Q&A / 

Stainless Steel Sinks – Great Choice!

DEAR TIM: I need to make a decision concerning the sink for my new kitchen. I am leaning heavily towards stainless steel. What are the pros and cons of stainless steel sinks? Some sinks seem thin and low quality. Why? Can you keep these sinks looking brilliant for long periods of time? R. E.

DEAR R.E.: Ahhhhh .... there is something about that cool, silver, metal that catches my eye as well. In fact, the combination of an undermount stainless steel sink with a solid surface or natural stone countertop can really become the focal point of a kitchen. Traditional drop in sinks also can add a dramatic finishing touch to your new kitchen space.

Stainless steel was not originally developed for the kitchen industry. Just after the turn of the century Harry Brearley, an English metal scientist, was trying to solve wear problems in gun barrels. He blended chromium with regular steel in varying amounts. One day, he noticed that the scrap from these experiments didn't rust when exposed to rain. It didn't take long for steel companies to figure out where this new material should really be used!

The stainless steel found in residential kitchen sinks is not all the same. It contains different percentages of steel, chromium, and nickel. Usually the stainless steel alloy in your kitchen sink contains 18 percent chromium and 8 - 10 percent nickel. Other ingredients are sometimes added in small amounts as well. The presence of chromium allows the sink to maintain its shiny appearance. Nickel softens the steel so that it can be shaped more easily.

Just as regular steel rusts, so does stainless steel. Stainless steel rust, though, is an invisible layer which can actually make the sink more corrosion resistant. However, stainless steel sinks can be stained. Although stainless steel is a highly corrosion resistant metal, it is not immune to damage from ordinary household chemicals. Chlorine bleach, cleaners that contain chlorine bleach, muriatic acid used to clean ceramic tile, solvents found in construction adhesives and other building supplies can and will damage stainless steel.

Residential stainless steel sinks come in a wide range of designs, shapes, bowl configurations, and thicknesses. Thickness is often referred to as gauge. The gauge thickness may range from 18 to 23 gauge. This thickness difference can be dramatic. An 18 gauge steel is almost twice as thick as 23 gauge steel. The thin sinks that oilcan or flex are most likely 23 gauge. The extra money spent on the 18 gauge sinks is well worth it, in my opinion.

You can maintain and preserve the brilliant factory appearance of stainless steel. You need to minimize the use of harsh abrasive cleaners. These roughen the surface of the stainless steel. If you scrub across the grain of the factory applied finish you can harm the finish. The smoother you keep the steel, the tougher the invisible rust will become.

If you use chlorine bleach as a sanitizer, be sure to thoroughly rinse the sink after its use. Rinse completely your washrag, cleaning pads, and any other object that might rest on the sink. Always rinse all detergents as well. Some liquid or powdered soaps contain chemicals which will stain and corrode stainless steel. Try not to use rubber mats in the sink. Mats protect the sink bottom, however, they also prevent the complete rinsing of harmful chemicals. For ultimate protection, dry the sink completely after it has been rinsed.

Visit plumbing supply houses that carry a full line of stainless steel products. Look for sinks that have handy ribbed sideboards, custom fitting cutting boards, and sinks that contain suspended stainless steel grids. The grids allow you to clean heavy objects without scratching the bottom of your beautiful new sink.


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