Wainscoting panels come in a variety of materials, including plywood, solid hard and soft woods, MDF and plastic, and each material offers different pros and cons. Wainscoting panels are typically installed on just a portion of the wall, whereas full wall panels cover full walls and rooms.
Wainscoting can change the look of an entire room, and the different materials offer various pros and cons. Some materials are paintable or stainable, so they can be modified to match the desired decor. Other options, however, are pre-finished, so they are installed and kept as-is. The climate is also an important consideration when choosing the paneling, as changes in temperature and humidity can cause the panels to expand or contract, affecting the installation and durability.
Plywood panels are easy to install because they come in large pieces, and they are strong, sturdy and attach to the studs. Some panels are pre-finished, but others are still rough and require finishing.
Solid wood can be soft woods such as pine or hard woods such as cherry, and these can be stained or clear-coated. Installation of solid wood takes a little longer, as care must be taken to avoid cracking or damage.
MDF panels do not expand or contract like solid woods, but they do not stand up well in high-humid areas, such as bathrooms. If installing in a bathroom, look for moisture-resistant panels.
Plastic panels made from cellular PVC are ideal for high-humidity areas because they do not warp or rot like woods will, but they still look like painted wood.