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Pros & Cons of Different Plumbing Materials

Kitchen & Bathroom Surfaces

Acrylic

Acrylic clawfoot bathtub

The type of acrylic used for plumbing fixtures is a thermoplastic made from polymers of acylic acid, methacrylic acid or other related compounds. Typically the color is consistent throughout, and acrylic is known for being lightweight yet durable with careful use.

  • Where it's used: Kitchen sinks, bathroom sinks, and bathtubs
  • Maintenance: Use nonabrasive cleaners; wipe down after use with a dry, soft cloth. Apply a non-grit paste wax occasionally.
  • Cost range: Medium to high
  • Is it right for me? Top-of-the-line choice for large two-person tubs and whirlpools.

Ceramic Tile

Ceramic tile is made from clay that has been permanently hardened by high heat. It comes in many sizes, shapes, and colors. Sometimes the color runs throughout the tile, but is most commonly a decorative glaze.

  • Where it's used: Floors, counters, and backsplashes
  • Maintenance: Use a mild, nonabrasive household cleaner or soap and water.
  • Cost range: Low medium to high
  • Is it right for me? Virtually limitless colors and sizes provide maximum design freedom. Durable, but hard and sometimes slippery underfoot.

Conversion Varnish

Conversion varnish is a special type of varnish that is sprayed onto wood or veneer. It is similar to lacquer, but must be mixed with a hardener for application. Not a typical paint or varnish application or DIY-type of project.

  • Where it's used: Cabinet finish for wood and veneer
  • Maintenance: Wipe clean with a damp sponge
  • Cost range: Medium to high
  • Is it right for me? Toughest factory-applied finish used on wood and wood veneer.

Copper

Copper apron front sink

Copper is a common base metal known for its durability and the ease with which it can be transformed into all kinds of useful items - from sinks and cooking pots to pennies and electrical wire. Copper sinks add flair to your kitchen or bathroom, and will last a lifetime.

  • Where it's used: Sinks and backsplashes, occasionally counters
  • Maintenance: Guide to Caring for Copper
  • Cost range: Low to high, depending on quality
  • Is it right for me? Copper is naturally antimicrobial and highly durable. It will patina over time, which some find desirable and others do not.

Enameled Cast Iron

Enameled cast iron farmhouse sink

Super durable cast iron that has been coated in a porcelain enamel to help prevent rusting and provide a smooth surface. Very commonly found in older homes as it is long-lasting and easy to maintain.

  • Where it's used: Kitchen sinks and bathtubs
  • Maintenance: Guide to Caring for Enameled Fixtures
  • Cost range: High
  • Is it right for me? Traditional luxury choice for standard-size tubs. Very strong, long-lasting. Offers unmatched depth of color and gloss in sinks and tubs.

Enameled Steel

Powdercoat toilet

Steel that has been coated in a porcelain enamel. Typically found in high-abuse applications (i.e., hospitals, prisons, sports stadiums) as it is more durable than ceramics, but not so expensive as to make replacement a financial hurdle.

  • Where it's used: Kitchen sinks, bathtubs, and commercial toilets and urinals
  • Maintenance: Guide to Caring for Enameled Fixtures
  • Cost range: Low
  • Is it right for me? The low cost is its primary benefit; not as durable as more expensive options.

Fiberglass/ABS

Fiberglass and ABS are basically reinforced plastics. They are lightweight, inexpensive, and durable enough for regular daily household use. Requires some care to extend the life of the fixture, but will not last as long as other more expensive options.

  • Where it's used: Bathroom sinks, bathtubs, and shower surrounds
  • Maintenance: Use nonabrasive cleaners; wipe down after use with a soft, dry cloth.
  • Cost range: Low to medium
  • Is it right for me? A good economy choice for tubs and one-piece shower units.

Fireclay

Fireclay apron front sink

Fireclay is molded from a clay and mineral mixture, but it is fired at a higher temperature than vitreous china/porcelain which gives it greater resistance to heat - making it ideal for use in kitchen sinks.

  • Where it's used: Kitchen sinks
  • Maintenance: Guide to Caring for Fireclay Fixtures
  • Cost range: Medium to high
  • Is it right for me? Super durable and easy to maintain. Stands up to high heat and offers a traditional look and feel.

Granite & Composites

Quartz granite sink

When talking plumbing fixtures and countertops, you have two main options - 100% Granite, and Granite Composite (usually composed of 85% quartz granite and 15% acrylic resin). Where 100% granite sinks and countertops run on the expensive side, granite composite offers a more cost-effective alternative. Like their natural stone counterparts, granite composite sinks and countertops have a high resistance to heat.

  • Where it's used: Sinks and counters
  • Maintenance: Use a mild household cleaner or soap and water. Dry with a soft cloth to prevent limescale buildup.
  • Cost range: High
  • Is it right for me? Very durable and very beautiful, but very heavy. Available in 100% natural granite colors or choose a granite/quartz composite for more color options.

Lacquer

A common type of paint/shellac that dries into a high-gloss and hard coating for wood, metal, or even glass.

  • Where it's used: Cabinet finish for wood and wood veneer
  • Maintenance: Clean with a soft, damp cloth.
  • Cost range: Medium
  • Is it right for me? Wide variety of colors; reasonable price compared with polyester.

Laminate

Laminate wood is a synthetic flooring that is designed to look like natural wood. It is typically comprised of a high-density fiberboard core with a moisture barrier backing and a detailed photographic image to simulate wood grain, topped with a clear protective layer.

  • Where it's used: Cabinets, counters, and floors
  • Maintenance: Use a mild, nonabrasive household cleaner or soap and water.
  • Cost range: Low to medium
  • Is it right for me? Great durability-to-price ration; staggering array of colors and patterns. Experienced DIY'ers can usually install flooring. High-pressure more durable than low-pressure.

Rubber

When used for flooring, it can be synthetic or natural rubber. It is bacteria-resistant and nonconductive. Flooring is available in many styles, from interconnecting tiles to sheets to pads that can be laid over other types of flooring.

  • Where it's used: Floors
  • Maintenance: Vacuum/sweep and mop with household cleaners.
  • Cost range: Low to medium
  • Is it right for me? Nonporous, water-resistant, and durable. Easy-on-the-feet/back choice for flooring with a high-tech look. Excellent for families, commercial kitchens, and bathrooms.

Solid Surface

Swanstone solid surface sink

A non-porous alternative to natural stone, solid surface is made of resin and minerals. Used for countertops, sinks and tubs, it is highly versatile, durable, and reparable.

  • Where it's used: Sinks, counters, and showers
  • Maintenance: Use soap and water or a mild ammonia-based cleaner; buff out stubborn stains with a polishing compound.
  • Cost range: Medium to high
  • Is it right for me? Extraordinarily durable, can be worked like wood to create molded shapes. Available in a variety of colors, excellent for kitchens and one-piece vanity tops/sinks.

Stainless Steel

Stainless steel kitchen sink

Stainless steel sinks are renowned for their durability and longevity, as well as their cost-effectiveness. Stainless steel is rated by gauge, often between 16-gauge and 22-gauge. The lower the number, the thicker and higher quality the sink.

  • Where it's used: Sinks, kitchen counters, and work tables
  • Maintenance: Guide to Caring for Stainless Steel
  • Cost range: Low to high, depending on quality and gauge
  • Is it right for me? Traditional kitchen sink choice, moving more into bathrooms. Comes in many bowl configurations, easy to maintain and clean, long-lasting and durable. An interesting, but costly countertop option.

Stone

Marble apron front sink

Natural stone is a uniquely beautiful option for your home. When used in sinks, it is quite heavy, and requires special preparation of the cabinetry for installation. Remember, however, that natural stone is porous, and will require initial sealing and regular resealing to protect against stains.

  • Where it's used: Sinks, counters, and floors
  • Maintenance: Use mild household cleaners or soap and water. Seal to protect porous stones against stains.
  • Cost range: High
  • Is it right for me? Timeless look in scores of natural colors/patterns. Will outlast your house, though marble can stain.

Thermofoil

Sometimes just called "foil", thermofoil is a plastic surface finish that is attached to the underlying wood core using a high heat process.

  • Where it's used: Cabinets
  • Maintenance: Use a mild, nonabrasive household cleaner or soap and water.
  • Cost range: Medium
  • Is it right for me? Offers a low-maintenance surface - good for homes with young children. Can be formed over angles and curves for unique designs.

Vinyl

A flexible, durable material made using vinyl, felt, fiberglass, and dyes.

  • Where it's used: Floors
  • Maintenance: Use a damp sponge for spot cleaning. Vacuum/sweep and mop with a mild household cleaner.
  • Cost range: Low to medium
  • Is it right for me? Easy on the feet, very low maintenance. Save money by installing tiles yourself.

Vitreous China/Porcelain

Vitreous china pedestal sink

Vitreous china/porcelain is made by baking a refined mixture of clay and other minerals at a high temperature after glazing. Vitreous china/porcelain is naturally mildew- and bacteria-resistant with a non-porous surface that is ideal for maintaining sanitation - hence its common use in lavatory sinks and toilets.

  • Where it's used: Sinks and toilets
  • Maintenance: Guide to Caring for Porcelain Fixtures
  • Cost range: Low to high, depending on quality and size of fixture
  • Is it right for me? Naturally bacteria-resistant, super durable with proper care. Basic white toilets and sinks represent good value, colors up the ante, and hand-painting is strictly a splurge.

Wood

Trees (and sometimes other plants like bamboo) that have been cut into boards.

  • Where it's used: Counters, cabinets, and floors
  • Maintenance: Use a damp cloth on counters and cabinets; for floors, use products made specifically for polyurethane-treated wood.
  • Cost range: Medium to high
  • Is it right for me? Traditional choice, but can be modernized with exotic woods or patterns. Wood tone and grain patterns offer natural warmth. Long-lasting and can take abuse.

Wood Veneer

Trees that have been cut into very thin boards instead of big chunky boards.

  • Where it's used: Cabinets
  • Maintenance: Use a damp cloth and dry thoroughly.
  • Cost range: Low to high, depending on species and availability
  • Is it right for me? Can be just as well-made as solid wood cabinets; superior dimensional stability.

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