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What Are Laminate Cabinets?

By Drue Tibbits
Updated May 16, 2024
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Laminate cabinets are cabinets with a thin film of material bonded to the exterior surfaces. Within, the cabinet bodies are made with an inexpensive wood or a pressed wood material. A more attractive material, the laminate, is glued to the cabinet exterior. Laminates come in a wide variety of colors and styles, from low-cost plastics to expensive, exotic woods. Laminate cabinets are less expensive than their solid wood counterparts.

Kitchen and bathroom cabinets are often laminated. Plastic laminated surfaces are nonabsorbent and are frequently used in doctors' examining rooms. Both built-in and freestanding cabinets are available with laminated surfaces. All types can be laminated to match a home’s existing color scheme and style.

There are two types of laminate materials. The most commonly used is a type of hard plastic that comes in assorted colors and textures. The second type of laminate material is thin sheets of wood. Wood laminates can be used to cover pressed wood material, creating cabinets that look like they are made of solid wood. Laminate made from high-quality wood is used to cover plywood, creating the effect of high-quality solid wood cabinets.

There are advantages of laminate cabinets over the solid wood variety aside from cost. Plastic laminate surfaces are durable and easy to clean. They are also waterproof and stain resistant. Wood laminate material is available prefinished or ready to stain. Laminates can be used for cabinet refacing, allowing home owners to change the look and color of their kitchen cabinets without having to replace them.

Professionals or home owners can reface cabinets with laminate material. Once the existing cabinets are cleaned and prepped, the laminate is cut to size and attached to the cabinet surfaces. Some laminates are supplied with a pressure-sensitive adhesive backing, but most require a specialized glue for proper adhesion. Thin strips of laminate are used to cover the edges of cabinet doors. It is rarely applied to the interiors.

There are some disadvantages to laminate cabinets, however. The laminate material may peel away from the cabinet body if it was not properly attached. If the cabinet is exposed to water or a great deal of humidity, the corners or edges may swell and warp. The edges and corners of laminate material are especially vulnerable to damage and may end up chipped after years of use. The water-repellent surface, making it easy to clean, also makes it hard to paint or refinish.

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