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The Pros & Cons of Thermofoil Cabinet Doors

December 12th, 2008 Leave a comment Go to comments

There are so many options for kitchen and bathroom customers to choose from in the area of cabinet doors. Thermofoil (or, “MDF”) cabinet doors pros and cons are something that you need to be aware of before you make your decision. What is an MDF door? Well, the term stands for medium density fiber board. When refereed to by cabinet makers, it means a vinyl wrapped door. MDF and vinyl wrapped doors are both the same as thermofoil cabinetry doors.” There are basically four price categories that I feel cabinetry doors fall into. The MDF style  falls  into a medium price range cabinetry doors category with a high end look. Eventually, I will be adding an article about the different types of doors and the price ranges of each category.


The Benefits of Thermofoil Cabinetry Doors:

Below is a comprehensive list showing the pros of MDF doors. I have added an explanation, further below, about the disadvantages of thermofoil cabinetry doors.

  • Seamless
  • Cheaper than the traditional style painted door
  • Less expensive than real wood with a similar look
  • Easy to clean


The MDF (or, “medium density fiberboard”) doors fall in a medium price range (cabinet door price ranges). They were originally designed as an alternative to the traditional five piece painted, real wood doors.

In comparison to the traditional option, the MDF doors do not have any seams. Painted doors with seams will eventually show cracks in the paint due to the expansion and contraction of the wood. This is why the thermofoil cabinet doors gained such popularity when the were first introduced to the market. The cost of them is about two thirds less than having a painted traditional door.

With the rising demand, manufactures began to get creative and simulate a real wood door with the natural finish or stained look. At first, the styles had the grain running in one direction and several years later the thermofoil doors took on the five piece look, with wood grains running in different directions. Among the benefits of having thermofoil doors is that they are easy to clean. The round inside corner style option separates them and gives them a unique look as well.

The Disadvantages of Thermofoil Doors

Here’s a short listing of the disadvantages of thermofoil doors. There may be other problems but, these are the ones that I have encountered the most.

  • Possibility of the glue letting loose of the core underneath
  • Not heat resistant
  • After long periods of time the colors change
  • Doors are not easily replaced for several reasons

The cons are certainly something to consider but , it really has been my experience that people go for this style because it is very good looking and the price is right. Many people in my area, who buy houses to remodel and sell, use these doors often.

Most manufactures of the MDF doors will have a five year guarantee against thermofoil problems such as  De-lamination and discoloration. It’s an inconvenience when all of the doors have to be replaced because the glue coating was not thick enough to hold the plastic for longer than a couple of years. With thermofoil a very common problem is people are not informed that the doors are not heat resident.

So, when they self clean the oven, the extreme amount of heat effects the vinyl and it peels away from the core. Installers can place a heat shield between the stove and cabinet doors but many companies do not. In fact, manufactures of the doors recommend a 5” spacer to be installed between the two.

After long periods of time doors that need to be replaced are hard to match colors to. The reason is because some of the lighter solid colors have a tendency to yellow. Also, the vinyl colors vary with different batches that the doors are made with. Sometimes there is just a shad difference in color from doors manufactured within a year from each other.

How Are The Vinyl Doors Made?

There are two machines that are used for fabricating these specialty items, CNC router and a vacuum press.

  • The door specifications are entered into the CNC machine’s computer and the MDF panels are cut.
  • Once the medium density fiber board has been transformed into a raised panel look, it is placed on the vacuum press table.
  • Glue is applied to an oversize piece of vinyl and then placed over the board. The vacuum press presses the plastic to the board and heat is used to accelerate the drying of the glue.

These thermofoil style cabinet doors are an excellent product for the person who is looking for the high end look but does not have a large budget. Although there are problems with heat sources, now that you understand this disadvantage you could guard against it ever occurring. There are advantages and disadvantages to every type of cabinetry door. My personal opinion is that the pros far out weigh the cons.

  1. Susan Kibbe
    March 23rd, 2009 at 20:40 | #1

    Our home is 10 yrs old & the kitchen, Thermofoil, cabinet doors are peeling. What do you recommend? Can these be painted & if so how should it be done? We’d rather not replace the doors in the current housing market.

  2. admin
    March 23rd, 2009 at 21:10 | #2

    Hi Susan, are you talking about peeling the vinyl completely off and then painting the doors? Either way you can paint the vinyl coating or the fiberboard underneath. Check with a local paint company for the proper primer and top coat.

    Here’s a tip… In this housing market many cabinet companies are starving for work. You may be able to get a very reasonable deal on replacing your doors.

  3. Dave
    April 17th, 2009 at 11:32 | #3

    Hi,
    Another question for you on the thermofoil doors – We have white cabinetry doors made by Aristokraft. The doors are out of warranty and they no longer are making those cabinet doors. So our only choice is
    1) replace all the doors and the drawers or 2) try to paint them by taking the laminate off all of them? (is this even possible) 3) try to find a syringe with glue and shoot it through the laminate. Would this work? We are just trying to fix them to sell the house. It is about 14 years old. Any other suggestions, would be much appreciated. I personally will never again have a cabinetry door made from the laminate.
    Thanks for your help.

  4. admin
    April 17th, 2009 at 13:16 | #4

    Hey Dave, I’d go with option 1. Your cabinet color should be easy to match. With the economy being the way it is you may be able to get a professional cabinet maker at a reasonable price.

    Option 2 would require a lot of work in order to get the doors to look good. I think the vinyl would really have to be loose everywhere on the doors before I’d consider trying to peel the plastic off.

    If your handy at “do it yourself” projects and your hinges are in good shape, order new doors and switch them out yourself. I have always used Doormark Doors http://www.doormark.com and have had great success. Installing new doors would be a lot less labor intensive in comparison to trying to peel and paint.

  5. Lorraine
    May 7th, 2009 at 21:27 | #5

    Hi,
    I have thermofoil white matte kitchen cabinets. One of the door has developed a bubble in it. How can I repair it?

    Thanks for your help.

  6. admin
    May 8th, 2009 at 04:24 | #6

    Where is the bubble at on the door Lorriane? The chances of repairing it are slim in any case.

    I have repaired damage that was just on the thin edge of a Thermofoil white door before.

    In this situation there was only damage to the edge of the door. It was not noticeable in the front. I was able to trim off the damage with my table saw and then glued a piece of white PVC edging on the door to replace it.
    Read this article- How to Replace Thermofoil Doors

  7. pat
    September 3rd, 2009 at 21:05 | #7

    Hi,

    Will more expensive Italian thermofoil cabinets have the same problems?
    We do stir fry cooking almost everyday (oil & water), is it better to go with painted wood cabinets?

  8. admin
    September 4th, 2009 at 13:17 | #8

    If you decide to use the thermofiol doors just be aware of extreme heat sources and where they are in relation to the doors. There is a significant difference in cost between wood door and MDF vinyl coated cabinet doors. Wood doors will last longet than the MDF style in the long run.

  9. Susana
    October 24th, 2009 at 06:35 | #9

    Hi,
    I am going for the European lacquer look so I am going to use white high gloss thermofoil doors and wood for the inside of the cabinets in my kitchen renovation.
    Is all thermofoil basically the same quality or is there such thing as high end and low end thermofoil and how can you tell the difference?
    Where can I find heat shields to put next to the range and how do they show in appearance on the outside when it is next to the range?
    Doing a kitchen remodeling is overwhelming and I appreciate any help you can give me. Your website is very valuable in this economy. Thank You. Susana

  10. admin
    October 27th, 2009 at 13:24 | #10

    I have used DoorMark doors http://doormark.com/ for many years. There products are excellent and the customer service ranks high on my list as well.

    Around the range most manufactures recommend that your doors should be six inches away from the edge of the stove. I personally have never used what you are referring to as heat shields.

    The damage that I have seen around ranges was due to using the self cleaning feature on the oven. Always remove the drawers and open the doors of the cabinets to the left and right of the oven when self cleaning. If the doors are hinged next to the range, remove them from the cabinets.

  11. February 2nd, 2010 at 16:09 | #11

    is there a difference between thermofoil doors and laminate doors? we are going to have our kitchens cabinets refaced but i’m confused. thank you jane

  12. Blanca Joshnick
    February 8th, 2010 at 10:10 | #12

    My 3 year old laminate kitchen cabinets are delaminating after a few cold days a month ago. Is this normal?

  13. admin
    February 20th, 2010 at 09:22 | #13

    No this is not normal.

  14. Steve S
    March 3rd, 2010 at 18:38 | #14

    I have thermofoil doors and drawer fronts in a bathroom that I am starting to renovate after 13 years. The plastic coating on one of the drawer came off cleanly. So the plan was to take to plastic of the other doors and drawer fronts and paint them, but of course the plastic does not seem to want to come as easly.
    Any suggestion on getting the plastic off?

  15. Steve S
    March 5th, 2010 at 15:40 | #15

    OK I have my first question solved. Get under the laminate with a razorblade knife and it comes off easily. Next question is there is a trace of glue left on the mdf any idea how to get the glue off the MDF?

  16. Tim Smith
    March 8th, 2010 at 15:18 | #16

    @admin

    The bubble in the thermofoil door in my particular case is in the middle. Is their any way of tackling a problem like this?

  17. Bob
    April 9th, 2010 at 18:23 | #17

    We are installing Thermofoil cabinets and have the heat shields to place on the cabinets next to the range. Exactly how do we install them? Are they supposed to act as spacers to move the range away from the cabinet (attached somehow parallel to the front of the cabinets) or do they go along the side (between the range and the cabinet)? If they go along the side, do we attach them with the excess metal part in towards the wall or sticking out toward the kitchen (ie – does the side with the screw holes face into the kitchen or the wall)? They came with no instructions so we appreciate any advice you can provide.

  18. butch dillon
    April 12th, 2010 at 12:05 | #18

    I have 2 white thermofoil doors that have some small dents and gouges in them, is there a way to repair the thermofoil to match?

  19. admin
    April 14th, 2010 at 05:34 | #19

    Butch, from a professional cabinet makers eyes, I’ve never found anything acceptable for fixing small dents or scratches in these vinyl wrap style doors.

  20. admin
    April 14th, 2010 at 05:49 | #20

    @Bob
    Hey Bob, check with your cabinet supplier to get the manufactures instructions. I have always installed these on the sides of the cabinets by pulling them out flush with the face of the door and drawer front.

  21. admin
    April 14th, 2010 at 05:57 | #21

    Hey Tim, the proper thing to do is replace the vinyl wrap door. There’s no way to fix it when the center panel is coming loose.

  22. admin
    April 14th, 2010 at 06:04 | #22

    Hey Steve, you can try to put some lacquer thinner in a squirt bottle. Use a putty knife in connection with the thinner. You could try to use a heat gun also. This will cause the glue to loosen enough to peal it off of the doors.

  23. Dan
    April 22nd, 2010 at 18:41 | #23

    I have 4 white raised panel thernoifoil cabinet doors on storage cabinets in my garage. The thermofoil is completely loose and could be easily removed. Is there a glue that could be used to secure the thermofoil shell to the doors?

  24. admin
    April 23rd, 2010 at 15:01 | #24

    Hi Dan, I have never tried to glue loose vinyl on these doors.

    We order new ones…click this link Thermofoil Doors to order replacements.

    I have taken the coating off completely and painted the medium density fiberboard.

  25. ari
    July 12th, 2010 at 12:41 | #25

    what if only the doors are thermofoil, is that a better option?

  26. Edith
    September 1st, 2010 at 17:17 | #26

    Thanks for your many great suggestions Jordy. I have been considering thermofoil for my (budget) kitchen remodel and this website has helped me immensely. (I am going to do it!)

  27. Paul
    October 23rd, 2010 at 22:02 | #27

    My friends vinyl cupboard doors started de-laminating after three years. I’ve been considering doing an upgrade in my kitchen, but it just doesn’t seem like such a good long-term option to install these doors.

    Even with the warranty it sounds like they are not as durable as other kitchen cabinet door styles.

    The only pro about them seems to be the cost in relation to the high end look.

    At least with wood doors they can be repainted. From what you have indicated is that if they start peeling, it’s not possible to repair them.

  28. c keser
    October 27th, 2010 at 13:47 | #28

    We have a 5 year old home. Many of the cabinet doors are starting to peel. We can easily peel the covering off now. We would like to stain the doors which seem quite solid to match the maple covering of the base cabinet. Can we do this?

  29. Ellen
    October 29th, 2010 at 11:45 | #29

    Hi,
    I’m a decorator and I’ve been given a choice of white thermofoil or white PVC for a large cabinet and window seat I designed for a liitle girl’s room in a basement. The price is about the same…which do you reccomend. Thanks

  30. admin
    November 1st, 2010 at 13:25 | #30

    They are the same Ellen…aren’t they?

  31. admin
    November 1st, 2010 at 13:27 | #31

    No, you cannot stain the core board underneath the vinyl coating. You can prime and paint Thermofoil doors though.

  32. admin
    November 1st, 2010 at 13:30 | #32

    Hey Paul, you if MDF doors begin to peal and you can take the vinyl off then they can be painted. You will have less chances of any headaches if you go with real wood doors. Price is often the deciding factor with many people though.

  33. Remodeler
    December 30th, 2010 at 18:46 | #33

    I just read your article on Thermafoil cabinets. Thank you for your
    information on the pros/cons. Indeed we have been enlightened by your
    information. That said, I am hopeful you can take a moment to read our
    “situation” below and offer a bit of guidance (particularly Item
    #4), as follows:

    1. We have not yet begun our overall kitchen remodel (all new
    cabinets, appliances, etc.); however, have been attending Home
    Decorating Shows to obtain information on different cabinetry and
    ideas “of the day” so to speak. In so doing, and knowing we do NOT
    like our current, dark, oak cabinets, we came across a product that
    has a high gloss, is light (honey) colored, has an interesting pattern
    and, is called Thermafoil.

    2. In wanting to do some research on this Thermafoil (having not ever
    heard of it previously), I went on the Internet and came across your
    article. Although there are indeed “good things” seemingly about
    Thermafoil, there certainly appears to also be some potential, real,
    negatives.

    3. It appears, in general, Thermafoil was something invented to offer
    the public a “high-end” look but on a much abbreviated budget.
    Typically, it appears Thermafoil is understood to be installed on
    either plywood, particle board or MDF materials; hence, when the
    Thermafoil is added, it appears to be a true “wood” cabinet
    installation.

    4. Before doing our research, we had no idea that Thermafoil was
    something that was covering-over a non-wood product, underneath.
    Rather, we simply thought the Thermafoil was the final finishing
    effort that was applied to a wood cabinet, giving it the deep,
    high-gloss, appearance. That said, we have already made the decision
    to have our cabinets constructed (on the inside) of ¾” pre-finished
    birch —- with the outside being of the “birds-eye maple on
    Thermafoil”. That said, here is the QUESTION, please: To eliminate
    the vast majority of potential problems when using Thermafoil, and
    since we are already using wood cabinets in total and a “face” of
    birds-eye maple, should not we simply then just specify a high-gloss
    finish on that maple to achieve the exact same look of the
    Thermafoil….but without the problems that come with that
    product/procedure?

  34. admin
    December 30th, 2010 at 18:48 | #34

    If you are suggesting using real wood maple doors rather than
    thermofoil, you will indeed have a higher quality product.

    There will be a significant difference in cost though.

    I hope this helps

  35. jeff
    January 3rd, 2011 at 15:17 | #35

    Hi,
    I heat gunned the vinyl iff my thermofoil cabinet doors. Now how do I get the glue off so that I may refinish them.

    Tried Goof-off [good product] but not in this case. Tried the heat gun again and it just melted and spread evenly. Tried palm sander–just moved the glue around.

    The best way seems just scrapping while cold but then I can’t get into the grooves and rounded edges.

    Help!

    Thanks

  36. Denise
    February 1st, 2011 at 13:04 | #36

    We had installed thermofoil cabinets in 2008 and had to replace the cabinets above our GE Profile microwave/convection within a year because of delamination caused by steam from our microwave. After the first replacement, I tried to always open the doors when using the microwave but the replacements have still delaminated. I had a GE representative come to our house to check out the microwave and he stated that it was working properly. Is there anyway to prevent this or do I have to replace these doors with wood? It is expensive replacing these doors every couple of years.

  37. Daverlee
    February 2nd, 2011 at 09:12 | #37

    Hi:
    The thermafoil on our cabinets are peeling. Can the thermafoil be removed and then have the doors resurfaced with a new thermafoil?

  38. admin
    February 4th, 2011 at 13:25 | #38

    Daverlee, the doors need to be replaced. If the vinyl coating is really easy to get off of all the doors, you can have them painted. Here is how you can repair Thermofoil doors if they are not completely loose all over. Here is an article on the standard MDF door warranty.

  39. Bonnie
    February 22nd, 2011 at 12:29 | #39

    I had thermal foil four seven years and everything started peeling off. I’ll never own them again.

  40. admin
    February 23rd, 2011 at 16:49 | #40

    Thanks Bonnie for sharing your experience with us. Many people share the same thoughts in relation to these vinyl wrap Thermal doors.

  41. Hal
    February 26th, 2011 at 12:45 | #41

    We have a large CANAC kitchen in white foil wrapped cabinets. The installation is now 13 years old and looks as new with no degradation of any kind. We are very, very satisfied. Canac was a subsidiary of Kohler in Canada but is now out of buiness with the down economy. It is sad as they were an excellent company that for one price built, finished, and installed the entire kitchen with a very long warranty.

  42. Vin
    March 24th, 2011 at 10:49 | #42

    I have a door with several chips on the tops. Is there any way to repair? I tried gluing the chip back and it looks bad.

  43. L_Gecho
    March 27th, 2011 at 13:00 | #43

    We removed the plastic from every thermofoil doors and drawings in the kitchen due to peeling. I hate thermofoil because it peels over time. We re-finished everything ourselves and it looks incredibly beautiful. We extremely happy with the results. It costed less than $100 for the whole kitchen but was a lot of work.

  44. April 11th, 2011 at 06:42 | #44

    The edges of the white thermofoil cabinets were peeling in our kitchen and bathrooms. I repaired the few bad ones in the kitchen by cutting away the edges and ironing on some white thermofoil tape.

    The bathroom was worse. I stripped all the themofoil from the vanity doors and draws. The small amount of glue remaining was scraped off and I gave the MDF a light sanding so paint would adhere better. My wife then applied two base coates and two finish coats of paint recommended by our local supplier. We also replaced the molded vanity top with a new granite one (porcelain basin included) from Home Depot. If we ever have to refinish the kitchen cabinets (now 12 years old) we know just what to do. The following link will show a photo of the finished vanity: http://www.flickr.com/photos/kb1awv/5586709436/in/photostream/

  45. admin
    April 13th, 2011 at 05:17 | #45

    Excellent work Ken! The PVC tape idea will help a lot of people.

  46. sanjay Radia
    April 14th, 2011 at 22:09 | #46

    Hello
    We are creating a European style wardrobe in our bedroom because we have a very small
    walk in closet. The Italian wardrobes use lacquer but are very expensive. I was instead thinking
    of using a local cabinet maker either Thermofoil, or painted wood.
    I would be using white or off-white colour.
    While the wardrobes will not be in heavy traffic
    area and will not be exposed to heat as in a kitchen.
    What is my best option – I want it to look as close to the lacquered matt Italian look.
    Do the american cabinet makers offer lacquered finishes in various colors.

  47. Beth
    April 30th, 2011 at 08:01 | #47

    Sanjay, MDF vinyl wrap doors will work fine in the closet. The perfect alternative to painted lacquer doors. The high gloss Thermofoil doors are always more expensive than the matte finish ones.

  48. Brian
    May 6th, 2011 at 06:51 | #48

    Thanks for this excellent review about Thermofoil cabinet doors. I visited a local supply company the other day and looked at the different styles they have. The salesman told me some of the same things you have touched on here about the pros and cons related to having these doors in the kitchen.

    I was amazed at how real the vinyl PVC wood grain doors looked. The actually resembled framed raised panel style.

    Is there a particular company/brand of MDF doors that you like to work with?

  49. admin
    May 6th, 2011 at 06:59 | #49

    Hey Brian, I always use a company located in South Florida. Go here: Doormark Doors Review.

  50. Gary
    May 23rd, 2011 at 12:09 | #50

    We are planning to buy white thermofoil cabinets and paint them. Is this possible – any suggestions?

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