7 Differences Between Cheap & Expensive Stainless Steel Kitchen Sinks

A kitchen sink is one of the most important purchases you’ll make for your home because it’s something you use multiple times a day. When remodeling my home a few years ago I knew I wanted a stainless steel sink because it was cheaper than other available options. I did wonder though, why some sinks cost $100 while others were $700 or more.

So What are the Differences between Cheap and Expensive Stainless Steel Sinks?

  • The quality of the stainless steel used – better quality means more expensive
  • The gauge or thickness of the stainless steel – thicker means more expensive but with a caveat
  • Cheaper stainless steel sinks offer less resistance to discoloration and corrosion
  • More expensive sinks may be more resistant to scratches and dents & restore better
  • Expensive stainless steel sinks are more durable
  • Better quality sinks have noise reducing materials added
  • The overall size and type of sink – double bowl or single bowl and single or double drainers

So there you have the main differences between the cheap sinks and the more expensive ones but if you are searching for the best value for money you’ll need to have a bit more information. So let’s explore in a little more detail and get some useful information to enable you to be able to make an informed decision.

What is the Best Grade of Stainless Steel for Domestic Kitchen Sinks?

In terms of durability and cost-effectiveness, 316 stainless steel is the best. 304 is the most common and the best value for money. 430 grade is high chromium stainless steel but lacks durability, flexibility and is not so resistant to denting. In terms of design, other considerations may come into play which may lead you to look at different materials for color or style.

Concentrating on stainless steel though, it is important to realize that there is a lot of difference between grades.

Despite the label “stainless”, this is no guarantee that discoloration will not occur eventually.  That’s because the substances and compounds used in its manufacture differ both in composition and ratio of amounts used.

You probably already know that steel is made from iron and therefore will rust when the iron oxidizes when exposed to the air.  Therefore metals are added to the steel to provide anti-corroding properties.

Stainless steel includes some amounts of nickel, magnesium, copper, and other metals, but it’s the presence of chromium that prevents steel from oxidizing and developing a thin layer of rust.  It does this as the Chromium oxidizes just as iron does but without the discoloration and this oxidized chromium prevents air getting to the iron underneath and so stops the iron rusting.

In enough quantity, the presence of a chromium oxide layer will prevent your sink from rusting.

There are 100 different grades of stainless steel and they are broken down into five groups but I won’t bore you with the details. What you should know is that chromium doesn’t come cheap and the larger the percentage of chromium found in your sink the more durable it will be against tarnishing.

The very lowest grade stainless steel has chromium levels between 10 and 12 percent and should be avoided at all costs.  These are liable to pitting, discoloring and usually originate from China as cheap copies.  Western standard grade Stainless Steel is 18% chromium, while the most expensive grades out there may have up to 30%!

The other metal usually added to the steel along with the chromium is nickel. Nickel is added to give additional strength and flexibility because steel is actually quite a brittle substance without additive metals.

The standard grade in this space is 18:8 that is 18% chromium and 8% nickel. This ratio offers the best durability and strength for the lowest price and is also commonly known as 304 stainless steel.  It is fairly durable, is hygienic and has good corrosion resistance and allows some ‘spring’.

The biggest downside to T-304 stainless is it is quite susceptible to corrosion from salt and other acids especially at higher temperatures.  To counter this the next grade is 316 which comprises 17% Chromium, 10% Nickel, and 2% Molybdenum.  The Molybdenum provides much better corrosion resistance and sometimes found in the more expensive stainless steel sinks.  If you live near the coast then it would be worth paying extra for the additional anti-corrosive properties.

Another grade of stainless is 430 grade which is 17% chromium.  This is a magnetic stainless steel which is hygienic and is more often used in kitchens for appliances such as the sheet metal used as external surfaces for extractor hoods and the like.

Stainless Steel Kitchen Sink

Which Gauge of Stainless Steel is Best for Kitchen Sinks?

16 gauge is best, 18 gauge is cheaper but still good, 20 gauge and above is too thin and will end up a false economy unless in a very low use area. 14 gauge is even thicker but usually not found in domestic kitchen sinks.

The thickness of stainless steel is measured in gauges. The larger the gauge the thinner the metal and vice versa. So a 22 gauge stainless steel sink, which is the thinnest common in the industry, would be cheaper than for instance a 14 gauge stainless steel that might be used in more commercial situations.

In the short term, the thickness of the steel isn’t significant. But if you’re looking for a sink that is durable and able to withstand heavy pots and pans being dropped on it as well as rougher wear and tear over time, then go for something a little more expensive and thicker.

Generally small, non-frequently used sinks, with no garbage disposal, like those installed in home bars or in garages, can have a gauge between 19 and 22. However, for home use, and if you don’t want your entire kitchen counter to shake every time you turn on the waste disposal unit, go for a 16 or 18 gauge steel.

The thickness of steel affects both the longevity of the sink as well as the overall shine.  That’s why restaurants and cafes always have glossy looking kitchens. They use expensive stainless steel with a 14 or 16 gauge.

The other consideration with sinks made from 20 gauge and upwards stainless steel is the flex in the metal.  Obviously thinner metal distorts more than thicker metal and this means it is easier to dent.

Not only that, the flexibility of the sink can easily break the seals at the drainage outlets resulting in leakage into your kitchen units.  And kitchen units do not usually respond well to getting wet.  This fact alone should be enough to deter you from cheap thin sinks which might save a few dollars on purchase price and cause hundreds of dollars in repair costs to your wet swollen kitchen units after a time!

How to Avoid Discoloration & Corrosion of the Stainless Steel Surfaces

Chromium added to the steel is the primary protection against discoloration.  But Molybdenum provides even better protection as well as having better anti-corrosion properties.  Obviously avoiding long-term exposure to salt and acid left on the surface will greatly reduce any corrosion.  Also, avoid leaving coffee, tea, and other staining compounds on the surfaces for long periods.

The Grain of Brushed Stainless Steel
The ‘ Grain’ Follows the Lines

You should also look out for staining from hard water which can build up deposits on the shiny surfaces which don’t look good and are not very hygienic either.  The best way to minimize these is to make sure you wipe up any water as soon as you are finished washing up.  This stops the crystallization of the minerals in the water attaching themselves to the surfaces and building up.

You can clean off these residues with a commercial descaling liquid which should be thoroughly washed down afterward with soapy water.  You can also try a mixture of lemon or lime and 5% vinegar.  When doing this use only a nylon Skotchbrite type scourer and scrub in the direction of the steel grain if a brushed finished.  Take special care with highly polished finishes where scourers should not be used at all as they will scratch the surface. Use a soft cloth instead.

How to Avoid Scratching Stainless Steel & Restoring Scratched Surfaces

When it comes to scratches and dents, the more expensive stainless steel is going to much reduce the problem.  But even that is not perfect and some scratches are inevitable.

Almost every household has some kind of stainless steel product or appliance, whether its a toaster, smartphone, or sink. Most of these items accumulate scratches during their lifetime. The nature of shiny and mirrored finish metal materials is that they are prone to scuffs.

Generally, you can clean and polish out small scuff marks with either a commercial steel polishing compound or a mild rubbing compound.  You could even use toothpaste! Just remember to use a soft cloth to apply and rub in the direction of the grain.

The grain of the steel refers to the fine lines that can be seen in brushed stainless.  If the stainless steel is highly polished and shiny like a mirror then you will not see any grain and in this case, you will need to polish very carefully with a propriety stainless polishing compound to restore the finish.

There is not much to be done with dents and large deep dents are nearly impossible to restore. You could have these professionally beaten out and repolished but in most cases, it is not cost effective and you may as well just buy replace the sink. Luckily, more expensive stainless steel material could help you avoid some of these calamities as they are more resistant to damage.

Higher quality sinks are usually given a polished finish that not only gives the product a bright and glossy look but also protects it relatively well from small dents and scratches. However, don’t expect that just because you pay extra your kitchen sink all of a sudden won’t be vulnerable to scores and scuffs. Stainless steel is generally more prone to scratches than other materials.

But here’s some good news:

More expensive stainless steel sinks not only have higher amounts of chromium and sometimes molybdenum, but the chromium has a passive self-repair quality which prevents deep scratches from exposing the metal to oxidation. So even when the surface gets scuffed up, it will not rust, which makes the higher price point absolutely worth it!

How Much More Durable are Expensive vs Cheaper Stainless Steel Sinks?

Stainless steel is a pretty durable material for normal household use if we are talking about purely practical usability.  But you are probably just as concerned with how the sink looks and how hygienic it is, meaning a loose definition of durability more than being technically precise.

As explained above the more expensive and sturdier composite stainless materials are better able to withstand knocks, dents, scratches, and corrosion to a greater or lesser extent.  A cheap material will quickly begin to look shabby, scratched and lose any sheen on the shinier bits.

The better quality sinks will last a lot longer before showing too many signs of wear if you care for them moderately.  Obviously, no finished surface is going to be able to withstand gross mistreatment.

The other point is that you are far more likely to look upon a good quality sink with an easier eye because it works for you than a cheap, shallow sink that makes it difficult to wash pans and ends up with water splashing over the sides, ruining your units underneath and wetting the floor under your washing up feet.

Noise Reduction & Keeping them Clean

Keeping your sinks clean is absolutely critical. It’s where you wash your dishes and handle your food so keeping the area clean is an easy way to avoid bacteria and other uninvited guests. Luckily cleaning stainless steel is fairly simple, just give it a quick soap bath with a rough sponge and some hot water.

The problem you have to avoid is scratching too hard at the surface. If you use a rough wipe or sponge on your cheap kitchen sink, then you will eventually scratch the surface and expose the material to potential oxidation and rusting. For a longer lasting and more durable sink go for the higher priced option.

There is, of course, one other issue.

Have you ever noticed how you can’t stand the sound of water running for too long? Well, it’s not the water it’s your sink!
Cheap sinks tend to amplify the sound your faucet makes whenever you’re using it. Fortunately, expensive stinks are provided with noise canceling material to the underside. The simplest form is just strategically placed rubber pads bonded on to the underside – these are typically found on the cheaper end of the quality range.

A far better solution is a layer of insulant material, either sprayed or bonded on to the underside of the sink.  This not only reduces the drum like vibration as water pounds into the sink but also helps reduce humid air condensing on the underside of the sink and dripping down into the kitchen sink unit.  If your sink is noisy but otherwise good enough then you can buy sound deadening mats to stick on from Amazon.

Now, this doesn’t mean your sink is like James Bond with a silencer but the noise pollution from water is significantly reduced with more costly models.

Undermount Sink in Marble – Note Seal Issue between Sink and Marble

How Much does the Size & Type of Kitchen Sink Affect Cost?

The cost of a stainless steel kitchen sink really comes down to the material quality and gauge. The size and type of the sink will also have a huge bearing on the cost.  Double bowl sinks are more expensive than a single bowl & double and single drainer sinks more expensive than ones with none.

The other points mentioned above are also factors but to a much lesser extent.

A good stainless steel sink can set you back $4-500 but with all the factors in play, the cost can range anywhere from $100 to $800.

If you are looking for a small wash area that you aren’t going to use all that often and don’t mind the noise or a few scratches here and there then go for something on the cheaper side. However, for those who seek durability and a good lifetime value of a product then something on the more expensive end is definitely worth the extra coin.

One final point worth mentioning is that stainless steel kitchen sinks are made either to sit into an opening in the work surface and are sealed between the ‘lip’ of the sink and surface it sits on- often called topmount or inset sinks.

Another type is where the sink sits underneath the work surface and sealed at the joint.  These are called undermount sinks.  One of these is featured in the image above.

The final, less common type are flush mounted sinks which sit into a rebate in the countertop and sealed in the rebate.

Which Sink is Best for Your Kitchen?

You really have to weigh the pros and cons here but the best sink will be the one that fits your design needs, your usability needs such as size, how important the sink continues to look good for a long time. Marble, quartz, copper, enameled and porcelain sinks compete with the ubiquitous stainless steel sinks. Consider your needs and your budget.

Should I buy a Single or a Double Bowl Kitchen Sink?

A good quality single bowl sink will have a good depth and be large enough to easily wash large pans without the risk of water splashing onto the surrounding surfaces.  A double bowl sink provides the benefits of being better to house a waste disposal unit conveniently and being able to dual task. Often useful to wash up in one and rinse in the other.

Should I buy a kitchen sink with a drainer?

This is a matter of personal taste, space available and the material around the sink.  If you have non-porous kitchen worktops then you do not strictly need a drainer although the drainage channels in a drainer help avoid surface water pooling from crockery draining. Sinks with drainers are probably a good idea unless there are design or space constraints to counter the drainage benefits they provide.

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