Here’s what you need to know before you buy a copper sink
Pretty over practical? You decide.
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While stainless has dominated home décor trends for at least a decade, the opposite end of the metal spectrum—brass and copper—has moved in. A year of sheltering in place prompted many Americans to take stock of their interior aesthetics and lean more toward comforting heirloom quality looks versus passing fads.
Copper is already considered the crème de la crème for plumbing materials due to its durability. Roto-Rooter touts its benefits: “Copper has natural qualities that make it ideal for plumbing. … It creates a biostatic atmosphere, which makes it difficult for bacteria to grow inside of it. It also resists corrosion and it is not affected by ultraviolet rays. ...”
In fact, copper holds the distinction of being “man's oldest metal,” according to Copper Development Association (CDA), which informs that copper dates back more than 10,000 years to a find in northern Iraq.
Copper has been used for centuries to make water vessels, cookware, tools, and coins, and early American coppersmith Paul Revere in 1797 even produced the copper hull sheathing for the USS Constitution, known as Old Ironsides. However, copper as a decorative element is a relatively new concept.
Modernity has given rise to the metal’s interior design merits. Thus, expresses Larry Peters, project manager of building construction for the Decatur, Georgia-based CDA, “Copper is certainly a wonderful sink and counter material … an ideal material for interior use.”
Copper can be expensive
Drawbacks are minimal, but they are considerations for some people. Number one is the cost. A basic copper sink, even at a discount hardware retailer such as Lowe’s or The Home Depot, starts at around $500, with average prices hovering around $1,000. Consumers can plan to spend upwards of $5,000 or more for a hand-crafted, custom-made sink.
And then copper countertops, tubs, and general interior accessories, such as lighting, fetch higher prices than their counterparts made of other warm-hued metals, such as bronze or brass.
Copper sports a “living finish” i.e. a patina
Copper’s other pitfall, at least for some people, is the unpredictability and transformative nature of copper’s patina.
When Jenni Wilson chose a hammered copper sink for her 1923 cottage renovation project, she had learned through extensive research what to expect.
“You have to be OK with the changing color, and a hammered-effect sink is definitely conducive to showing off the patina. What I chose was a hard copper with a smoked finish, instead of bright. Anything that allows the finish to change in a more natural, beautiful way was appealing to me. I knew the copper sink’s look wouldn’t stay looking like it did when I brought it out of the box, but that natural weathered appearance is exactly the warm, earthy, familiar feeling that I believe is suitable in both contemporary and traditional interiors. And it’s exactly what I was looking for for my historic cottage.”
Peters echoes Wilson’s sentiments. “Copper is really an option for those who want a natural weathered/weathering surface. Anyone purchasing copper goods for interiors needs to know going into the selection process that chemicals from acidic foods and beverages, like juice or wine, will alter and add to the weathering pattern.”
World Copper Smith refers to copper products as sporting a “living finish,” meaning colorations will shift over time. The company assuages customers by informing them, “The patina on your copper sink may naturally darken over time with heavy use of the sink, and this is perfectly normal, as the patina darkens to protect the copper from the elements.”
New Orleans-based sheet metal fabricator Crescent City Copper explains the natural oxidation process of copper and provides a color chart. However, copper’s patina changes more drastically if it is exposed to outdoor elements—a copper awning or roof, for example. While the patina might remain in the brownish realm for at least three years, it eventually moves into the green and then light blue spectrum if exposed to sun, rain, and wind.
Of course, interior copper products, like sinks, tubs, and countertops, experience moisture from water, but not direct sunlight and harsh winds, so the patina primarily remains in the brown category: rich chocolates to saturated golds to muted coffee.
Peters points out that people desiring a shiny, polished look—like that achieved through stainless, for example—may be frustrated by copper. “They can’t expect to maintain a clear-coated ‘shiny’ finish with copper, especially in a high traffic area. I’ve seen commercial, copper bar-type counter applications where workers simply polish the copper at the end of the day. But such attention generally proves more than challenging for residential counters and especially sinks.”
Dino Rachiele, who owns his own custom sink company, says, “Copper needs to look like an old penny; that’s the true coloration range.”
Treat copper with a little TLC, but not too much
Wilson, a gourmand and daily home cook, says upkeep of her copper sink, which she has used steadily for more than two years, is easy. “I just use dish soap to clean, and I wear my kitchen hard because I cook so much. It’s durable, but just keeps exhibiting that beautiful patina.”
Experts agree that a gentle scrub is all that a copper sink needs. Harsh chemicals and brushes are not necessary. It’s helpful to keep in mind that copper has a natural anti-bacterial surface, so you don’t need to disinfect it.
Of potential copper sink customers, Rachiele says, “People need to do their homework … read about what copper will look like and how to care for it, before they order. Copper sinks are beautiful and hold up over time, but they are not for everyone.”
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.