What Materials Are in IKEA Kitchen Cabinets?

IKEA Sektion Kitchen Cabinets


Observers of IKEA kitchen cabinets like to point out that they are not real wood but rather are made from medium-density fiberboard (MDF).

While it's true that IKEA makes extensive use of MDF—they are the biggest users of MDF worldwide—this by no means makes them unique among cabinet manufacturers, nearly all of whom use some form of engineered sheet products in the construction of the basic cabinet boxes.

And it is somewhat inaccurate to say that MDF is not wood, since the material is fabricated from hardwood and softwood byproducts that are bound together with resins and waxes and pressed into sheets under high temperature and pressure.

MDF is wood to the same degree that plywood is, which is made with glues and resins that bond thin plies of wood into structural sheets for a variety of uses in construction and furniture-making. What some critics call a real wood cabinet is very likely a cabinet made from cabinet-grade (AC) plywood, not solid wood. 


Hiring someone to assemble your IKEA cabinets is a time and sanity saver if you have more than a couple of cabinets to put together.

IKEA SEKTION Kitchen Cabinets

In early 2015, IKEA slimmed its large roster of cabinet lines down to one core cabinet system called SEKTION. For more than two decades prior, 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, the SEKTION line allows for interior space to be shared among cabinets. And it's easier to add in-cabinet lighting with the SEKTION system.

IKEA Kitchen Cabinet Box Construction

The main body of a base cabinet or wall cabinet 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. In IKEA cabinets, the boxes are constructed with: 

  • MDF for the box core
  • Melamine foil (a type of laminate that contains no wood) for the veneers covering the sides of the box. 

How Sustainable and Eco-Friendly is IKEA's MDF?

One point of confusion about IKEA's MDF material is that it is a low-quality type of particleboard prone to instant deterioration. Medium-density fiberboard is not the same thing as particleboard or chipboard, which is made from larger wood chips, bound under lower pressure, and held together solely with glue and resin.

The term medium-density fiberboard is the clue: medium. Particleboard is a low-density board, the type used for garage shelves and very low-quality furniture. Another type of board called hardboard is a high-density board that utilizes small particles of wood and is formed under extremely high pressure. Medium-density fiberboard falls between the two, in terms of production methods, quality, and price.

MDF uses the wood chips and shavings that are wood mills' byproducts. Not only that but MDF makes good use of less desirable softwoods like radiata pine.

Larger sections of logs are needed to produce dimensional natural lumber, but MDF can use thin branches that are otherwise useless. While not yet found in IKEA's MDF, unique materials such as corn silk, coconut husks, sugarcane, and bamboo can be pulverized and incorporated into MDF panels.

How Strong Is IKEA MDF?

Hydraulic press tests of an IKEA MDF door against sections of various species of natural wood prove that natural wood is, indeed, stronger than MDF.

Spruce fails at 2,227 pounds. The hardwood Paulownia fails at close to 800 pounds. The IKEA melamine-covered panel will fail when subjected to 410 pounds of pressure.

Material  Failure Point
IKEA MDF 410 pounds
Paulownia 796 pounds
Bamboo 1,505 pounds
Birch 1,717 pounds
Spruce 2,227 pounds
Pine 4,475 pounds

IKEA Kitchen Cabinet Doors and Drawers

In the IKEA system, the cabinet doors and drawers are purchased separately from the cabinet box system. This is what allows consumers to choose the cabinet style they prefer. There are many styles of drawers/doors for IKEA kitchen cabinets, and they fall into four classes of materials:

Class 1: Natural Wood and MDF

At this time, only four lines of IKEA doors contain any amount of real wood, and no doors are made entirely of solid natural wood: the LAXARBY and BJORKET lines (door frames are solid birch; door panels are birch veneer on particleboard), FILIPSTAD line (door frames are solid oak; door panels are oak veneer on particleboard), and EKESTAT line (door edges are solid oak or ash; door panels are oak veneer on particleboard).

Class 2: MDF and Thermofoil

This class is the main category of IKEA doors, with melamine foil and/or thermofoil applied to a fiberboard base: RINGHULT line (fiberboard and melamine foil); GRIMSLOV and MARSTA lines (fiberboard, foil, and melamine foil); BROKHLT, JARSTA, and EDSERUM lines (particleboard and foil); and TINGSYRD and HAGGEBY lines (particleboard, polypropylene, and melamine).

Class 3: MDF and Paint

Glossy paint is applied directly to the particleboard for a bright, in-your-face style: VEDDINGE line (particleboard, acrylic paint, and polyurethane), FLADIE line (fiberboard and acrylic paint), and BODBYN and HITTARP lines (fiberboard, acrylic paint, polyester paint)

Class 4: Glass or Metal

These doors may contain some particleboard, but their chief appearance is that of glass or metal: the JUTIS line (glass and aluminum), and GREVSTA line (stainless steel, melamine, and particleboard)