Most people choose a faucet based on looks alone. And that’s a mistake. Looks are important, but you can usually get the look you want without compromising on convenience and long-term dependability. For advice on those practical considerations, we talked with faucet designers, manufacturers, retailers and plumbers. Here’s what we learned.
Plan to spend at least $65 for a bath faucet and at least $100 for a kitchen faucet. You might get a great faucet for less, but it’s more likely that you’d get a low-quality faucet. If you spend much more, you’re paying for extra features or style rather than basic reliability or durability.
Faucet spouts vary a lot in height and reach, and most of the time you can just choose the look you like best. But if you have a shelf above the sink, a tall spout may not fit. With a three-bowl kitchen sink, a spout with a short reach may not extend to all the bowls. A bath faucet with a short reach might cause you to slop water behind the spout when you wash your hands.
If you want to avoid having a faucet that drips, get one with ceramic valves. Other types of valves are usually drip-free for years, but they can’t match the long-term reliability of ceramic. Faucets with ceramic valves cost about the same as other faucets.
Here’s Rule No. 1 of faucet finishes: Choose a finish that matches nearby cabinet hardware, towel bars, etc. Mismatches look bad. If you plan to replace existing hardware, your choice of faucet finishes is wide open. The vast majority of faucets have polished chrome, satin nickel or bronze finishes. All of these finishes are durable and keep their good looks for years. But some are more durable than others.
Chrome is the most durable finish and the easiest to keep clean—that’s why it’s always been the favorite for commercial kitchens and public bathrooms. If your faucet gets heavy use, it’s your best bet for long-term toughness.
Nickel finishes are usually labeled “brushed,” “satin” or “stainless steel” and have a dull shine. They’re durable but prone to fingerprints and water spots, so they’re harder to keep clean. Some have a coating that reduces stains and smudges, but that coating isn’t as durable as metal and may chip or wear.
Bronze faucets have a brownish tone and are often called “oiled” or “rubbed” bronze. But the surface is a coating (such as epoxy) rather than metal. This coating is tough stuff, but can be chipped or scratched more easily than metal.
If you want to switch from two handles to one, you have to think about the number of holes in the sink. Most sinks have three holes: one for the hot handle, one for the cold and one under the spout. Some single-handle faucets include a cover plate to hide the extra holes. But some don’t, so check the label. If you currently have a “wide spread” bathroom faucet with two handles far from the spout, you can’t switch to a single-handle model.
If you want a kitchen faucet with a “pull-down” sprayer mounted in the spout, there will be an empty sprayer hole. But the solution is simple: install a soap dispenser. Your new faucet may even include one.
Two-handle faucets have a stylish symmetry that suits many bathrooms, especially traditional ones. But in practical terms, single-handle faucets have all the advantages. They’re just plain more convenient; water temperature adjustment is easier and there’s one less handle to clean.
If you’ve ever had a “side” sprayer (a spray handle mounted in the sink), you’ve probably had dribbles or leaks. And you might assume you’d have similar (and more expensive) trouble with a faucet-mounted sprayer like the one shown here. Probably not. All of our experts told us that “pull-down” sprayers have proven much more reliable than the old side sprayers.