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What is a Dry Sink?

Malcolm Tatum
Updated May 16, 2024
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The dry sink is a basin used for basic hygiene functions that is not connected with a plumbing system. Used extensively in the days before indoor plumbing, such sinks were considered valuable kitchen accessories as well as ideal for placement in bedrooms a washroom, or other areas where people would wash or shave. While considered to be more of a decorative accessory today, it is still possible to purchase one that is fully functional.

When it comes to the basic design for a dry sink, the construction involves a cabinet that is coupled with a simple washbasin installed in the top. Cabinets may be created using traditional hardwoods or make use of various metals for a more contemporary appearance. The washbasins are traditionally constructed with copper, although aluminum or stainless steel is often used today. The basin does not feature a drain, but it is not uncommon for it to be constructed for easy removal from the cabinet, making it possible to move it outside and dump the used water.

In early times, the cabinet normally included an open front that was covered by two doors. The interior could be used to store shaving supplies, towels, and other toiletry items. The surface of the sink was normally large enough to allow a pitcher and porcelain basin to sit alongside the recessed copper basin. This made it possible to pour water into both basins, a feature that was especially helpful with washing and rinsing dishes and other crockery.

While indoor plumbing has made the dry sink functionally obsolete, there are still situations where this type of household accessory is very desirable. Rustic cabins with no running water often make use of one as a means of allowing residents to wash up in the morning or a way to clean vegetables before cooking. In other applications, it can be used as a decorating accent in rooms that are designed to recall the styles of past eras.

Purchasing this type of sink is usually not a difficult task, and many furniture stores are happy to special order them on request. It is also possible to purchase plans for constructing a simple one. The plans usually come with step-by-step instructions as well as a listing of materials and tools needed to complete the project. While purchasing a professionally constructed dry sink may be costly, making one at home is much less expensive and also allows the home owner to alter the design slightly if desired.

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Malcolm Tatum
By Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing to become a full-time freelance writer. He has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including HomeQuestionsAnswered, and his work has also been featured in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and newspapers. When not writing, Malcolm enjoys collecting vinyl records, following minor league baseball, and cycling.
Discussion Comments
By anon175467 — On May 12, 2011

To Ellipse: I saw that too. Was that not the neatest thing? That would be a fun, fantastic thing to have in an old Victorian home. I'd love to have one just to play with!

By GarlicSoup — On Sep 07, 2010

The larger dry sink cupboards had a large opening for the "sink", which would have been a tub or basin, and were primarily used in the kitchen. Usually these dry sinks would have shelves or cupboards above the sink area and below. These items are now popular among people who buy antiques for their homes and are often used as buffets in the dining room. Whether restored or left to their rustic look, these cabinets make unique decorative statements.

By Ellipse — On Sep 07, 2010

I recently saw a form of an antique dry sink on Antiques Roadshow. It was actually a dresser, but the top swiveled out to reveal a small sink with a faucet. There was a reservoir cabinet above the faucet where the person would pour water and this water would flow from the faucet when it was turned on. The water would then drain out into a receptacle inside a cabinet under the sink. It also had a mirror that could swing out for shaving, etc. To me, this was a unique and more functional form of the dry sink because it had a dual purpose as a sink and a clothing storage unit. I have a feeling though that this form of dry sink was probably only affordable to the more well-to-do or wealthy families.

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing...
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