What type of wood products are best to use for green kitchen cabinets?

Asked by Amanda Johnson Bryant
Alexandria, VA

I'm looking for a product that does not offgas or use formaldehyde or oil-based glues in the creation process.


Molly McCabe, AKBD, CGP, CAPS

Answered by Molly McCabe, AKBD, CGP, CAPS

Bainbridge Island, WA

A Kitchen That Works LLC

July 11, 2010


Cabinetry has two primary construction components: the carcass or box and the decorative door and drawer fronts. The boxes are typically made of plywood (with a veneer or melamine interior finish and a veneer exterior finish), particleboard (with a vinyl or melamine interior finish and a veneer exterior finish), or medium density fiberboard (MDF, with a veneer or melamine interior finish and a painted or veneer exterior finish).

Your concern about added formaldehyde is legitimate due to the fact that it is a known carcinogen, but realize that formaldehyde is a chemical compound found in nature, including wood. What you don't want is added formaldehyde.

So if you are making green cabinets yourself or having them custom-made by a local shop, you will want the cabinet-boxes constructed of a no-added-formaldehyde plywood such as PureBond from Columbia Forest Products; a no-added-formaldehyde particleboard such as SkyBlend from Roseburg Forest Products; or Sierra Pine's Arreis MDF.

As for the decorative doors and drawers, there is little variance in natural formaldehyde content between wood species. However, if you are considering a painted cabinet, you will want to select either maple or a no-added-formaldehyde MDF.

With regard to finishing your green kitchen cabinets, the most important aspect of the finish is durability. This has been a tough criterion to meet with most low-VOC finishes (note: stains typically are applied under the finish or, alternatively, you can "tint" the finish for added color enhancement).

It is extremely challenging to get a quality, particle-free, durable finish on cabinetry in a home workshop. A "factory finish" or that provided by a small professional cabinet shop will be far superior to what can be accomplished in the average home workshop.

Considering that cabinetry typically comprises 40% of a kitchen remodel budget and most people want to get the most for their home improvement dollar, my recommendation is that you leave it to the pros. However, if you are set on doing it yourself, consider AFM Safecoat's Safe Seal finish. As for stains, water-based stains such as Saman or Osmo Park Lane stains are good choices.

If you would prefer to work with a production custom manufacturer, you are in luck. The number of environmentally responsible cabinet lines continues to increase each year. Look for manufacturers who hold the Environmental Stewardship Program (ESP) certification from the Kitchen Cabinet Manufacturers Association (KCMA).

A few companies to consider are: Berkeley Mills, Neil Kelly Cabinets, Huntwood Industries, and WoodHarbor Premium Custom Cabinetry.

Lastly, when selecting a manufacturer, look for companies that are reasonably close to your project site so that the delivery of your cabinetry purchase will have the smallest carbon footprint possible.


For more information:

Read Green Home Guide's remodel guide "Creating a Green Kitchen: From Resource Planning to Maintenance" for more information on renovating a kitchen.

Tagged In: home air quality, formaldehyde plywood, cabinets

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