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18 January 2021

How we test kitchens

Find out how we assessed fitted kitchens in our lab to help reveal which kitchen cabinets should be Best Buys.
White modern kitchen with kitchen island 475472
Liz Ransome-Croker

Our experts have assessed kitchen units from big-name brands including B&Q, Ikea, John Lewis and Wickes in our lab to find out out how well-made they are.

Combined with customer ratings from our survey of kitchen owners, our assessments mean we can award Best Buy status to some of the brands' kitchens.

A kitchen's carcass is an integral part of any kitchen. It should be sturdy, excellent quality, and able to withstand daily use from the whole family.  

So, looking at flat-pack and pre-built units, we assessed the quality (such as overall build and joins), sturdiness of shelves and the smoothness of opening doors and drawers of units from a range of kitchen brands. 

Those that score highly in our lab test and customer survey earn Best Buy status. See the best and worst kitchen brands.

Which? members can log in now to find out which brands we assessed and which kitchen units scored best in our lab. If you're not a Which? member, join Which? to see this, plus all our kitchen survey results.

Flat-pack or pre-built kitchen units - which should I buy?

Many of the national kitchen companies use the same one or two kitchen carcasses, for all of their kitchens. Then you add different doors and accessories depending on what range and style you're after. 

In most cases, the difference between the two units from one brand are whether they're flat packed or pre-built. We've assessed both and have two types of Best Buys - flat-pack and pre-built. 

Because the carcass underneath the door styling is the same, our Best Buy units logo applies to all the different kitchen ranges the manufacturer uses that particular unit for. 

How we assess kitchen units

For each different kitchen carcass sold by a brand, we looked at a drawer unit, a floor cupboard unit and a wall unit, both with shelves, in our lab. 

If the kitchen units were flat-pack, they were assembled in lab conditions by furniture experts. All of the units were then attached to a wall and, where applicable, to each other, as they would be in a normal kitchen. They were then assessed by our experts.

Our lab assessment focused on a few key questions that will help you to choose the best kitchen for you.

Which are the best quality kitchen units?

To make sure that the kitchen units you choose are great quality - the look, feel and build - we first studied the overall quality of each unit's construction and the quality of its inside. Then, we rated it for specific elements, including whether it had any:

  • sharp corners/edges
  • splinters
  • imperfections

Examining the joins, we assessed whether the method used to construct them (for example, dowels and glue or cam-stud and metal dowels) would have an impact on build quality, and whether any joins were irregular and uneven or had gaps.

We also marked them based on what the units are made of, rating them lower if they were constructed from a material that is known to be less durable and likely to scratch more easily.

Visit our page on kitchen units, doors and worktops to find out more about the different materials used in kitchens, the types of joins and what experts say about which are better.

Will the shelves and drawers withstand heavy use?

In the average kitchen you're likely to be loading your shelves and drawers with heavy pans, bulky bags of flour and sizeable gadgets.

So we looked at how well the drawers, shelves and hinges dealt with force being placed on them. 

To do this, we applied pressure to all of the shelves and base of the units, as if someone was using them to stand up. We did the same thing to the base of the drawers, and separately the drawer fronts, once when they were partly open and again when fully extended. 

This allowed us to see whether the drawers themselves, and the runners that keep them in place, will hold up under pressure. 

We also noted whether the shelves could be easily displaced by pulling them forward or lifting them up.

Lastly, while doing these assessments, we paid particular attention to whether the joins seemed to be under any particular stress.

Shelves, drawers or joins that flexed considerably, or came off their runners or shelf supports, scored less. 

Is opening and closing the drawers smooth?

The last thing you want is jerky and awkward drawers, or ones that easily come off their runners, clattering cutlery everywhere.

So we checked how smoothly they ran in and out, whether the drawers could be accidentally knocked or pulled off their runners, and how easy they were to remove and replace.

Can the door hinges withstand lots of use?

If you counted the number of times you open and close your kitchen doors over their lifetime, the number would probably reach into the thousands. So you want to know that your kitchen hinges will do the job of keeping the doors safely in place. 

To examine their sturdiness, we put force on the open doors, as if someone was leaning on them or attaching a heavy rack. Those that flexed considerably were rated lower.

Standard and soft-close hinges and drawer runners

Some brands have soft-close hinges and drawer runners as standards, but others offer these or standard fittings.

For each unit (drawers and shelves), if two versions were available, we examined everything based on standard hinges and drawer runners, and then for soft-close versions.

We were surprised to find that they didn't make any difference to the overall scores and, across the board for all of the different elements, the marks were identical, too.

This doesn't mean that you shouldn't pay extra for soft-close or premium features, as these can give a kitchen a more luxurious feel. But it's not essential to make the kitchen units work better, so you could save money.

Kitchen assessment scores

Once all of the kitchens were inspected, we calculated overall scores for the unit quality, loading of the shelves and doors, movement of drawers and runners, and hinges. 

These scores were then weighted based on which are most important when finding the best kitchen - see below. This allowed us to calculate the overall score.

  • Unit quality - 40%
  • Loading of shelves and drawers - 40%
  • Drawers and runners - 10%
  • Hinges -10%

Kitchen installation

As well as looking at the kitchen units themselves, we also looked at how easy they were to build (if they were flat-pack) and install. 

We noted the clarity of the instructions, how simple it was to build the units and attach the handles, how easy they were to fix to the wall and each other (if instructions and the right equipment was provided), and how secure the fixings were. 

Find out more in our dedicated kitchen installation page.

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