Cleaning a Salvaged Vintage Sink

Have you ever bought a sink on impulse?

No? I’m the only one? Somehow I’m not surprised.

Here’s the story: Last week we stopped by the ReBuilding Center to find a piece of hardware for a window. It had been painted shut probably for DECADES, but Steven got it open, and then we noticed it had no lock. So after we found a window lock, we wandered through the sink area, looking for the creaky old cat who lives there, and came across a sink. Not just any sink, a vintage porcelain cast-iron corner sink. Who wouldn’t want to buy this?
vintage corner sink

Laying on the ground and covered in grime, it might not look like much, but we got excited, because it seemed like it could be perfect for the corner in our master bathroom. We didn’t buy it right away, though, first we went home and measured to make sure it would fit. Not technically an impulse buy, I guess.

My measurements confirmed that it would fit, so I went back and bought it for $90. It was marked $100, but I ruthlessly bargained. Not really, I just asked a guy to help me with it and while I was looking over it carefully for flaws, he said, “I could do $90,” and I said, “Ok.”

Visions of cute vintage corner sinks danced through my head, courtesy of Pinterest and Google image search. Actually they’re not that common, but I found a few inspiration photos (none of which I could trace back to the original sources).

corner sinks

Even though we aren’t planning to install the sink right away, I decided to clean it up to make sure there weren’t any major flaws hidden under the grime that would make me want to return it. It took me three rounds of scrubbing to get it clean, but I think I could probably have skipped to the last one. I did some googling about the best way to clean it, and came upon this article, which recommends baking soda and ammonia. That got rid of some of the grime, but it didn’t affect the large grey stains over most of the surface.

For round two, I took a Magic Eraser to the surface. Not only did it not do any good, the internet says it can damage porcelain surfaces, so I definitely should have skipped this round.

Round three, after more searching, led me to this article about cleaning porcelain fixtures (skip to the chart at the bottom of the page). Bar Keeper’s Friend wasn’t on the “NOT RECOMMENDED” list, and I have some, so I gave it a try. It worked like magic, and didn’t appear to do any harm. I won’t use it for regular cleaning, but I shouldn’t have to now that I’ve gotten the stains off. Here’s the before and after:

vintage corner sink

vintage corner sink

It cleaned up real nice, didn’t it? Totally worth the scrubbing!

I have a major soft spot in my heart for vintage sinks. The more institutional the better. I’ve seen a couple at the Rebuilding Center with built-in drinking faucets that I suspect came from schools, and the only reason I didn’t buy them is that old fixtures like that often contain lead. A lead-laced drinking fountain would be less than charming. We’ll put new fixtures on this one, so we won’t have to worry about lead.

The only problem will be figuring out the faucet situation. It has two holes for separate hot and cold taps, which really aren’t that great for washing your face. I’m spoiled by modern conveniences like hot and cold water mixers, but that means either buying a bridge faucet (tricky to find one that’ll fit, and very limited in styles), or putting in a single-hole faucet, and covering the other hole with a soap dispenser or something similar. Which would you do?

We probably won’t do a full bathroom remodel for at least a year, but now that I’ve got this sink all cleaned up, I’m dying to tear out the old one and install it. If I can manage it, some DIY plumbing might be in my future. In the meantime, here are my favorite bathrooms with vintage (or vintage-esque) wall-mounted sinks. A girl can dream….

Dustin Acksland for Elizabeth Roberts Architecture and Design

Design* Sponge

Desire to Inspire

Dustin Acksland for Elizabeth Roberts Architecture and Design

Dreams + Jeans

Dustin Acksland for Elizabeth Roberts Architecture and Design

I think it’ll take a lot more than a sink to get my bathroom looking as dreamy as any of the ones above, but it’s a start!

6 thoughts on “Cleaning a Salvaged Vintage Sink

  1. Hahaha, I find myself in these pickles all the time. I just finished a kitchen built around a used sink.
    I used a Signature Hardware bridge faucet in my bathroom to replace separate hot and cold handles. The quality is very good. Can’t wait to see what you pick.

    • Ha, kind of glad I’m not the only one 🙂 And it’s good to hear you successfully salvaged a sink, and used a bridge faucet. The Signature Hardware one is so much less expensive than the other one, so I’m happy to hear that you like yours!

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