Whether your bathroom is a carefully crafted space devoted to pampering or a glorified closet that merely serves a purpose, it's going to need a faucet. Finding the right one for the space is important, but given the wealth of styles and options, this can be a trying proposition. Whether you need a new faucet for a new bathroom, vanity or sink - or you're simply replacing an old faucet - let us help you get started!
What types of bathroom faucets are out there? What kind can you use, and where is it going? On the countertop of a vanity? Directly on the sink deck? On the wall? How many holes are available for mounting the faucet? Knowing what can be installed with ease, what requires extra work, and what won't work in your bathroom is key to saving time and cutting through the clutter.
- Centerset faucets are easily recognized by their "all-in-one" design that includes two handles on a deck plate. They have long been the standard in most bathrooms (though their popularity does seem to be waning), and are perfect for small sinks and tight spaces. These faucets require three holes in the sink or mounting surface; the distance between the handles is 4 inches (measured from the center of each hole). If you're replacing a centerset faucet, it's usually best to go with another centerset, a "minispread" faucet, or a single handle faucet with deck plate (to cover the unused holes).
- Widespread faucets require three holes and typically have their handles set 8" apart, though adjustable models are available that accommodate distances of up to 16". Given their generous spacing, these faucets do not utilize deck plates; the spout and handles are each mounted separately. If you have a larger sink or counter space and like the look/operation of a two-handle faucet, a widespread model is for you.
- Minispread (or "mini-widespread") faucets are what happens when centerset and widespread faucets have a baby. Utilizing the same dimensions as the centerset (4" between handle centers), but eschewing the deck plate in favor of individually mounted handles like a widespread faucet, minispreads impart a more modern look to any small space.
- Single-handle faucets, like centersets, are one of the most common bathroom sightings. They typically utilize only one hole, and can be designed with a small footprint (covering only the single hole) or with a wide deckplate to cover over any unused holes on the sink deck/countertop. Some models will separate the spout from the handle, and so require two holes.
- Wall-mounted faucets are most often associated with the kitchen, but can be found in an increasing number of bathrooms. They can be made to work anywhere, but these faucets are best-suited for vessel sinks that sit above the counter (or even pedestal sinks) given the height of the faucet relative to the top of the counter. Wall-mounted faucets almost always feature two handles, and usually follow the spacing conventions of widespread faucets with either 8" fixed centers, or adjustable centers for lesser or greater spacing.
- Pro Tip: Wall-mounted faucets require a bit more measuring and planning than other options. You'll need to be sure that the spout will extend well over the sink basin, and be at a comfortable position for your various routines. Consider the angle of the spout outlet, the height at which the water exits, and the height of the sink wall: depending on the strength of flow - and the placement of your hands when washing - splashing could make for wet floors/countertops.
- Vessel faucets are taller than most and usually have only one handle. Sometimes called "tall spout" faucets, they're tall enough to accommodate vessel sinks that sit on the countertop. You'll need to make sure that the faucet not only clears the rim of your sink, but does so in a visually-pleasing way; a faucet that reaches only 1" over the sink will probably look and feel awkward (depending on the angle at which water exits).
Type of Installation
New Sink (or New Countertop)
- If the faucet is to be part of an entirely new bathroom sink installation, the world's your oyster. Limited only by your own budget and design considerations, you need only ensure compatibility between the mounting surface (sink deck/countertop/wall), the sink itself, and the faucet.
- Faucets mounted on the sink deck or a new counter surface should be purchased before the sink/countertop - this will allow you to specify the number and location of predrilled holes in the mounting surface directly with the manufacturer prior to receipt. While some materials can be modified at home, you're much better off having the new sink or counter arrive ready to go.
- Merely replacing a faucet can be a breeze if you aren't looking for anything different: just match the type, size, and number of holes available and you're pretty much good to go!
- If you desire a more drastic change from the previous faucet, you'll need to consider the number of holes available to you on the mounting surface: if your dream faucet requires fewer holes, it'll either need to come with a deck plate or you'll need to find appropriate faucet hole covers or escutcheons.
- Pay close attention to the size of deck plates, escutcheons and hole covers: depending on the sink/vanity installation, they could fit awkwardly or create an "uncleanable" gap between themselves and the wall.
- If more holes are needed for the new faucet, you'll need to consider the ease with which they can be added to the mounting surface. Note that some sink and counter materials can be difficult to modify without professional equipment/expertise, and that such modification could void warranties.
Pro Tip: If you're adding/replacing a countertop-mounted faucet, check the faucet specs! You'll need to look for a "finished/maximum deck thickness" - so long as your countertop is at or below this thickness, the faucet will be fine. 1" to 1-1/2" is standard for countertops, and most faucets will accommodate up to 1-1/2" (some beyond). If the counter is too thick for the faucet you want, check with the manufacturer to see if a "faucet shank extension kit" is available for your model. Depending on the counter material, some professionals will counterbore or chisel a larger hole on the underside so the original shanks can be used.
- Unless the bathroom has been built specifically for a wall faucet, installation may be more challenging than with a deck mounted faucet. Studs in the wall might have to be moved if they prevent placement of the faucet where you need it (almost always at the sink's centerline). An access panel (or shutoff valves/stops at the very least) should also be installed underneath the sink or on the other side of the wall to allow for easier service and repair.
- Beware of outside walls! Those in cold winter climates are advised against installing wall-mounted faucets on exterior perimeter walls, given the increased risk of water supply pipes freezing there. While there are several methods of combating this - insulation, heat cables, windbreaks - consider the risks before going forward.
- Bathroom faucets are usually easier to size than their kitchen counterparts, but there are some unique considerations to keep in mind. Namely, the presence of cabinets and mirrors above the bathroom sink. While most bath faucets are relatively short, higher-arc models are becoming more popular. If you're interested in a taller faucet, measure the vertical distance between the mounting surface and any cabinets or mirrors above, as well as how far they stick out of the wall - is there room for the faucet? Will it prevent use of the cabinet, or be an annoying distraction at the bottom of the mirror?
- Pay close attention to the reach of the faucet (how far the spout extends from the base), and the angle of the spout outlet. Measure the distance between the faucet's mounting point and the centerline of the sink - will the spout extend far enough, or will your hands brush the back of the sink? Are you comfortable with where your hands will be when washing? And most importantly: will water splash out of the sink? Water coming out of the faucet should never hit the side or front walls of a sink, especially if it exits at an angle.
- Consider the habits of yourself and others that will be using the faucet regularly - things like: how high do you prefer to hold your hands when rinsing them? Do you ever wash items in the bathroom sink (would a high-arc faucet or swivel spout help)? WIll children be using the faucet, and will they be able to grasp the handles to ensure safe operation (not merely push them with fingertips on their tiptoes)? Small children, the elderly, and mobility-limited persons will benefit from ADA-compliant faucets (and sinks) that are designed for ease of use.
To choose the best possible faucet, you need to know a bit about their internal workings. The faucet's construction material and its valve or cartridge type are the true marks of quality.
- Metal Alloys: When you see "metal construction" on the package, it's probably not as good as it sounds: this usually refers to something called Zamak (or Zamac), which is a low-grade alloy of zinc, copper, magnesium and aluminum. Often chrome or brass-plated, these zinc alloy faucets are a step up from plastic-bodied faucets, but should only be considered with the tightest of budgets. Be prepared to replace these faucets sooner rather than later.
- Plastic: Plastic faucets should be avoided. They're not just inexpensive, they're usually "cheap" - expect a plastic faucet to have a shorter life than other options, especially in hard water areas where internal components will degrade much more quickly. The only exceptions are the more recent PEX-based faucets, which utilize PEX waterways inside to completely remove any threat of lead (which can still be legally present in amounts of up to 0.25% by weight). These PEX faucets typically have metal bodies, and are generally superior to a run-of-the-mill zinc alloy faucet.
- Brass: Still the standard, still (usually) the best. An alloy of copper and zinc, solid brass faucets have a well-earned reputation for quality and durability. Don't get them confused with brass-plated faucets, which conceal an inferior alloy underneath. Although a solid brass faucet will cost more than the options above, it is a far better - and longer lasting - investment.
- Stainless Steel: The only truly lead-free option outside of plastics, stainless steel is also highly resistant to corrosion. Tough and long-lasting, a quality stainless steel faucet is right up there with the best solid brass models. Be sure you're only looking at type 304 stainless steel, a higher quality steel that contains more chromium and nickel than other types.
Compression valves and ball valves used to be the primary means of controlling a faucet's water flow, but the industry has largely moved on from them in favor of superior cartridge technology.
- Standard cartridges can be made primarily of brass or plastic (often both). They're snugly sealed in the body of the faucet or its handles; the flow and/or mix of hot/cold water is controlled by the opening or closing of different spaces within the cartridge according to where the handle is positioned. It's true that the best faucets will not use such basic cartridges, but these are still a vast improvement over compression and ball faucets.
- Ceramic disc cartridges utilize ceramic discs that move against each other to control temperature and flow (nearly all faucets that use them are single handle). Aside from their outstanding durability (many ceramic cartridges carry a lifetime warranty) and superior performance, ceramic disc faucets have the added benefit of being incredibly easy to operate: a soft quarter-turn is all that's needed to turn them on.
Handles & Features
A decision based as much on style as it is comfort, the choice of handle type is an important one: after all, it's the one part of the faucet you'll ever have regular contact with.
- Knob Handles are common on older faucets (remember these acrylic behemoths?) but these days are usually only found on budget models. They can be a challenge for small children and adults with reduced hand/wrist strength.
- Cross Handles make for an attractive choice, particularly in traditional designs. Unlike knob handles, cross handles are finish-matched for a more put-together look (some even utilizing porcelain to great effect). Usually easier to operate than knobs, they can still present problems for some users. They are, however, the easiest type to turn with wet hands.
- Lever Handles might refer to two-handle faucets whose levers are merely turned (like knobs and crosses), or single-handle faucets with a handle that both turns and lifts (probably the most common type found today). These are among the easiest handles to use, and are often the handle type found on ADA faucets.
- Joystick Handles are similar to single-handle levers, but are typically thinner and move a bit differently (though just as easy). Joysticks are most at home in modern/contemporary bathroom designs.
- Touch-Activated & Touchless/Motion-Activated: Relatively new to the residential market, these technologies allow for more convenient and hygienic faucet control. Some models have a handle that sets the water temperature and can act as a manual override, others have a control box under the sink. These faucets will require a power source - either batteries or a nearby outlet depending on the model. Metered faucets that activate with the push of a button and stay open for a given amount of time might also be considered part of this family, but are most often found in commercial settings.
- Some faucets come with drain assemblies (with applicable models including a lift rod for sink-filling), and some don't: be sure to read listings and packaging carefully so you know exactly what you're getting. Drains, lift rods and stoppers can be purchased separately, and are usually offered by faucet manufacturers in matching finishes (though in many cases, third-party finishes are a sufficient match for drain trim).
- WaterSense is a highly successful EPA program aimed at curbing water waste. WaterSense certified bathroom faucets have a maximum flow rate of 1.5 gpm, and have been independently tested to ensure high performance. Choosing a WaterSense labeled faucet will save water and money - and may even qualify you for local rebates.
- Scald protection is a good idea in most circumstances, but especially so when young children, the elderly, and those with limited mobility are involved. If anyone who'll be using the faucet will have difficulty reacting quickly, operating the faucet handle, or cannot easily discern water temperature with their hands, protection is a necessity. Unfortunately, ADA guidelines do not address scalding, so don't assume the ADA-compliant faucet you want includes an anti-scald device (typically a handle limit stop, which prevents the handle from going too far on the hot side).
- If you cannot find a suitable faucet that includes scald protection, a thermostatic mixing valve can be installed under the sink. These valves mix cold and hot water to a user-defined temperature, which is sent to the faucet. You'll want a 2-outlet valve so that cold water can still be delivered to the faucet.
- ADA-compliance means that a faucet meets standards on the placement and operation of handles (as well as the minimum length of time metering faucets stay open - 10 seconds) so as to make them accessible to the disabled. ADA faucet handles (usually levers) need not be grasped, and can be turned with little force. To meet ADA requirements they must be mounted on an ADA-compliant sink, but can be used anywhere one wants an especially easy-to-operate faucet.
- Quickly becoming a staple in the kitchen, pull-down/pull-out spray faucets can also be had in the bathroom. Often touted as a convenient option for cleaning and for watering plants, you'll likely find many more uses for an integrated spray. While a bathroom spray probably won't get as much use as one in the kitchen, you should still look for one that uses braided nylon or stainless steel for extended life.
- Finish is largely a personal choice, but there are a few practical concerns to consider. Are there any messy teeth-brushers in the house? Toothpaste splatter stands out even more on dark finishes. If you have hard water, those deposits can also pop against a darker background. Fingerprints and water spots tend to stand out on chrome and other shiny finishes - if those things annoy you, look into a light matte finish.
- Ornate designs with grooves and deep cuts should probably be avoided if you aren't a regular/obsessive cleaner. As with dark finishes, the problems of soap scum, toothpaste splatter and water spots will be magnified.
- The most durable finish remains good ol' chrome, but manufacturers have made great strides in finish quality over the years. If you demand the longest lasting finish but standard chrome doesn't suit your fancy, look for a PVD finish. Physical Vapor Deposition uses vacuum pressure and electric charge to create an invincible finish.
- Most cleaners are not your friend (there are exceptions) - but cleaning suggestions from the manufacturer are! If you can't find anything in the paperwork or their website, you'll never go wrong with homemade solutions of soapy water and/or vinegar - if you've never used them, you'd be surprised at the punch they pack. Try to use only soft cloth, non-abrasive sponges or paper towels when cleaning. Though some may scoff at such "benign" cleaning techniques, doing so regularly (rather than attacking a month's worth of filth with industrial chemicals) is better for the faucet and the environment.