The Best Cheap Materials for Kitchen Cabinets

melamine kitchen cabinets

Kitchen cabinets are a huge selling point, and they are a pretty big sticking point for most home buyers. You want them to look great, work well, and do what they need to do. But you don't want to spend a king's ransom on them.

After all, cabinets that are stained to look like oak can look just as pretty as cabinets that are actually oak. Get a look at the best cheap materials for kitchen cabinets and get something that looks great without costing you an arm and a leg.

Melamine

kitchen cabinet melamine boards

Melamine is plywood covered with a layer of paper that is colored with melamine resin. This is the least expensive cabinet option, and it comes in a staggering array of colors and patterns. You can even get wood gain designs that look pretty good.

Because they're essentially coated with plastic, these cabinets are very easy to clean, and they don't need to be re-stained. This makes them very low maintenance and simple to care for. Plastic also stands up to moisture and humidity well, which is always something you need in cabinets.

The trouble with melamine is that it can be scratched, warped, or damaged. Once this happens, these cabinets are difficult or totally impossible to repair. Because of the wide availability of these cabinets, however, you can replace doors and other parts of them as needed.

Melamine cabinets are durable and serviceable, but they are not meant to last a long, long time.

High Gloss Thermofoil

thermofoil kitchen cabinet door

To make high gloss thermofoil cabinets, an inexpensive material, such as pine fibreboard, is coated with glossy vinyl. This creates a unique look that stands out against other cabinet options. These cabinets are made to be shiny and to reflect light, which can really brighten up the kitchen.

The glossy finish is easy to clean. You can just wipe it down with a damp soft cloth to keep the shine bright and reflective. The high gloss look is good for smaller kitchens because all the light can create a visual effect where the room appears to be larger than it is.

Also known as HGT cabinets, high gloss thermofoil cabinets resist warping and they do clean up easily. That's just as well because you'll end up cleaning them a lot. The reflective surface shows dust fingerprints and food particles easily, so these cabinets have to be wiped down frequently.

Once they're scratched, they are difficult to repair, and you can forget about changing the color of these cabinets because that glossy finish is almost impossible to paint over. Once you pick these cabinets, you’re going to have them looking exactly as they are for a while, so make sure you love them.

Polyester

No, it's not just for clothes. Polyester can also be used as a cabinet finish, quite successfully, in fact. Polyester kitchen cabinets are made with melamine that is blended with pine.

The whole thing is coated with a polyester film to give it a finish. There are many different options for finishes available, including wood grain looks and a huge variety of different color shades.

The polyester coating makes these cabinets highly scratch-resistant, so they can take a bit of a beating. However, these cabinets are not totally scratch-resistant, and they can become damaged. Repairing them is not easy when that happens.

Polyester cabinets are quite affordable, so if needed, you can replace individual doors ad drawers without shelling out big bucks to do so.

High-Pressure Laminate

high pressure laminate cabinet doors

Also known as HPL, high-pressure laminate is made of multiple layers of melamine compressed together under high pressure. This creates an incredibly durable cabinet material that resists scratches, dents, and chips.

You can also get these cabinets in a huge array of colors and styles, including designs meant to look like wood. You don't have to stain or seal high-pressure laminate, so the only upkeep you’ll have to perform is cleaning.

There aren't many bad things to say about HPL. It cleans up pretty easily, it's tough, and it looks nice. HPL is a good, affordable cabinet option. There are lots of different styles of HPL cabinets available.

Solid Wood

Considered to be one of the most desirable of all kitchen cabinet options, solid wood is a perennially popular choice that absolutely never goes out of style. It's not going to go out of style, and it can be re-stained as home design trends come and go, which is a great feature.

Wood looks beautiful all on its own, thanks to the natural grain that gives a unique character to each and every piece of wood. It can be carved into any shape or look to give cabinets a custom design.

It's also a highly durable material. Dents, scratches, and little nicks can be repaired pretty easily with a few standard tools and a little DIY can-do gumption.

Kitchen cabinets are made from a big variety of woods, including bamboo, cherry, birch, oak, walnut, maple, knotty pine, and hickory. They are beautiful in any wood with any stain. Wood always looks high-end, and it's always highly desired.

However, it is far from a perfect cabinet material. Wood reacts to humidity and temperature changes and may crack or warp in time. They're also a high-maintenance choice. Wood has to be cleaned in special ways, and in time, it will need to be re-sealed to maintain its water resistance.

Wood can be painted or stained, but once you want to change the way it looks, you will need to put in quite a bit of work. Wood cabinets must be sanded and re-finished, then painted or stained and sealed.

This is also one of the most expensive options you can choose, particularly if you go with custom-made wooden cabinets. Wood cabinets are an investment that will most likely be with the house for many years.

When you're selecting a wood type, don't just consider good looks. There are both hardwoods and softwoods. The softwoods, such as walnut, dent, and chip, more easily than harder woods like teak. There are several different price points when it comes to types of wood, too.

Oak and hickory are popular choices, and they're about mid-ranged in price. Pine is the cheapest, and it's often used in more rustic decor because it's prone to knots. It also nicks rather easily, not being one of the stronger wood choices.

Cherry and maple, however, are on the higher end of cabinet woods and cost more than other options. Consider the price of the wood type you’re choosing while you're weighing all your options.

Wood Veneers

kitchen cabinets with wood veneer

Wood veneers are a very thin layer of actual wood that has been placed on top of less expensive cabinet material. This is the best of both worlds because you still get the look of wood but without the warping and other problems that come with having real wood.

Wood veneer cabinets are easy to clean. You can usually get the job done with a damp cloth. Small scratches and damage to the veneers can be repaired pretty simply as well.

However, wood veneers don't stand up well to excessive moisture. Over time, they can get a "bubbled" sort of look due to moisture and humidity, which is often present in a kitchen environment.

This is because the veneer is actually becoming loose from the rest of the cabinet. Wood veneer cabinets are available in a huge variety of color options and styles, and they are a fraction of the cost of solid wood kitchen cabinets.

Wood veneers can also be replaced once they're too damaged or simply too used, though this can be a pretty big process.

Plywood

Plywood is a highly affordable material, widely available, and easy to work with. This is a material of choice for many DIYers. If you're thinking about building your own cabinets, plywood might be your go-to.

Plywood can be repaired easily if it is scratched or damaged, and it can be stained or painted to look any way you want. You can even get fancy with plywood and add trim and other elements to customize the way the cabinets look if you like.

If you’re thinking of building your own cabinets, plywood is a good choice because you can do almost anything with it and make it look almost any way you want.

Metal

Wood and materials that look like wood are traditional in the kitchen but don't forget another popular option: metal. There are plenty of options here, but stainless steel is one of the most common. It's incredibly durable and beautiful, with a high-end look to it.

Stainless steel stands up beautifully to moisture, as it's rust-resistant and heat-resistant. But stainless steel is expensive. This costs a lot of money, and you should consider it to be a pretty big investment.

Stainless steel is also a choice. It's not the standard, so some people aren't going to like it on sight. Sometimes, stainless steel cabinets can be a tough sell because they have a more modern or even industrial look to them. They also need a special cleaner to keep them clean and gleaming, which can be a bit of a pain.

MDF

MDF cabinet boards

Known more properly as medium-density fiberboard, MDF is a go-to option for many DIYers. This is an expensive material, and it's quite easy to work with, which makes it a great option for kitchen cabinets. MDF is made with small wood particles mixed with wax and resin.

The end result is a composite material that looks like wood. It even has real wood grain. But MDF has some advantages over natural wood. Unlike natural wood, MDF does not expand and contract with temperature and humidity changes in the atmosphere.

MDF cabinets are easy to paint, and you can change the look whenever you like. However, you can't sand these cabinets, so chips and scratches cannot be repaired. Also, these cabinets don't stand up well to a lot of heat, which clearly isn't exactly ideal for a kitchen situation.

However, MDF is resistant to the ravages of termites and other pests due to the chemicals used to make it.

Choosing the Best Cheap Materials for Kitchen Cabinets

You have many options when it comes to choosing the right materials for your kitchen cabinets. Look for the option that's going to be affordable and yet still have the look you want. Consider how easily the cabinets can be changed, how durable they are, and how long they will maintain their appearance.

Get a look at the different types of cabinets in person as well. You can usually find samples of cabinets at home improvement stores. When you put in the time to do some research, you’ll make the right decision for your needs and for your kitchen.

What maintenance issues should you consider when it comes to kitchen cabinets?

How often do you want to clean your cabinets? How much work do you want to do if they get scratched? You will want to consider these things when you're thinking about the type of cabinets you want to have in your home.

How important is it to have cabinets that can be painted?

There are some types of cabinets that can be painted and some that cannot. Some people prefer the look of painted cabinets above other options. Consider how important paint is to your cabinet needs when you're considering the type of cabinets you want to buy.

Should you sacrifice space for cabinet type?

You may consider choosing fewer cabinets and going with more expensive material. However, it's really not a good idea to sacrifice cabinet space. People always want more storage. If needed, you can always replace some cabinets with shelving in order to save a little money.

Further Reading

Stock Kitchen Cabinets vs Custom Kitchen Cabinets

Refinishing Maple Cabinets

How To Reface Laminate Cabinets

A Guide To Refacing Kitchen Cabinets

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