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Faucets

Faucet buying guide

Last updated: June 2013

Getting started

Leaky faucets could be a thing of the past with top-notch valves and tough finishes now common on all but the cheapest models. Most faucets also have lifetime warranties that cover leaks and stains. We found few performance differences between brands. That's why our advice is based on finish.

The exterior of some faucets are bombarded with charged metal atoms that chemically bond to the surface of the base metal in a process called physical vapor deposition, or PVD. Different metals impart different finishes, including nickel and bronze. PVD finishes resisted our best attempts at scratching them. But corrosives like drain cleaner can stain them slightly.

Chrome, another popular finish, is pretty durable but can be scratched if you rub it with a heavy-duty scouring pad. Just use common sense when cleaning your faucet and it will stay scratch and stain free.

We tested single-handle pullout faucets, the fastest-growing style. They combine spray head and spout for added convenience and flexibility. But our findings are applicable to other faucets, too. Here's what we found in our faucets review.

Bronze finishes aren't the same

Bronze offers an alternative to the shiny metal look. We tested two bronze faucets. The one without the PVD finish was the least resistant finish in our abrasion tests. The one with the PVD finish was fine.

Side handles are harder to use

Overall, single-handle faucets are easier to use. But those with a side-mounted handle aren't as easy, especially if your hands aren't clean and you're trying not to dirty the handle. There's also less clearance between this type of handle and the backsplash. So you may bang your knuckles turning on the hot water.

Count holes

Most sinks come with mounting holes drilled for faucets. If you're not changing sinks, you'll need to match what you have or get a base plate to cover extra holes. The base plate, which may be included, can also be used to cover holes in your countertop if that's where your faucet will be installed. It's not a good idea to try to drill additional holes in an existing sink or countertop.

Consider spout styles and function

Straight-spout models are compact and often inexpensive, but you might need to move the faucet to fit a big pot under it. Gooseneck models have higher clearances, but they can cause splashing if your sink is shallow. No matter what type you pick, make sure the faucet head swings enough to reach the entire sink, especially if you have a wide or double-bowl sink. Also keep the faucet proportional; a large sink looks funny with a small faucet, and vice versa.

Think about installation and repair

Replacing a faucet and a sink at the same time is easier because the faucet can be installed in the sink or counter before the sink is put in place. Fittings that can be tightened with a screwdriver also streamline installation. Long water-supply hoses let you make connections lower in the sink cabinet, where tools are easier to use. Though most faucets are guaranteed not to leak, if yours does, the manufacturer will give you only the replacement part. It's up to you to install it.

Better valves and tougher finishes are now common on all but the cheapest faucets. That's why we based our advice on finish, not brand, and why there is no Ratings chart.

Types

There are two main types of faucets. If you are replacing an older faucet, your choice may be limited to the configuration of your current sink and/or counter. But it you are buying a new sink and faucet that the same time, here are the types of faucets to consider.

Single lever


You move the lever to one side or the other for hot or cold, or somewhere midway to mix. In the kitchen, some cooks prefer a faucet with a spout on a hose that can be pulled out from the faucet head

Pros:

Single-lever faucets are easier to use and install than two separate side-mounted handles. They take up less counter space. And they're more convenient if your hands aren't clean and you're trying not to soil the handle.

Cons:

They may not allow quite as precise temperature adjustments as do side-mounted handles.

Side-mounted handles


This is the traditional setup, with separate hot and cold handles to the left and right of the faucet.

Pros:

Two handles may allow slightly more precise temperature adjustments than a single lever.

Cons:

A faucet with side-mounted handles is harder to install. With less clearance from the backsplash, you're more likely to bang your knuckles as you turn the handle. And side-mounted handles are less convenient if your hands aren't clean and you're trying not to soil the handles.

Features


Advances in faucet finishes have made most faucets good at resisting wear. Here are some other faucet features to consider that can affect durability and function.

Finish

Tough finishes are common on all but the cheapest kitchen faucets. Physical vapor deposition is the toughest. The process involves bombarding the faucet with charged metal atoms that bond to the surface, producing a variety of metallic finishes. PVD finishes resisted our best attempts at scratching them. But corrosives such as drain cleaner can stain them slightly. Chrome, another popular finish, is quite durable, but a heavy-duty scouring pad can scratch it. Without the PVD finish, bronze was the least resistant to abrasion in our tests.

Spout shape


Straight-spout models are compact and often inexpensive, but you might need to swivel the faucet to one side to fit a big pot under it--or if you're washing your hair in the bathroom sink. Gooseneck models provide more clearance, but they can cause splashing in a shallow sink. Whichever you choose, make sure that the faucet head swivels far enough to reach into all corners of the sink, especially if you have a wide or double-bowl sink.

Pullout spout

A spout that pulls out of the faucet head on a hose increases flexibility. A counterweight helps the hose and spout to retract neatly. The hose should be long enough to reach into all corners of the sink.

Spray/stream selector


Finger-friendly buttons on the side of the spray head let you switch easily between spray and stream. The buttons should stay in the mode you set even after you turn the water off and back on.

Temperature setting


Single-lever faucets that let you turn the water off and on without losing the temperature setting are more convenient than those that require you to reset the temperature every time you turn on the faucet.

   

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