What's the difference between an $80 faucet and one that costs $600? Besides style, not much, according to our past tests. That's because all but the cheapest faucets now come with better valves, tougher finishes, and lifetime warranties against leaks and stains.
We tested single-handle faucets, most with pullout spouts that combine spray head and spout. But our findings are applicable to other types of faucets, too. PVD (physical vapor deposition) finishes, available on nickel, bronze, and other faucets, were the toughest and resisted scratching, though drain cleaners and other corrosives can stain them slightly. Chrome was pretty durable, too, although a heavy-duty scouring pad can leave scratches. Just use common sense when cleaning these faucets and they'll stay scratch and stain-free.
How to choose
Single-lever faucets take up less counter space. But we found that side-mounted single levers weren't as easy to use because there might be less clearance from the backsplash. So you might bang your knuckles as you turn the handle. Straight-spout faucets are compact and often inexpensive, but you might need to move the kitchen faucet to fit a big pot underneath. Gooseneck models have higher clearances but they can cause splashing if your sink is shallow.
Single-lever faucets that can be turned off without losing the last temperature setting are more convenient than those that require you to reset the temp every time you turn them on. Whatever style you choose, keep the faucet proportional; a small faucet looks silly with a large sink and vice versa. Also make sure that the faucet head swings enough to reach the entire sink and that it has a lifetime warranty against leaks and stains.
If you're replacing your sink and countertop as well, check our Ratings of sink and countertop materials. And if you have a bigger project in mind consult the Luxury look for less, our guide to updating your kitchen, and our bathroom remodeling guide.