What Is a Vessel Sink? The Details, Perks, and Pitfalls of This Modern Design

Ginny Bartolone
Written by Ginny Bartolone
Updated August 17, 2022
A terrazzo sink in a guest bathroom
Photo: rh2010 / Adobe Stock


  • The vessel sink includes a freestanding bowl that sits on the bathroom counter.

  • Vessel sinks are popular in current bathroom renovations but can be difficult to maintain.

  • Trendy design choices like vessel sinks are risky if you are planning to sell your home.

  • Options like drop-in or undermount sinks may be more likely to stand the test of time.

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If we told you that a specific sink trend was causing an uproar in the world of bathroom design, you might imagine something extravagant like a bold hue or clam-shaped basins. In reality, it's the vessel sink that’s getting all the contested attention. You may be wondering—what is a vessel sink? Read on to learn about this unique bathroom feature.

A black vessel sink running water
Photo: ptasha / Adobe Stock

What Is a Vessel Sink?

At first glance, a vessel sink gives the appearance that it is balancing on top of its base like a freestanding bowl. But actually, the drain at the base of the sink still flows into a pipe below the basin like other sink designs—it's just harder to spot the plumbing from afar. The overall look is both modern and reflective of a time before plumbing—a bit like a bowl and water pitcher sitting on top of a bedroom vanity.

A vessel sink is not to be confused with its more common sink relatives:

  • Drop-in: This sink "drops" into a pre-cut hole in your vanity counter.

  • Undermount: These are similar to drop-in sinks, but they attach from below the countertop. The top lip of an undermount sink does not come above the counter.

  • Pedestal: The sink and its stand sit independent of a vanity and the wall.

  • Wall-mount: This style typically does not connect to a vanity, but the back basin connects to the wall.

Compared to the other varieties, what exactly makes vessel sinks raise eyebrows? Here are the two sides of the debate:

Pros of Vessel Sinks

There's no question that vessel sinks are eye-catching. They show off the sink material and design more than sinks embedded in a vanity. The overall aesthetic is also uniquely graceful when you turn on the water, sending it swirling around in the ceramic, glass, or metal basin. Here are the top pros of vessel sinks to keep in mind:

  • Modern Style: Vessel sinks undoubtedly give a bathroom an instant air of style and elegance that catches your eye as you enter the space. The aesthetic can be both simplistic and chic, ideal for sprucing up bathrooms large and small without overhauling the room's design.

  • Versatility: The versatility is right in the name—the options for vessels are nearly endless when you peruse the many designs available. The bowl of the sink comes in a range of materials and price points, not to mention the many types of vanities vessel sinks can pair up with.

  • More Space: The shape of the bowl opens up a little more counter space below its rim and leaves more room in the vanity for storage.  

  • Easier Installation: While you will need a specific faucet and drain style for vessel sinks, you only need to drill a hole for the drainage pipe in the vanity and bowl—unlike a drop-in or undermount sink that requires more space removed from the counter.

  • Splash Guard: Potential drainage issues aside, the tall design of vessel sinks encourages users to hold their hands deeper into the vessel, meaning less splashing and spills over the edge.

Cons of Vessel Sinks

On the other hand, vessel sinks bring a few challenges including:

  • Drainage: Vessel sinks often don't include an overflow hole. If your water basin overflows, the water will go over the edge faster.

  • Maintenance: Cleaning a vessel sink is a bit more complicated than other popular varieties. The area where the outside of the basin meets the counter has a habit of hoarding mildew, dust, and grime. Reaching this spot at the base of the curve with a rag or brush could make for a frustrating afternoon cleaning the bathroom.

  • Height: Vessel sinks are often taller than undermount or drop-in designs since the basin sits on top of the bathroom counter instead of inside it. If you have young hand-washers in your home, make sure they can safely access the basin and faucet.

Common Questions About Vessel Sinks

Can you put a vessel sink on any vanity?

In theory, a crafty DIYer can equip nearly any vanity with a vessel sink—whether it's a great idea or not is another story. The right vanity for a vessel sink should sit at an appropriate height for handwashing and for your current plumbing. It should also be easy to carve and adapt to plumbing if it doesn't come specifically pre-designed for a vessel sink. Lastly, the vanity must be able to bear the weight of the vessel and the water as well as have some level of water resistance.

Do vessel sinks have an overflow drain?

Many vessel sinks do not have an overflow drain, which is the small opening at the top of a sink that sends excess water down the drain should it become clogged. However, you will find some modern vessel sinks that incorporate an overflow drain into the original design, but it is not easy to add the drain to an existing vessel.

How do I change from a drop-in sink to a vessel sink?

The process depends on the structure of your current drop-in sink. If you are able to remove the bowl of the drop-in without damaging the surrounding countertop, this is your best bet without replacing the entire vanity. Next, place a vessel sink wide enough to cover the existing hole and seal it to the counter. You will also need a taller faucet and appropriately lengthed pipes to reattach the sink to your bathroom plumbing.

Can you use a regular faucet with a vessel sink?

Vessel sinks require a faucet that is measured specifically for the dimensions of your new setup. The faucet must be tall enough and extend far enough to spill water into the vessel without splashing over the edge or splashing on the drain at the bottom of the bowl. In addition to traditional faucets mounted on the counter, consider a wall-mounted faucet to meet exact measurements.

Vessel Sink Installation Considerations

Installing a vessel sink is a comparatively easy way to add a bit of panache to your bathroom without ripping up the tiles or adding a claw-foot tub. The simple addition can add space to a small bathroom, offer flexibility when you want to change out the vessel, and allow more design flexibility when choosing a vanity.

Keep in mind, however, that unlike buying an area rug or a new duvet cover, major home renovations typically cost more and require far more effort if you change your mind. Sink installation costs, for example, range anywhere from $100 to $1,250.

So, before opting for this modern design, ask yourself a few questions:

  • Does the chic accent blend with the rest of my bathroom style?

  • Can I adapt my current vanity to host a vessel sink?

  • Do I often have small children in the house who may need a step up to use the sink?

  • Will the vertical shape of the sink vessel enhance my counter space usage?

  • Will I be able to replace the sink vessel with a similar model if it breaks?

What if you want to be trendy and play it safe at the same time? It’s doable if you opt for design choices that ensure both good function and fashion. 

For example, Carrara marble has been on the home design scene for centuries but still provides a modern look. A few other lasting sink trends include:

  • Sinks set in floating vanities that leave space for your feet and additional storage.

  • Natural colors that blend with a range of wall colors and wallpaper.

  • Separate vanities and sinks for couples.

  • Touchless faucets, which are more likely to stick around due to the homeowner's new focus on a germ-free home.

  • Natural wood accents surrounding sinks, such as in the counter or vanity.

Consider speaking with a local professional bathroom designer who keeps their fingers on the pulse of design trends. With their experience, they can speak to what will stick around versus what's bound to cause costly issues.

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