The Case for Getting a Separate Cleanup Sink

Do you need two sinks in your kitchen?

There are good reasons to have two sinks in your kitchen — if you’re lucky enough to be able to afford that option, of course. Having two properly placed sinks improves kitchen workflow, allows multiple cooks to work in comfort simultaneously, and prevents dirty dishes from getting in the cook’s way. Recently, I made the case for two sinks and described considerations for the prep sink, where you wash, chop, peel and prepare the meal. This story focuses on what you’ll want to think about when planning the other important sink: the cleanup sink.


Why Have a Cleanup Sink? In a nutshell, the cleanup sink is for washing dishes, pots and glassware. It’s for cleaning up! But why do you need a dedicated cleanup sink? Because readying a meal and cleaning up afterward are two separate processes that should be physically separated. That’s how restaurants do it — the person busing tables wouldn’t dare enter the chef’s domain, after all — and the same strategy works beautifully at home.


Creating a Cleanup Zone In order for your cleanup sink to function properly, you’ll want to surround it with the proper tools and equipment. First, the sink needs to have counter on both sides — ideally at least 3 feet per side, 2 feet at a minimum. This is necessary so that dirty dishes can move, assembly-line style, from one side to the other. Second, you should place wall cabinets or alternative storage around the sink so that plates and glassware have a home close by. Third, you definitely want to have the dishwasher next to the cleanup sink, and your trash pullout close at hand. Finally, you should have a drawer nearby for storing silverware. Once these items surround your cleanup sink, you’ll have created a well-functioning cleanup station — mission control for setting the table and cleaning and putting away the dishes.


What to Consider There is no one-size-fits-all approach when selecting your cleanup sink. Instead, your decision will come down to your needs, preferences and priorities. Be sure to have a conversation with your kitchen designer about how you wash the dishes, or think it through if you’re acting as your own designer — these details are really important for making the best choices! Case in point: I designed a gorgeous kitchen, and when I stopped by to see the client after the remodel, I noticed an ugly dish rack cluttering up her stunning counter. Had I known that she hand-washed items often, I would have suggested a double-bowl sink, with one side for washing and the other to hide the dish rack.


1. Choose Bowl Number One of the first decisions you’ll want to make about your cleanup sink is whether you want one bowl or two. When everyone washed dishes by hand, double bowls made a lot of sense. But today many people use dishwashers so powerful that rinsing dishes beforehand is not required. If you’re not hand-washing or pre-rinsing, do you really need two bowls? Single-bowl sinks have a few advantages. They fit large items while taking up a minimum of counter space. They also fit the modern lifestyle, where hand-washing is often done with running water (instead of a full bowl of soapy water followed by a rinse). Single bowls also allow you to choose from the popular apron or farmhouse styles, which are typically just one bowl. If a double-bowl sink makes the most sense for you — maybe you’ll be hand-washing your grandmother’s china frequently — you may want to consider a model with unequal bowl sizes, as shown in this photo, to get maximum width in the large section. Tip: People have different preferences, but if you do choose two bowls, I recommend that you place the garbage disposal on the larger side. That way, you’ll be able to soak your casserole dish, then dump out the food bits directly into the disposal.


2. Get the Right Width No matter how many bowls you prefer, your cleanup sink should be wide enough to soak platters or lasagna pans. Single-bowl sinks are commonly 30 to 36 inches wide, while double-bowl sinks are frequently 33 to 42 inches wide. You may want to bring your favorite large dish along on your sink-shopping trip to be sure it will fit inside your chosen sink. If space in your kitchen is limited, I recommend choosing a single bowl so that you have the greatest amount of continuous sink-basin width.


3. Make a Wall-Facing Sink Work Where in your kitchen should you place the cleanup sink? My philosophy is that great views or social kitchen islands are best used as the prep space, rather than the cleanup space, because you’ll likely spend more time prepping than cleaning up. As a result of prioritizing the prep sink, the cleanup sink will often face a wall. That’s OK, because there are a number of design strategies that can add to a wall-facing sink’s function and style. If you already have abundant storage, consider eliminating the cabinet above your wall-facing cleanup sink entirely. Standing with a cabinet in your face is no fun, and the cabinet can get in the way of cleanup tasks. Instead, this space can be a great spot to hang art, create display shelves or make a feature of your beautiful backsplash. Related: Decorate the Kitchen With Beautiful Metal Wall Art If storage is needed above the sink, make it higher than a standard 18-inch backsplash or shallower than a standard 12-inch-deep wall cabinet. I usually opt for open shelves for frequently used items, or glass-door cabinets for items you don’t use often. Whether you choose shelves or cabinets for this space, they should be only 8 to 9 inches deep. Tip: Be realistic about how open shelving or glass-fronted cabinets will look in your everyday life. Do you mind doing the work to keep things neat, or will your display end up a jumbled mess? A good compromise might be frosted or textured glass, which gives you an open feel without creating a focal point out of mismatched coffee mugs. Also, consider the height of the person who uses the cleanup station the most. If the person is tall, you may need additional headroom or a higher counter. If the person is short, be sure the necessary shelves can be reached. Some European dishwashers like Bosch or Miele have adjustable heights, making it possible to lower the counter for the comfort of the person who washes the dishes. Still, while customizing counter height improves ergonomics, it may not be a wise decision if you plan to sell your home in less than 10 years.


4. Create a Clear Path to the Table The cleanup sink and zone should be relatively close to the primary eating area. Also, the path that dirty dishes take to the cleanup sink should be relatively short and not pass through the cooking prep zone. This makes both setting and clearing the table easier.


5. Plan for Organized Storage One benefit of creating a dedicated cleanup sink (and surrounding cleanup zone) is conveniently organized storage. When all bowls, silverware, glasses, cups, plates, napkins and storage containers are housed together in the cleanup zone, every task — from setting the table to unloading the dishwasher — is easier and takes less time. So be sure you have sufficient cabinetry nearby — whether a traditional cabinet or an alternative, as shown in this kitchen. Here, we wanted to maximize the view but couldn’t give up storage. So instead of placing two wall cabinets on both sides of a tiny window, we used an 8-foot-tall, 2-foot-deep cabinet with rollout shelves. Not only did we make the most of a beautiful view, but we gained storage as well.— By Moorea Hoffman, Houzz