Are you wondering if MDF board is a good choice for kitchen cabinets? In this article, we’ll talk about the pros and cons of MDF board for kitchen cupboards and cabinets. As you’ll see, this material can work well for some people but not so well for others.
MDF is a good option for kitchen cabinets for those looking for a simple, budget-friendly cabinet that can be easily painted. However, MDF does need to be sealed, otherwise, it will swell. Furthermore, MDF kitchen cabinets are less resistant to scratches and damage.
In the sections below, we’ll talk about all the benefits and drawbacks of MDF cabinets. One thing to keep in mind as we go is that not all MDF is created equal. Don’t let preconceived prejudices that MDF is “cheap” cloud your ability to make an informed decision.
What is MDF? Is it Good for a Kitchen?
MDF is an acronym that stands for Medium Density Fiberboard. This material is made from fine particles and other wood byproducts. However, know that MDF is different from particleboard. Particleboard uses larger bits of sawdust, and it’s more likely used with a laminate sheet. Particleboard is also more commonly used like plywood, whereas MDF is rarely used to provide structural support for any project.
MDF can almost seem like thick cardboard, initially turning people off; however, this consistency has some advantages, as you’ll see in the next sections.
Here are several reasons why MDF is a good option for kitchen cabinets:
- Easy to design
- Easily sanded and painted
Let’s look at these in more depth.
MDF is Easy to Shape into a Design
The first reason that MDF is good for kitchen cabinets is that you can get MDF cabinets in nearly any design. Yes, you can get natural wood cabinets and plywood in any design, but it’s much more expensive to receive an ornamental look with those options – MDF lets you have the look you want for a relatively inexpensive price.
Also, if you’re a woodworker and you’re thinking about building your own set of kitchen cabinets, you’ll find that MDF is pretty easy to work with. Also, MDF is known to take a clean edge with a router, as well as sanding down nicely – this gives you the option to add your designs should you choose to do so.
MDF is Reusable and Recyclable
MDF is a very sustainable product. The MDF itself is already made from the byproduct of other wood and materials. If you’re looking for a home that produces minimal waste, then MDF isn’t a bad option. With that said, other materials such as natural wood and plywood have many reusable qualities as well.
Let’s talk about one of the most common reasons people choose to use MDF boards in their kitchen and bathroom cabinets.
MDF is Inexpensive and Replaceable
The truth is, MDF costs less money than other options, and this is one of the main reasons it’s so popular for homeowners. Anyone who has looked at cabinet prices knows that natural wood can cost a small fortune. Not only that, but those who use their kitchen regularly, and have pets, or children, might not feel that paying so much money for kitchen cabinets is worth it.
MDF cabinets will cost less money. However, their cheaper price tag often puts them in the “cheap” category. This isn’t entirely fair. As we’ve already discussed, there are real benefits to using MDF for your kitchen cabinets – and we even have a few more reasons why people choose MDF!
MDF is Lighter than Wood and Resists Warps and Splits
Have you ever had a look at some old solid wood cabinets? Sometimes, they can be in pretty rough shape. Solid wood is heavy. Depending on the cabinet installation and the type of hinges used, many fully wooden cabinet doors can begin to sag over time. Also, some of them will begin to warp, and a few will crack and split – this is just how normal wood grain reacts to seasonal changes.
Yes, MDF has its issues (we’ll get to those), but regular wood is not infallible either. Sometimes people try to say that wood is ultra superior to MDF, and that if you buy wood you’ll have no issues – this isn’t telling the whole story.
MDF Sands Nicely and is Easy to Paint
For as much flack as MDF receives, it actually sands nicely and allows you to achieve a nice painted finish. If you know the steps to paint MDF (using a good primer is the key), then you can get a smooth, clean finish.
Unlike regular wood, which usually has a harsh grain pattern (that is difficult to conceal), MDF can be sanded to be perfectly smooth. With the right technique, this gives you a really clean painted look.
If you were already planning on having painted cabinets, then MDF will do just as good if not better than regular wood. Furthermore, you don’t need to feel bad about covering up the grain of the wood, because there is no grain pattern with MDF!
Reasons to Avoid MDF for Kitchen Cabinets
MDF is not without its drawbacks. In this section, we’ll talk about some of the reasons to avoid MDF. But, before we do, let’s go over a disclaimer. Not all downsides are bad for all people. Many times, pros and cons are based on someone’s preferences and style goals.
As we go through some of these downsides, take a moment to think about what your goals are for your kitchen. Once you have these goals in place, it will give you a better baseline to assess what is a true problem.
Here are several reasons to avoid MDF for kitchens:
- Swelling and water Less durable
- No natural grain
See below for more details.
MDF Swells Upon Water Contact
If water contacts MDF, it can cause big problems. As you might know, no type of wood or material loves water – not even steel. However, if regular wood cabinets become wet, all you need to do is remove them from the water source, allow them to dry, and reseal them. As long as the regular wood was not in direct contact for too long, they should be fine.
This isn’t the case with MDF. With MDF, water damage is nearly instantaneous (this will depend slightly on the quality of the MDF). In general, when MDF contacts any water, it soaks it up like a sponge, causing swelling, bubbling, and an odd sort of delamination.
Now, of course, you should have your MDF sealed with paint and polyurethane. If the MDF stays sealed, you won’t have any issues. However, if that seal is broken for any reason (maybe a pet chews through the edge, or somehow the surface is dented or scratched), then it risks serious water damage.
The good news is that it’s not that expensive to replace the entire door if needed. If you ever need to replace a real wood cabinet door, you’re looking at a significant increase in cost. Let’s talk about another downside to MDF for kitchen cabinets.
MDF is Less Durable for Kitchen Cabinets
MDF does not have the same structural capacity as wood or plywood. While this results in a nice decrease in weight for installation (and the cabinets may have less propensity to sag), there is the possibility that the MDF will break under too much pressure.
If the doors are forced shut, or someone accidentally leans on an open door, it’s less likely to hold up than regular wood.
Also, as we already mentioned, MDF is more difficult to repair. With regular wood, even if it snaps or breaks, all you need to do is glue it back together, sand it down and refinish. However, if you’re MDF breaks, you can’t repair it easily. Even something like a small scratch is much more difficult to repair in MDF cabinets.
No Natural Grain to MDF
MDF does not have a beautiful grain pattern like regular wood. If you were hoping for that lovely wooden cabinet look, then MDF may let you down. Sure, there are ways to achieve a fake wood grain pattern (some of these techniques are pretty convincing), but in general, just like a real marble countertop, it’s hard to fake a real wood look.
On the flip side, MDF takes a clean painted finish, so if you wanted painted cabinets, MDF is a solid choice.
VOCs from MDF
Some MDF uses harsh chemicals to manufacture the product – you’ll have to check with the manufacturer However, in general, you’ll want to always seal your MDF. This will ensure you avoid any exposure to harmful VOCs. You don’t have this same issue with wood, so we’d list this as a downside for MDF.
Final Thoughts on MDF Board for a Kitchen
MDF isn’t a bad option for kitchen cabinets. It’s easy to sand, easy to paint, and easy to shape. Furthermore, it’s less expensive than regular wood, and cheaper to replace if needed.
However, MDF isn’t as durable. And, if you wanted that natural wood look, you’ll have a much more difficult time achieving that with MDF.
For the best experience, make a list of all the things you want in a set of kitchen cabinets, then match them up with prices and options to see what’s best for you.