The IKEA Cabinets Quality Issue

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IKEA cabinet frames (the box, not including the doors or drawer fronts) are made of medium-density fiberboard (MDF). This is an engineered wood product formed by breaking down hardwood or softwood residuals into wood fibers which are mixed with wax and a resin binder, and formed into panels by applying high temperature and pressure. Whew! Perhaps you just need to know if IKEA cabinets are good quality, or if you are going to have to spend a lot more for another brand? Read on.

Often homeowners consider wood to be the material of choice for cabinets. When they say they prefer wood cabinets, they mean plywood because that is what is used in contemporary “wood frame” cabinetry. Generally, only custom built cabinet frames, or a few very high end brands, are made of plywood.

 Let me now hint at a conclusion on this matter of plywood versus MDF:

Although plywood cabinets may seem more desirable than IKEA particle board frame cabinets, MDF is denser than plywood, plywood warps more easily over time and, finally, MDF, made from wood chips, is also a more eco-friendly, sustainable product.  

Sustainability relates to durability, too. IKEA cabinets come with an unbeatable 25 year warranty which suggests that they expect your new cabinets to last that long. Most kitchen cabinetry on the market, including custom and semi-custom, have 1/4" to 5/8" MDF frames. IKEA kitchen cabinets have 3/4" frames and are thus sturdier, and likely to last longer.

Most non-custom cabinet frames available today have similar MDF or particle board substrates covered by either melamine, laminate, or wood veneer.  In the US, only custom cabinet makers use solid plywood for their frames.  Cabinets imported from China may have wood boxes but the shipping cost and timeframes, labor practices and toxicity of glues and stains makes them a poor choice in most cases. 

IKEA cabinet frames come in either a white or beech-colored plastic laminate surface.  These interiors are not elegant, but you get the same type and quality in most kitchen cabinets, including much more expensive Kraft Maid frames.  Keep in mind that in a well-designed and installed IKEA kitchen, you don’t see the frames so their elegance is not an issue. Still, you will probably want to choose the white frames when using white or light colored doors, and the birch for darker exteriors. If you are using glass doors and/or inside cabinet lights, your decision about interiors is more vital.

Chemically sensitive homeowners might research the subject of VOCs (volatile organic compounds) and formaldehyde, two common components of the glues and binders used in MDF. If you’ve bought new carpet or a mattress or a couch, you know that the odor of these new products can remain for months or years. This is called “off-gassing” and IKEA stands out from the pack when it comes to their standards.  Since 1986, IKEA has applied the German formaldehyde and VOC requirements, currently the strictest, even where no limit exists. They state that the German limit is such that even persons who are over sensitive to formaldehyde should not experience any problems. IKEA tests its products for off-gassing, according to this from IKEA Corporate Communications in the US:

Both the total product and every single part of a IKEA products has to fulfill the emission requirement (including different materials like melamine and both the inside and outside of a product). This involves limit values both for short term (after unpacking a product; measurements after 5, 24 and 48 hours) and long term (check point after 28 days).”

Sustainability relates to durability, too. IKEA cabinets come with an unbeatable 25 year warranty which suggests that they expect your new cabinets to last that long. 

The appearance and durability of a completed IKEA kitchen can vary with the skill and know-how of the installer. For the handy, an IKEA kitchen can be a do-it-yourself project, but carefully building the frames, and mounting the hardware correctly is a big factor in durability and appearance. 

IKEA kitchen cabinet hardware is surprisingly good quality. The drawer glides, hinges, dampers, and legs are all well-made and durable, comparable to hardware found on cabinets costing three or four times the price. IKEA handles and knobs are a great value as well. 

The doors and drawer fronts are the parts of the cabinet that you actually see and that create the look of the kitchen. Unlike the frames, many of the doors and drawers options are solid wood or good quality wood veneer.  IKEA offers a good variety and in many price points from inexpensive laminates to higher priced oak.  They also offer glass door options and lacquered doors in fashionable colors to use as accent pieces. 

Overall the variety and quality of IKEA components make them unbeatable for the price. 

If you'd like to discuss your project with me, I can offer you a free, 30-minute phone consultation. Here's my calendar, just pick a time that works for you.


Our company, Modern Family Kitchens, offers an IKEA kitchen design service. We can provide this service locally, or remotely. We think you'll spend the least and get the best results when you invest in expert design. Call or write us to discuss your project. 877-550-1753.