Kitchen Cabinets- Plywood vs Particleboard

marvelousmarvinJune 5, 2013

Which one do you use for your kitchen cabinets?

I'm kind of leaning towards using Ikea's kitchen particleboard cabinets because of its cost and its hardware, but I'm a bit wary because this is for a house I'm renting out so I need to make sure these cabinets will be durable.

My main concerns are:

1) Vulnerability of Particleboard to water

The reason I'm redoing this kitchen is because there was a slab leak and this hasn't been the first time the pipes in this house have had problems.

But, the water damaged plywood cabinets to the extent I needed to replace them so it shows plywood is also vulnerable to water damage.

However, the consensus seems to be that plywood is less vulnerable to water damage than particleboard.

But, will Ikea's particleboard still be vulnerable to water when you have that melamine covering and protecting the underlying particleboard?

And, how strong and durable is that melamine layer for the Ikea cabinets? It seems as long as that melamine layer is intact, then that will protect the particleboard from water. But, as soon as that melamine is scratched where the particleboard beneath is exposed, then water will be an issue.

2) Tensile, shearing, and compressive strength

I've read that plywood is noticeably better than particleboard in tensile and shearing properties, but only slightly better in terms of compressive strength. But, what does all that mean in the real world?

3) WIll particleboard cabinets be strong enough for heavy granite countertops and undermount sink?

I know there's a difference between the particleboard Ikea uses for its furniture and its cabinets. But, I've also seen the Ikea kitchen shelf bend slightly under the weight of the folders they stacked on top of the shelf.

If that particleboard kitchen shelf will bend under the weight of all those folders, how do I know that won't happen for the cabinets when I place granite countertops on top of them?

4) Which is one is more vulnerable against physical damage

Since this house is being used as a rental, I fully expect the tenants to be rough with those cabinets.

5) I can't find specific information about the quality of the particleboard Ikea uses, and I was wondering if anybody here might know them.

Ikea supporters will point out that expensive european cabinets also use particleboard but its my understanding that the better kitchen cabinets that use particleboard are using 65 pound particleboard. Is that what Ikea is using too?

6) Weight difference

Finally, I've read that plywood is lighter than particleboard but
what difference does that mean for the cabinets? I'm not going to install the cabinets myself so why should I care if plywood is lighter?

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If you're considering IKEA cabinets, then there's hardly any point discussing plywood as an alternative. Plywood cabinets will cost 3-4x what IKEA will, so would any of the benefits of plywood vs. particle board convince you to spend the extra money?

I have full custom plywood cabinets in my kitchen and would do it again in a heartbeat. But mostly because:

a) I only paid the $800 upcharge in materials to the cabinet maker and

b) they look fantastic on the inside as compared to the fake woodgrain melamine you find on the insides of most particle board cabinets.

Yes it is stronger, lighter, offgasses less, is more resistant to moisture etc. But again, does any of this matter if plywood costs you 4x what IKEA does?

You might consider looking for 2nd hand cabinets. Lots of them out there. Habitat for Humanity runs their 'Restore' shops which sells off building materials including lots of often very good quality kitchens.

    Bookmark   June 5, 2013 at 8:56AM
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There are plenty of low cost 5 star safety rated autos, like from Hyundai. People still buy Volvos because they like Volvo's. You're probably not going to sway a Volvo enthusiast to buy a Hyundai though. They are just too in love with the brand, even though they can get all of the safety and most of the amenities in something that costs less than half of what they paid. They have a certain mental investment in believing that what they bought is "the best", even though it's functional equivalent is much cheaper.

Particle board will perform 99% as well in a kitchen use environment as plywood. And you don't pay for overkill and marketing hype either. People still buy plywood, because they have an unalterable mental bias that plywood is best. You won't change that mental bias, even with facts and figures.

For an impartial look at how cabinets hold up, check out the KCMA testing procedures. All cabinets are tested with standard---aka particle board construction. And if they pass, they get to display that seal. Particularly pay attention to the tests that they do for the finishes. Those are tests that local custom shops are not likely to pass. There is nothing as tough as a factory finish.

Here is a link that might be useful: KCMA Performance Testing

    Bookmark   June 5, 2013 at 9:41AM
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I don't have any data on the subject...but I've had particle board bookcases, etc. and not been impressed with it. It crumbled when it got wet, and if it got dinged or scratched, it looked awful. I'd be afraid that particle board wouldn't hold up to years of use.

We're going with a custom cabinet maker who charges less than a box box store would. We'll get solid wood, too - not particle board. For a big project, such as an entire kitchen that we will live with for decades - we think it makes a great deal of sense.

    Bookmark   June 5, 2013 at 11:12AM
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Greendesigns, what a great link. That should answer alot of questions people have about cabinet quality.

I assume there are different quality levels of particle board.

    Bookmark   June 5, 2013 at 1:10PM
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It looks like Ikea doesn't have KCMA certification.

But, I'm also surprised that other cabinet manufactures that I've heard good things about like Woodmode, DeWilis, Woodharbor, etc.. don't have KCMA certification while Kraftmaid does.

Off the top of your head, would you know which was the least expensive kitchen cabinets that were awarded KCMA certification?

This post was edited by marvelousmarvin on Sat, Jun 8, 13 at 2:00

    Bookmark   June 7, 2013 at 4:01AM
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Marvelousmarvin- check the KCMA-ESP certified list, Wood-Mode and Woodharbour are listed there I would think Dewills should be listed they would pass. . Something is wrong with the listing, perhaps those mfg need to resubmit, didn't pay dues , clerical error.
I consider the ESP list more important.

Here is a link that might be useful: KCMA ESP listing

    Bookmark   June 7, 2013 at 6:27AM
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But, Wood-Mode and Woodharbor were granted ESP certification, not KCMA certification.

For me, the KCMA certification is more important because that's an indicator that the cabinets are good quality if they can pass those testing that simulate what the kitchens would face. Whereas, the ESP certification just shows its environmentally friendly and nothing about the durability or quality of the cabinets.

And, I hate to say this, but the enviornmental impact won't be a deciding factor for me. I'll never get bamboo floors ever again even though bamboo is supposed to be sustainable because my bamboo floors are terrible- they scratch so easily compared to hardwood floors.

    Bookmark   June 8, 2013 at 2:12AM
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A quick look at both lists- there are no less than 8 brands on th ESP list that once were on the main list, all supeior to many on the KCMA list. What changed? The cabinet did not. There are brands on the list I would not own or sell.

Quality of construction is not as simple as PB vs ply or a test you pay to take. It need to be determined IRL. Go to a few dealers,just ask them to show you "what and why",don't ask leading questions, listen, see who you trust.

FWIW- I'm a KD who put PB frameless in my own kitchen and would again.

    Bookmark   June 8, 2013 at 7:29AM
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The cheap builder grade cabinets in my house are 25 years old. I am not replacing them because they are worn beyond repair; I am replacing them because they do not make good use of space. I haven't had any issues related to the particle board construction (other than aesthetics).

    Bookmark   June 8, 2013 at 8:54AM
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Same situation here as annkh. My 1979 vintage site built particle board cabinets are all just fine except for under the sink, but they're hideous and a terrible use of space.

However, the particle board itself is in fine shape, and the undersink area would be too if they had put down anything to catch drips.

    Bookmark   June 8, 2013 at 9:52AM
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Marvin, have you resolved the plumbing issue that would cause the cabinets to get wet, ie leaking drain pipe or supply line? Or, are tenants just careless about letting the sink over flow?

    Bookmark   June 8, 2013 at 10:21AM
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Sophie Wheeler

If you want low cost rental property cabinets that are KCMA certified, look at Aristokraft. Ikea will work too. I just don't think they've bothered with American certification programs since they aren't US based. They also have "legs" that sit the cabinets above the floor, which if you have water issues, means that only the plastic legs get wet, not the cabinets.

But, if you've had repeated slab leaks in this home, it's time for a complete pipe replacement. Run the new pipes through the attic and insulate them. That's what a LOT of homes in this area have had to do because of pin hole leaks in copper. Copper in concrete wears away much faster than it does in the open air of a crawlspace. Most homes in this are have repiped with CPVC and washed their hands of the copper entirely because the jack up in prices made the CPVC about 1/4" the price in materials along. Not to mention the easier labor.

    Bookmark   June 8, 2013 at 11:27AM
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