Everyone likes a bargain, but when it comes to selecting cabinets for your new kitchen design, the old adage is true: You get what you pay for.
Today, the popularity of kitchen cabinets manufactured in China is on the rise, thanks to their low cost and the ease of online ordering. But while they cost less, they are also of much lower quality than American-built cabinets. This lower quality has big implications for your kitchen in both the short- and long term.
Here’s how to be sure you make the smartest kitchen cabinet choice.
Pay attention to materials:
Traditional Gray and White Kitchen in La Jolla, CA
The significant difference between cabinets made in America and those made in China is that American-built cabinets are made of particleboard or MDF, and Chinese cabinets are made from plywood. This might not seem like an important detail at first, but is one that can greatly affect the long-term quality of your cabinetry.
Chinese companies don’t use plywood because it’s a superior cabinet material— it’s not. They use it because their products are subject to long overseas travel and need to survive moist or wet environments without being ruined. The downside for homeowners is that plywood is manufactured from thin layers of wood glued together, and is usually made with formaldehyde (which can weaken the glue). It is very thin, easily breakable, and can warp over time.
The MDF (medium-density fiberboard) used in American-built cabinets is made from wood fibers, resin, and wax. It is denser than plywood and is the highest-quality, most affordable alternative to solid wood (which, while beautiful, is very expensive). MDF is stronger, more durable, won’t warp, and has a smooth surface with no wood grain that is easy to paint and gives it a clean, polished look.
Be wary of environmental concerns:
China also lacks many of the environmental regulations that are in place in the U.S., which gives reason to be suspicious of what kind of chemicals and glues are used in the cabinets. Potentially toxic materials have no place in your kitchen.
In the U.S., the TSCA (Toxic Substances Control Act) and the PPA (Pollution Prevention Act) act as safeguards and monitor chemicals that pose a significant risk to human health or the environment. These regulations help ensure that the end product you put in your home isn’t known to contain toxins. China, however, has only begun to propose regulations like these, and there’s no way to be certain about when they’ll be finalized and how strict they will be. Until these regulations exist, there is no guarantee the chemicals Chinese manufacturers use to build kitchen cabinets are safe.
Since Chinese cabinets are made with plywood, they need to be stained— and with no regulations regarding chemical safety, it brings up concerns over what products are being used to stain the cabinets.
The assurance of safety is one of the reasons why we recommend American-made kitchen cabinets. American cabinet companies, such as Medallion, Design Craft, Crystal Cabinet Works, and Wood-Mode, work to achieve environmental stewardship by sourcing locally and holding their craftsmanship to the highest standards. With these companies, you can be confident that the product you’re bringing into your home is safe and of exceptional quality.
Consider the smaller details:
American-built cabinets use pocket screws and glue. Chinese-built cabinets use staples. The Chinese cabinets, therefore, aren’t going to be as sturdy or durable as American-made cabinets.
When installing kitchen cabinets, it is necessary to cut or fix the cabinets on-site in order to create an exact fit. Since Chinese cabinets are mass-produced and not as carefully assembled, they can end up being larger or smaller than the originally intended size and might need to be adjusted. Due to how difficult and messy it is to cut plywood, the installation process becomes much more complicated, and often means the cabinets are more susceptible to damage. This isn’t a concern with the American-built cabinets, which are most often made-to-order by smaller companies with more quality control. And if American-built cabinets do need to be slightly trimmed to fit, the MDF they’re made of makes it easier and less messy, and the quality construction keeps them strong.
The average kitchen is remodeled every 30 years, but most of these low-cost cabinets only have a five-year warranty, or sometimes no warranty at all.
You’ll usually find that American-built cabinet brands stand behind their products with a lifetime warranty. Those less expensive Chinese cabinets won’t save you money if you have to replace them in a few years due to their poor construction.
At first glance, American and Chinese cabinets might seem comparable, but with a bit of examination and an understanding of their construction, you will find that American cabinetry is of much higher quality than their Chinese counterparts.
Do your research before you commit to a cabinet manufacturer, and don’t choose by price alone. Read their website to see what they say about their materials, finishes, environmental standards, and warranties. Whenever possible, look at material samples in person. And if you want trusted guidance along the way, learn more about the quality experience of working with Precision home design and remodeling.