MDF vs. Melamine: Which to Choose?

MDF vs. Melamine: Which to Choose?

Handyman's World is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.

If you are engaging in your own construction projects, then choosing the right material is crucial. Different materials have different properties, as well as different benefits and disadvantages. Today, we are here to compare two very popular building materials.

We want to compare MDF and melamine. We want to figure out what both of them are, what similarities they share, and what the differences between them are. Let’s get to it and help you choose the best building material for your purposes.

MDF vs. Melamine: The Basics

Before we get into talking about the similarities and differences between MDF and melamine, let’s first figure out what both of them actually are.

What Is MDF?

MDF stands for medium density fiberboard. This is a specific type of engineered wood product. For the record, being engineered wood means that it is made out of real wood, although it has been broken down, processed, and put back together.

Medium density fiberboard is made out of wood fibers that have been broken down into very small pieces. These small wood fibers are then mixed with a variety of resins and wax, and are then pressed using a lot of heat into hard and dense sheets.

MDF tends to be quite dense and heavy, and it also has a smooth appearance with absolutely no wood grain that can be seen. MDF can be used for a variety of purposes such as cabinetry, flooring, furniture, and other basic wooden projects.

What Is Melamine?

Unlike MDF, melamine is not engineered wood. There does seem to be a bit of confusion out there. Many sources seem to claim that melamine is a type of engineered wood. This is not true in any way, shape, or form. Melamine is an organic compound, the trimmer of cyanamide.

This substance is composed of a variety of other substances, including a lot of nitrogen. Its scientific formula is C₃H₆N₆. In essence, what you need to know here is that this is actually a type of plastic. A variety of substances are broken down in cyanuric acid, which then through a process of chemical reactions form melamine.

Melamine is a substance that is often used in a variety of reusable plastics, such as children’s toys, utensils, reusable cups and other such things. With that being said, this melamine plastic is often formed into boards and used in place of engineered wood.

Combining MDF and Melamine

The other thing we quickly need to mention here is that these two materials are not mutually exclusive, at least not all of the time. There are some very specific circumstances where an MDF sheet may be coated with melamine for an added layer of protection.

Similarities of MDF and Melamine

Now that we know what both MDF and melamine are, let’s discuss what similarities they share. Keep in mind that one of these is engineered wood, and the other is plastic, which means that the similarities they share are extremely limited.

1. They’re Both Engineered

Really one of the only similarities these two things share is that they are both engineered. Unlike something like solid lumber or wood, these things don’t just grow in nature. Both melamine and MDF need to be processed and created in factory setting.

2. Low Cost

The other basic similarity that both of these building materials feature is that they tend to be fairly cheap. Now, we aren’t necessarily talking about quality here, but about price. There may be some differences in the costs between melamine and MDF sheets, although both tend to be very cost effective. They are both certainly cheaper than plywood and solid lumber.

3. They May Be Used for the Same Purpose

The other similarity to consider here is that melamine and MDF may be used for the same purposes. Both melamine and MDF are popular for making things such as kitchen cabinets as well as low grade countertops.

Differences Between MDF and Melamine

Now that we know what the similarities between these two things are, let’s figure out what makes them different.

1. Cost

Although both of these building materials are relatively affordable, one is cheaper than the other. Melamine does tend to be cheaper and more economical to build with than MDF. Although MDF is fairly cost effective, it’s still not quite as cheap as melamine.

2. Waterproofness

One of the biggest differences between these two materials has to do with how waterproof they are.

On one hand you have MDF, which is not waterproof in the least. Medium density fiberboard is very prone to soaking up water, and when it does, it will warp and change shape. Water will also cause those fibers to start to come apart. MDF can quite literally crumble after having been wet for a long time. For this reason, MDF is sometimes coated in melamine. There are other ways of waterproofing it too.

On that note, as you can probably assume, melamine is waterproof. Melamine is a type of plastic and it is totally impermeable to water.

3. Screw and Nail Holding Capabilities

Melamine has a special structure, and it is quite flexible. This means that it can easily hold onto nails and screws. This makes it ideal for building a variety of things that are attached using nails and screws. On the other hand, MDF does not hold onto nails and screws well. It’s not very flexible and its composition does not allow it to hold onto anything very well.

4. Flexibility

Another primary difference between these two building materials is that melamine can be somewhat flexible. It can handle a bit of bending without breaking.

On the other hand, MDF is not flexible in the least. It is not impact-resistant. Instead of flexing, it is likely to just crack and break. That said, with the right method, it can be bent.

5. Overall Strength and Weight

The next difference between these two is that MDF or medium density fiberboard does tend to be stronger. It’s not like melamine is weak, but it just doesn’t have the same structural integrity as MDF. However, MDF is also much heavier and harder to work with than melamine.

6. Sustainability

Another big difference here is that melamine is technically a type of plastic, so it’s really not all that sustainable or eco-friendly. On the other hand, MDF is made out of wood fibers that are taken from old wood scraps. MDF does tend to be slightly more eco-friendly and sustainable than melamine.

7. Painting

MDF is relatively easy to paint, but melamine is not.

Which of the Two Should You Use?

If you are planning to make a subfloor, various lower end cabinets, inexpensive furniture, and even things like speaker boxes, then MDF is the way to go. As long as there isn’t much moisture involved, MDF should do just fine. However, melamine is the better choice to go with for areas that see a lot of moisture. Melamine is ideal for home and office furniture, as well as cabinets, flooring, and more.

With all of that being said, if you want the best of both worlds, just get MDF that is coated in melamine.

Summary

Now that you know exactly what both of these building materials are, as well as what makes them different, you can make an informed choice between the two.