Thermofoil Kitchen Cabinet Doors: Pros and Cons

A fruit stand on an island in a kitchen with white cabinets.

Thermofoil kitchen cabinet doors are a low maintenance and affordable type of cabinetry that provides the look of painted cabinets without the inconvenience of having to continually paint them. They're made out of medium density fiber board (MDF) covered in a thin layer of heat-fused vinyl or laminate that creates a uniform and smooth surface with no color variations or streaks.

Cost-effective Cabinet Doors

Thermofoil kitchen cabinets tend to be medium-priced making them an appealing choice for individuals wishing to renovate their kitchens on a budget. They can also be installed easily by the do-it-yourselfer. Compared to a traditional painted door, thermofoil cabinet doors typically cost about two thirds less. Advances in modern designs have allowed manufacturers to simulate real wood with their designs so it's difficult to tell the difference between a traditional wood cabinet and a thermofoil one.

Seamless and Easy to Clean

The thin layer of vinyl or laminate creates a seamless non-porous surface that doesn't hold dirt, which makes these types of kitchen cabinet doors very easy to clean. You don't need to worry about water or water-based cleansers warping them because the vinyl or laminate sheet is air tight, and solidly melted to the MDF preventing moisture from getting to the fiber board and damaging it. It is, however, important to make sure the surfaces haven't been gouged or scratched during installation otherwise the air tight seal will be damaged and the non-porous surface compromised.

Heavier Than Traditional Cabinet Doors

MDF tends to have a higher density than plywood. This means that thermofoil kitchen cabinet doors are heavier to lift which can make installation a challenge for the do-it-yourselfer. Due to the increased weight, special attention also needs to be given to selecting the right screws and hinges so that there's no shifting or sagging of the doors over time.

Not Heat Resistant

Excessive heat can melt the glue that fused the vinyl or laminate to the MDF and cause it to peel off. Heat can also cause surface blistering and discoloration. Cabinets are most likely to get damaged around cooking areas like the stove and microwave, or around the dishwasher where heat from the drying cycle can eventually loosen the vinyl or laminate. The heat from self-cleaning ovens during the cleaning cycle can be especially damaging.

Since it's impossible to keep kitchen cabinets away from all sources of heat, it's crucial to make sure thermofoil kitchen cabinets are installed correctly to prevent peeling, blistering and discoloration. A heat shield should be placed between the cabinet and the heat source, and cabinets shouldn't be installed closer than five inches to the heat source.

Colors Difficult to Match

Even with precautions, thermofoil kitchen cabinet doors can become damaged because of regular wear and tear. Unless you've selected basic white, it can be difficult to match colors for a replacement door. Sometimes there's a shade difference in vinyl or laminate colors manufactured within a year of each other. Other times the older shade, especially if it's a lighter solid color, has yellowed making it impossible to find an exact color match.

Kitchen remodeling is full of decisions. This pros and cons list will help you decide whether thermofoil cabinet doors are right for you.