I knew I wanted to put in a classic, farmhouse sink during my kitchen remodel (check out the progress at #SeventiesKitchenRehab on Instagram). I had no idea how difficult it would be to pick out the best farmhouse sinks. After all my research, I decided to compile and share what I’ve learned in this handy guide to purchasing a farmhouse sink. Be sure to pin this post so you’ll have it handy when you need it.
I’ve been smitten with these iconic farm sinks, also known as apron-front sinks, ever since we had one in a dusty basement apartment as newlyweds in Alexandria, VA, about 15 years ago. That sink was pretty much the only thing I liked about the place, but I remember it being so big I could almost take a bath in it.
THIS is the kitchen sink of my dreams. I figured that it would be pretty easy to find, but when I typed “farm sink” into the Home Depot website, I was quickly overwhelmed by choices… not only in design, styling and color but also in material. I knew I wanted plain and white, but I had no idea whether I wanted fireclay, cast iron or stainless steel. What type of apron front sink material is best?
So naturally I googled… and googled and googled some more. I spent weeks, OK obviously not every moment of the day during those weeks, but in my spare time I read through every article I could turn up on which type of farmhouse sink was best.
I really wanted to know how to pick the best farmhouse sink, but the problem was there was SO much conflicting information online. One article said that fireclay kitchen sinks are best. Fireclay, a ceramic material similar to pottery that is handmade, was preferable to cast iron because if fireclay chips it’s a solid color throughout so it won’t show as much. Whereas, when the enamel chips off cast iron sinks, it can cause ugly rust spots — think horrible, rusty old bathtub. Come to think of it there might have been one of those in that basement apartment too. Anyway, I knew for sure I didn’t want THAT for my dream kitchen. So fireclay was it.
Then I read another article that said the opposite — choose cast iron because at least those chips can be repaired, BUT I’m thinking to myself, “Are you SURE they won’t rust??”
Still on the fireclay bandwagon, I read another article raving about its benefits but also noting to be careful not to over-tighten the flange on the garbage disposal or you could crack the sink?! SAY WHAT?!! Just tightening a screw too tight could ruin my whole fireclay farmhouse sink?
I thought about stainless steel for a while too. They look so sleek, are much lighter, tend to be less expensive, and are easier to install (appealing to us as do-it-yourselfers). Plus I could avoid the whole Fireclay vs. Cast Iron / Enamel argument, which I couldn’t seem to get to the bottom of.
Speaking of the whole issue of farmhouse sink installation, as DIY-ers we were admittedly nervous about taking on what is generally seen as a difficult, over-our-heads project. (But don’t stress! I’ve got a tutorial coming on how to install a farmhouse sink. It really wasn’t that bad — totally doable.)
I was seriously tempted to take the easy way out with the stainless steel option, but something inside was nagging at me for the classic WHITE farmhouse sink. That was my dream, no shortcuts.
So there I was, my kitchen plans paralyzed with indecision. I didn’t have the first idea which sink to choose or how we’d get said sink installed into its place in my dream kitchen.
Luckily on Kohler’s website, I noticed they sell sinks made from fireclay, cast iron and stainless steel, which meant I could trust them to give me a straight answer on which material was best. So I spoke with Mike Marbach, a product specialist from Kohler. I explained my confusion and he cleared things up fast. Here’s what he said…
First of all, it turns out that when it comes to kitchen sinks, fireclay should NOT even be an option! He said fireclay sinks are fine for bathrooms, but given the wear and tear on kitchen sinks, think pots and pans going in and out, fireclay is way too prone to chipping and cracking for such heavy use. If the durability wasn’t issue enough, fireclay sinks also have considerable size variations from one to the next, since they are handmade, which can be very difficult for cabinet planning.
Kohler sells tons of enameled cast iron sinks. “BUT THE RUST!” I probably wailed in his ear. Then he taught me something very important. There are two types of enameled kitchen and bath products — Enameled Cast Iron and Enameled Steel.
The original, which Kohler has made for over a hundred years, is Enameled Cast Iron. It is very hard, rigid and heavy iron, powder coated with an enamel coating. Enameled Cast Iron is the super durable stuff that those iconic vintage farm sinks are made from — those sinks that are decades old and still look perfect.
Enameled cast iron sinks became so iconic and popular that a much cheaper Enameled Steel option flooded the market. The problem here is that the steel is more flexible than iron, which means it is far more prone to chipping and denting. It can be very hard to tell by looking if it’s Enameled Steel or Cast Iron, and many people don’t even realize there is a difference between the two. Which means when the horrors of a rusted-out, enameled sink (or bath tub) began to permeate public awareness, both types of enameled materials took the rap.
So you see… that horrible rusty tub I was afraid of — that was enameled steel, and the gorgeous sink in my basement apartment — vintage enameled cast iron.
In fact Kohler is so confident in the durability of their Enameled Cast Iron Apron Front Sinks that they offer a lifetime guarantee against chipping, cracking or burning. That was good enough for me. The Kohler Whitehaven Enameled Cast Iron sink was the winner, and I was so grateful that Kohler offered to send me the sink to use in our project. (I have a 30-inch base cabinet and the sink I used is the Whitehaven 30-inch sink with the deeper apron Model No. K-6487-0.)
Mike also taught me a few things about the Stainless Steel sinks, which Kohler does offer. He said to pay attention to the gauge of the steel for the sink since that is how the quality of steel is measured. A lower number is actually better, since lower gauges are thicker. So a sink made from 18-gauge steel is better than one made from 24-gauge. Stainless steel is resistant to chipping and staining but can be susceptible to scratching. Mike recommends getting a sink rack to help protect your sink. Kohler has options that are designed specifically to fit each of their sinks.
Kohler also has an answer for installation woes. They make self-trimming apron front sinks in both stainless steel and enameled cast iron, which takes all the stress out of making a perfect installation cut for the sink. If you’re going to DIY I seriously would not even consider a different sink.
Since I had him on the phone, I also asked Mike for some tips on keeping my Kohler Cast Iron Sink looking pristine. He said that while the sink will never scratch, they can pick up black marks that are what is called metal transfer. Essentially the sink is tougher than your pots, so the finish on your pots and pans is actually scratching off on the sink. A non-abrasive cleaner is the answer. I know what you’re thinking… if it’s so durable than why use a non-abrasive cleaner? I wondered the same thing, and I asked him. The abrasive cleaners won’t scratch the surface, but they can make them less shiny, giving your sink a dull appearance. So if you want to keep your sink looking new, Mike recommends using Bar Keeper’s Friend.
Here is a peek at my new sink… you guys it all looks SO good I can barely believe it’s real. Like every time I walk in, I’m thinking, “Is this really my kitchen?”
PHOTO CREDITS: Special thanks to Kohler for providing the beautiful kitchen images for this post, besides the photo of my kitchen, which was taken by Classy Clutter. DISCLOSURE: Kohler was kind enough to provide products for our kitchen project, but we freely chose only our favorite products and no company had any influence over our opinions.
About the author
Bettijo is the founder and designer of Paging Supermom where she shares what she's dreamed up for family fun. Known for practical and kid-friendly activities, free printables and simple ideas for holidays. She is a single mom of three girls and one boy. Bettijo was a guest on the Martha Stewart Show and has frequently appeared on local television. Her work has also been featured in national magazines including Real Simple, O, Redbook, Parents, Family Circle, and Health. During quieter moments, she enjoys art, retro-modern design, photography and making new things. Bettijo lives with her four kiddos in Phoenix, Arizona.