What Are IKEA Kitchen Cabinets Made Of?

IKEA Sektion Kitchen Cabinets
IKEA Sektion Kitchen Cabinets. © IKEA

It is a long-standing belief that all IKEA cabinets are made of medium-density fiberboard (MDF), top to bottom, instead of "real wood."  Critics level this final charge at IKEA whenever other criticisms fail.

But is this really true?  Not entirely.

While IKEA does seem to have cornered the world supply of MDF for its cabinets, there are a few lines that incorporate real, natural wood.

From Alphabet Soup to SEKTION

First, it's important to note that IKEA no longer offers the confusing mishmash of all-caps, unpronounceable and easily parodied cabinet lines, like VÄRDE, AKURUM, PERFEKT, RAMSJÖ, and ATTITYD.

In early 2015, they slimmed it all down to one core cabinet system called SEKTION.  For over two decades, AKURUM had been the kitchen cabinet base system, but according to IKEA, the new system "allows for individual solutions with the excellent use of space and functionality."

Being more "modular," as IKEA puts it, these products allow for interior space to be shared among cabinets.  Also, it's easier to add in-cabinet lighting with the SEKTION system.

MDF Is Real Wood.  Just Not the Kind of Wood Most People Like.

"Real wood" is a debatable term, since most kitchen and bathroom cabinets not made with MDF are made with plywood.

But this is a higher level of plywood called furniture- or cabinet-grade rather than the 4" x 8" sheets of plywood off the racks found at your local Home Depot.  On an A-to-D rating system, cabinet-grade plywood comes in at an A or B, with all others at C or D.

Cabinet Box Construction:  Uniformly MDF and Melamine

The main body of base cabinets or wall cabinets is called the cabinet box.

 As the name says, this is the large, boxy structural part of the cabinet, minus doors, drawers, and all fixtures.  It does include working elements that are permanently attached, such as drawer rails and dampers.

  • Box Core:  MDF particleboard.
  • Box Veneer on Sides:  Melamine foil, a type of laminate that contains no wood.

    Doors and Drawers:  A Mix of Different Materials

    Doors and drawers come separate from any cabinet system:  they are what give the cabinets their true look.  With IKEA, doors/drawers range from those with MDF and some natural wood elements to those with MDF and paint.

    1.  Real Wood + MDF Class

    At this time, only four lines of IKEA doors contain any amount of real wood.  No door lines are solid natural wood.  If they do happen to have some real wood, none have cabinet-grade plywood as a base material--only MDF.

    • Door Frame:  Solid Birch; Door Panel:  Birch Veneer on Particleboard:  LAXARBY, BJORKET
    • Door Frame:  Solid Oak; Door Panel:  Oak Veneer on Particleboard:  FILIPSTAD
    • Door Edge:  Solid Oak or Ash; Door Panel:  Oak Veneer on Particleboard:  EKESTAD

    2.  MDF + Foils Class

    This class is the main category of IKEA doors, with melamine foil and/or thermofoil applied to a fiberboard base.

    • Fiberboard and Melamine Foil:  RINGHULT
    • Fiberboard, Foil, and Melamine Foil:  GRIMSLOV, MARSTA
    • Particleboard and Foil:  BROKHULT, JARSTA, EDSERUM
    • Particleboard, Polypropylene, and Melamine: TINGSYRD, HAGGEBY

    3.  MDF + Paints Class

    Glossy paint is applied directly to the particleboard for a bright, in-your-face style.

    • Particleboard, Acrylic Paint, and Polyurethane:  VEDDINGE
    • Fiberboard and Acrylic Paint:  FLADIE
    • Fiberboard, Acrylic Paint, Polyester Paint:  BODBYN, HITTARP

    4.  Glass or Metal Class

    These doors may contain some particleboard, but their chief appearance is that of glass or metal.

    • Glass and Aluminum:  JUTIS
    • Stainless Steel, Melamine, and Particleboard:  GREVSTA