Replacing enamel on a cast-iron sink

By Jeanne Huber / Special To The Washington Post

Q: When we bought our 1927 home in 2000, we were excited to see that the kitchen had a large cast-iron sink. It was badly chipped, so my husband refinished it with epoxy. Unfortunately, that didn’t last long and now it looks quite unsightly, with many chips and imperfections. I’ve called several places to have it redone, but most of them do not recommend refinishing it because they say it won’t last. However, we would really love to keep this sink. What do you recommend?

A: An epoxy coating, as you discovered, looks good — at first. It might be suitable for a bathtub that gets occasional use. For a hard-working kitchen sink, though, nothing substitutes for porcelain enamel. There is one place — and apparently only one place in the whole country — where you can get a classic cast-iron sink recoated with true porcelain enamel. That’s Custom Ceramic Coatings in Lenzburg, Illinois (618-475-2710; www.customceramic.com). The owner, John Ballantyne, will sandblast the sink to remove remnants of your epoxy plus the original lead-based porcelain enamel glass and apply a new porcelain enamel finish that he bakes on in a kiln.

Cullen Hackler, executive vice president of the Porcelain Enamel Institute (770-676-9366; www.porcelainenamel.com), a trade group, said that recoated porcelain enamel isn’t quite as thick as what original manufacturers put on but that it is true porcelain enamel and is far more durable than epoxy.

Over the years, Hackler said, he’s shared technical information with several people who were interested in starting businesses focused on recoating classy old sinks and tubs, but he knows of no one who followed through.

There are companies that apply porcelain enamel to signs, motorcycle parts and other objects. But coating cast iron, which can be about quarter-inch thick, isn’t the same as coating thinner metal, said Chris Howell of KVO Industries in Santa Rosa, California. His company makes porcelain enamel signs, but it got some requests to recoat sinks and tubs. So KVO tried it and discovered that bubbles formed in the finish because they were using materials optimized for use on thinner metals.

To get your sink to Custom Ceramic Coatings, you’d need to get on Ballantyne’s waiting list by phoning or emailing him, at jballantyne@customceramic.com. Once you are near the top of the list, he’ll contact you and you’ll need to ship the sink to him in a crate. He’s happy to supply instructions for that and suggests that you find a company with a loading dock that’s willing to handle the shipping (and receiving, when your sink is done). “I’ve had customers use local lumberyards and one used the local Kroger store,” Ballantyne said. He estimated shipping might cost $275 each way to the Washington area.

Ballantyne looked at the pictures you sent and guesses that your sink is 66 inches long. To sandblast one that size and apply new white porcelain, he would charge about $1,450.

Q: I have a Waterpik shower head that’s accumulated brown and white lime deposits. It’s not only ugly, but it’s clogging some of the holes. I have tried to clean the head with Scrub Free Bathroom Cleaner with OxiClean and also with Zud powder, but neither seems to work. What’s the best way to remove the deposits?

A: Many Waterpik shower heads have rubber nozzles. Rubbing them with a fingertip or scrubbing them with an old toothbrush often breaks up the crust so you can rinse it away.

If that doesn’t work, the company recommends soaking the shower head in white vinegar. To treat the shower head in place, partially fill a plastic bag with vinegar, slip it over the shower head and use twist ties, a rubber band or string to hold the bag there for a couple of hours. Or unscrew the shower head and soak it in a bowl filled with vinegar. To do this, slip a rag between the jaws of adjustable pliers and the threaded section of the shower head and turn counterclockwise. Let the showerhead soak in vinegar for about two hours, then reinstall it. In either case, finish cleaning by running water through the shower head.

If you’re lucky, the vinegar will have softened the deposits enough so that the water pressure pushes them out of the holes.