What Is Thermofoil and How Do You Take Care of It?

    Kotivalo [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)]

    Thermofoil is a type of cabinet finish that sounds fantastic … in theory. In practice, thermofoil cabinetry combines several advantages with a few potentially serious disadvantages. If you own -- or are planning to install -- thermofoil cabinets, check out these tips for thermofoil cabinet maintenance, protection, and repair.

    First of all, what is thermofoil?

    The name “thermofoil” comes from thermo- (heat) plus foil (a thin sheet). Cabinet manufacturers produce thermofoil using heat and/or pressure to apply a white, colored, or faux wood grain vinyl coating onto an inexpensive base material. While it can be any engineered wood, the base is most often medium density fiberboard, which is difficult to paint due to its porousness.

    Thermofoil cabinet fronts may be flat or beveled, and glossy or matte.

    IKEA kitchen cabinet styles at a variety of price points, including GRIMSLÖV, RINGHULT, VOXTORP, and YTTERBYN, are made of thermofoil adhered to a base of MDF or particleboard.

    Pros and cons of thermofoil finish

    Thermofoil coating results in a smooth, even, great-looking finish that is simple to wipe clean. Unlike wood, thermofoil bathroom or kitchen cabinets will not require any painting or staining -- ever. Producing cabinetry via this technique also tends to be cost-effective, a savings which is usually passed on to the consumer.

    However, you'll find several cons. First, thermofoil cabinetry is heavier than wood, making installation more difficult, and definitely out of the picture for a DIY project. What’s more, thermofoil cabinets often lower curb appeal when you are trying to sell your home.

    And here's a much more serious downside to thermofoil cabinets -- especially older and/or less expensive varieties: Excessive heat and moisture are like kryptonite to this cabinet finish, eventually causing it to bubble, crack, and peel off at the edges of doors and drawers. Obviously problematic for cabinets in kitchens and bathrooms, two rooms that are practically synonymous with heat and moisture!

    Protect your thermofoil cabinets

    • Protect from heat and steam. Keep appliances which produce high heat and steam away from thermofoil cabinets as much as possible. This includes items like indoor grills, high-heat slow cookers, instant pots, and bathroom wall-mounted heaters. Alternatively, use a heat shield.

    • Ventilate. Run the kitchen exhaust during any cooking. Install a fan that vents to the outdoors, rather than merely filtering the air. In the bathroom, turn on your vent fan before you shower and let it continue to run for at least 15 minutes afterward (a timer can help with this).

    • Be cautious with self-cleaning ovens. When you utilize the self-clean feature, it is preferable to remove the cabinet doors prior to operation, if you can. Otherwise, pull the oven outward 8 inches before running the cycle.

    • Be gentle. Wipe cabinetry with a soft, clean microfiber cloth, either dry or lightly moistened. Avoid abrasive cleaning products and any type of wax.

    Repair thermofoil cabinets

    • Act as quickly as possible. If your thermofoil does begin to bubble, detach, or show other signs of damage, take care of the problem before it gets worse.

    • Fix minor damage with glue. Apply a tiny amount of water-resistant glue to repair thermofoil if you catch it as soon as it starts to peel.

    • Paint over the damage. The Home Depot suggests application of a bonding primer like Glidden Gripper, followed by painting over the entire cabinet front.

    • Replace doors. For thermofoil in bad shape, your best bet is to replace the doors entirely, as long as the boxes are sound. Hire a pro to custom cut new doors the exact measurements of your old ones, then expertly spray paint and refit them. Your kitchen will look great and you won’t have to worry about the thermofoil problem popping up again. Just prepare to live without cabinet doors for a few weeks till the new ones are ready.

    Kotivalo [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)]

    Laura Firszt writes for networx.com.

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