Corner’s Ultimate Guide to Kitchen Cabinet Materials
The best kitchen cabinet materials are the ones that fit your aesthetic, needs, and budget. For instance, if you’re going for an industrial look, you may select stainless steel cabinetry. French provincial? Consider plywood painted white with glass. While most cabinetry is made from wood or wood alternatives, other options may better suit your needs.

Hardwood cabinets

Hardwood is easily one of the most popular kitchen cabinet materials out there. Since it comes from trees, each panel can vary slightly as individual trees have their own textures, colours, and grain patterns. You can also paint or stain them! It’s important to remember that some hardwood types, like hickory or maple, are more durable than softwood species like walnut and mahogany.

- Timeless and durable
- Available in a wide range of styles and colours
- Easy to repaint or restain later on
- Unique textures and grain patterns
- Easy to customize

- Expensive compared to other kitchen cabinet materials
- Humidity can cause wood to expand and contract
- May require special cleaning products
Plywood cabinets
Plywood is another popular kitchen cabinet material, offering a slew of benefits. If you love the look of wood cabinets but don’t want to spend a fortune on hardwood, plywood is an excellent alternative.

To explain it simply, plywood is made using thin layers of logs that have been soaked in water. After the thin wood layers are dried, they are compressed together and covered with a veneer to create plywood. Plywood is one of the best kitchen cabinet materials because it’s durable and resists moisture better than comparable materials.

- Lightweight and easy to work with
- Durable and hold screws easily
- More resistant to water than comparable kitchen cabinet materials

- Similar to MDF but more expensive
- May be tough to get a smooth finished edge on plywood
Medium density fibreboard cabinets (MDF)
MDF is a high-grade composite material made from recycled wood fibers and resin. It’s CNC-milled under high pressure, often in one-piece frames with the center cut out for the recessed panel. The dense and heavy product is nearly synonymous with IKEA cabinetry, as, over the years, the Scandinavian company has cornered the world supply for their various kitchen collections. MDF attracts consumers because of its resistance to cracking and peeling — meaning it’s super easy to paint over. Quality-wise, it’s between plywood and particleboard.

- Even Grain. Because MDF is composed of small particles of wood fibre mixed with wax and resins, it has a smooth, even grain.
- Stability. MDF will not expand and contract as much as natural wood with fluctuations in your home’s relative humidity. As a result, it will be less prone to warping.
- Paintability. Cabinets made of MDF take paint nicely, and may be repainted whenever you wish.
- Flexible Styling. Medium density fibreboard is easy to craft into a variety of kitchen cabinets styles.

- When exposed to moisture, MDF can warp easily
- Dense and heavy, making it harder to hold screws
Particleboard (or low-density fibreboard) cabinets
This kitchen cabinet material is in the same family as fibreboard but is low density rather than medium density. It’s usually finished with a layer of laminate or wood veneer. It’s another common kitchen cabinet material at IKEA.

- An inexpensive, easily accessible option
- Sturdy and durable
- Lightweight and easy to fit

- Lower quality particleboard isn’t very durable
- Can sag if overfilled
- Not moisture resistant
- Can’t be stained or painted
Wood Veneers
Veneers are slices or sheets of solid wood pasted onto composite substrate (makes them similar to laminates). They reflect the beauty and grain of natural wood without the cost of solid wood cabinets.

- Natural Wood-like. Veneer cabinets provide the look and feel of natural wood, because they are actually made of a thin layer of real wood, which is glued onto less expensive core materials.
- A budget-friendly alternative that still offers the wood cabinet look
- Easy Care. Veneer cabinets are easy to wipe down, using only a lightly dampened soft cloth.

- When installed incorrectly, the veneer will start to peel off
- Vulnerable To Water Damage. Excessive moisture will loosen the veneer from its base, causing an unattractive “bubbled” effect.
Laminate cabinets
Laminate kitchen cabinets are typically wood-particle boards with a top coating of wood veneer over the wood base. The laminate material is a combination of compressed paper and resins that are heated into a solid piece. For those who have a small budget and are after cabinets that are easy to clean, laminate makes a great choice.

- Easy to clean with simple soap and water
- A budget-friendly option

- Difficult to repair scratches and chips
Thermofoil cabinets
Another wood alternative for kitchen cabinets is thermofoil. This material is similar to laminate as it is made from vinyl film to create thermofoil. It is now common to find laminate kitchen cabinets that are applied with thermofoil on their surfaces. Most cabinet manufacturers offer MDF or particleboard kitchen cabinets that consist of thermofoil layers. The purpose of this material is to provide a cabinet with higher water resistance.

Thermofoil closely resembles laminate plus it is much more affordable. This is why it is the preferred choice by many homeowners. Thermofoil finishes come in light gray or white color and create a refreshing look in a modern kitchen. This durable material is easy to maintain and less susceptible to damage. In fact, thermofoil cabinets are super easy to clean: just wipe off any marks using a damp and soft cloth. And if those advantages were not enough, you’ll be pleased to know that thermofoil is fade and warp resistant unlike solid wood so you can enjoy this material for a long time without the need to replace the cabinet.

- Attractive Appearance. High gloss thermofoil consists of a glossy vinyl coating on a base material such as pine fibreboard. These cabinets reflect light, making your kitchen appear brighter and more spacious.
- Easy Cleaning. Just wipe off any smudges or marks with a damp non-scratch cloth.
- Budget-friendly

- Susceptible to peeling over time
- Thermofoil can only cover 5 sides of your cabinet, meaning the backside of your cabinet door will not match
Melamine cabinets

Some people may associate melamine with plates, but did you know this material is popularly used in kitchen cabinets. The chemical compound is applied to the engineered wood like laminate in order to make it waterproof. Melamine’s composition is mainly paper with polymer resins that are rolled out into flat, thin layers. These thin sheets are then fitted over the particleboard. Most melamine kitchen cabinet surfaces are paired with wood veneers to make them more durable. Since melamine is made from pressed wood, it is one of the least expensive kitchen cabinet material options on the market.

- Comparable to but more affordable than laminate cabinets
- Available in a wide array of colours
- No need to re-stain or seal
- Imitates wooden cabinets successfully

- Inexpensive material is more susceptible to minor damages
- The cabinet shape of melamine is always square, thus limiting your kitchen design options
- Scratches are difficult to retouch
Polyester cabinets
Polyester cabinets are made with a compound of melamine and pine fibre covered with a polyester film. It’s a low price but more sophisticated than melamine.

- Holds up better against scratches than melamine
- You can choose from various colors and imitation wood

- Scratches can be difficult to retouch
Glass cabinets
One pane, several panes, frosted, clear, there are lots of options for glass kitchen cabinets. Feel free to mix and match materials to find a kitchen cabinet design that suits your personality.

- Glass cabinets make your kitchen feel bigger
- Can have your dishware and pantry items on display

- Fragile and susceptible to cracking and breaking
- Can be an expensive choice
Generally, solid wood cabinets are the most durable and expensive. Laminate or composite wood will also last for a long time and is more readily available than solid wood. For those who have a tight budget, plywood or laminate cabinets make a wiser choice plus they come in many different colors and styles. Thanks to technological advances, it is very difficult to tell the difference between engineered wood and solid wood – unless you look very closely.

If, however, aesthetics and quality are your main factor, nothing beats solid wood cabinets like oak, maple or beech. The type of kitchen cabinet you choose will ultimately depend on your personal preference, budget, and overall kitchen design.
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