salvage store down the road from Insteading HQ, you can walk away with a full-size used sink for as little as 20 bucks.
a salvaged kitchen sink selling for just 20 bucks

It’s eco-friendly: Zero environmental impact, except the gas you burn going to pick it up.

But, it’s also time-consuming: You may have to wait months to find the exact size and style you want. You’ll also need to do some cleaning once you get the sink. And, if the sink has a porcelain glaze or enamel, you’ll have to make sure that enamel doesn’t contain lead; many sinks made before the 1980s did.

Now for the rest of the good news…

New Sinks Aren’t 100% Eco-Unfriendly, Either

Stainless steel—while it has its downsides—may still be an eco-friendly enough choice for you. While it’s not renewable, stainless steel can be recycled. In fact, most stainless steel sinks are made partly from recycled stainless steel—Elkay’s Revere line of sinks are made from at least 80% recycled steel. And stainless steel itself is 100% recyclable, and is one of the most durable manufactured materials. Properly cared for, it’ll last generations. Somebody even made a building from stainless steel sinks.

If you buy a quality sink, and commit to recycling once you are done with it, a stainless steel (or porcelain, or composite) sink is a much more eco-friendly purchase than some other stuff you probably buy (ahem, plastic bottles).

What choice is right for you? We made this comparison chart to show you your options.

Type

Cost

Health Risk

Environmental Impact

$50-$4,500

None

Mining, processing.

$300-$6,000

A severely-damaged sink could leach copper.

Mining, processing (except for 100% recycled copper).

$250-$2,500

None (except older sinks, see below). 

Mining, processing.

$200-$2,500

Made with acrylic resins that are potentially toxic

Mining and use of chemical adhesives.

$15-$5,000

The enamel of porcelain sinks from the 1980s and before may contain lead.

None

Kitchen Sink Materials/Colors

Stainless Steel Sinks

Buy: If you want a sleek look, with almost no ongoing care.

Most sinks sold today are made of stainless steel—the non-rusting steel, as it was originally introduced to the public. Stainless steel is fantastic for sinks because it doesn’t rust, doesn’t stain (hence, “stainless”), is hard to scratch, and doesn’t corrode easily. Stainless steel is produced in different gauges. The higher the gauge, the thinner the steel, and the more prone to scratching and denting. Most sinks are between 18-gauge and 23-gauge. Stainless steel gives a sleek look to your kitchen.

kraus-double-basin-steel-sink

Kraus Double Bowl Stainless Steel Kitchen Sink, via Amazon.

stainless-steel-kitchen-sink-by-vigo

Single Bowl Stainless Steel Kitchen Sink by Vigo, via Wayfair.


Havens Metal sells high-end stainless steel sinks using high-end metal in multiple textures.

Copper Sinks

Buy: If you want a striking visual centerpiece for your kitchen, and can commit to daily care.

Copper sinks are long-lasting, scratch-resistant, and anti-microbial—if you take care of them. The finish of a copper sink will change over time, building up a patina that looks different depending on the light and time of day. That same patina, though, will corrode or get scratched if you don’t care for your copper. If your kitchen doesn’t have a striking visual, a copper sink will do it for you.

havens-metals-copper-sink
Havens Metal Works makes copper sinks like this one out of 100% US-manufactured copper. Their line of undermount copper kitchen sinks starts at around $1,500.

copper-sink-homedepot

Undermount Hammered Copper, Triple Bowl Kitchen Sink, via Home Depot.

copper-kitchen-sink-wayfair

Copper Kitchen Sink by Native Trails, via Wayfair.

elkay-copper-double-sink

Harmony Copper Double Bowl Apron Front Sink, via Elkay.

Porcelain Sinks

Buy: If you like a clean white look and don’t mind a little extra cleaning.

What people call a porcelain sink isn’t all porcelain. A porcelain sink is either cast-iron or steel coated with porcelain enamel. Farmhouse-style sinks typically have porcelain enamel. Some people like the antiseptic, bright white of porcelain sinks. The drawback is that the enamel is prone to chipping, and once it chips, rust can start to take over the interior of the sink. Stains are also more difficult (though by no means impossible) to clean on porcelain.

homedepot-porcelain-sink

Porcelain Enamel Steel, Large Single Bowl Kitchen Sink in White, via Home Depot.

porcela-series-kitchen-sink-amazon

Houzer Porcelain Enamel Steel Kitchen Sink, via Amazon.

Cast-Iron Sinks

Sinks made from cast iron are coated with enamel—otherwise they would rust over the day after you bought them. Cast iron is incredibly sturdy, if you want a sink that will still be there in 100 years, pick cast iron. You’ll have your choice of enamel—you can go for white porcelain, but you can also choose from other finishes.

cast-iron-sink-lowes

Kohler Hartland Double Basic Cast-Iron, via Lowe’s.

homedepot-cast-iron-sink

Undermount Apron-Front Cast Iron, via Home Depot.

Granite and Composite Granite

Buy: If you want a completely unique look, and are willing to pay for it.

Most sinks marketed as “granite” are actually made from “composite granite,” which is manufactured by crushing granite into pebbles and adhering the pebbles together with acrylic resin. If you choose a composite sink you’ll be able to pick from many different finishes and colors—maybe you want a chocolate-colored sink? Manufacturers of these sinks claim that they are stain, heat, and chip resistant, but independent testers have found different results. If you want a sink made from true granite, you’ll want to talk to a speciality company or a designer.

wayfair-granite-kitchen-sink

Double Bowl Farmhouse Granite Kitchen Sink, via Wayfair.

granite-composite-sink-blanco

Single-Basin Undermount Granite Kitchen Sink, via Amazon.

lowes-granite-kitchen-sink

Nero Single-Basic Granite Kitchen Sink, via Lowe’s.

White Sinks

Want a white sink? You can choose from stainless steel or cast iron with an enamel finish, or a composite granite sink. Apron-front sinks are commonly white as well.

composite-white-lowes

Swanstone Composite Residential Kitchen Sink, via Lowe’s.

white-kitchen-sink-amazon

Single Basin Farmhouse Fireclay Kitchen Sink, via Amazon.

Black Sinks

Want a black sink? You can choose to put a black enamel finish over a stainless steel or cast iron sink. Or, choose a composite material, which may have different shades of dark sinks, as well as different textures.

double-granite-kitchen-sink

Double Bowl Black Onyx Granite Kitchen Sink, via Amazon.

black-kitchen-sink-wayfair

Kitchen Sink Styles

Topmount Sinks

Buy: If you want an inexpensive sink that’s also the easiest to install.

Topmount sinks are the most common style of sink. The sink has edges that go out over the counter that they sit on. The easiest sinks to install.
topmount sink
Great Lakes Series 33″ x 22″ 40/60 Topmount Kitchen Sink via Wayfair.

Undermount Sinks

Buy: If you want an inexpensive option with a cleaner look than the topmount.

Undermount sinks are mounted under the level of your counter, so the counter comes all the way up to the sink for a cleaner (and, to some, more attractive) look.
undermount sink
Ruvati RVM4350 Low Divide 32″ Undermount Double Bowl Kitchen Sink via Amazon.

Corner Sinks

Buy: If you’re remodeling, or replacing an existing corner sink.

Usually used only in custom-built kitchens, corner sinks maximize available space by fitting into space that’s usually wasted—which is why they are more common in bathrooms than kitchens.
corner sink
Neptune Top Mount Stainless Steel 4-Hole Double Bowl Kitchen Sink via Home Depot.

Farmhouse Sinks / Apron Front Sinks

Buy: If you’re going for a retro look.

The front of this classic-looking sink interrupts the kitchen counter, hanging over the top of the counter, hence the alternate name “apron front.” Farmhouse sinks typically have a plain, porcelain-enameled front, but you can also have a more interesting apron front piece, decorated with an etching or other design.
farmhouse sink
Whitehaven Undermount Apron-Front Cast Iron 36 in. Single Bowl Kitchen Sink in White via Home Depot.

Single Bowl / Single Basin Sinks

Buy: If you don’t have a trash disposal.

Divided sinks have become more common as trash disposals have become more popular. Many people prefer a dedicated area to dump half-eaten food, and another reserved for washing and cleaning. If you don’t have a trash disposal, aren’t so fastidious, or don’t have much space, consider a single basin sink.
single basin sink
32″ x 19″ Undermount Single Basin Kitchen Sink via Wayfair.

Sinks with Drainboards

Buy: If you don’t have a dishwasher.

The drainboard is a little ridged area on the side of the sink where dishes can drip after washing without causing big puddles. Now that most kitchens have dishwashers, they aren’t as vital, but if you don’t have a dishwasher, don’t have space for one, or prefer not to use one, a built-in drainboard will keep your kitchen dryer. Sinks aimed at the commercial (restaurant) market are more likely to have drainboards than those marketed to homeowners.
sink with drainboard
48″ Handmade Stainless Steel Kitchen Sink Single Bowl With Drainboard Top Mount 16 Gauge via Amazon.

Sinks on Kitchen Islands

Buy: If you are remodeling a large kitchen.

Any style of sink that’s built into your countertops can also be built into a kitchen island. This is only an option for big kitchens, and will likely require some major plumbing work, since your sewer connection probably isn’t in the middle of your kitchen.
kitchen island sink
Finefixtures Sutton 30″ Fireclay sink via Amazon.

Deep Kitchen Sinks

Buy: If you wash big pots in your sink.

The shallower your kitchen sink, the fewer pots can fit inside, and the more you’ll get splashed when you wash. If you do a lot of washing in your sink, especially of large Dutch ovens and soup pots, consider a deeper sink.
deep sink
33″ x 18.5″ Granite Extra Large Single Bowl Kitchen Sink by Hahn via Wayfair.

Outdoor Kitchen Sinks

Buy: If you cook outdoors multiple times a week, year-round.

With most outdoor furniture you have to worry before you buy about what will happen when it gets wet. Not with a sink! Your issues will be two: plumbing and cold. Depending on where you put the sink, you may need to build a custom sewer connection, both to provide the water and to have somewhere for wastewater to go. And if you live in any state where the temperature can get below freezing (so, basically, not in Hawai’i) you’ll need a way to winterize. This sink from Sunstone Grills comes with a cover that doubles as a cutting board.
outdoor sink
SUNSTONE Grills Premium Sink w/ Faucet & Cutting Board via CompactAppliance.com.

Small / Tiny House / RV Kitchen Sinks

Buy: If your kitchen is less than 50 square feet. Or if you drive your kitchen around.

The standard kitchen sink is 33 inches wide, but plenty of companies manufacture sinks as narrow as 13 inches. These are sometimes marketed as bar sinks. If you are buying for a tiny house on wheels, or an RV, you have to consider the effect that highway driving will have on your sink.

Stainless steel sinks can make an annoying clanging noise when your home goes over bumps. Ambassador Marine, which makes sinks for boats, engineers their sinks to make less noise when jostled.
rv sinkAmbassador Marine Rectangle Stainless Steel Brushed Finish Sink via Amazon.

Double Basin Kitchen Sinks

Buy: If you have a trash disposal.

You may prefer a double bowl sink if you have a trash disposal, to save one area for food disposal. Double bowl sinks come with both basins taking up the same amount of room, or with one area much smaller than the other (usually, the one reserved for food disposal).

Free-Standing Kitchen Sinks

Buy: If your kitchen is more decorative than functional.

Most homes are built with sewer connections that require a sink to be in one location only, almost always within a cabinet unit. But if you are replacing your cabinets or building a custom kitchen, a free standing sink is a pretty cool look.

Vintage/Salvage Kitchen Sinks

Buy: If you want a unique look, or to save money.

Vintage sinks are the only choice if you’re building your home with salvaged materials. This is the most eco-friendly choice. Often older sinks have archaic features like separate hot and cold faucets, and drainboards. They usually aren’t as deep as modern kitchen sinks, either. If you aren’t deterred (of love the idea) head to your local architectural salvage store. Be sure to understand the material and any coating on your vintage sink. Some older sinks were coated with lead or other noxious chemicals.

Modern Kitchen Sinks

Buy: If you’re an early-adopter.

The sleek modern sinks you’d expect to see in some cool architect’s house. Recent design innovations include custom-made basins shaped like a seashell, or a guitar. Delta fauces offer Touch2O technology—you touch anywhere on the faucet and the water starts flowing.

Diamond Undermount Kitchen Sink, via Wayfair.

Cheap Kitchen Sinks

If you want the cheapest new sink possible, figure out exactly what you want and check online. Amazon, Lowe’s, Home Depot, and others frequently have flash deals and other major sales. If you don’t care whether your sink is new, go to a nearby salvage store. You should be able to score a decent used sink for less than $50. Habitat for Humanity ReStores is the biggest national chain of salvage stores.

Kitchen Sink Brands

Kohler

A popular brand with a wide range of products—their sinks start at around $200 and go up to $3000. Kohler specializes in stainless steel and enameled cast-iron sinks. Kohler touts the water efficiency of their products, though not specifically their kitchen faucets. The company is a member of the U.S. Green Building Council and the Alliance for Water Efficiency.

Franke

Another brand with a wide range of price points. Franke sell stainless steel, granite composite, and fireclay ceramic sinks. Their “fast-in” sinks, released in May 2016, can be installed without tools, they promise. Franke notes that their granite sinks can be cleaned without chemicals, reducing the toxins that seep into our groundwater.

American Standard

American Standard delivers functional, traditional-looking sinks. They have a full line of stainless steel sinks; and some of the best prices on enameled cast-iron sinks. The company’s Edgewater faucet collection saves water with a 1.5 gallon per minute flow rate, which is 30% less than standard 2.2 gpm flow faucets.

Elkay

Go with Elkay stainless steel sinks if you’re looking for a low price and a huge selection. Elkay sells more than 1,000 sinks—almost all of them stainless steel—in pretty much every size and style you could need. The company has been a sustainability leader in at least one area—they developed a water fountain that includes a water bottle filling station—the EZH20—with the aim of decreasing the number of plastic water bottles Americans buy. Sinks from Elkay’s Revere line are made from 80% recycled stainless steel.

Swanstone

Swan is the name of the company, Swanstone is the compression-molded material they manufacture sinks with—all Swanstone sinks are made in the U.S. Swan also sells granite composite sinks. Look to Swanstone sinks for the classic white porcelain sink. Swanstone’s Our Planet Collection offers four sinks made partially from recycled and bio-based content.

Blanco

Germany’s largest sink manufacturer is, similar to Franke, priced at the higher end of the scale. They produce sinks from stainless steel, ceramic, and their own granite composite, SILGRANIT. They say they rank sustainability and environmental responsibility high on their list of business priorities—citing innovations like their Solon compost system, water-saving faucets, and energy-saving initiatives at their offices and production plants.

Kitchen Sink Stores

Lowe’s

At time of writing Lowe’s has more 2,000 stores, and a massive selection of sinks. If you don’t know the one nearest you, go here and find out. Lowe’s top-rated kitchen sink is this Vigo 32×19 stainless steel sink.

Home Depot

Home Depot has the most stores of any U.S. home improvement chain—they’ll have plenty of sinks to choose from.

Ikea

Ikea sells their own brand of sinks, in stainless steel, ceramic, or graphic composite. Most of their sinks are top mount, but they also sell apron front sinks too. Like all IKEA products, IKEA sinks are on the low-end of the price scale, and meant to coordinate with their other products.

Menards

This midwestern U.S. chain doesn’t have stores east of Ohio, west of Wyoming, or south of Missouri. If you’re in the Midwest though, there is probably a Menards near you. Menards stocks a good variety of inexpensive sinks.

Online

Amazon sells thousands of kitchen sinks. For some, you can add installation as part of your purchase. For smaller spaces, check out CompactAppliance.com.

Other

Most hardware stores stock a few basic sinks. You may find a good deal at a restaurant supply store, though their kitchen sinks will often be designed for commerical kitchens—so they’ll have more entry places for high-power spray hoses and the like. For high-end options, and especially if you are doing custom work, consult a speciality kitchen design store—just about every metro area has one.

Kitchen Sink Accessories

Kitchen Sink Faucets

If you’re buying a kitchen sink you’ll also need to buy a faucet—they’re sold separately. You can find faucets for as low as $15. You can also spend as much on your faucet as you did on your sink. Choices on faucets include the color, the type of material, the handle type, and the “arc” of the faucet (how high above the level of the knobs it rises). Ask about low-flow faucets, which can help cut down on water use.

mediterranean-bronze-faucet-lowes

Mediterranean Bronze High-Arc Kitchen Faucet with Side Spray, via Lowe’s.

Kitchen Sink Cabinets

If you’re replacing your sink you may also consider replacing the cabinet below. How much cabinet space you need might impact the depth of your sink—the lower the sink, the less space you’ll have down there. The width of your cabinet will determine how wide your sink can be.

buckingham-base-cabinet-homedepot

Buckingham Base Cabinet in White Melamine and Gray Doors, via Home Depot.

Kitchen Sink Drains/Strainers/Stoppers

Kitchen sinks—even expensive ones—don’t come with drains or strainers. You’ll have to buy your own. Cheap ones are two or three bucks, but they might not be stainless steel and could get gross. Top-end drains are around $15. On Amazon, the drains are often featured as an add on to the sinks, so you can easily buy what the manufacturer recommends.

insinkerator-sink-stopper

Stainless Steel Sink Stopper, via Amazon.

Kitchen Sink Soap Dispenser

Some sinks come with multiple holes, one of which can be used for a built in soap dispenser. These also aren’t sold with the sink, you’ll have to buy them separately. Prices range from $10-$30.

vintage-decorative-soap-dispenser-wayfair

Vintage Decorative Soap Dispenser, via Wayfair.

Kitchen Sink Sprayer

Another option for a multiple hole sink is a sprayer to help you rinse off dishes and discipline your cat. Lower-end sprayers made from plastic or chrome cost around $10, the stainless steel versions from the top manufacturers are closer to $30. A sprayer may help you use less water when you hand-wash dishes.

side-spray-homedepot

Side Spray Kitchen Hose, via Home Depot.

Kitchen Sink Mats

A good kitchen sink mat will:

  • Protect your sink in case you drop anything heavy in it.
  • Protect anything fragile in case you drop it in the sink.
  • Help clean stuff you leave in the sink dry faster.

Mats are an especially good idea for porcelain sinks, which are more prone to chipping. Cheaper mats are about $5 and are made of plastic. More expensive mats are around $15 and are made from silicone. Mats may also help keep your sink clean, reducing the need for scrubbing with chemicals.

rubbermaid-sink-protectors

Rubbermaid Clear Sink Protectors, via Amazon.

Kitchen Sink Caddy/Organizer

Your cleaning sponges and rags will stay nicer longer if you store them in a handy caddy rather than let them marinate in the sink. Caddy options abound: Some hang on the faucet, some hang on the side of the sink, others just sit next to the faucet. Designs range from sleek to funky to functional, you’ll be able to find one that matches your decor. Prices range from $10-$20.

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Stainless Steel Organizer Sink Caddy, via Crate&Barrel.

Kitchen Sink Considerations

How To Buy A Sink That’s Easy To Unclog

Not possible! No matter what sink you buy, keeping your drain free of clogs is up to you. Buy a strainer, that will help keep large food particles from going into the drain. You can run hot water down your drain after you wash, and flush it with a baking soda / vinegar mixture every now and then, but mainly it’s all about keeping food from getting down there.

How To Buy A Sink That’s Easy To Install

You can install your own sink, and major manufacturers try to make it as easy as possible. They want you to use your whole budget on their sink, not reserve $500 for a handyman.

Top mount sinks are considered the easiest to install—since their edges simply rest over your kitchen counter. However, manufacturers are creating undermount sinks that give those a run for their money, like Franke’s fast-in sinks, released in May of 2016, which they claim can be installed without tools.

How To Buy A Sink That Has Easy-To-Get Replacement Parts

Sinks, sink accessories, and sink plumbing are relatively standard, so you shouldn’t have trouble replacing a faucet, sprayer, stopper or anything else. If you’re really worried, go with one of the major manufacturers listed above and you’ll always know you can get a matching part.

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