Copper sinks have gained popularity in recent years and continue to be a top choice amongst high end home owners because of their unique design and aesthetic. Copper also has a unique benefit which is that it is antimicrobial, which means that bacteria and germs including E. coli, influenza, staphylococcus and more can only live on copper for 1-2 hours, versus days or even weeks for stainless steel and porcelain. This inherent feature of copper makes it an ideal material for kitchen and bathroom sinks.
There are a lot of factors to consider before buying a copper sink for your home and with the product offerings out there it is worth doing a little research so you can compare apples to apples.
Types of Copper Sinks
There are three main types of copper sinks, which are bathroom sinks, kitchen sinks and bar/prep sinks.
Copper bathroom sinks can be further broken up into three categories,
1) Under mount sinks
2) Drop in sinks
3) Vessel sinks.
Similarly, copper kitchen sinks as well as copper bar and prep sinks also have three main categories
1) Under mount sinks
2) Drop in sinks
3) Apron / Farmhouse Sinks
Under mount copper sinks are, as you might expect, mounted underneath the countertop surface. Typically these sinks, whether they are for the kitchens, bars or bathrooms have a flat rim. The flat rim is used to adhere the sink to the bottom of the countertop and allows the sink to sit flush underneath the surface of the counter, so there are no gaps between the sink and the bottom of the counter. Under mounted copper sinks are typically used with solid countertop materials, such as natural stone or composites like quartz and solid surface.
Drop in copper sinks are the opposite of under mount sinks, they are dropped in to the cut-out in countertop with the rim exposed above the counter. The rim is what keeps the sink in place and prevents it from going through the cut out in the countertop, because of this, drop in sinks typically have rounded or slightly bevelled rims.
Copper vessel sinks sit entirely above the countertop; they do not require any cut outs in the countertop other than a hole for the drain to pass through. Copper vessel sinks are only used in bathrooms and provide a modern aesthetic while still maintaining the old world charm of copper.
Lastly, copper apron sinks which are used in the kitchen are somewhat of a hybrid design. The front part of the sink has a decorative apron panel that sits just in front of the countertop edge and is left exposed once installed. The rest of the sink is either under mounted or dropped in, depending on the design. For this reason the cabinetry and countertop need to be specially fabricated to accommodate a copper apron sink. They are also referred to as farm house sinks because this type of sink design was often found in old farm house kitchens.
Choosing a Copper Sink
Once you have decided on what type of copper sink you need for your kitchen, bathroom or bar, you can start looking at suitable products in that category. There are a few important things to consider when buying a copper sink, the most important being the quality of the copper. Many of the lower cost, lower quality copper sinks that come from China are not pure copper; they often contain metal additives such as bronze or even tin. The finish of the sink can sometimes be a dead give away, but it is often hard to spot just in a photo. A real copper sink should be 98% pure copper or higher. It has been said that the highest quality copper sinks come from Mexico, followed by India.
The second most important factor to look at when buying a copper sink is the thickness. The following may sound counterintuitive, but the lower the gauge of the sink, the thicker the material. For example, a 14 gauge sink is thicker than an 18 gauge sink. The gauge of the copper will certainly vary from sink to sink, but as a general rule copper bathroom sinks should be a minimum of 18 gauge, with 16 gauge being preferential. Copper kitchen sinks, especially farmhouse sinks should be a minimum of 16 gauge but the higher quality ones are often 14 gauge. A copper sink made of a thin sheet of copper, such as a 20 gauge will not only have tendency to warp and dent easily, but will also give a “tinny” sound when water hits the surface, two things that are certainly not desirable when owning a copper sink.
The third and final factor to consider when looking at copper sinks is their construction. This is particularly important for kitchen sinks because of their size and frequency of use, but is certainly a deciding factor for bathroom and bar sinks too. The basic shape of a quality copper sink is created in one of two ways either by hand forming a single sheet into a sink, a long process done by gifted artisans which are continuously heating and hammering the copper into a shape, or by machine press, which takes a flat piece of copper and presses it into shape using a mould. It’s true that the machine press method doesn’t seem as authentic and exotic but this method offers repeatability and accuracy, and in the end can often lead to a better looking product. There are a couple things in particular you have to watch for when purchasing a copper kitchen sink. Often, copper kitchen sinks, especially apron sinks, cannot be formed from a single sheet of copper, but from separate elements which are then welded together. It is important to check the quality of these welds, to ensure they are smooth and not sharp and that they have good contact between both pieces of metal. Finally, with copper kitchen sinks you want to check the quality of the interior edges and corners to ensure they are free of burs, rough spots and have a clean interface with each other.
The Patina Effect and Cleaning Copper Sinks
Copper is a material that has a living finish, which means it changes over time as it reacts to the environment it is in. When copper comes in contact with air and water an oxidation process occurs which usually turns the copper finish a darker color and gives it a more natural look. Some people appreciate this living finish, while others would rather keep the copper sink looking like it did the day it was installed.
For copper sinks with a polished finish, most recommend Wrights Copper Cream, it will keep your copper looking shiny and new, Wrights Copper Cream should not be used with copper sinks that have a dark patina because it may cause staining and removal of the patina all together.
For darker copper sinks cleaning should only be done with soap and water. Do not use any abrasive cleaners or chemical cleaners on copper sinks, they can and likely will damage the finish. The patina process can be slowed or stopped by creating a layer between the air and the copper sink, this is usually done by waxing the copper sink. Flitz Faucet and Fixture Wax is an ideal product to protect the finish, but pure carnauba wax, often found in higher end car polishes, will also work.
Old World Charm with a Modern Twist
Copper sinks are suitable for traditional homes just as much as they are in contemporary homes. Copper has the wonderful ability to tie in other rich materials like wood and stone, to create a naturally inspired, welcoming space.
Whether you are looking for a copper bathroom sink, bar sink or kitchen sink it is important to ensure you are getting a quality product made from real copper that is thick enough for the type of sink it is. It is equally important to make sure the construction and overall finish of the product is near perfect, so that you can enjoy it in your home for years to come.