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Low-VOC kitchen cabinets: white is the new green

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), toxic Volatile Organic Compound concentrations pollute our homes at levels up to 10 times those of the outdoors. These often odorless fumes can cause serious health impacts. When remodeling a kitchen, or refacing your kitchen cabinets, white presents several options from which you will want to choose carefully.

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1. Composite wood

When changing your kitchen cabinets, white allows you to go with an attractive and affordable composite wood that saves trees, but buyer-beware.

NO: Formaldehyde

The majority of composite wood manufacturers have long used urea formaldehyde as an adhesive. Since the International Agency for Research on Cancer classified formaldehyde as a carcinogen in 2004, the situation has improved.

YES: Certification

Organizations now regulate formaldehyde. Look for manufacturers like MasterBrand, which have certification from the Environmental Stewardship Program.

2. Plastics

Plastics are everywhere, even in kitchen cabinets. White in particular results in many affordable vinyl products. However, some are toxic.


Sierra Club Green Home recommends avoiding the vinyl "thermofoil" option. Although the polyvinyl chloride (PVC) blocks formaldehyde, PVC emits toxins.

YES: Melamine

Generally considered safe unless ingested, melamine offers a safe alternative to PVC.

3. Painted solid wood

If you like solid wood but want your kitchen cabinets white, you might think you are home-free and VOC-free with solid wood. But paint has its own hazards to avoid.

NO: Oil-based paint

Oil-based paints require a base of linseed oil, petroleum distillate, alcohol, ketone, ester or glycol ether. These all emit VOCs and pose health risks.

YES: Latex, low-VOC and VOC-free paints

The National Association for Home Builders recommends an interior paint with a Green Seal.

You need only remember this one thing, as you consider ideas for white kitchen cabinets: White works better for your home, when you use green paint and construction materials.

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