GBA Logo horizontal Facebook LinkedIn Email Pinterest Twitter Instagram YouTube Icon Navigation Search Icon Main Search Icon Video Play Icon Plus Icon Minus Icon Picture icon Hamburger Icon Close Icon Sorted

Community and Q&A

Kitchen cabinets: Is upgrading to formaldehyde-free worth it?

Lance Peters | Posted in Green Products and Materials on

When asked, my kitchen cabinet supplier just told me I can upgrade the sheet material in my cabinets to a NAF (No Added Formaldehyde) grade for somewhere between $1000-$1500.  Considering the cost of a new kitchen that doesn’t seem unreasonable.

However, is there value in that upgrade?

I just did a little reading up on formaldehyde and it seems it’s a naturally occurring substance in all wood products, and many other places as well. Only when the concentrations are high is it a danger.

So my question is, do you think the upgrade to low formaldehyde cabinets is actually worth it?  I have no problem paying for good things, but that is assuming I’m getting something (or in this case NOT getting something) for my money.

GBA Prime

Join the leading community of building science experts

Become a GBA Prime member and get instant access to the latest developments in green building, research, and reports from the field.


  1. Zdesign | | #1

    Your cabinet boxes need to be able to support your countertops first and foremost. Any stone/heavy countertop should really have plywood and not particle board boxes. That alone should avoid the formaldehyde.

    1. Lance Peters | | #5

      How many granite countertops do you think are installed on particle board cabinets? The answer is: most of them. Plywood undoubtedly makes for a stronger cabinet, but particle board is more than strong enough to support the weight of any residential countertop within reason.

  2. Expert Member
    Zephyr7 | | #2

    I don’t think it’s worth it, unless you know you have a sensitivity to formaldehyde. Formaldehyde is in a lot of adhesives too. With trace amounts, you’re unlikely to have a problem. It’s like most things, if there isn’t too much, and you don’t mess with it, you should be ok.


    1. Lance Peters | | #6

      Nobody in our family has a particular issue with formaldehyde as far as I'm aware. I'm just concerned about the potential carcinogen effects it could potentially have in a new home. I've never spec'd out a brand new kitchen before, so I thought it might be worth looking into.

      With continuous ventilation exhausting from the kitchen it might not be something worth worrying about.

  3. John Semmelhack | | #3

    If the cabinets in question are made from particle board, then I’m pretty sure they’re already required to be low/no urea formaldehyde per new EPA regs that came into effect last summer. If they’re plywood, the low/no formaldehyde for indoor plywood have a slightly longer phase-in time period, if I remember right.

    1. Lance Peters | | #7

      Great advice, John, I'll have to ask about that. We're in Canada so I'm not sure if our local suppliers will adhere to those regs. (hehe)

  4. Expert Member
    Peter Yost | | #4

    There is a big difference between urea-formaldehyde the adhesive in many particleboards and phenol-formaldehyde in many structural sheathings.

    The outgassing of urea-formaldehyde is siginificantly affected by temperature and relative humidity and it outgasses quite a bit long after manufacture. The outgassing of phenol-formaldehyde is mainly a concern during manufacture and is not nearly as sensitive to temperature and moisture.

    Finally, fasteners simply don't have the "bite" in particleboard for durability. Definitely worth moving from particleboard cabinet boxes to something more durable.


    1. Lance Peters | | #8

      Peter, are there any studies that show how urea-formaldehyde off-gassing from particle board products decreases over time? I'd be interested in how long it would take for emission levels to drop below concerning levels.

Log in or create an account to post an answer.


Recent Questions and Replies

  • |
  • |
  • |
  • |