Is MDF Environmentally Friendly? (And Biodegradable?)

MDF or medium-density fireboard is a common domestic construction material. It’s commonly used for furniture, cupboards, flooring, shelves, decorative projects, and doors and door frames, to name a few.

As such, everyone likely has one or two items made from this material. It’s one of those materials that naturally conform to aesthetics and functionality. You don’t even need to paint MDF a particular color because it’s already eye-catching.

However, MDF has an average lifespan of 15 to 20 years. So, you can’t use it forever; you’ll eventually need a replacement. But, on the other hand, you may also need an upgrade or a change. Now, is this versatile and mesmerizing construction material environmentally friendly?

Is MDF sustainable to the environment, or is the continued consumption of MDF threatening our natural resources? Well, if you’d like to know, then please read on. We’ll also provide answers for the sustainability of this material, its biodegradability, and whether or not it’s waterproof. Enjoy!

Is MDF Sustainable?

How do we determine if a material is sustainable? It’s simple – it depends on the source of that material, its impact on our natural resources, and of course, its production, consumption, and disposal processes.

Now, is MDF sustainable? Let’s start with what it’s made of. Wood shavings and sawdust can be combined to create a construction material – MDF. So, that makes it one of the most sustainable materials in existence.

It’s made from recycled materials. So there’s no need for new trees to be felled for the production of MDF.

Although it sounds like a combination of wood shavings and sawdust will provide an inferior construction material, the opposite is true. MDF can be used to produce various domestic items.

Additionally, these items are sturdy enough when you consider what they’re made from. You could even sit on a sofa made from MDF, and you won’t be able to tell the difference.

MDF as a material reduces waste. It also has no rigorous production processes, which means that it’s not putting any strain on our renewable and non-renewable resources. It’s also helping us reduce our carbon footprints.

However, MDF cannot be recycled. But again, it’s made from recycled materials, which means we’re doing no damage to the environment through our production and consumption of it. If anything, MDF is our way of giving back to the environment.

So, since MDF isn’t recyclable, we can incinerate it or send it to the landfills. However, incinerating may be a bad idea, as it will expend heat energy on the atmosphere, and the more we burn, the more we deplete the ozone layer.

Now, this leaves us with the option of throwing the item in the trash can. This isn’t harmful to the environment because MDF is a biodegradable material. It’ll decompose under the right conditions. As such, it won’t take up unnecessary space in our landfills for too long.

Finally, everyone stands to benefit from MDF and not just the environment. This material is pretty affordable, high quality, and aesthetically appealing.

Is MDF Biodegradable?

Before we answer this question, let’s talk about biodegradation. It occurs when the actions of microorganisms can easily break down an item. But, of course, they don’t act alone – extreme weather, time, oxygen, and moisture all come together to speed up the process.

In addition, for material to qualify as biodegradable, it must be capable of being broken down within the shortest time. Therefore, materials that require decades or even centuries to get broken down aren’t biodegradable.

Now, is MDF biodegradable? Well, another factor you need to consider when deciding if the material is biodegradable is what it’s made from. MDF is made from wood shavings, sawdust, and other wood components that would otherwise have been disposed of. However, MDF in its entirety is made from wood.

Of course, wood is biodegradable. MDF is more so because it’s the farthest thing from being waterproof. It has to be kept dry all the time to prevent disintegration. So, MDF is biodegradable, and under the right conditions, it’ll break down fast. Introduce some water to the process, and it’ll disintegrate in no time.

Finally, when a biodegradable material disintegrates, it’ll leave behind no toxic impact. Instead, the particles can contribute positively to the environment.

Is MDF Waterproof?

No. MDF is far from waterproof. On the contrary, it’s highly susceptible to water damage, and that’s because of the material it’s made from.

However, you can make it water-resistant, especially if you’ll use it in humid areas. This category of MDF is known as moisture-resistant MDF, and it’s been designed specifically for places and functions that involve significant contact with moisture.

This type of MDF is useful in bathrooms, kitchens, and laundry rooms.

The other way to make MDF water-resistant is to use water-resistant paint to coat the surface. Alternatively, you could also use wood sealant, varnish, or stain to prevent the water from coming in direct contact with the wood.

But again, if you know you’ll use the MDF material you’re buying in a humid environment, then it’s best to ask for water-resistant options.

Is MDF Better Than Plywood?

MDF and plywood fall under the same category. They’re both construction materials made specially from wood.

These materials are somewhat different from the conventional wood materials – plywood is made by joining thin sheets of wood with a strong adhesive. On the other hand, MDF is made from wood shavings and sawdust.

They’re also pretty similar in shape, size, and texture. However, they serve different purposes because of their slight differences. But again, that doesn’t make one better than the other. If anything, they complement each other.

Because MDF is more susceptible to water damage, it’s the wrong choice for external use. However, you can upgrade this feature by using water-resistant paint, varnish, or stain to cover its surface.

The surface of MDF is pretty smooth and shiny, making it a suitable construction material for indoor items. Its glossy and aesthetically appealing finish also makes it an excellent indoor furniture material.

Now, on the other hand, contractors can use plywood for a range of indoor and outdoor constructions. There are two types of plywood – hardwood, and softwood, and they’re both fairly resistant to water damage.

MDF does not chip easily, which makes it better suited for drilling, cutting, and machining, and is a dense and strong material. It also has smooth edges that make cutting and carving much easier.

Plywood doesn’t have smooth edges, so that makes it difficult to carve designs out of it. Splinters are also a common occurrence with plywood, and there are possibilities of voids when you don’t cut it properly.

Plywood’s also less susceptible to damage because it doesn’t absorb water like MDF. Plywood has grainy components in it, and that makes it easier to stain than MDF. Additionally, there are various thicknesses and designs available, and each one is pretty strong because the sheets are joined together with strong adhesive.

MDF is much cheaper than plywood; it’s very smooth and has a paintable surface too. However, plywood has an advantage over it regarding water resistance. If MDF isn’t well sealed, it can soak up the slightest water and swell up. It’s also dense, which makes it difficult to work with. But again, this feature works in its favor under some circumstances.

Can MDF be Painted?

You can paint MDF because of its smooth surface. However, it’s also pretty susceptible to water damage, so it’s best to use waterproof paint.

In addition to giving the item an eye-catching color, the waterproof paint will also protect it from water damage. If it’s been well-sealed, you can put a high-quality primer on it and go ahead with painting it.

The best type of paint is oil-based paint because it’s waterproof. However, oil-based paints tend to have pungent chemical odors and are more technical to apply because you’ll also need paint thinners to do the job well.

So, you can instead choose latex paints and acrylics paints that don’t have water in them. You can also use a glossy finish to top it off.

Now, let’s show you how to paint MDF in 5 straightforward steps.

Step 1: Prepare the Material

You need a dust mask and protection for your eyes because MDF releases lots of dust particles when it’s sanded. You’ll also have to remove any hardware on the material.

Finally, prepare the surface around the material you want to paint by laying pieces of clothing on the ground. The essence is to prevent paint from staining the ground and giving you additional work. 

Step 2: Seal and Sand the Edges

You can seal the edges of your MDF material by applying dry compound generously on the surface. You need to do this to make the surface adhere to the paint.

Then, once the dry compound is completely dried, you can sandpaper the surface next. Again, ensure you use a highly gritty one for the process.

It’s best to seal any cracks or crevices in the MDF item before you paint over it. If you don’t do this, these crevices will be obvious when the paint dries. So, you can use the dry compound to fill up these spaces.

Finally, use the sandpaper to go over the surface one more time. When you’re done, use a piece of clothing to wipe off the dust on the surface.

Step 3: Apply the Primer

Remember always to avoid anything water-based when dealing with MDF. So, an excellent choice of primer would be solvent-based. You can use a brush to lightly apply a generous coat of primer to the surface of the MDF item.

Step 4: Paint the Surface

Now, you can apply your oil-based paint to the surface of the MDF material, and you can use a brush or a spray gun. You can also use a roller.

Then, when the paint dries a bit, you can examine the surface for places that need additional paint. Of course, an additional coat won’t hurt, and if anything, it’ll add to the project’s beauty.

Step 5: Apply a Sealer

It’s not necessary to apply a sealer to the topcoat of the paint. However, if you’ll be using the item regularly, it may be best to add a layer of sealer to prevent the paint from peeling off pretty fast.

If you decide to add that layer, you must first wait for the paint to dry properly before you do so.

Just like that, you’ve successfully given your MDF item a complete makeover. You’ve also prolonged its lifespan by fortifying it with a water-resistant primer and paint.


MDF is one of the cheaper wood construction materials that you can use for a range of projects. It’s also very environmentally friendly and sustainable, and when it’s well maintained, it can last a long time.

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About Rinkesh

A true environmentalist by heart ❤️. Founded Conserve Energy Future with the sole motto of providing helpful information related to our rapidly depleting environment. Unless you strongly believe in Elon Musk‘s idea of making Mars as another habitable planet, do remember that there really is no 'Planet B' in this whole universe.