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Water Resistant Kitchen Cabinets: What’s the Best Material to Use?

Your kitchen cabinets can be exposed to a lot of moisture, especially the ones around sinks. But which cabinet material is most water-resistant? We put laminate, stained wood, and painted ones to the test to discover the most water resistant kitchen cabinets.

Something as simple as doing dishes can expose some of your kitchen cabinets to a lot of excess water. Over time, that can take its toll, leading to peeling, warping, expansion, or other damage. So how do you know which cabinet materials are most water resistant? To find out, we soaked a few different ones in water for 24 hours. Here’s a breakdown of the results…

Prepping our water test

In all, we tested four different types of kitchen cabinet materials:

  • Laminate by Bellmont
  • Lacquered laminate by Nobilia
  • Stained wood by Fabuwood
  • Painted wood/MDF by Crystal Cabinets

One of the biggest damage factors we anticipated was expansion of the cabinets or some edge peeling while soaked in water.

So first, we measured each with a micrometer so we could get a very precise thickness reading. We wanted to have a baseline so we could see how much expansion may occur after the cabinets were submerged overnight.

But we also wanted to see if any bulging or cracking would occur on any of the samples, like at the corners or joints for example, so we kept an eye out on those areas as well.

Laminate by Bellmont pre-soak measurements

This sample had a few different areas we were concerned about. First, it’s made up of a lot of different joints, so each one could collect water and result in expansion. The edge banding was another potential weakness. So we’d also be checking whether the edges peeled away from the rest of the door.

micrometer measuring laminate cabinet

In terms of measurements, the Bellmont laminate came in at 19.40 millimeters in thickness pre-soak.

Lacquered laminate by Nobilia pre-soak measurements

Our next sample in our water resistant kitchen cabinets test, the lacquered laminate by Nobilia, is very similar to the Bellmont door, but it’s got a lacquer on top and a foil that wraps around the top and bottom, both of which we assumed would help seal out moisture.

However, it also includes a melamine back over the substrate. Melamine produced back in the ’90s was notorious for peeling away from cabinets. The technology has gotten a lot better since then, but we also wanted to check how the melamine backing fared in our test, and whether a lack of foil around the edges would make any difference.

micrometer measuring lacquered laminate cabinet

This sample measured 19.39 millimeters in thickness before being submerged overnight.

Stained wood by Fabuwood pre-soak measurements

Third was our stained wood door by Fabuwood. The base material is a solid beech, so would the stain that’s been applied perform better or worse than the other materials in keeping out water?

We thought some of the potential failure points could be the corners or joints, more so than general swelling, but we measured them just like the others so we could compare.

micrometer measuring stained cabinet

This sample’s pre-soak measurement came in at 18.43 millimters.

Painted door by Crystal Cabinets pre-soak measurements

Finally, we had the painted door. The sample we chose was from their Keyline series, so it had a thicker coat of paint. But it was an older sample with some dings, especially at the corners, plus it had an MDF center.

Would those two factors cause additional water damage? We wanted to find out so we measured both at the center at the corners. The center measurement came in at 19.53; the corner at 16.91 millimeters.

micrometer measuring painted cabinet
measurement at center
micrometer measuring painted cabinet
measurement at corner

Water resistant kitchen cabinets results

After noting down all the measurements, we placed them all in a sink overnight with a weight on top, then left them to soak. So how did they fare after being submerged in water for 24 hours? Here’s what we found.

Laminate by Bellmont post-soak results

water resistant kitchen cabinets: gray laminate

The first results from out water resistant kitchen cabinets test came from the Bellmont laminate sample. Right away we noticed some significant damage, where the laminate was separating from the base door material. This was happening particularly at the joints, where water was able to seep in. Noticeable gaps were appearing where the edge banding and the laminate came together.

In this case, the sample wasn’t delaminating, but it was swelling from the substrate.

water resistant kitchen cabinets: gray laminate cabinet water damage

So, did it swell at all from our initial measurements? Our post-soak reading came in at 20.88 to 21.00 millimeters, which means this sample expanded significantly — more than 2 millimeters during the test.

Lacquered laminate by Nobilia post-soak results

lacquered laminate cabinet

Then we checked out the lacquered laminate door from Nobilia. We were concerned about swelling here too, as well as potential melamine issues, but also thought the lacquered coating would help protect against significant water damage. Let’s see what we found.

When we took the door out of the water, we noticed the failure point right away. The edge banding suffered significant damage and had started to separate from the substrate. But at the top and bottom, where the foil wrap was located, fared much better, with no noticeable damage.

water resistant kitchen cabinets: blue lacquered laminate cabinet water damage

The resulting measurements bared that out as well. Along the top, the post-soak numbers were nearly identical to the pre-soak, indicating no swelling. But at the edges, the sample had swelled by more than 2 millimeters.

We also saw some of the melamine starting to crack and peel back once water got in underneath the foil.

Stained wood by Fabuwood post-soak results

Would the stained Fabuwood fare any better. We pulled it out of the water next. The first thing we noticed was a bit of swelling and cupping of the wood mostly around the joints, and some minor damage where the sample was cracked.

water resistant kitchen cabinets: stained cabinet water

But overall, the stained wood help up pretty well. When we measured it post-soak, it had only swelled about three-tenths of a millimeter, so much better than the two laminate doors.

Painted door by Crystal Cabinets post-soak results

Finally, we removed the painted door from Crystal Cabinets from the water. Remember, this was an older sample with some cracking in the paint so we expected at least some damage to occur.

That’s exactly what we saw when we pulled it from the sink. There was significant cracking and separation, especially at the corner finger joints and miter joints.

water resistant kitchen cabinets: white painted cabinet water damage

Despite that, the door didn’t swell very much in center. In fact it only expanded by about .15 millimeters. That was one of the best results of all the samples we tested. On the corner, the damage was a bit more extensive, as the door swelled by about half a millimeter. However, we did not see any damage to the MDF center.

Results recap

  • Bellmont laminate: Swelled from 19.40 to ~21.00 millimeters
  • Nobilia Lacquered laminate: Swelled from 19.39 to 21.70 millimeters on the side edges
  • Fabuwood stained door: Swelled from 18.43 to 18.77 millimeters
  • Crystal Cabinets painted door: Swelled from 16.91 to 17.54 millimeters at the corner

By and large, the samples we tested didn’t fare too badly, with the stained and painted samples proving to be fairly durable.

This is by no means a comprehensive look at the kitchen cabinet options available, but we wanted to at least test some of the more common materials on the market and see how they would react to significant water exposure. And with technology changing all the time, water protection will likely continue to get even better.

Are you planning a kitchen or bathroom remodel and need advice on cabinets? We’re happy to discuss your project. Simply schedule a conversation with us!

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