When it comes to soundproofing walls and floors, there’s really only so much you can do before you bring out the big guns. If adding mass, MLV, textiles or carpeting on the surface doesn’t work the way you want it to, you’re going to have to look beneath the surface. In the case of walls, you’d be putting in insulation and using other soundproofing methods. But, when we’re talking about floors, soundproof underlayment will be your best friend.
I wrote in depth about the best way to soundproof your floor in a previous article. However, here’s a short preview of the process:
- First, you’d lift the existing flooring until you get to the subfloor.
- Then you’d place a layer of soundproof underlayment on top.
- You can follow that up with a layer of Green Glue sandwiched between two layers of plywood.
- Finally, you’d replace the floor, whether it’s synthetic or wood.
In this article, I bring you the complete guide to shopping for soundproof underlayment, as well as a few of my favorite products. In addition, I’ll conclude the article with some final optional steps you can take to make sure that your downstairs neighbors can’t hear a peep from above. But, before we discuss the best underlayment on the market, let’s see what underlayment even is.
Why You Need Soundproof Underlayment
Even if you don’t use the Green Glue sandwich technique when you’re soundproofing your floor, a layer of underlayment is absolutely crucial. There are various types of underlayment for different kinds of flooring. However, when you’re installing underlayment, your goal is to:
- Fill the floor and soften it up so that the sound of footsteps doesn’t echo. Footsteps produce impact noise, which is notoriously hard to get rid of.
- Have a waterproof or moisture-resistant layer between the floor and subfloor to make it less prone to mold growth. Some kinds of underlayment are waterproof, while others require you to install a vapor barrier.
- Add stability and support to the top layer of flooring which also makes the floor more durable and long-lasting. Some flooring tends to shift in different temperatures, so underlayment should protect the subfloor from that movement.
There are various types of underlayment and different things you should look for when choosing underlayment for your floor. Let’s talk about what you should keep in mind when you go shopping before I give you my product recommendations.
Things to Look for in Soundproof Underlayment
Whenever I’m talking about a new sort of soundproofing material, I like to pay attention to several key features. For this one, I thought the most appropriate factors would be the ones I used for my Noico vs. Dynamat comparison article. So, when I give my reviews and product recommendations, I’ll try to answer the following questions:
- What is the product made of?
- Is it universal or meant for a specific type of flooring?
- How effective is it? Is it waterproof and shockproof, and will it keep your downstairs neighbors off your neck?
- How easy is it to install?
- Will it break the bank?
Where Can You Use Underlayment According to Its Base Material
The base material of underlayment can vary between manufacturers, and according to its intended usage. It can be foam, cork, rubber, rubber cork, or felt.
Foam underlayment is the standard type of underlayment since you can use it under any type of flooring. It’s pretty cheap and will offer some heat insulation as well as soundproof your floor. However, basic foam underlayment typically doesn’t include a layer of plastic, which means that it wouldn’t be water-resistant.
Cork products are also pretty great for soundproofing, though they are similarly vulnerable in wet conditions. Cork underlayment is especially popular for soundproofing in apartment buildings since they’re very effective. Aside from that, cork is also eco-friendly and antimicrobial, so it’s great for people with allergies.
Technically, you could install it pretty much anywhere, though it’s definitely not water-resistant. There are some options with plastic vapor barriers if you really want to use a cork material. Or, you could just use rubber underlayment, or a rubber and cork blend.
Rubber underlayment is great at waterproofing, and it’s one of the best materials for sound and heat insulation as well! In fact, you could also use rubber products over the floor and under the carpet. But just because it’s pretty effective doesn’t make it fool-proof. For example, you can use it under wood, carpet or tile floors, but not under vinyl ones.
Finally, many soundproof underlayment products are made of recycled felt. The material is incredibly dense, making it an excellent sound absorber. This type of underlayment can go under pretty much any flooring. However, I recommend getting a felt underlayment with a vapor barrier, to make it more long-lasting and water-resistant.
Now we know that there are basically only two serious rules when it comes to underlayment:
- Keep rubber away from vinyl flooring as it will stain. Just stick to cork for vinyl floors.
- Invest in water-resistant underlayment or one that comes with a vapor barrier if you believe you’ll need it.
So, how do you install underlayment when you pick the perfect one for your floors?
Well, first you’ll need to take your flooring apart. Then, you can roll out the underlayment you got at a 90-degree angle, perpendicular to the direction of the flooring.
Once you’ve unrolled the underlayment on the surface you’re covering, you can tape or glue the separate rows of underlayment. In fact, some manufacturers include tape or make self-adhesive underlayment. But, unless a manufacturer said so, you shouldn’t overlap the rows of underlayment.
The products I’ll link to are all under $70 per 100 square feet. Of course, there’s a real difference between $20 underlayment and the more expensive kinds.
When it comes to base materials, typically foam, felt, rubber, and rubber cork products are the most affordable ones. Depending on the cork the manufacturer used, though, cork and rubber cork can be a bit more expensive, even going for upwards of $2 per square foot.
Fortunately, no products on my list are over $0.70 per square foot — and I’ll make sure to mention the price for each of the products. I’ll also highlight each of the other features I mentioned here, like the base material, installation process, and effectiveness according to user reviews.
Best Soundproof Underlayment
Having finally reached the product review portion of this article, I’m reluctant to get in the way of your hearing about the first product on my list. However, before I get into it, I wanted to emphasize that the list isn’t arranged by the effectiveness of the products, but rather by the least to most expensive.
Still, that doesn’t mean that you should pick the first or last product, and just stick to it. These are all great products, so your decision should be based on whether or not a certain type of underlayment will work for the flooring in your home. With that said, let’s see the first product.
1. Feather Step 3-in-1 Silent Vapor Barrier Flooring Underlayment
This Feather Step underlayment is a great way to begin this list! The product comes in a bundle of 10 rolls that’s big enough to cover a surface of 1000 square feet. I wasn’t able to find out what the base material of this product was. However, if I had to guess, I’d say that it’s rubberized foam.
The material consists of a black rubberized cushion on one side and silver foil-like vapor barrier on the other. The whole thing is about 2mm or 0.08 inches thick. It has small strips of adhesive on the side, which you’re supposed to use to attach pieces together.
According to the manufacturer, this underlayment is great for laminate and floating floors. You can use it over wood or cement subfloors. User reviews are also overwhelmingly positive, and many praise this underlayment for its sturdiness and water-resistance. It’s also incredibly affordable at about $0.17 per square foot.
- Rubberized foam base with vapor barrier
- Easy installation with a strip of adhesive
- For laminate and floating floors
- Over wood or cement subfloors
- Very affordable at $0.17 per square foot
2. FloorLot Flooring Laminate Vapor Barrier Underlayment
The first thing you’ll notice about this FloorLot Flooring underlayment is that it’s the only product on my list that comes in a 200 square foot roll, rather than a 100 one. Overall, it’s pretty similar to the previous product though. It’s is a fantastic product for laminate and floating floors. Like the previous product, it has a peel-and-stick tape on one side so you can overlap two pieces when you install it.
The base material of the product is foam, though the product includes a vapor barrier. Supposedly, that makes it mold and mildew-resistant as well — which is always good news for our lungs! The foam is 3mm or 0.11 inches thick, so it should definitely soften the sound of footsteps.
Just like with the previous product, user reviews on this one are stellar. So, effectiveness is pretty much guaranteed. And I can only imagine that most people will be happy with the price of about $0.24 per square foot.
- Foam base with a vapor barrier
- Overlap installation with adhesive tape
- For laminate and floating floors
- Mold and mildew-resistant
- Budget-friendly at $0.24 per square foot
3. Roberts Black Jack 2-in-1 Premium Laminate and Engineered Wood Flooring Underlayment
This Black Jack underlayment is great for both laminate flooring and engineered wood. It’s also ideal for a range of subflooring materials. The closed-cell foam base material should be moisture and mold-resistant.
The foam is only 2.5mm or 0.09 inches thick, and it comes in a roll that’s 28 feet long and 43 inches wide. One roll can cover 100 square feet, and the product comes with a plastic overlap to attach the adhesive strip to. The product does come with a vapor barrier, although it may need a separate layer of protection.
Although user reviews of this product are overwhelmingly positive, with only a few people complaining about the material being too easy to rip. So, if your vapor barrier rips, you’ll definitely be in danger of water damaging the foam underlayment. Still, at a price of only $0.25 per square foot, who can complain?
- Closed-cell foam with a vapor barrier
- An adhesive tape and a 4-inch overlap make installation easy
- For laminate and engineered wood floors
- Budget-friendly at $0.25 per square foot
4. Roberts Premium Felt Underlayment
If you’ve checked out my article about floor soundproofing, you’ll remember the name of this product. This Robert underlayment is made of felt, densely arranged recycled fibers. The material is 3mm or 0.11 inches thick, and it can help you level your floor a bit.
It has all the advantages and disadvantages that come with using a felt underlayment. It’s absolutely fantastic at absorbing sound and even heat insulation, keeping you warm in the winter and cool in the summer. It should work under pretty much any type of flooring, too!
Technically, the felt does have a thin green vapor barrier on one side, though it’s nothing special. Since it isn’t waterproof, you might want to use something more substantial over it. When you install this product, you should keep in mind that the felt side should be facing down towards the subfloor, with the vapor barrier facing up.
The product comes with an adhesive strip and an overlap you can use to attach pieces of underlayment. And, it’s only $0.35 per square foot, which still constitutes a steal in my book.
- Felt underlayment with a thin green vapor barrier
- Contains an adhesive strip and an overlap for easy installation
- Should be good for most floors
- Still affordable at $0.35 per square foot
5. FloorMuffler Flooring Underlayment Acoustical and Moisture Barrier
Don’t you just love it when a product does exactly what you need it to? If so, you’ll love this FloorMuffler soundproof underlayment. Not only is this product water-resistant, and therefore also mold and mildew-resistant, but it’s also a great soundproofing tool. It’ll be perfect for laminate, engineered, and even solid hardwood floors.
The base material of the product is closed-cell polypropylene foam, though it does have an excellent vapor barrier. According to the manufacturer, you won’t need to use another moisture barrier on top of this product. One edge of the material has a thick peel and stick tape, while the other has extra overlap where you can attach separate pieces.
The material is 2mm or 0.08 inches thick, 39 inches wide and about 30.75 feet long. This FloorMuffler underlayment comes out to about $0.40 per square foot, which is about the average price you can expect. Although some users did mention that the price was a bit steep for their taste, they found that the product’s performance more than made up for it.
- Foam base material with a vapor barrier
- Peel-and-stick tape and overlap makes installation easy
- Great for laminate, engineered and solid hardwood floors
- The average price of about $0.40 per square foot
6. STEICO 4-in-1 soft Underlayment
Unlike the other products on this list, this STEICO soft underlayment consists of 15 2×3-foot rectangle pieces that cover 90 square feet. It’s also the first product on the list you can use for vinyl and Luxury Vinyl Tile and Plank flooring, as well as laminate, engineered wood, and parquet floors. Why is that?
Well, the base material of this product is wood, or cork, which is perfectly acceptable to use under vinyl flooring. According to the manufacturer, this material will be able to absorb up to 20% of its weight in water without losing its insulating and soundproofing properties. Obviously, that doesn’t make it water-resistant, though you could use a vapor barrier on top of it.
One part of the installation process could present a bit of a problem. The manufacturer seems to require the pieces to be laid down at a 45-degree angle to the direction of your flooring. This could require some cutting, which should be easy considering the material is only a quarter-inch thick.
Once you’ve cut and assembled the pieces, your work will be done, as there are no adhesives involved in the installation process. Even the individual wood fibers are held together by wood resin, instead of glue. The manufacturer prides themselves on the fact that their product is completely recyclable.
Even with the more challenging parts of the installation process, most users are exceptionally pleased with this product’s performance. It costs about $0.62 per square foot, which is pricey in comparison to the other products, but actually not at all expensive if you compare it to other cork underlayment products.
- Cork underlayment, no vapor barrier
- Installation a bit tricky but doesn’t require an adhesive
- Good for vinyl, laminate, and wood flooring
- Reasonably priced at $0.62 per square foot
7. QuietWalk Plus All Flooring Underlayment with Attached Vapor Barrier
Finally, the last product I’ve got for you is this felt underlayment from QuietWalk Plus. The product comes in a roll that’s 3 feet wide and 33.4 feet long.
Since felt is such a great base material, it can go under pretty much any type of flooring, even nail-down wood. However, as you know, felt isn’t water-resistant. Still, the synthetic fibers should provide ample air circulation over any subfloor, thereby managing moisture. In addition, the manufacturer also included a vapor barrier layer, which you need to lay down with the blue side facing upwards.
Overall, the product is very durable and hard to tear, but you’ll still be able to cut it down to size with a utility knife. As for the installation process, you simply need to unroll the underlayment (perpendicular to the direction of the flooring) keeping the separate pieces as close as possible to each other. There doesn’t seem to be any gluing or taping involved with this installation, either!
User reviews are very positive, even though this is the priciest option on my list, at $0.66 per square foot.
- Felt underlayment with a vapor barrier
- Easy installation
- Very durable
- Good for any type of flooring
- Great price, $0.66 per square foot
Final Tips Regarding Underlays
Now that you’ve hopefully picked out your soundproof underlayment, you may be asking: what’s next? Well, you could either return your flooring, or use the Green Glue plywood sandwich I mentioned at the beginning of the article. Most of these products will greatly reduce the sound of footsteps, but you can’t very well leave your floors bare.
To further soundproof your floors, as well as reduce the echo in the room, you can try some of the tips I laid out in my floor soundproofing article:
- Use thick and dense carpets and rugs.
- Put a rubber floor mat under the rug.
- Add Mass-Loaded Vinyl under the rubber mat.
Or, you can forgo the thick carpet, rubber mat, and MLV, and simply put a memory foam carpet underlay, like the one I recommended in my room soundproofing guide (or, see it on Amazon). Still, a soundproof underlayment is an excellent first step towards having an utterly silent floor — and it’s one that both you and your downstairs neighbors are sure to appreciate!