What Is A Dry Sink And How To Use Today?

Dry Sink

Dry sinks are surging in popularity in the modern age despite the widespread availability of indoor plumbing. They effortlessly add a vintage look to the home without taking too much space, and they are surprisingly functional. Read on to discover what they are, their uses, and other details about these unique accessories. 

What is a dry sink?

A dry sink is a cabinet with a slightly recessed top designed to hold a basin and pitcher for water. The basin is not connected to a plumbing system and is used for essential hygiene functions. This type of sink was popular from the early 1800s through the early 1900s. They were especially popular in rural areas, where people didn’t have indoor plumbing. Today, dry sinks are often used as accent pieces in rustic- or country-themed kitchens.

What is a dry sink used for?

Dry sinks had several purposes that varied depending on where they were located. A dry sink would be used for hygiene functions such as shaving in the bedroom. Furthermore, the dry sink also featured storage areas where personal items and extra towels could be kept. They would be typically used in the bathroom for washing clothes, bathing (especially for cleaning the face and sanitary areas), and washing hands. A dry sink in the kitchen was a helpful accessory for washing food items and dirty kitchenware. For those who opted to have their dry sink on their porches, uses ranged from washing hands to cleaning up dirty dishes. 

How does the dry sink work?

  • Dry sinks in the 1700s

According to historians, dry sinks in the mid-to-late-1700s were simple wash basins on a stand. Many households had a pitcher nearby so that a user could easily access water while washing their hands or face. Generally, you would pour a little water into the basin, wash, and then empty the basin’s contents outside. 

  • Dry sinks in the early 1800s

By the 1800s, the simple washbasin and pitcher setup of the 1700s had greatly evolved. The improved design was equipped with a small cabinet and a recessed area to hold the washbasin or bowl. A bucket or pitcher was used to transfer water to the bowl. Once you finished your cleaning task, the dirty water in the bowl could be dumped outside. 

During this era, dry sinks often featured a backsplash intended to prevent excess water from splashing on the walls, floor, and other nearby surfaces. In wealthier homes, it was common to find a dry sink with a recessed area lined with copper or similar waterproof material. These accessories also came with a storage area underneath and a hook or bar on which to hang a towel. Generally, water was used sparingly since all water was sourced from the creek or well into the house. 

  • Dry sinks in the Victorian era

During this period, the tops of dry sinks were more likely to be level rather than recessed. The flat surface was made of marble, and it was used as a resting place for the pitcher and basin. 

“Sophisticated” dry sinks had a stopper in the bottom that could efficiently hold water. When the accessory was in use, the stopper should drain water into a bucket that was placed underneath the sink. You would find shelves or drawers underneath the cabinet where supplies such as towels and soap were stored. In more elaborate designs, these storage spaces were made of carved wood. 

Other noteworthy features of dry sinks common in this era include a tall backsplash that connects to a towel bar; hand-carved, uneven dovetail joints; upper shelves attached to the backsplash; and older style nails. 

  • Dry sinks post-1900s

It became common (especially in wealthier homes) to add a metal hand pump to the dry sink as time went on. This was one of the first ventures into indoor plumbing. 

How to Use Dry Sinks Today?

Although indoor plumbing has rendered the dry sink functionally obsolete, there are still quite a few situations where this once ubiquitous household accessory is desirable. Here are some typical applications of dry sinks today:

1. For washing up in homes with no running water

Even today, it’s not uncommon to find rustic cabins that have no running water. In such cases, you can use a dry sink to wash up in the morning or as a way to clean your produce before cooking. 

2. As a wet bar

You can use your dry sink as a wet bar area, and this is a common repurposing of this priceless accessory because dry sinks come with a dip that allows easy pouring. A dry sink can also be the perfect place for storing your vodkas, gins, and tequilas.

An alternative to turning your dry sink into a wet bar is to set up a coffee/tea station. If you like to prepare a good brew in the comfort of your home, you can set up your station with a coffee machine, a mini-fridge (for storing your milk and/or milk alternatives), coffee pods/ground coffee, tea bags, and drinking cups

3. As a piece of artwork

Dry sinks are eye-catching accessories that can be treated as a work of art and simply displayed in your home. If you collect art pieces, you can add a vintage dry sink to your collection, and it can add to the aesthetic of your living space and elevate the elegance of the room where it is displayed.

4. For storage and display of knick-knacks

Instead of simply putting your dry sink on display, take it a notch higher and convert it to a DIY display case. Many dry sink designs have multiple levels of shelving where you can store and display your favorite decorative ornaments. You may want to give your dry sink a new paint job to blend in with the rest of your space or stick to its original design. This is an innovative way to make a room unique, all while you get a convenient place to display your mementos.

5. For storing culinary accessories

A dry sink can be a convenient place to store your culinary tools. As you might know, items like jugs, pots, and mixing supplies can take up quite some space, and this is especially likely if you enjoy whipping up a meal in your kitchen regularly. 

6. As a botany bar

You can repurpose your dry sink to store and carry a variety of your favorite indoor plants. Indoor gardens are currently all the rage, but it can be difficult to incorporate one into your home, given how much space plants can take. A dry sink can serve as an ingenious displaying surface for several of your plants, plus it comes with the added advantage of ample space for a pitcher.

7. As a nightstand

Depending on how big your dry sink is, you may be able to convert it into a nightstand. If it comes with a large basin, you might want to put a top over it to have a flat surface where you can keep your personal items. Alternatively, you can turn it into a drawer for the same purpose.

8. As a side table

Another excellent way to use a dry sink is as a side table. Depending on the height of the accessory, you may also use it as a console table in the entryway of your living space or behind a couch. Using a dry sink as a side table works exceptionally well for a room that doesn’t have much use or has little to no furniture.

9. As a bathroom vanity

A bathroom vanity is essentially a modern traditional dry sink in some aspects. Therefore, with a couple of add-ons, you can convert your old dry sink into an elegant bathroom vanity. To ensure convenience, you will need to add some plumbing features and change some of the top surface materials to get this vintage accessory to work as a modern sink. 

10. For storing towels

If you have a swimming pool and want a changing room nearby, you might set up a little shed to serve this purpose. To make the changing area suitable, adding a dry sink as a great storage option for keeping towels and sunscreen might be helpful. Many of them have plenty of space to hold a pitcher of water, allowing for a quick splash after a dip in the pool.

11. Outdoor food station

Do you enjoy a country cottage aesthetic? Dry sinks and other types of antique furniture work well as an accompaniment to an outdoor food party setting. You can bring your dry sink outside and use it to display your elegantly placed party treats on a lovely spring or summer day. 

12. Baby changing station

Another way you can put your dry sink to use is by turning it into a baby changing station. Customize this accessory to make it baby-friendly by smoothening any sharp edges and painting it to blend in with your little one’s room.

13. For storing fine china

Do you have a lot of fine china and limited storage space? It might be time to repurpose your dry sink as a place to keep all your favorite plates, cups, and food utensils. Many dry sinks are surprisingly spacious and can serve as a storage solution for gravy trains, bowls, and other items that you might need for a fine feast.

Where do you put a dry sink?

Where you put your dry sinks depends on your needs. These accessories work well in almost any room of your home, including your kitchen, bathroom, dining room, foyer, nursery, living room, and even the laundry room.

What do you put in a dry sink?

Depending on your needs, there are many items you can put in a dry sink. You can store anything from pots and pans to canned goods and liquor bottles in these accessories. Because most dry sinks come with shelves and drawers, you can easily organize your belongings in them.

Where to Find Dry Sinks?

Given that dry sinks faded out of popularity with the introduction of modern sinks, they can be quite difficult to find today. A high-quality, antique dry sink could cost you a pretty penny. Dry sinks in excellent condition with their original finish are typically much more valuable than varieties that have been fixed, painted, or redecorated. Here are some of the top places where you might come across these accessories:

1. In a local antique store

Quite a few local antique stores carry dry sinks. You might have to comb through multiple replicas to come across a genuine one, but it’s not unheard of to find a mint-condition dry sink in one of these stores.

2. Online

If you want to find a dry sink quickly, one of your best bets is to look online. Some useful sites to begin your search include:

  • Ebay

This is one of the easiest places to find antique furniture, including dry sinks. The eBay app is user-friendly, and you can effortlessly connect with sellers looking to offload dry sinks. 

  • Etsy

Etsy is an e-commerce company focused on vintage or handmade items and craft supplies such as jewelry, clothing, bags, art, home decor, and furniture. You will often find individuals looking to sell priceless items like dry sinks in various designs. It is one of the most reliable platforms to find these accessories, although you may find that the prices are steeper than on eBay.

  • Ruby Lane

Ruby Lane is relatively more limited in terms of the number of dry sinks available at one time, and this is because their auction pool typically comes from traditional means. They are one of the largest auction houses on the internet, so it doesn’t hurt to keep checking their inventory to see if they have dry sinks listed.

3. Yard sale

If you’re lucky enough to live near a historic part of town, you can be on the lookout for yard and tag sales. People often clear out their homes during an estate sale because they can’t be bothered to go through years’ worth of belongings. If you know what to look for and where to find it, you might snag an antique sink for an affordable price. 

4. Furniture stores

You might be able to find these unique pieces of furniture in a furniture store, or at least request one to particular order them for you. Amish furniture stores, in particular, are likely to stock new, handmade dry sinks. 

How to tell if a dry sink is genuine?

Dry sinks are priceless examples of antique craftsmanship, and as a result, many of them are expensive. This makes it all the more important to find a genuine one. Here are some factors to help you distinguish real vintage dry sinks from fake ones:

1. The appearance and number of dovetail joints

The quality of a dry sink’s dovetail joints is one of the most telling clues when it comes to determining authenticity. A genuine dry sink will have uneven dovetail joints, and this is because the craftsmen of the past relied on inferior tools. On the other hand, a fake dry sink will have perfectly level dovetail joints.

Furthermore, an original dry sink will likely have only three dovetail joints, whereas a knockoff will probably have five or more. 

2. The cut of the end boards

You can also examine the ends of the boards – if the wood has been cut with a modern circular saw, you will notice swirls in the cuts. Contrarily, the edges of a genuine dry sink aren’t perfectly curved, and some might even appear jagged. 

3. The materials and nails

A genuine dry sink won’t feature any hints of plywood or MDF in its design. To detect if a dry sink is made from reclaimed wood, look out for old nail holes and areas where the nail cavities have been filled in with putty and stained over. Original dry sinks are also more likely to feature square nails, and round nails weren’t widely used back when dry sinks were still in demand.

How to Estimate Your Dry Sink’s Age?

There are several characteristics you can rely on to estimate when your dry sink was crafted:

  • The design elements

Design elements like spare ornamentation and pure woodwork can describe dry sinks from the late-19th and early 20th centuries. On the contrary, if you come across things like a farmhouse design and painted cabinets, it could indicate that the sink is from the mid-century.

  • The quality of materials

As the 20th century progressed, the quality of furniture decreased drastically. Therefore, genuine handmade, high-quality, dovetailed dry sinks are most likely from the 19th century, while thinner, cheaper woods characterize designs from the mid-century. 

  • The maker’s marks

One of the easiest ways to date a dry sink is by checking for the maker’s marks. Most manufacturers altered their marks over time, which means the uniqueness of design can be used to pinpoint a specific date or at least a series of years that your accessory was crafted.

Related article: The 11 Reasons Why is Your Hot Water Cloudy

How much is an antique dry sink worth?

A high-quality antique dry sink could be valued at thousands of dollars. If the accessory is in mint condition, then it will be inevitably expensive. Where you purchase your piece also plays a significant role in how much you pay. Generally, you can buy dry sinks for anywhere between $400 and $3000.

Related article: Why Should You Consider A Captain’s Bed?

Final thoughts 

Dry sinks are a great way to create a quaint, stylish ambiance in almost any room of your home. Whether you’re looking for a vintage piece or want to retrofit one with a modern touch to fit the design of your home, these accessories can be an excellent addition for aesthetic and/or functional purposes. 

Zoltan Szatmari

Zoltan is a test and industrial engineer from Europe who loves learning anything new and working on small projects. When he is not working, he is usually hiking or going to the cinema.

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