Restoration Guide: Kitchen and Baths Sinks

Susanne Clemenz

Editor's Note: This is article 6 of 8 in Chapter 6: The Kitchen and Baths Guide of Old House Web Restoration Guide. This guide was developed and edited for old homes from original materials in the U.S. Housing and Urban Development Rehab Guide.


Section 1--Ugly Sink Surfaces Need a Caring Touch

Dirt and bacteria lurk in countertop seams and around faucet and sprayer bases. Mineral stains streak the sides. The old enameled cast iron sink has a chip. In many cases repairs are less costly than replacement, depending on the sink's materials and fabrication. And some old styles merit preservation.

  1. Cultured stone refinishing: Also called cast polymer, this polyester resin has chips of natural stone and often has the natural veined look of true stone. Over-tightening the drain lock nut causes cracks and crazing near the drain's topcoat gel surface. Buff these out with a polishing pad. Call a porcelain repair company for deeper scratches. PROS: Seamless integrated sinks are durable. Many designs and colors. CONS: Tighten the drain lock nut carefully.
  2. Vitreous china repair: Vitrified (heated and fused) ceramic and porcelain create china. Though this material is tough and stain resistant, abrasive cleaners can cause pitting. Two or three coats of a ceramic-like epoxy applied on a dust-free surface restores smoothness. 200-degree heat accelerates drying, which requires about two weeks. PROS: Sanitary, glass-like appearance. Epoxy repair is good for small areas. CONS: Major refinishing is best left to experts.
  3. Enameled steel repair: The steel fixture is not strong and tends to wear and chip. Naval jelly, diluted phosphoric acid, muriatic acid, epoxies, and touch-up paints remove rust and restore damage. Weigh repair costs against replacement costs. PROS: Repair products are less costly than enamelled cast iron. CONS: Patches aren't durable. Colors may not match.
  4. Enameled cast iron touch-ups and repairs: Use non-abrasive cleaners for surface dirt, mild abrasives for more stubborn dirt, and naval jelly, diluted phosphoric acid, or muriatic acid for rust stains. Chip repair is a multi-step process best left to professionals. PROS: Very strong. Doesn't chip easily. CONS: Replacement sinks may be cheaper than repairs.
  5. Steel sink maintenance: Brushed finishes often conceal minor scratches on these tough sinks. Insulated 18-gauge steel with higher nickel content is tops, 22-gauge is budget-quality. Clean surfaces resist corrosion. PROS: Design choices galore. CONS: Uninsulated sinks are noisy. Surface upkeep is easy but ongoing.
  6. Solid surface sink repair: Colors and patterns are all through these synthetic blends, which sometimes also have mineral fillers. Souring pads, 320-400 grit sandpaper, or steel wool can remove most scars. Worse scars can be buffed by a solid surface specialist. PROS: Can be seamless with one-piece sink and countertops. Many patterns and colors. CONS: A bit pricey.

Section 2-- Water Purification Systems

An old house with old plumbing, or even your over-treated municipal water may make home water filtration an important aspect of home renovation. Match your filter to local contaminants.

  1. Carbon faucet or filter: Carbon, whether in granulated or block form, removes an amazing variety of organic contaminants from water. Screw-ons or or filters integrated into the faucet neck or base are available. Odors, dissolved gasses, and even pesticides and radon can be removed if filters are changed four times yearly. If filters become overloaded, they can add contaminants. PROS: Easy installation, inexpensive prices, space-saving. CONS: Only works on installed faucets, not the whole water supply. Carbon filter replacement is essential.
  2. Carbon under-counter filters: These under-sink or near-sink filters may filter water for specific contaminants. Replace filters semi-annually. Install small filters on faucets distant from the main filter. PROS: Less expensive than reverse osmosis systems. CONS: Older sinks with integrated fronts may not permit installation. Takes up storage space.
  3. Reverse osmosis/carbon combination under sink systems: If lead and nitrates pollute your drinking water, this is your system. The carbon filter must first remove chlorine (and all the other contaminants.) Then reverse osmosis removes a host of horrors like radioactive particles, heavy metals, and asbestos by forcing water through membranes. Replace membranes every one-to-three years. PROS: Combined filters block almost all contaminants. Near-sink installation possible to preserve cabinet storage. CONS: Expensive. May not work with integrated-front older sinks.

Section 3--Home Renovation Can Conserve Water

Simple, inexpensive devices can beef up home water efficiency.

  1. Go low-flow! 2.5 gallons per minute for kitchen faucets and 2.0 gpm for lavatories are good targets for replacement faucets. PROS: Lower water bills. CONS: An aerator may be needed to increase water pressure.
  2. Faucet aerators: Add to each low flow faucet to increase the effective pressure, although flow rates remain the same. Unscrew and clean monthly. PROS: Simple screw-on installation, cheap, very effective. CONS: Type of stream created is unfamiliar.
  3. Faulty faucet fittings: Leaking faucets leak cash flow. Turn off water under sink. Remove faucet and clean any debris. Replace washer if present. Buy a rebuild kit for washerless styles. If faucet still leaks, cost of a new faucet is mitigated by water savings. PROS: Repair materials are cheap. CONS: If home repair doesn't work, call a plumber.

Section 4--Creating Maximum Access in Kitchens and Bathrooms

Remodeling goals in regards to water means that every resident, regardless of age or capabilities, has easy, safe water access. Many small improvements can further that goal.

  1. Diverter spray: Tasks like shampooing, cleaning dishes, and bathing babies can be facilitated with a pull-out diverter spray that switches from aerated to needle spray. Install one in kitchen and bathroom sinks and in the shower. PROS: Put the water where and how you want it. CONS: Requires another drilled hole on the sink deck.
  2. Scald protection: Sudden changes in water pressure can abruptly change water temperature--special hazards for the young or the old. Devices to balance pressure and temperature this will either shut off the water or can be preset to desired maximum temp. PROS: Existing faucets can accept some devices. CONS: Water contaminants can eventually degrade effectiveness.
  3. Goosenecks: These high, curved faucets make filling tall pots and vases, or shampooing in a sink, easier. PROS: Increased clearance. CONS: Water flow must be minimal for shallow receptacles.
  4. Instant hot or cold water: Faucets that provide 190-degree water for tea and soup or 43- to 53-degree water for cold drinks are a great convenience, and the water can be filtered. PROS: Saves time, water, and energy. Eliminate need for refrigerator dispenser. CONS: Water chiller and dispenser sold separately.
  5. Pot fillers: These folding, jointed faucets mount behind the stove and extend to both front and back burners. PROS: Saves carrying big filled pots. CONS: Expensive if installing plumbing lines is involved.
  6. Pedal valves: Control faucets from both toe kick and hand locations. Great for seated operation. PROS: Inexpensive with easy installation and color choices. CONS: Requires minor cabinet adjustments.
  7. Touchless controls: Whether operated electronically or by battery, a motion sensor turns on timed water at preset temperature and pressure. Some have manual overrides. PROS: Conserves water. Helpful if hand strength is lacking. CONS: Battery lasts about one year. Sometimes turns on unintentionally.

For more information on water conservation and accessibility issues in your old home, check out article 7 on tubs and showers.


About the Author
Suzanne Clemenz designed her passive solar home and interacted with the contractors every day of the 6-month project. She started drawing floor plans and making models in the early '70s after purchasing several building lots. Recently she expanded and remodelled her newly-purchased home, working with contractors on the floorplan, electrical changes, painting, installation of wood laminate flooring, flood prevention walls and stonework, major drainage issues, an irrigation system and a landscaping. Researching and keeping up on issues and products related to home design and maintenance is an ongoing avocation.

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