Using MDF as cheap finished flooring

It's a temporary fix – not a long-term solution.

Medium-density fiberboard (MDF) has a ton of useful applications, but as a finished flooring material? About five years ago, we needed a cheap “temporary” finished flooring solution in our upstairs, 1,200-sq.-ft. addition. MDF isn’t as cheap as it was then, however. Now it runs about $30 per sheet. The idea was to use MDF until we could afford something better (we called it our “five-year” floor). Well, five years down the line (and no sign of new flooring in sight), here’s how the MDF is holding up (photo below).

MDF as finished flooring

We’ve found that using cheaper materials is OK if you’re prepared to put in A LOT more labor to make them look finished. That was definitely the case with the MDF floor. We glued and screwed down 4 x 8-ft. sheets of MDF throughout our living room, office, dining room and kitchen. We countersunk the screw heads but left them exposed (but you could fill them). We also installed ½-in. aluminum channels between the sheets for decorative purposes and to allow for expansion and contraction (we have radiant in-floor heat). We sanded the floor and put three to four coats of polyurethane on it. If you choose to use MDF as flooring, shop around at different lumberyards and home centers. You’ll find that it comes in many different shades of brown, yellow and tan.


— Less expensive than other flooring materials.
— Easy to work with.
— Surprisingly stable and solid.
— Looks good, feels good underfoot and has held up better than expected (especially in the lower-traffic areas).
— Has a monolithic look similar to concrete but with the warmth and softness of wood.


— Emits potentially harmful fumes (until sealed).
— Swells after contact with water or oil (right through many coats of sealer, so we covered the kitchen MDF with cork a couple of years ago).
— Scratches easily (especially when you’re scraping dining room chairs over it constantly).

Lessons learned:

— Every run of MDF is a different color and texture. Buy enough the first time to avoid variations.
— It was hard to apply the poly in place. The MDF absorbed it unevenly and created an uneven finish. The next time around, we’d spray the sheets with at least one coat of sanding sealer to seal the pores before installation.
— Not good in high-traffic areas or where water will be a problem.

Elisa Bernick, Associate Editor

For more ideas about how to install wood flooring, check out these great stories:

Install Prefinished Wood Flooring

Installing Wood Flooring Over Concrete

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