Melamine vs. Plywood cabinets; what’s the difference?

Lots of people, when they see a particleboard cabinet automatically assume it is junk. They want plywood. It’s more expensive, so better, right? Not necessarily. Many companies today use particleboard to make custom cabinets. They coat the particleboard in a plastic called melamine. Let’s look at the pros and cons of both these materials.

Plywood is many thin sheets of wood glued together.

Plywood is lighter than particleboard, sometimes by up to 25%. Many contractors prefer this as it is much easier to install. It also holds screws more effectively than particleboard. Plywood is more resistant to dents and scratches.

Cheap plywood can have voids, or gaps between layers of wood, making it unstable. It also is more likely to be misshapen or warped.

Particleboard is sawdust and small chunks of wood glued together. It is coated in a white plastic called melamine.

Melamine is very unlikely to become misshapen or warped. It is more affordable than plywood and very easy to clean.

Melamine is much heavier than plywood. If it becomes chipped it is very hard to repair. A well-known con of particleboard is that if it gets wet it will swell and bend. This can be avoided by caulking the floor around the cabinet to keep water from getting underneath it.

What about solid wood cabinets?

Occasionally a company will advertise solid wood cabinets. Many of them are made of plywood with no gaps between layers. “solid wood.” There are some companies that do use solid pieces of wood, but these are incredibly expensive and quite unnecessary. Plywood or particleboard works just as well.

All in all, is one really better than the other? It is up to you. If you want to go all in, then buy plywood cabinets and they will last for years. If you are on more of a budget, then we would recommend you go with particleboard, as it will suit your needs just as well for less.