Melamine vs MDF: Which One Should I Choose?

Welcome to my article about Melamine vs MDF!

If you are embarking on a wood working project, you want to use the best materials the job.

Melamine and MDF are two types of non-wood materials that make great wood alternates.

They can be used to make shelves, cabinets and more.

But which is most suitable for your project? Below I’ll go through the features, uses, pros and cons of melamine and MDF so you can pick the right one for you.

But first, a quick summary table so you can compare the two materials side by side.

Melamine vs MDF: Summary Table

Type of plastic created from an organic compound
Wood composite made of sawdust and glue
Smooth and uniform
Smooth, not necessarily uniform in color
Less durable than MDF
More durable than Melamine
Heat Conductivity
Absorbs heat more readily than MDF
Highly resistant to heat
Moisture Absorbtion
More resistant to moisture absorption than MDF
More likely to absorb moisture than Melamine, but can be treated to become more moisture resistant
Suitable for Outdoors
No, unless it's treated to be exterior grade
More affordable than MDF
More expensive than Melamine, but more affordable than wood
Kitchen cabinetry, shelving, office furniture, floor tiles
Furniture, cabinets, desks, shelves, theatre seats, electrical panels

What is Melamine?

Melamine is an organic compound created from a chemical substance called cyanamide.

It is very durable and resistant to scratches.

It also holds up well to oils, mild acids, and heat.

It comes in a variety of colors and finishes and it looks good in various areas of the home.

Melamine Uses

kitchen cabinets made of melamine

Melamine is often used in kitchenware as well as shelving and cabinetry in other areas of the home.

It is similar to plywood, but it’s cheaper and more attractive.

Its high gloss, scratch resistant surface is perfect for creating whiteboards that are often a part of standard office furniture.

It can also be used to manufacture floor tiles.

Melamine floor tiles are scratch resistant, easy to clean and more resistant to staining than other popular flooring materials.

Pros and Cons of Melamine

Melamine comes with its share of pros and cons. Here are some to consider:

  • Affordable alternative to real wood
  • Durable
  • Resistant to wear and tear, scratches, warping, stains, and moisture
  • Can be used outdoors in extremely hot or cold climates
  • Has a more consistent finish than wood grain
  • Easy to clean- wiping it with a damp clothe can remove dirt and particles
  • Contains formaldehyde which is a known carcinogen that can irritate skin and the respiratory system. The formaldehyde is released in the air when it reacts with heat so it can be particularly dangerous in hot climates. It’s also not safe to dispose of it as it will contaminate the air if it ends up in a landfill. Note, there are formaldehyde free versions of melamine available.
  • Tends to warp and bend and therefore is not great for holding heavy objects.
  • Absorbs heat and becomes hot to the touch.
  • Needs to be attached to a substrate. If the substrate is poor quality, the melamine won’t hold up well.

What is MDF?

Medium Density Fiberboard (MDF) is a wood composite.

It is similar to particleboard, but it is made of a more refined material which is the result of fusing sawdust and glue.

Particleboard, on the other hand, is made of wood chips and sawdust that are compressed into adhesive sheets that are not as durable as MDF.

MDF is made from wood fibers, so it doesn’t have the grain regular wood does.

Rather, it has a smooth finish. Dyes and pigments can be added to give it a unique appearance.

It comes in a variety of thicknesses and sheet sizes, densities, and strengths.

The higher the density number, the stronger it will be.

It can also be treated with chemicals to make it resistant to insects and chemicals.

MDF Uses

MDF can be used in various applications.

It is makes a great outer layer for furniture and it can substitute wood veneer.

It can also be used as a filler material and is often incorporated in the construction of cabinets, shelves, and speaker boxes.

It can also be used for flooring.

The material’s softness makes it an ideal for temporary structures like tradeshow booths and theater sets.

And, because it does not conduct electricity, it is often used in the construction of electrical panels and other pieces that are exposed to electricity.

There are two main types of MDF, exterior grade and studio grade.

Exterior grade has been treated for resistance to moisture and insects and studio grade has not. Therefore, studio grade won’t hold up as well as exterior grade, particularly for use outdoors.

There are several types of MDF within those main categories including moisture resistant, colored, formaldehyde free, ultra-lite and so on. This makes it a versatile option for different projects.

MDF Pros and Cons

MDF comes with its share of pros and cons. Here are some to consider.

  • Smooth finish which makes it easy to prime and paint
  • When treated correctly it has insulative properties that make it resistant to heat and an effective sound barrier
  • Weaker and less dense than wood so it is easier to work with
  • Does not contain formaldehyde
  • Eco-friendly since it’s made with recycled wood
  • Can be made to look like real wood
  • Easy to shape
  • Weaker and less dense than wood
  • Does not hold nails well
  • Prone to dents and damage and not easy to repair
  • Absorbs moisture easily and prone to warping
  • Does not look like real wood

How Do Melamine and MDF Compare to Natural Wood?

Both melamine and MDF are wood alternates. So how do they compare to natural wood?


Melamine is more affordable than natural wood. It can be treated to mimic the grains of natural wood, but it is more resistant to dents and scratches.

And because it is made from wood fibers, it has many of the properties wood does including its tendency absorb moisture and become warped.

Melamine also does not last as long as natural wood.


Like melamine, MDF is also more resistant to dents and scratches than wood is.

It is more affordable but not as long lasting.

If you are trying to choose between one of these wood alternates and real wood, it really comes down to whether you want to spend the extra money for wood or save on costs up front while investing in a product that won’t last as long.

Which is Better: Melamine or MDF?

Both melamine and MDF have their shares of advantages and disadvantages. One is really not better than the other, it just depends on the project you are using the material for.

Melamine is not as durable as MDF, but it is more moisture resistant.

Therefore, if may be a better choice if you are doing installation in a humid climate or a humid area of the home.

It’s also more affordable than MDF and easier to clean.

However, MDF wins out when it comes to sturdiness and durability.

This makes it better suited for the construction of furniture, cabinets, and load bearing items.

Another thing to consider is the formaldehyde content. Melamine contains formaldehyde while MDF may have trace, insignificant amounts.

However, even the amount of formaldehyde in melamine shouldn’t be an issue unless you have allergies respiratory issues.

Melamine vs MDF for Cabinetry

Melamine and MDF are both popular materials for cabinetry. But which one is better to use?

Let’s look at some of their characteristics to determine the answer.


  • A Good Finish: Melamine has an attractive, uniform finish that looks terrific on cabinets.
  • Budget Friendly: Melamine is budget friendly yet durable.
  • Durability: Melamine is resistant to moisture, heat, and stains. Therefore, it will hold up well in the kitchen and is likely to withstand the test of time.


  • A Good Finish: MDF has a smooth finish that makes it easy to prime and paint.
  • Budget Friendly: MDF is not as affordable as melamine, but it’s cheaper than wood.
  • Durability: MDF is moisture resistant, and it can be treated to hold up well to other elements.

It’s a close call. The right choice for you will depend on how much you’re willing to spend, what you want the cabinets to look like, and how durable and resistant to moisture and heat you need the cabinets to be.

Melamine vs MDF: Conclusion

I hope you’ve enjoyed this article, and now have a really good understanding of the differences between Melamine and MDF.

Here are some similar articles you may also be interested in:

MDF vs Particleboard