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Everyone wants well-built and attractive cabinets for their kitchen. But if protecting your health is also high on your list of priorities, then it’s also important to have non-toxic cabinets that are free of formaldehyde and don’t off-gas harmful chemicals.

Formaldehyde is a naturally occurring organic compound that's used in the production of industrial resins and found in many composite wood products. These products put out gaseous formaldehyde in the air, which can pose numerous health risks as a carcinogen and neurotoxin. Engineered wood materials like medium-density fiberboard, particleboard, and plywood are known to be the worst offenders.

In contrast, non-toxic or “green” cabinets are held together with water-based adhesives and painted with a clear, low-VOC finish. They are typically manufactured with minimal levels of formaldehyde and are readily available. If you want cabinets that are completely formaldehyde-free, however, your best bet is to get them custom-made so you can decide on the materials that go into them.

Let’s take a look at four types of non-toxic kitchen cabinets:

Non-toxic composite wood

It’s difficult to avoid composite wood altogether, even when it comes to high-end products, but you can choose engineered products that incorporate either no formaldehyde or low levels of it. Look for wood composites that meet the California Air Resources Board (CARB)’s standard for low formaldehyde emissions (labeled “California Phase 2 Compliant”), products that emit ultra-low levels (ULEF), or those made with no added formaldehyde (NAF).

Solid wood

Solid wood cabinets don’t require formaldehyde-based resins and are therefore non-toxic by nature. They have the added bonus of being naturally beautiful and distinctive.

Common types of wood for kitchen cabinetry include cherry, maple, oak, alder, hickory, beech, birch, walnut, pecan, and mahogany. Each type offers its own style and flavor, so the key to choosing one lies in finding what works best for your kitchen.

Reclaimed wood

Reusing salvaged wood is an environmentally friendly option that can cost less than using solid wood, yet also has the benefits of containing no harmful products.

The effect is unique and visually stunning, ranging from rustic to elegant, depending on the wood you find and how you manage to reuse it. And given the history behind reclaimed wood pieces, you'll effectively be turning your kitchen into a conversation piece.

Bamboo

Fresh, light, and modern-looking, bamboo is a material that's sturdy and durable, which makes it perfect for kitchen cabinetry.

Best of all, it doesn't contain any toxic materials. Bamboo is different from wood in that it's not a type of wood at all—it's actually a grass—and it grows more quickly, making it much easier to cultivate and harvest. The biggest drawback is that bamboo is still a rather uncommon material and therefore relatively expensive, with few styles to choose from.