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There's little argument that a copper sink brings classic charm and elegance to any kitchen. But it's so much more than just another pretty sink. Copper has numerous qualities to applaud, and a few to be wary of. If you're convinced that copper is the look you want, here's a few things to keep in mind as you shop.

Search out a pure, copper sink. Some foreign manufacturers slip lead, mercury, and even arsenic into the mix. Ask for test certification papers of purity. All legit companies have them. Zinc and silver are the only safe metals added by some to provide additional strength.

And, take a peek at any joints. Are they welded or soldered? If it's easy to see the seam, and it's any shade of gray; it's solder. Move on. Solder might contain lead, will discolor, and can eventually leak. A copper weld is permanent and hardly noticeable.

You might prefer a smooth-finished copper sink if you are after a very sleek, modern look in your kitchen. But, for that old-world appeal, a hammered sink is in order. Copper is a soft metal and can scratch fairly easy. And, if it's thin, it's more likely to dent; so don't settle for anything leaner than 18-gauge. For these two reasons, and the fact that pounding copper toughens it up, most people prefer the hammered look over the smooth.

Usually the hammering is touted as being done by a skilled craftsman. The proof is in the punches. If there is a lot of irregularity to the marks, it's hand-hammered. If a uniform pattern is discernable, it's been machine pressed. And watch out for deep dimples in the sink bottom. Water can pool there and cause discoloration. Here's a tip: If you don't want to have to wipe the bottom of the sink dry after every use, look for subtle punch marks in the base, and a slope or channels to funnel water toward the drain.

Because a copper sink has so many attributes, some will be accentuated and others hindered by the way you maintain it. Here's what I mean:

One major attraction to copper is its ever-changing patina; a darkening effect resulting from oxidation. Another is its anti-bacterial nature, keeping the surface hygienic by destroying microbes on contact. These activities will continue unless you interrupt them.

For example, a drawback to copper is that an acidic food left in the sink will leave a mark by lightening the patina. You'll need to be patient and let the sink heal itself over a short time. Then, you can simply be careful to avoid it happening again; or you can coat the interior with a special wax to protect it from future stains. Wax can also be applied if you want to halt the patina progression when it gets right where you like it. But waxing not only protects and stops the patina; it also eliminates any bug zapping. Additionally, the coating needs to be re-applied every few weeks. As you can see, a little extra thought needs to go into caring for copper because of all the trade-offs.

Overall, it may cost a bit more than other sinks, but the ambiance copper evokes is priceless. And on a practical level; if you ever plan to move, it's been documented that the copper effect will increase the overall value of your home.