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If you have a kitchen renovation on a budget in the works, you've probably taken medium-density fibreboard (MDF) cabinets into consideration. MDF may be less durable than wood but it also comes at a much lower price tag.

MDF is an engineered product made from soft and hardwood residuals (such as sawdust) and is held together by glue or resins. The materials and production process make MDF much heavier than most woods but also give it a smooth surface that is perfect for painted cabinets.

Read on to learn more about MDF and whether or not it's an option worth considering for your kitchen remodel.

Medium-density fibreboard, sometimes referred to as particleboard, is an affordable alternative to solid wood cabinets like cherry, oak, or maple. If you're planning to paint your cabinets, MDF may be a better alternative than wood.

A brief definition of different finishes


A natural finish derived from the lac bug, it imparts a warm tone and adds depth to grain. (Drying time: 30 mins)
A synthetic finish made from plastic resin and available in water- or oil-based forms. (Drying time: 2 hours for water-based and 6 hours for oil-based)
Made from solvents, resins, and oils, varnish is durable and mainly used outdoors. (Drying time: 24 hours)
A crystal-clear and durable synthetic finish that can create an ultra high-gloss surface. (Drying time: 1 hour)


One of the most prominent advantages of wood over MDF is that it's a stronger and more durable material. The natural grain in wood remains when finished with stains or paint and adds texture to your kitchen cabinets. Scratches or dents in wood cabinets can easily be repaired with sandpaper and a new coat of stain.

A disadvantage of wood is that it expands and contracts with natural temperature fluctuations. This is a common issue with painted wood cabinets, as the paint can bubble or crack.

MDF stands up better to changes in heat and humidity, it also has a smooth, grainless surface which makes it the better option for painted cabinets. The material is further resistant to pests and bugs because of the resins that hold the wood fibres together.

The biggest advantage of MDF kitchen cabinets is that they come at a considerably lower price tag.

Because the fibreboards are grainless and will absorb fluids, you can't stain them. MDFl is very susceptible to water and will swell and distort if not sealed properly. Dents or scratches in MDF panels can't be fixed and the flaws will remain unless you replace the damaged cabinet door. The particles MDF is made off will also not hold screws as well as a solid wood panel.


Since MDF is made of engineered wood and don't have wood grain, staining won't look as appealing as it would on real wood. Because most stains are water-based, you would also risk the fibreboard to absorb the liquid and swell. This would permanently ruin the product.

However, the smooth, grainless surface of MDF makes it the perfect base for paint. Before applying paint to the fibreboards, it's important to treat and seal the material properly to avoid water damage.


Use medium-grit sandpaper to provide a good surface for painting, then clean the dust off the panel with a dry or sticky cloth


A coat of primer will help to seal the MDF. Use a primer that is oil or alcohol-based as the MDF will absorb water-based primer.


You can use water-based paint on the cabinets, but oil or lacquer-based paint are also great options for an MDF cabinet finish.