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Choosing The Right Kitchen Faucet Handles (And Why It Matters)

Replacing your kitchen faucet is a big decision. It’s a piece of hardware you’ll use all the time, but it can come at a high price point for quality, and it has to both look good and work well. Most of the conversation about choosing a new model revolves around the looking good part: the material used and its finish. But you hear a lot less about the working well half, specifically the part of the faucet you’ll interact with the most: the handles. Thinking about faucet handles may feel like a tedious part of the buying process, but picking a faucet that fits how you use your sink will save you a major headache later on.

One or Two Handles?

Double Handle Kitchen Faucet From The Ostende Series, 4202 by Herbeau

If you clicked onto this post, chances are you want a definitive answer about the “correct” number of handles for a kitchen sink. Unfortunately, the short answer is that there isn’t one; it essentially comes down to personal preference. There are differences between each, but it’s up to you to decide what’s best for your kitchen. A two-handle faucet will give you more precision and control, as you can regulate the hot and cold water with their own handles. The volume of water flowing and its temperature are independent of each other, so you can have a hot drip or a cold jet of water depending on what you need. With one handle, you’ll have more ease of access. You only need to use one hand to control flow and temperature of your water, but this means you won’t be able to adjust the volume and temperature independently.

Do You Have Enough Holes?

Lead-free Solid Stainless Steel Bridge Faucet With A Traditional Spout, Lever Handles And Side Spray In Brushed Stainless Steel, WHSB14007-SK-BSS by Whitehaus

A big determining factor in how many faucet handles you’re able to have is the number of holes drilled into your sink base to access the plumbing. The more you have, the more options you have without having to replace the entire basin and/or part of your counter. Three to four holes are generally standard on pre-drilled sinks, but your setup may have more or fewer. The “default” traditional installation (and the one considered most visually appealing, because it keeps your hardware from feeling cramped) is a “widespread” setup. That means two faucet handles and the spout, each with its own spot – and often with a separate spray handle occupying the fourth hole.

Less Holes Can Be More

A bridge faucet requires fewer holes than a widespread faucet but still puts some distance between the handles (by Whitten Architects)

A bridge faucet uses two holes, one for each handle, but doesn’t need one for the faucet. Instead, the handles connect in the middle above the sink, combining at the base of the spout to deliver water. Then there is the single hole setup, in which you either have a single handle faucet or a two handle one with the handles attached to the head. If you have more holes than you need for your ideal faucet but don’t want to just cover the extras with a metal plate, you can use them for sink accessories like a sprayer head or built-in soap dispenser.

Where Should The One Handle Be?

Single Hole Cupc Approved Brass Faucet In Chrome Color, AI-16747 by American Imaginations

If you decide to stick with a one handle faucet, where that handle is located is incredibly important: it’s where you’ll reach every time you need to turn the faucet on and off. Most people are right-handed, so in theory you want the handle to be on the right side so it’s in reach of your dominant hand. But in practice, you have to remember that you’re likely already holding something when you go to turn on your sink. Chances are, you’re holding that spatula or whisk or pot in your right hand and will actually operate the faucet most with your left. You want the handle on the opposite side of your dominant hand. If you’re more ambidextrous, pay attention to which hand you’re using to access your existing sinks before buying a replacement that has a side handle. It’ll save you a lot of trouble later on.

More Single Handle Options

Single Handle Kitchen Faucet-brushed Nickel-di Piazza, Series-KF-AZ205BN-anzzi by Anzzi

A side handle isn’t your only choice, and may not be worth it in a house with both lefties and righties. Having a handle on top of your faucet is a good compromise and keeps the handle out of the way of any faucet accessories. It’s also a little more intuitive to use than a faucet with a side handle, since you’ll keep the traditional “left for hot and right for cold” setup. More rarely, you can find faucets with a center placed pull. These are visually appealing because the handle blends in with the faucet’s overall appearance, but having the handle in front of your faucet means you have to reach into the water stream to turn it off or do an intricate reacharound to avoid getting wet. They can be a stylish alternative, but for many people this feels like a design oversight and a deal-breaker.

What About Knobs?

Knobs are a very strong design choice, but can be confusing to use if installed improperly (by Smith & Vansant Architects PC)

While you see most contemporary faucets adhering to sleek handles, you can make the aesthetic choice of a more old-fashioned knob (or cross handle). Equally as functional, these are a good way to bring a more traditional touch to your kitchen in a single renovation. However, introducing a knob can be confusing at first because there is no clear way to twist it. Most plumbers will install your kitchen faucet so the knobs move counter-clockwise (think “lefty loosy, righty tighty”), but they can be put in clockwise or, when dealing with two-knob sinks, with each knob turning a different way. You’ll get used to it no matter what, but it is worth mentioning in case you’re seeking an intuitive replacement for your sink faucet.

So while it’s easy to get caught up in picking a new faucet’s style and finish when replacing your kitchen faucet, how it handles is also an important factor you should consider before making a purchase.