What Is a Dry Sink and How Is It Used? A Beginner’s Guide

Not sure where to put the one you inherited? We have some ideas.

We hand-pick antiques for our readers and may earn a small commission if you buy something featured on this page.
Illustration of a primitive-style, honey-toned dry sink in a cozy bedroom, featuring a marble top, simple latch handles, and minimal decor.

An antique dry sink was a staple in most households before the early 20th century. Dry sinks allowed people to wash hands, produce, or linens before most homes had interior plumbing. At the minimum, most dry sinks had a pitcher and a basin for washing. In addition, the front of a dry sink usually has a drawer or two and a cabinet for towels, linens, and other personal care items.

People placed dry sinks in kitchens, bathrooms, porches, and bedrooms. As people learned more about proper hygiene, dry sinks became more popular and elaborate. Eventually, these furniture pieces were replaced with sinks and vanities as we know them today. Learn more about their design history, view some examples, and get ideas for repurposing them today.


A dry sink is an antique furniture piece that was used in homes for daily washing activities before the advent of modern plumbing. It provided a space for a water basin and pitcher, aiding in basic hygiene and cleaning tasks.

Antique Primitive Dry Sink

This is antique dry sink features a recessed basin top. The base has two doors with ceramic knobs that open to a shelved interior.

View on Etsy

Design History

The first dry sinks had a more primitive look with a recessed top panel to prevent excess water from splashing on the floor or walls. During the Victorian era, most dry sinks had a flat top and tall backsplash. More elaborate designs were topped with marble or copper and had carved wood features. 

In most cases, larger double-wide dry sinks were designed for the kitchen, usually painted with a recessed top. Homeowners typically kept smaller wooden dry sinks with more Victorian-style detailing in a bedroom. 


Colonial Era

Basic, rectangular basins.
Constructed from durable woods like pine or oak
Simple backsplash, shelf, or cabinet underneath


Victorian Era

Ornate carvings and intricate molding
Introduction of marble tops
Elaborate hardware, painted or stained finishes

Early 1900s

Transition to Modern Plumbing

Simplified, functional designs
Integration of features like towel rails, cutting boards
Start of decline in traditional use due to built-in plumbing

Early 1900s
Mid 1900s

Mid Century

Resurgence for nostalgia and decorative purposes
Repurposed as sideboards, bar cabinets, plant stands
Emphasis on preserving historical value

Mid 1900s
Late 1900s to Present

Modern Interpretations

Fusion of antique style with modern functionality
Commonly used in creative ways, such as bathroom vanities
Reproductions maintain historical design aspects

Late 1900s to Present
antique 19th century Ohio cherry dry sink

Antique 19th Century Ohio Cherry Dry Sink 

This is a beautiful 19th-century dry sink cupboard with four pull-out dovetailed Chamfered drawers and original hardware.

View on Etsy

Identifying Features

Dry sinks are characterized by their distinct function. These antique pieces might have a spacious, rectangular basin crafted from durable woods like pine, oak, or maple and lined with waterproof materials such as copper or zinc. The lower section often has a cabinet or open shelving, ideal for storing essentials like washbasins and towels. If there is no basin, there is a flat surface to place a pitcher and basin set.

Dry sinks can also include:

  • Tall backsplashes that connect to a towel bar
  • Upper shelves attached to the backsplash
  • Hand-carved, uneven dovetail joints
  • Older style nails

Reproduction Alert

There are a lot of reproduction dry sinks that look older and more primitive. Typically, it is easier to recreate a primitive dry sink than to remake one in a Victorian style. Some people even make dry sinks out of old wood and nails to fool buyers. Look for key identifying features listed above, and always purchase from reputable dealers who can help you authenticate a piece. 
ANTIQUE Dry Sink, wood cabinet, furniture, wash stand, Victorian commode

Antique Victorian Dry Sink Wash Stand

This is an antique dry sink in a Victorian style. The cabinet is in good condition with what looks like an original finish. 

View on Etsy

Repurposing Ideas

Dry sinks are still popular today, even if their initial function is no longer required. Most people purchase dry sinks because the furniture matches their aesthetic, whether country primitive or Victorian. Here are some ways people have been repurposing historical dry sinks.

  • Nightstand: Use the top for a lamp and books and the shelves or cabinet for storing nighttime essentials.
  • Workbench: The sturdy structure is ideal for holding tools, with ample surface area for small projects.
  • Kitchen Island: Add wheels for mobility and use the top for food prep, with storage below for kitchenware.
  • TV Stand: The flat top of most dry sinks can support a TV, while the compartments below can house media devices and accessories.
  • Bathroom Vanity Conversion: Fit a sink into the top and utilize the storage space for bathroom essentials.
  • Dresser: The shelves and compartments can be used for clothes, making it a unique and rustic bedroom addition.
  • Coffee Bar: Set up a coffee machine on top, with spaces below for mugs, coffee, and tea supplies.
  • Gardening Station: A dry sink is perfect for holding pots, soil, and gardening tools, with a work surface for potting plants.
  • Home Bar: Convert it into a chic bar area, with spaces for bottles, glasses, and mixing tools.
  • Console Table: Place it in an entryway or hallway for decorative items and use the storage for keeping daily essentials handy.
Victorian Marble Top Wash Stand

Antique Victorian Marble Top Wash Stand Dry Sink

This luxurious dry sink has a raised burl panel and a marble top. The extra-tall backsplash features two built-in shelves.

View on Etsy

This website uses cookies to improve your experience. By clicking “Accept“, you agree to our website's cookie use as described in our Cookie Policy. Accept Read More