Water damaged particleboard

By Discolapy, 02/01/2020

Particleboard is a building material that is an alternative to wood, made up of compressed wood chips and resin.  It’s less expensive, and typically used in applications where the strength of wood is not needed.
In addition to being weaker, particleboard is also extremely vulnerable to water damage.  If even a small part of particleboard is exposed to water, for example when a washing machine overflows onto a cabinet, great damage can occur due to the water “traveling”, via capillary action, inside the piece.  The board quickly becomes compromised and will swell and eventually crumble.

Direct contact with water is not needed for damage to occur: high humidity and water vapor, such as can come from a tea kettle or dishwasher, can also undermine particleboard.

The extent of damage depends on the composition of the board and the nature of the exposure to water.

Composition of the particleboard:

  • Type binding material and wooden particles
  • Structure (homogeneous vs. graded density), method of fabrication, age, and overall density of the particleboard
  • Type of surface treatment (is the treatment water resistant?): no surface treatment, veneers [1], laminate, paint, paper


  • Direct contact with water vs. exposure to humidity or steam
  • Duration of water exposure
  • Any additional stress on the particleboard (e.g. heavy object on a table made of particleboard). Wet/dry cycles?
  • What happens after the exposure, for example did the particleboard dry under ambient conditions, was it heated or pressed?
The most critical factors are: type of particleboard and duration of water exposure.

Types of damage:

  • Change of color
  • Removal of surface layer (paint, veneer, etc.)
  • Swelling [2]
  • Bending
  • Disintegration
  • Mould

Experiment: water exposure & drying

Let us demonstrate particleboard water damage and dynamics of this process by a simple experiment. I purchased a standard 16 mm thick particleboard with a white veneer on both sides of the board. The thickness of the board (called W) is indicated in the following picture. Note the location where the measure is indicated (near the edge of the board).

I dipped the particle board into a water bath (roughly 2 mm deep). A 3D printed support was employed to keep the board at desired position, see below:

The particle board was left 24 hours in the water bath. A camera was used to observe the swelling process. After 24 hours, water was removed from the bath and the particle board was left under ambient conditions (~21 °C) for another 14 days to dry.

I measured the thickness of the board both when it was partially-submerged, and also at 12-hour intervals when it was removed from the water and was drying.  As a result, I have been able to plot the amount of swelling as shown by the increase in board thickness vs. time.

We can see that during the first hours of the “wet phase”, when the board was partially underwater, the thickness increased very rapidly. (Note that the initially measured thickness of “virgin” dry board was 16,3 mm and not exactly 16 mm as expected).

The first 3 hours of water exposure are very important. If the board is removed from the water within this interval, its thickness returns nearly to its initial state.

After about 6 hours, however, the damage is permanent. After about 24 hours the thickness of the particleboard had reached its maximum. Even if kept submerged longer, the thickness W will not increase (the swelling process has obviously its limitations). The maximum thickness was ~ 20.5 mm.

The following graph shows how thickness changes as the board dries. Note that the drying phase lasts much longer and for this reason the time scale is indicated in days, not hours. The wet phase is included also in the graph (green curve). 

The first ~ 2 days of drying phase did not make a significant difference in particleboard thickness). The thickness slowly decreased as the water was removed from the particleboard material (mainly by diffusion). After about 14 days of drying there were no further changes to the boards thickness. Its new “dry” thickness is about 19 mm.

The particle board was now damaged permanently. The images below shows the board at 3 stages of the experiment:

  1. New particleboard – before exposure to water
  2. The board after 24 hours in the water bath. Note the color change near the border of the wet-dry margin
  3. The board after drying out for 14 days. Its thickness near the edge is 19 mm. Although the board is permanently damaged, it is still it is hard and remains reasonably functional from a mechanical point of view


  • It is crucially important to remove water as soon as possible. After ~ 3 hours degradation is permanent. To that end it is very helpful to protect places through which water can penetrate the material with water resistant protection (paint). This slows down the process of sucking the water into the material.
  • The process of drying is relatively long! In our case it took about two weeks until the thickness of the particle board reached its new “dry” thickness.
Note: The chronology of particleboard drying dynamics has been employed in the context of home insurance coverage assessments, especially in case of water loss damages [2]. As has been demonstrated here, the time when the loss occurred can be inferred by the thickness of the drying particleboard, assuming the original thickness can be established.

Related Literature:

[1]  A. Wagenfuehr, S. Tobisch, R. Emmler, B. Buchelt, T. Schulz; Vener in Interioe World; IFN; 2012

[2] B. Davis, R. E. Moon; Thickness Swell in Particle Board: A forensic Tool for the Duration of Loss; Forensic Engineering 2015

Thanks for reading the article. In case you find it useful or have some comments, questions or suggestions, please let me know (see below for comment section). 



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6 thoughts on “Water-Damaged-Particleboard”

  1. I accidently flooded my bedroom with water, whole MDF bedset is damaged. This article was very useful to understand the chances of repairing it. Looks like bed legs are heavily damaged. Hope I succeed in repairing it at home.

  2. First of all, thank you kindly for linking 2 of my videos on particle board repair. Secondly I’d like to compliment you on your scholarly article on PB and water damage in a time frame. As you have concluded, timeliness is important if one is to save PB constructed items from permanent damage.

    If you wish to further your experiment you could ether accompany the drying process with the PB in a press or under vacuum. The results of that might be rather interesting. Of course, many times it won’t be practical to isolate damaged PB in a press or vacuum. It would be strictly academic.

    By the time I receive damaged goods it’s too late to alter the drying process. Therefore I remove some interior mass in order to re-compress the swollen area. I haven’t yet tried the vacuum bag method.

  3. I’ve been surfing online more than three hours today, yet I never found any interesting article like yours. It is pretty worth enough for me. In my view, if all web owners and bloggers made good content as you did, the internet will be much more useful than ever before.

  4. I do like the way you have presented this challenge and it does offer me some fodder for consideration. Nonetheless, from what I have seen, I basically wish when the actual feed-back pile on that people today remain on point and don’t start on a tirade involving the news du jour. Still, thank you for this fantastic point and even though I do not necessarily go along with it in totality, I regard the standpoint.

  5. Can I fix my kitchen countertop seam..It’s laminate and swelled from water damage and the seam lifted..

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