New Cabinet Doors: What Is RTF, and Why Should We Care?

By Jim Mallery
RefacingCabinet.com Columnist

If you are looking into refacing kitchen cabinets, you can undoubtedly see, and perhaps puzzle over, the term RTF when pricing cabinet doors. What is it? Is it any good? What are its problems? Here are eight questions answered.

1. What does RTF stand for?

It's always fun to try to figure out what the letters of an abbreviation stand for. But while you are likely to come up with a number of options for RTF, you are not likely to figure this one out: It's rigid thermofoil.

2. But what is it?

Oversimplified, RTF is vinyl laminated to particleboard. But actually, it is much better than that. The thermofoil (vinyl) is attached to the particleboard, also called medium density fiberboard (MDF) with adhesives under heat and intense pressure. The resulting product is strong and durable.

3. And MDF?

Made from wood-waste sawdust and resins, MDF is often used in place of plywood, especially as the substrate (base) for veneers. It is strong, but is easily damaged by water; however, RTF protects it from water damage. MDF is also made with urea-formaldehyde, but again, the RTF seals in emissions from that toxin.

4. So why do you care about RTF?

Because just about any website you visit to investigate buying new cabinet doors to reface your cabinets is going to offer RTF doors--as does Lowe's and Home Depot.

5. What is the attraction of RTF doors?

First, they're cheap--maybe half or two-thirds the cost of solid wood doors. And the higher-quality RTF cabinet doors look amazingly like real wood. They come in a variety of wood-grain patterns and colors, and they can be made in any style of door. The surface is hard, does not dent easily, and is easy to clean. They can be bored for hidden (Eurostyle) hinges.

6. What is the downside?

Early versions of these doors were prone to yellowing, although manufacturers say they have tackled that problem. The doors also can delaminate if exposed to high heat, such as next to an oven in the self-cleaning cycle--although there should be a heat shield installed with the oven.

7. Other issues?

It can be difficult to match color or style with a replacement door. And in most cases, you pay extra--a couple dollars a door--to get the backs of your cabinet doors finished the same as the fronts--otherwise the backs are white melamine.

RTF cabinet doors offer an economical alternative to wood doors. They can be attractive and durable; but with that economy comes some downside.

About The Author

Jim Mallery, a semi-retired journalist and onetime registered contractor, has extensive experience remodeling, repairing and rebuilding homes.