The old Plywood vs Particle Board debate is alive and well. I have noticed
a large percentage of people prefer plywood cabinets to particle board, but do not prefer the cost differential. Many designers, sales people, and manufacturers push the particle board as just as good as plywood, but those people also usually are selling particle board cabinets.
Manufacturers have stopped using the particle board name and call it engineered board, or furniture board.
This article will break down the plywood/particle board debate into the topics, water damage, cost, strength, formaldehyde, environmentally friendly aspects, and weight.
Water damage is without a doubt more prevalent with a particle board cabinet. I notice in sink cabinets when there is an inevitable small leak during installation the particle board will always bubble, as where plywood will not. I ran across a you tube video where a kitchen designer did a water test between the two. Water Test Video
Cost is where particle board shines. Some cabinet companies charge up to 20% for the plywood upgrade which can really add up in a large kitchen.
Strength of plywood is without question better than particle board, especially with lateral loads. Anyone who has demo-ed a kitchen, or vanity knows that with a few blows with a regular hammer a particle board cabinet is laying on the floor in pieces. If the Cabinets are well built plywood it is just best to remove them whole.
Formaldehyde is a chemical in the glues of engineered boards that off gases cancer causing fumes. The levels are greatest in MDF and particle boards because a larger percentage of glue is used. For more information on formaldehyde visit the EPA web site.
Environmentally conscious cabinet materials are often thought of as what saves the most trees, which would be particle board. The extra use of trees can be weighed against the extra formaldehyde. Plywoods do use up more solid wood, but can be made from FCS certified well harvested wood. Green cabinet wood doors would be made of quick growing woods like bamboo, or possibly reconstituted veneers.
Weight is a factor mostly if your doing the installing yourself. Particle board cabinets weigh a lot more than plywood cabinets.
In my opinion plywood does beat particle board and is worth the extra cost, but more and more companies are going the way of the particle.