Where's the Overflow?
Q: When traveling in Europe, I noticed that kitchen sinks there all have overflow drains, but I can't find such drains on kitchen sinks here in the States. Why not?
When traveling in Europe, I noticed that kitchen sinks there all have overflow drains, but I can't find such drains on kitchen sinks here in the States. We have overflows in lavatory sinks and in tubs. Why not in kitchen sinks?
—Charles McEniry, Stoughton, WIS.
Richard Trethewey replies: The simple answer is that plumbing codes in the U.S. don't require overflow drains, so there's no reason for manufacturers to put them in. But that begs the real question: Why don't codes here require these drains?
According to Pete DeMarco at the International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials, an overflow in a kitchen sink creates a sanitation issue. "Food particles could easily lodge in there and create a rotting mess," he says. European sink makers, you will be glad to know, have addressed this by providing a way to access and clean out the overflow, but U.S. manufacturers have found it easier not to bother with them at all. Besides, there's simply less need for an overflow in a kitchen sink. Unlike a large bathtub you might walk away from because it takes a long time to fill or a small lavatory sink that fills very quickly, it's just not that common for people to overfill their kitchen sinks.
So why do European sinks have overflows? "It's probably just historical preference," says DeMarco. For whatever reason, early kitchen sinks across the pond had overflows, so manufacturers continued to build them and consumers continued to expect them. As DeMarco says, "It's just always been that way, and no one has bothered to change it."