Let’s talk about sinks.
Accessing clean water from a faucet, and dumping dirty water down a drain, is a luxury. If you don’t agree, try washing your hands, brushing your teeth, or washing your dishes without a sink. Now do that repeatedly for a year. Let me tell you from experience that after a while, it’s a totally messy and inconvenient drag. I used to live in a camper with no running water. After a few months of brushing my teeth with old milk jugs filled with water, and spitting out the back door, I firmly understood the quiet dignity that comes with having a sink.
This blog is for anyone who needs a portable sink that doesn’t require electricity. In it I will show you how I turned an old aquarium stand from craigslist into a self contained sink / adorable Aperol Spritz station for under $325. If you need plumbing for your camper, van, or skoolie – or you need a hand washing station for an outdoor wedding, this blog will show you how to put a sink into almost anything. Plus a few tips for putting upcycled cabinetry into recreational vehicles!
Without further adieu, here’s how I turned a free aquarium stand from Craigslist, into an adorable little sink / Aperol spritz station.
Step 1: Gather materials
It took me a couple of tries to get it right. I’ve never used a foot pump before, so initially I bought the same fixtures, tubing, and faucet that I have used with electric water pumps. Rookie mistake! The water pressure from the foot pump wasn’t strong enough for the ½” ID tubing. After a couple of tweaks and a bit of googling I found a set-up that works pretty darn well. Here’s what I used:
Cabinet + Tanks
- 1. Aquarium Stand – $0!!!
- 2. Reliance 7 gallon AquaTainer (x2 | one fresh water, one gray water) – $37.90
- 3. 15” Undermount bar sink with drain and cover – $75.95
- 4. Krylon Fusion Satin Peacock Spray Paint (x2) – $11.96
- 5. Vinyl countertop sticker – $8.98
- 6. 3/16″ shock cord (25 ft) – $16.99
- 7. Black self tapping eye screws – $11.99
Plumbing + Fittings
- A. 3/8″ orange tubing (10 ft) – $8.40
- B. 3/4″ x 3/8″ Sch 40 PVC Reducer Bushing (x2) – $4.88
- C. 3/8″ male thread x 3/8″ OD tube quick connect fitting (x2) – $4.49
- D. 3/8″ Male In-Line quick connect – $13.48
- E. 3/8″ Female In-Line quick connect – $14.28
- F. Foot Pump with 3/8″ quick connect – $46.19
- G. Reverse Osmosis Faucet with 3/8″ quick connect – $35.39
- H. Camco Camp Drain – $18.10
Step 2: Mark and cut holes (5 in total).
- Bottom: water tank hole. Water tanks are heavy, so I decided to cut a hole in the bottom of the cabinet for the tanks to rest on the ground. This is highly recommended if you are going to put a sink cabinet in your van or camper. I would also recommend having tie downs for your water tanks if you are planning to hit the road.
2-3. Countertop: sink hole (jigsaw) + faucet hole (drill). The sink that I purchased came with a template but I ended up using the cutting board as my template. I wanted the cutting board cover to sit flush with the countertop.
4. Shelf: drain and water line hole. First, I temporarily installed the sink so that I could mark where the drain was located. Next I uninstalled the the sink, removed the countertop, and cut a hole large enough for the drain and water lines.
5. Door: Mouse hole for the foot pump. I knew that I didn’t want to have to open the cabinet door to pump water. First I installed the foot pump and marked where it hit the door. Next I removed the door and cut an arch (this took a few times to get right :).
Step 3: Mark and pre-drill holes for eye screws + shock cord
Step 4: Clean, Prep, and Paint
Step 5: Assemble cabinet (countertop, doors)
Step 6: Apply vinyl countertop sticker
Step 7: Install sink, faucet, and drain
Step 8: Install eye screws, thread shock cord, and tell a handsome dog that he’s a very good boy. Kiss his snoot and take his picture.
Step 9: Install foot pump
Step 10: Cut tubing + Connect plumbing
Tip: you want your water lines to be as short as possible to increase water pressure. To connect lines to quick connect fittings, simply insert tubing and then pull back to lock. I chose in-line quick connects so that the fresh water tank can be easily removed from the cabinet for refilling.
Step 11. Pump your foot, wash your hands, and make yourself a cocktail! Cheers to a job well done!
Tips for Van Life:
Tip #1: Glue is your best friend! A lot of folks have asked me about installing IKEA or other existing cabinets (like the aforementioned aquarium stand) into their adventure rig. Ultimately, I don’t recommend it. These cabinets have a tendency to fall apart after a couple of dirt roads and changes in temperature/humidity. The vibrating screws shred the holes on washboard dirt roads and cabinets fly off walls. Not cool and not safe. If you can afford professional van cabinetry or you’ve got the chutzpah to make your own – I recommend that. That being said, if you want to dirtbag it with something cheap and easy, I totally get it (hence why I wrote this blog).
If you install prefabbed cabinetry into your van, do yourself a huge favor and use wood glue on every joint that is screwed together! Ask any professional van builder how they build and assemble their cabinetry, wall panels, and flooring. Glue is the holy grail in the van life builders toolbox. Where there are screws, there should be glue. Learn it, live it, love it.
Tip #2: Dump your gray water in an appropriate place. Don’t be a bozo.
Tip #3: Don’t forget to winterize! Frozen water will damage your plumbing and tanks! Winterizing is easy in this simple system. All you need to do is dump your fresh water tank, then use the foot pump until your lines and the pump are clear of water, disconnect your quick connections, and finally dump your gray water tank. Easy peazy lemon squeezy.
Need more info?
I hope this information has been helpful and inspires you to take on a project of your own! If you have any questions, or you would like to order a plumbing kit – shoot us an email, we are happy to ship anywhere in the US! If you would like more DIY van life content – follow us on Instagram 🙂
Until the next time, as my great aunt always used to say, “Take it easy, breezy. You’ve got a long way to fly.”