What’s the Best Material for Kitchen Cabinets in India?

8 min read 
Open kitchen with wooden cabinets and island stove
Interior Design by Urban Company Professional Huzzpa

Seems like a basic question, right? And yet it’s so crucial!

Why? Because kitchen cabinets comprise at least half of your kitchen’s skeletal structure. And to top that, the materials and finishes that you choose define how long they will last and how resilient they will be. Pick the best material for kitchen cabinets, and you don’t have to get that annoying makeover much before its time.

Therefore, we’re going to talk about what kitchen cabinets are made of, in this post – what is also known as the kitchen carcass. The finishes (laminates, acrylic, PVC, etc.) — which are basically the exterior surface or covering of the cabinets — warrant a separate post, and we’ll tackle them in the next few days, we promise.

So, let’s get down to the materials to use for your kitchen cabinets.

Kitchen Cabinet Material: Plywood

kitchen with plywood cabinet materials
Image: Courtesy Plykea
plywood cabinets in kitchen
Image: Courtesy Plykea

Plywood is basically a man-made material (or engineered wood) created by gluing layers and layers of thin wood (or wood veneers) into a single sheet or board. It is available in different thicknesses and is fairly stable. It can be further coated with plastic laminate, wood veneer or thermofoil for a smoother finish and for better protection against termites and moisture. With modular kitchens seeping into almost every apartment or home in India, plywood has taken over as the most sought-after material and is readily available in Indian markets today.

Also Read: The Best Kitchen Countertop Materials in India!

You can see the thin layers of wood that make up a plywood board.

The Good:

  1. Plywood is less prone to damage by moisture or water — making it a great fit for Indian kitchens.
  2. Because of the way it is bonded (ie, with the grains running against one another), it doesn’t shrink, crack or warp. Hence, it is highly durable, too.
  3. It is affordable, costing anywhere between Rs. 85 and Rs. 115 per square foot for a 19mm-thick BWR plywood from a reputed brand like CenturyPly, Greenply or Kitply. The costs depend on the type and thickness of the board. Commercial plywood would cost roughly around Rs. 55 per square foot.
  4. It is stronger than all other engineered woods, and can better hold heavy weight.
  5. It is also lighter than other boards, and is, therefore, a great option for hanging or wall cabinets.

The Not-So-Good:

  1. While it is much cheaper than solid wood, it is more expensive than HDF or MDF (read about these later in the article).
  2. Elaborate designs with plywood kitchen cabinets is difficult as the material is very dense.
  3. You have to ensure that your plywood cabinets are coated with laminate or veneer, so that the rough edges don’t show.

Pick this if your #1 criteria is Quality.

Frequently asked question: Which plywood is best for modular kitchens?
Since kitchen cabinets are more prone to getting wet and being exposed to steam, opt for Boiling Water-Resistant (BWR) ply, instead of commercial ply. You can also opt for the more expensive Marine ply, but do ensure that what you’re getting is authentic. While marine and BWR are costlier, they are resistant to fungal attacks and are overall more durable.

Also browse: 15 Indian Kitchen Design Ideas from Real Homes

Kitchen Cabinet Material: High-Density & Medium-Density Fibreboard

kitchen cabinets made of MDF material
Image: Courtesy Wood and Wire Kitchens

Both HDF and MDF are engineered woods, created when small wood particles and fibres are compressed using high pressure and heat, and glued together by a resin. However, HDF is a higher grade of MDF, and is harder and denser. Yet, they’re two different materials altogether!

In fact, those IKEA furniture pieces that you’re lusting after are most likely made of these boards. Although it’s interesting to note that while they’re common kitchen cabinet materials, Indian designers and contractors recommend MDF more for wardrobes and doors or for kitchen cabinet shutters.

MDF or HDF is denser but not necessarily stronger than plywood.

The Good:

  1. Both HDF and MDF have a very smooth surface (easier to paint!), and can be easily cut for designs.
  2. They cost about 20% lesser than regular plywood and, hence, are a more economical choice (HDF is more expensive than MDF). Regular MDF would cost you roughly around Rs. 50 per square foot. Go for Centuryply or Greenply.
  3. Both are sustainable options as they’re made from fragments of wood leftover from projects or otherwise.

The Not-So-Good:

  1. Since they’re denser (not stronger!) than plywood, they’re heavier to work with. Plus, they’re not as strong as plywood.
  2. Both are not resistant to water or moisture and, hence, aren’t suitable for areas near the sink.
  3. They don’t hold screws well as they’re made of small grains and particles.

Pick this if your #1 criteria is Affordability.

Kitchen Cabinet Material: Natural Wood

Kitchen with Cherrywood cabinets
Image: Courtesy Spenc Design

This screams classic! Haven’t we all seen those sturdy wooden cabinets in our homes growing up, or at least in the homes of our grandparents? Timeless, old school and solid, these are mostly made from sheesham (Indian rosewood) teak, mahogany or balut (oak). Even today, it doesn’t matter what your kitchen style is — modern or traditional — natural wooden cabinets fit any kitchen like a pair of gloves! Sadly yet understandably, with the advent of modular kitchens, the demand for natural wood has gone down significantly.

The grains show so beautifully in wood.

The Good:

  1. The textures and grains of natural wood are beautiful and the colours are deep.
  2. Wood is easy to maintain on a day-to-day basis, and you don’t have to worry about stains and spots. Just use a cloth to wipe clean! However, you will need to get the wood polished often to maintain the smooth texture.
  3. Wood is very strong and durable, and will last you many, many years — maybe even a lifetime.

The Not-So-Good:

  1. Termites and other insects love wood, as much as we do. Therefore, it’s important that the wood is treated in advance.
  2. Moisture and humidity can affect the core of the material over time.
  3. Since it isn’t man-made and is now scarce, natural wood is much more expensive than plywood, costing anywhere between Rs. 600 and Rs. 2,000 per cubic foot. And like mentioned before, polishing is a costly affair.

Pick this if your #1 criteria is Durability.

What about particle boards, you ask?

Well, to begin with, HDF and MDF are basically glorified versions of particle boards. Having said that, regular particle boards don’t make the best kitchen cabinet materials simply because they won’t hold weight well and are not moisture-resistant. This makes them a better fit for furniture, doors and wardrobes.

Want to know more about the materials used in a kitchen? The following posts should help:

Find 2,500+ photos of kitchen cabinets in our Homes section. You can also hire an interior designer, architect, contractor and wall painters on Urban Company.

Also, browse through some modular kitchen ideas.


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