Melamine vs. Plywood Kitchen Cabinets Difference

by Dan Derkum

What’s the difference? Does it really matter if cabinets are constructed using melamine or plywood?


Here are the facts pertaining to melamine:

  1. The way it looks. When I show a customer a veneered piece of plywood vs. a piece of melamine for cabinet construction, 9 times out of 10, after looking at the depth, construction, and strength of the plywood, they are more inclined to ask for the plywood constructed cabinets than the melamine.
  2. When it gets wet or damp, it swells and comes apart! Does this make any sense? Kitchen, bathroom, and laundry cabinets are in wet areas. I can’t count the number of customers who have asked me why their melamine cabinets smell musty, are disintegrating, moldy, and the doors and drawers no longer close properly – “We just had them installed a few years ago” they tell me.
  3. Traditional melamine is really heavy.
  4. Light-weight melamine is ridiculous! It breaks, chips really easily, splinters, de-laminates, can’t hold a screw or nail, and is so thin, I can’t figure out how they can even make something with a veneer the thickness of paper! The melamine substrate looks like stained cardboard.
  5. Will not hold a screw for long (even confirmats), especially after the customer starts opening the doors. A few months down the road – they fall off! 

    For example, I recently disassembled a melamine kitchen that was only a few years old that was built using glued and stapled 3/4″ material from one of those big box home improvement retailers. With only a hammer, it only took 10-15 minutes to knock down about 12 cabinets. They literally fell apart with a couple of blows. I removed the doors by simply pulling on them with one hand . . . I merely ripped the doors and hinges off in a single motion.
  6. It smells!
  7. Chips easily when cutting if the blade is not sharp all the time.
  8. Difficult to work with.

  9. The ends use edge-band – basically melamine strips with glue on them that are affixed to cover the particle board (saw dust) between the melamine sheets using heat.

  10. De-lamination issues. The melamine separates from the particle board that’s between the melamine sheets.

  11. Surface breaks when using screws.

  12. Sub-materials degrade over time (joints loosen).

  13. Hinges loosen easier over time (door sags).

  14. Will not hold moldings well without glue or nailers.

  15. Cheap (both ways).

Choosing melamine cabinets or plywood cabinets is really a choice that is up to you. There are pros and cons to each of these materials. After reviewing the summary below of the pros and cons of each material, you can then make a decision on what to use for your cabinets.

Although melamine may be strong enough to do your cabinets, plywood tends to be stronger. This in turn makes your cabinets withstand more.

Hinges tend to break away a lot sooner using melamine cabinet’s verses plywood cabinets.

Drawers also tend to break away using melamine cabinet’s verses plywood cabinets. See Screws below.

Melamine doesn’t hold screws as well as plywood, and tend to chip away when screwing one in.

Plywood is more expensive than melamine.

Melamine wipes down very easy. Plywood is a bit harder to clean.

Plywood must be finished by a varnish, paint, or stain – of your choice. Melamine comes pre-finished in a variety of colors.

About the Author
Dan A. Derkum is the owner of DAD’s Construction, a leading South Orange County, California design-and-build remodeling and renovation contractor.

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