During the ten years in which I worked as a kitchen and bath sales designer for a big-box home improvement center, all of the cabinet lines available through that company offered construction options of either “all plywood” or medium density fiberboard (MDF). I learned that these are essentially the only cabinet construction types available in the United States. Customers looking for “solid wood” cabinets must either buy them from Canadian companies or have them custom-made of solid wood by a professional cabinet maker; such alternatives are for most people prohibitively expensive. Therefore, unless some new construction substance has been developed over the past few years, when buying cabinets in the United States market today, you will (unless you have unlimited funds) be choosing from cabinetry built of either plywood or MDF.
But how might the consideration of cabinet toxicity impact your cabinet purchase? On researching which of these construction materials would be best for me to recommend to my customers, I found that one objection to MDF is that it contains formaldehyde. But guess what! Plywood is made of layers (the “ply”) of wood held together by glue which also contains formaldehyde. (Looks to me like “six of one and a half-dozen of another.”)
Considering that “all plywood” construction is more expensive than MDF construction, “all plywood” must at least be the stronger of the two, right? One might also expect greater strength in plywood by the fact that when it is assembled, the grain of each wood layer is set perpendicular to that of its neighbors. But the reality is that under conditions where MDF might have problems (excessive moisture), plywood can split or warp. Coincidentally, my kitchen cabinets came from a cabinet line which offered only MDF construction (currently out of business) and they’ve been in use for more than 10 years now without posing any problems whatsoever: no shelves bowing, no drawers sticking, no hinges coming loose, etc. Can it be possible that the MDF used by a manufacturer which offers both types of materials may be of an inferior grade as compared to that used by a manufacturer offering only MDF? Wouldn’t you and I like to know? Because all-plywood cabinets are more expensive that those using MDF, that component must benefit somebody; and the winner is — the designer who is competing to get the highest sales dollar volume as well as the company he/she works for. Consequently, in the final analysis, it may be that no cabinet company exists that offers only MDF construction. Only God knows!
Therefore, we must conclude that your kitchen and/or bath cabinets are, more likely than not, toxic (the only “unlikeliness” of this is if they are effectively antiques) and that when buying new ones, you will not be able to avoid the problem. But another question comes up: Isn’t just about everything in our contemporary household world toxic? And the answer is: “probably!” In fact, while recently reviewing my email messages, I learned from a health newsletter that everyone should be advised to wear a mask when using “household glues, fingernail polish, adhesives, paint thinner, lacquer, and rubber” items because they most likely contain very toxic Toluene. Apparently, to be as safe as possible, we really should detoxify our bodies periodically, but beware, because I’ve also recently learned that this must be done very, very carefully or more harm than good might result. Again, beware! And if you enjoy good health, be very, very thankful!