5 Ways to Get Green Kitchen Cabinets

What makes for green kitchen cabinets? Your cheapest and greenest option is to revamp the ones you already have. Otherwise, think sustainable and fume-free.

Cabinets made of salvaged materials can add a unique touch to a kitchen. Image: The Old House Parts Company

Getting on the green bandwagon doesn’t have to be complex. And some options for green kitchen cabinets even make economical sense, considering that some experts peg cabinets at—yeesh!—up to 60% of the cost of a kitchen remodel.

1. Refinish or reface the cabinets you already have.

This is the greenest kitchen cabinet option by far because it minimizes new materials needed—which also means fewer volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that can off-gas and cause you health problems. And a refurb is a fraction of the cost of new cabinets. New cabinets could run $4,000-$20,000+; refacing might be half that.

If your cabinets are structurally sound but you just want a new look, add a coat of low-VOC paint or a new set of doors and hardware—it’s easy, inexpensive, and earth-friendly.

2. Buy salvaged cabinets.

A local salvage supply or thrift store can yield surprising finds. Even cabinets made of materials not recommended for new purchases because of their hazardous chemical content—melamine, and formaldehyde-containing particleboard and medium-density fiberboard, for example—are fair game, because it’s better to reuse them than send them to the landfill. Plus, their off-gassing process is probably done by the time they end up in your kitchen.

3. Choose FSC or Greenguard-certified cabinets.

Choose new cabinets certified by the Forest Stewardship Council or Greenguard Environmental Institute. FSC certification means the cabinets are made from wood or wood products that are produced with sustainable forest management practices. It’s likely they also feature formaldehyde-free glues and low-VOC finishes that give off few or no toxic fumes. Greenguard certification makes sure the cabinets meet strict chemical and particulate emissions standards. Your lungs will thank you.

4. Look for green kitchen cabinet materials inside and out.

Ask if cabinet boxes are built with wheat board or straw board. These products are made from agricultural waste, such as the chaff left over from farmers’ wheat crops. 

As a rule, cabinets made from wheat board or straw board feature formaldehyde-free binders, too. They’re strong and rated to exceed the standards set by the American National Standards Institute for particleboard and medium density fiberboard—the materials commonly used to make cabinet boxes that often contain formaldehyde.

5. Buy locally

In the excitement of a kitchen remodel, it’s easy to forget to check whether you can get cabinets made locally instead of simply heading to your neighborhood big-box store. Google your city’s name plus “cabinet maker” or “woodworker” to investigate your options.