Kitchen Cabinet Materials: A Guide to Your Options

Kitchen Cabinet Materials A Guide to Your Options

Kitchen cabinets play a huge role in the functionality and aesthetic of your cooking space. With so many options for cabinet materials out there, it can be tricky to decide what works best for your needs and style. Before you visit a cabinet shop, this comprehensive guide will help you explore the most common kitchen cabinet materials, compare their unique pros and cons, and outline key factors to consider when selecting cabinetry construction and finishes best suited for your kitchen.

Table of Contents

Natural Wood Kitchen Cabinets

Wood remains one of the most popular kitchen cabinet materials due to its timeless beauty, warmth, and craftsmanship. Let’s look at the main natural wood options along with their advantages and drawbacks.

Solid Wood Cabinets

Bob Vila emphasizes natural wood grains and solid lumber construction as hallmarks of luxury kitchen cabinets while guiding readers through more affordable and sustainable options that retain wood’s elegance. Their expertise in cabinet materials and construction provides key insights.

Solid wood kitchen cabinets are constructed using full cuts or planks of hardwood. This includes durable options like:

  • Oak
  • Maple
  • Cherry
  • Walnut
  • Hickory
  • Alder
  • Ash

Solid lumber is the highest quality wood for cabinetry. It brings natural beauty into the kitchen.


  • Timeless, classic aesthetic
  • Very durable and long-lasting
  • Can be sanded and refinished over time
  • Usually uses sustainably-sourced lumber
  • Highest-quality wood construction


  • More expensive upfront cost
  • Prone to expansion and contraction with climate changes
  • Susceptible to water damage if improperly sealed
  • Natural imperfections like knots and cracks
  • Heavier than engineered wood products

Solid hardwood craftsmanship brings unmatched warmth and elegance to kitchens. It works well for both cabinet boxes and doors. The higher cost can pay off in enduring beauty and longevity.

Wood Veneer Cabinets

Wood veneer cabinets have a thin layer of natural wood adhered over a base of plywood or medium-density fiberboard (MDF). This allows the beautiful wood grain to show through while minimizing material costs.

Common veneers include oak, maple, cherry, walnut, birch, and sometimes more exotic woods like zebrawood, wenge, or bamboo.


  • Less expensive than solid wood
  • Attractive, consistent wood grain patterns
  • Lighter weight than solid wood
  • Very dimensionally stable, won’t warp


  • A thin veneer can wear, peel, or delaminate over time
  • Not as strong or repairable as solid wood
  • The base material is less durable than solid lumber

By combining a real wood veneer with engineered wood bases, cabinets can achieve a premium look for less. The veneer must be thick enough to withstand everyday use and potential damage.

Reconstituted Wood Products

Home Depot‘s kitchen cabinet buying guide notes that engineered woods coated with thermoplastics or laminates sacrifice some durability for cost savings and water resistance.

Reconstituted or engineered wood products like (MDF) Medium Density Fiberboard and hardboard are constructed from wood fibers mixed with resins and bonding agents. These are used primarily for interior filler panels and cabinet bases rather than doors and frames.


  • Economical alternative to solid wood
  • Consistent reliability and finish
  • Sturdy and stable construction
  • Takes paint and finishes very well


  • Not as strong or repairable as real wood
  • Can swell or deteriorate when exposed to excessive moisture
  • Lacks natural wood grain beauty

When combined with real wood veneers or quality laminates, reconstituted wood panels create an extremely cost-effective cabinet construction that’s durable, consistent, and widely available.

Laminate Kitchen Cabinets

Laminate cabinets consist of high-pressure plastic laminate sheets adhered over a wood or composite substrate. Popular brands like Formica offer hundreds of colors and patterns.


  • The most affordable cabinetry option
  • Huge variety of colors, finishes, and patterns
  • Highly resistant to scratches, impact, moisture, and warping
  • Seamless, easy-to-clean surfaces


  • Not as durable long-term as wood
  • Can peel, bubble, or delaminate over time
  • Plastic-y look and feel
  • Not easily repairable

With seemingly endless finishes and design possibilities, laminates work beautifully to achieve trendy, retro, urban, or eclectic aesthetic styles on a budget. They perform best indoors away from direct sunlight.

Stainless Steel Kitchen Cabinets

Stainless steel cabinets provide a modern, industrial look while offering great durability and easy maintenance. Let’s examine the pros and cons of this on-trend material for cabinetry.


  • Extremely durable and dent-resistant
  • Resistant to bacteria build-up
  • Fingerprint and water-stain-resistant
  • Sleek, contemporary aesthetic
  • Environmentally friendly
  • Easy to clean


  • High upfront cost
  • Scratches and dents
  • Metal doors and drawers make more noise
  • Mirror finishes highlight fingerprints
  • Limited styles
  • Reflective surface

Stainless steel cabinetry creates a sleek, hygienic, contemporary kitchen aesthetic. While premium stainless resists most downsides like scratches, the material has some inherent quirks to factor into the decision.

Melamine Kitchen Cabinets

Melamine cabinets have a resin-saturated decorative paper fused to a substrate like a particle board or medium-density fiberboard (MDF). The melamine coating makes the cabinets highly scratch and moisture-resistant.


  • Very budget-friendly
  • Highly scratch and stain-resistant
  • More consistent surface than laminate
  • Easy to clean and maintain
  • Good moisture resistance


  • Not as durable long-term as wood
  • Limited color and finish options
  • Impossible to refinish or repaint
  • Can delaminate or swell from excess moisture

With their affordability and low-maintenance finish, melamine cabinets offer a practical choice for contemporary, minimalist kitchen designs. They should be kept dry to prevent damage over time.

Thermoplastic Kitchen Cabinets

Thermoplastics like polypropylene (PP) and acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) are emerging as durable, eco-friendly alternatives to wood and laminate cabinets.


  • Highly durable, impact-resistant material
  • Waterproof, stain proof and non-porous
  • Resists UV light fading
  • Grease and chemical-resistant
  • Recyclable and sustainable


  • Limited color and finish options
  • Expensive compared to laminates
  • Difficult to repair if damaged
  • Can show scratches

Though still less common in home kitchens, thermoplastics’ toughness, longevity, and green benefits make them an intriguing option. Their appearance works well for contemporary kitchen aesthetics.

Kitchen Cabinet Door Styles and Materials

Along with the cabinet box construction, door design, and materials make a huge impact on kitchen style and functionality.

Solid Wood Doors

Crafted from natural hardwoods, solid wood doors offer unmatched beauty and quality that can last decades or even centuries when properly maintained. Their cost reflects the material and handcraftsmanship involved.

Wood Veneer Doors

Applying thin veneers over composite or ply cores creates doors that mimic solid wood for less. The veneer must be sufficiently thick – at least 1/16″ for cabinet doors.

Laminate Doors

Matching or contrasting laminate on door surfaces and cabinet boxes results in completely seamless, carefree units. The patterned laminate doors best complement equally bold cabinet colors.

Glass Insert Doors

Doors with central glass panes provide both access and display for select cabinets, commonly above sinks or stoves. Mirrored, etched, or frosted glass offers privacy.

Stainless Steel Doors

Industrial-styled kitchens favor durable, easy-to-clean stainless steel doors with tubular or flat panel shaping. Can develop fingerprints if not frequently polished.

The cabinet door material, shape, and hardware should coordinate with the overall kitchen style – from traditional raised panel woods to sleek Euro-style stainless steel cabinets.

Key Factors When Selecting Cabinet Materials

With seemingly endless kitchen cabinet options to evaluate, keep these factors at the forefront when making decisions:

  • Budget: What is your overall kitchen remodeling budget? How much can you allocate towards cabinetry? Solid hardwoods fall on the high end, while thermoplastics and composites cost less.
  • Style Goals: Consider the look you want to achieve – contemporary, farmhouse, traditional, etc. Certain materials like stainless steel evoke modernity, while wood has a classic presence.
  • Lifespan Needs: Do you expect to keep these cabinets for 10+ years? Opt for durable solid wood. If anticipating an update down the road, laminates work fine.
  • Maintenance Preference: Are you comfortable with the regular sealing and polishing of wood cabinets required? Do you prefer wipe-clean convenience? Laminates demand little upkeep.
  • Environmental Concerns: Prioritize renewable natural woods from responsible sources. Many thermoplastics contain recycled content. Research sustainability.
  • Moisture Resistance: Kitchens inherently involve water. Choose moisture-impervious materials like thermoplastics for sink areas. Use moisture-sealed woods.
  • Storage Needs: Maximum interior capacity comes from full wood cabinet boxes. However lightweight melamine or thermoplastic units are great for wall cabinets.

Kitchen cabinetry represents a prime chance to establish your cooking space’s functional, aesthetic foundation. Balance visual appeal, practical storage, durability, and budget when selecting combinations of materials that will best serve your lifestyle and design sensibilities for years.

In Summary

When designing your dream kitchen, the cabinetry forms both a practical foundation and an expressive design element. Materials like solid hardwoods, sleek stainless steel, or limitless laminates all offer unique advantages. Consider which qualities hold the most importance for your home – natural beauty, endless durability, budget efficiency, or moisture resistance.

Keep lifestyle needs like storage capacity and ease of maintenance in mind as well. The array of options lets you strike the perfect balance for your tastes and how you envision using the space for years to come.

Whether you seek wood’s warmth, stainless steel’s wow factor, or a material’s budget-friendliness, today’s selections ensure your kitchen cabinets can match your style and stand the test of time. With ingenious combinations of materials and cabinetry innovations, you can craft a kitchen that consistently delights on all fronts.

Bayram Gulsen

Bayram Gulsen is the owner of Cabinets City. He always had this passion to redefine cabinetry to be at its best along with his dedicated team and the author of Cabinets City blog: You can find Bayram on LinkedIn and Twitter.

Related Articles


Free Catalog: See our all brands and cabinet doors