When it comes to choosing materials for kitchen cabinets, homeowners have many options to consider. The material you choose for your kitchen cabinets impacts aesthetics, functionality, durability and cost. In this comprehensive guide, we will examine the most popular materials used for kitchen cabinets to help you select the best choice for your needs.
Hardwood is a classic and popular choice for kitchen cabinets. Oak, maple, cherry, hickory and walnut are some of the most common hardwoods used.
Pros of Hardwood Cabinets
- Natural beauty: Hardwood cabinets showcase beautiful and unique wood grains and colors that add warmth and character to your kitchen. Hardwood can be painted or stained to complement your kitchen’s decor.
- Durability: Hardwood is very dense and strong, making it extremely durable. Hardwood cabinets can potentially last a lifetime with proper care.
- Resale value: Kitchens with real wood cabinets tend to have higher resale value than those with laminate or engineered wood.
Cons of Hardwood Cabinets
- Expensive: Hardwood cabinets are one of the most expensive cabinet materials. Costs vary considerably depending on wood species.
- Maintenance: Hardwood requires more maintenance than laminated products. It needs to be refinished periodically as the finish wears over time.
- Vulnerable to moisture: Constant exposure to moisture can cause hardwood cabinets to warp or split. Proper precautions are needed near sinks.
While expensive initially, many homeowners view the unrivaled beauty and longevity of real wood cabinets as a worthwhile investment.
Plywood is an extremely common choice for kitchen cabinetry. It consists of thin sheets of real hardwood glued and pressed together in alternating grain patterns.
Pros of Plywood Cabinets
- Affordable: Plywood costs significantly less than solid hardwood. It provides an attractive real wood look for less.
- Stability: The crossing wood grain patterns make plywood panels stable, resistant to warping and able to withstand heavy use.
- Ease of installation: Large plywood panels are simple to work with. Cabinets made of plywood are relatively lightweight.
- Accepts finishes: Plywood can be stained, painted and finished just like hardwood. Grain patterns are usually subtle.
Cons of Plywood Cabinets
- Prone to swelling: Plywood edges tend to swell and deteriorate when exposed to excessive moisture. Careful sealing is required.
- Not as durable: Plywood is unlikely to last as long as solid wood due to the glues used in manufacturing.
- Unsightly edges: The layered construction of plywood leads to visible unfinished edges that detract from appearance.
- Less valuable: Plywood kitchens generally don’t increase resale value of homes as much as solid hardwood does.
For many homeowners, plywood offers the ideal compromise between cost and the look of real wood. When properly sealed and finished, plywood cabinets provide a budget-friendly choice.
Laminate cabinets have become ever more popular in recent years. They consist of decorative laminate sheets fused to a plywood or composite wood substrate.
Pros of Laminate Cabinets
- Affordability: Laminate kitchen cabinets are typically the most budget-friendly option available. Some styles look strikingly like real wood.
- Durability: Modern laminates are highly resistant to scratching, scuffing, cracking and peeling. They stand up well to moisture and daily wear-and-tear.
- Easy maintenance: Laminate surfaces just need occasional wiping. They retain their appearance without need for refinishing or resealing over time.
- Range of styles: Laminates come in unlimited colors and realistic faux woodgrain patterns. There are matte, gloss and textured finishes to match any decor.
Cons of Laminate Cabinets
- Resale value: Kitchens with laminate cabinets tend to have lower resale value than those with wood materials.
- Can warp: Although laminate surfaces are water-resistant, substrate materials like MDF can swell and warp if exposed to moisture.
- Artificial appearance: Laminate lacks the authenticity and uniqueness of real wood’s graining. Some styles look obviously artificial.
- Easily damaged edges: Cut edges and seams are prone to chipping and moisture damage unless properly sealed.
Laminate kitchen cabinets continue to improve in durability and aesthetics while remaining a wallet-friendly option for many homeowners.
Similar to laminate, thermofoil cabinets have a decorative surface layer fused to a wood substrate except using heat instead of glues.
Pros of Thermofoil Cabinets
- Affordability: Comparable to laminate in price, thermofoil is an economical cabinet material.
- Durability: Thermofoil is highly resistant to scratches, dents, corrosion and moisture. Seams are tightly bonded.
- Stability: The thermofusion process prevents swelling, warping and delamination. Thermofoil cabinets retain their shape.
- Low maintenance: The durable thermofoil surface just needs light cleaning and resists staining. No refinishing is required.
Cons of Thermofoil Cabinets
- Limited styles: Thermofoil lacks the broad range of colors and woodgrain patterns available with laminate surfaces.
- High heat sensitivity: If overheated, thermofoil can peel, bubble and discolor around oven ranges. Heat shields are advised.
- No repairability: Damaged thermofoil cannot be repaired. Entire cabinet sections need replacement if surface damage occurs.
- Lower resale value: Like other laminated products, thermofoil kitchens don’t increase property values like wood cabinets.
With its exceptional durability yet limited aesthetic options, thermofoil works best for some – but not all – kitchen designs and lifestyles.
While less common than wood, metal kitchen cabinets bring unique benefits. Stainless steel, galvanized steel and aluminum are typical options.
Pros of Metal Cabinets
- Extreme durability: Metal is impact-resistant and almost impossible to dent or scratch under normal use. Most metals are waterproof.
- Hygienic surfaces: Metals like stainless steel have antimicrobial properties and nonporous surfaces that don’t harbor bacteria.
- Modern aesthetic: Sleek metal cabinets create a contemporary, industrial look and feel. Stainless steel offers a professional kitchen aesthetic.
- Easy cleaning: Metal cabinet surfaces only need quick wiping with damp cloth. Spills and messes wipe away without staining.
Cons of Metal Cabinets
- Noise and condensation: Metal transmits sound easily and sweats with temperature/humidity changes. Padding can help reduce noise.
- Fingerprints and smudges: Stainless steel shows fingerprints, water spots and oil easily. Frequent wiping is needed to avoid smudgy appearance.
- Limitations: Custom metal cabinetry is expensive. Metal can’t be cut on site for modifications or repairs.
- Few style options: Metal cabinets only come in limited color and finish selections compared to wood or laminate. Not all metal works with all decor.
With unique pros and cons, metal works well for some contemporary and commercial-style kitchens but provides fewer options than wood or laminate cabinetry.
Kitchen Cabinet Material Comparison Chart
|Hardwood||Beautiful, durable, good value retention||Expensive, high maintenance, moisture issues|
|Plywood||Affordable, stable, accepts finishes||Prone to swelling, unfinished edges|
|Laminate||Budget-friendly, durable, easy maintenance||Lower resale value, artificial appearance|
|Thermofoil||Durable, moisture-resistant, affordable||Limited styles, no repairability|
|Metal||Extremely durable, antimicrobial, sleek look||Noisy, prone to smudges and condensation|
Key Considerations When Choosing Kitchen Cabinet Materials
- Budget: Hardwoods cost far more than plywood, laminates or thermofoil. Determine what you can afford.
- Design: Consider your kitchen’s overall style. Contemporary decor suits metal while classic designs pair better with hardwood.
- Durability: Look for durable, moisture-resistant materials if your space will see heavy use. Kids and clumsy cooks need sturdier options.
- Ease of cleaning: Opt for nonporous, seamless surfaces like metal or thermofoil if you desire low-maintenance cabinets.
- Green design: Eco-friendly cabinet materials like bamboo avoid using old-growth woods. Check for harmful chemicals in adhesives and finishes.
- Personal preference: Factor in your tastes, values and priorities. There are always trade-offs to consider with each cabinet material.
Pricing Overview of Cabinet Materials
Here is a general pricing overview of common kitchen cabinet materials per linear foot installed:
- Thermofoil: $50 – $100
- Laminate: $100 – $200
- Wood veneer: $200 – $350
- Plywood: $250 – $400
- Engineered wood: $350 – $500
- Paint-grade hardwood: $400 – $900
- Stained hardwood: $500 – $1,500+
- Stainless steel: $2,500+
Of course, many factors affect exact pricing. Custom options, door styles, hardware choices, complexity of installation and geographical region influence costs. Higher-end cabinet lines cost exponentially more across all materials.
Best Materials for Different Kitchen Cabinet Styles
Certain cabinet materials pair better with specific kitchen styles:
- Painted or stained hardwoods emulate authentic country kitchens. Opt for wider planks with visible wood grains.
- Distressed plywood complements farmhouse or cottage aesthetics at a lower price point. Chipped paint exposes wood tones underneath.
- Glossy thermofoil or laminate in bold colors fits modern minimalist kitchens. Both offer seamless, easy-clean surfaces.
- Stainless steel provides an ultra-modern look and matches professional-grade appliances. Durable, sleek and hygienic.
- Wood veneer cabinets offer a middle ground between traditional and modern. Available in many stains to suit varied decor.
- Textured laminates mimic woodgrain without the maintenance. Matte greys or taupes with brushed nickel hardware strike a transitional balance.
Recommended Cabinet Brands by Material
These top brands consistently manufacture high-quality kitchen cabinets across a variety of materials:
Hardwood and Plywood Cabinets
- Hampton Bay
- Mills Pride
- Native Trails
- Omega National Products
- Lynx Professional Grills
Be sure to carefully vet any contractors installing your cabinets. Poor installation can ruin even luxury cabinetry.
How to Care for Different Cabinet Materials
Follow these tips to properly care for your kitchen cabinets and maximize their lifespan:
- Dust and clean regularly with a wood cleaner and microfiber cloth.
- Use coasters, trivets and cutting boards to protect from scratches and liquids.
- Place felt pads under small appliances to avoid denting.
- Consider resealing every 2-3 years to renew water resistance.
- Refinish surfaces whenever you notice fading or worn areas.
Laminate or Thermofoil Cabinets
- Wipe down with a soft sponge and mild soap as needed. Avoid harsh cleansers.
- Use cutting boards to avoid nicking or cutting laminate around sinks.
- Immediately wipe spills to avoid moisture seeping into substrate.
- Avoid placing heat generating appliances like toasters directly under cabinets.
- Use nonabrasive cleaners and soft cloth to gently wipe metal.
- Maintain sealant around edges to prevent moisture creeping between seams.
- Give extra attention to cleaning near stove tops to remove oil splatter.
- Take care not to dent metal surfaces when working in the kitchen.
No matter the material, promptly addressing any damage, moisture issues or wear prevents costly repairs down the road.
Kitchen Cabinet Trends to Expect
Like all home decor, kitchen cabinet styles continue evolving. Here are some of the latest kitchen cabinet trends:
- Two-toned designs: Combining cabinets in light and dark tones is increasingly popular for a more dynamic look.
- Shaker cabinets: The classics never go out of style. Clean shaker cabinetry maintains its staying power in contemporary and traditional kitchens alike.
- Matte finishes: Glossy cabinets are giving way to more subtle, understated matte laminates and stains. Fingerprints blend better into matte surfaces.
- White and neutral hues: Whites, greys and other lighter neutrals dominate recent color schemes. These backdrops allow small splashes of color through accessories.
- Open shelving: Upper cabinets are disappearing in many kitchens to create a lighter, more spacious look. Open shelves give easy access to display items.
- Mixing materials: Using different cabinet materials in one kitchen – say wood base cabinets with sleek metal uppers – is an of-the-moment look.
Kitchen Cabinet Material FAQs
What are the most popular kitchen cabinet materials?
The most commonly used kitchen cabinet materials are laminates, engineered wood and plywood. Solid hardwood remains popular for higher-end custom cabinetry but costs significantly more.
Do cabinets add value to kitchen?
Quality wood cabinets generally increase a kitchen’s resale value, while lower-end materials like particleboard or budget laminate have less impact on home value. Well-designed, durable cabinets tailored to the kitchen’s layout make the space more functional.
How do I choose best material for kitchen cabinets?
Consider your budget, overall kitchen design, ease of maintenance and durability needs when selecting cabinet materials. Hardwoods provide timeless beauty but need more care. Laminates offer great economy but lack wood’s warmth. Nobody-friendly designs favor durable stainless steel.
What is the most durable material for kitchen cabinets?
For maximum resilience to moisture, spills, scratches and daily wear-and-tear, metal kitchen cabinets are the most durable choice. Stainless steel is virtually indestructible under normal use. Hardwood finishes also hold up extremely well when properly maintained.
Should I get laminate or wood cabinets?
Wood cabinets offer a classic, quality look but require more maintenance. Laminates cost less but mimic wood’s beauty closely. Ultimately, laminate makes more sense for affordable kitchens seeing heavy use. For resale value and heirloom quality, discerning home chefs often select wood.
When thoughtfully chosen, kitchen cabinet materials directly impact aesthetics, functionality and longevity of your cooking space. Carefully weigh the pros and cons of hardwoods, plywood, laminates, thermofoil and metals against your needs. Measure your cabinets precisely and select durable, moisture-resistant cabinetry that fits your lifestyle and budget. With some smart planning upfront, you can enjoy handsome, hassle-free cabinets that suit your unique style for years of cooking to come.