Because of our collective preoccupation with other surfaces, we often forget that floors might be leaking sound as well. In fact, if you live in an apartment above someone else, learning how to soundproof a floor properly will be of the utmost importance.
Actually, even if you live in a house with family members or roommates, there’s no reason not to soundproof the floors. It could be as easy as picking out a thick rug to absorb the sound of your footsteps. On the other hand, if the floor in question is hollow and thin, it could be as difficult as constructing a whole new layer of flooring.
But you can’t jump into this topic without knowing some floor soundproofing basics. Before you learn about the best ways to approach this task (and how much you’ll have to spend on it), let’s talk about the different kinds of noise you’ll need to block.
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Types of Noise That Travel Through the Floor
If you’ve already attempted any soundproofing project, you probably know that there are two kinds of noise you’re going up against. Airborne noise is transmitted through the air and typically comes inside through physical openings in your floor. Conversely, impact noise travels through the floor in the form of vibrations.
Most buildings are made according to regulations that ensure that noise can’t pass through solid surfaces. The main way to prevent that is to make each of those surfaces — walls, floors, and ceilings — airtight. That alone is enough to prevent sound, as well as heat, from entering or leaving a room.
However, building regulations usually don’t address impact noise, which is certainly more difficult to handle. The same wooden studs and joists that allow us to make airtight walls and floors also transmit structural sound. These are the things that keep buildings from crumbling, but they also allow vibrations to travel through them.
Not separating the surface levels of walls, floors, and ceilings from these solid inner frames leaves us vulnerable to structure-borne noise. If a truck passes in front of the building, the vibrations it makes can travel up from the foundations to the roof. We feel, more than hear, them in every room of the house. The same goes for the sound our feet make as we walk over a hollow floor.
The impact makes the flooring vibrate, which is usually nailed directly into the subfloor, which is, in turn, attached to the floor joists. That frame is connected to the ceiling drywall on the other side, making it easy to transmit structural vibrations. But that’s only the most basic explanation of the way soundwaves move.
The Basics of Floor Soundproofing
For the people standing in the room right below you, both of these types of noise are significant problems. However, impact noise should be your primary concern.
Your neighbors (or, indeed, roommates) shouldn’t be able to hear the scrape of furniture every time you stub your toe. And they definitely shouldn’t be able to make out the exact words you’d use if that were to happen. But if the floor isn’t airtight, that’s exactly what would happen. So how can you address these issues?
Ultimately, soundproofing a floor isn’t significantly different from soundproofing walls or ceilings. You’ll rely on the same principles no matter which surfaces you’re treating, using:
- Soft sound-absorbing materials and decoupling surfaces to disrupt the transfer of impact noise
- Solid yet flexible, dense, and heavy materials to block sounds from passing through the cracks
There’s only so much acoustic foam can do for you after a certain point. So let’s see how decoupling, dampening, and high-density materials can soundproof your floor. Well, your primary goal will be to add mass to the floor with noise-blocking products like rubber and vinyl.
Damping compounds like Green Glue have a similar effect even though they achieve it through different means. Basically, they stop soundwaves in their tracks by converting them into heat. However, they only work if they’re sandwiched between two solid surfaces.
Lastly, decoupling relies on shrinking the point of contact between two surfaces and dampening only that spot. If you were soundproofing walls and ceilings, you’d achieve that effect by installing resilient channels. However, if you wanted to soundproof a floor from above, you’d need to use rubber joist decouplers.
11 Effective Ways to Soundproof a Floor
The following list of soundproofing methods will include everything from the easiest over-the-floor solutions to the more difficult treatments you’ll have to apply under the surface level of the floor. But ultimately, you should be able to implement all of these solutions on your own or with the help of a friend or two. So with that being said, let’s jump into it.
1. Lay Down Some Rugs or Carpets
The easiest way to soften the sound your footsteps make as you move over hard surfaces is to simply lay down a rug. Thick and soft carpets are going to be your best bet, no matter how difficult they may be to clean.
What’s more, if you have a choice, you should go for more tightly-woven options rather than the most basic, loose models. Of course, if slight sound absorption is all you’re looking for, even something as thin as a T-shirt would get the job done. Whatever you use, it’ll stop you from stepping directly on highly reflective materials like laminate. If the floor beneath it is hollow and, therefore, resonant, your footfall will be more conspicuous.
In addition to softening the sound of your footsteps, a carpet would also make the room itself less likely to produce an echo. If that’s a big issue for you, you could hang some carpets on the walls or ceilings! But let’s not veer from the subject too much.
Ultimately, throwing down a rug or two can be one of the cheapest floor soundproofing methods on this list. You’d need to already own some, to begin with. If they’re in storage, you’ll want to give them a thorough wash before laying them down.
You’ll hear a difference in both the acoustic quality of the room you’re in and in the amount of noise that makes it to the floor below. If you don’t already own some carpets you could use, don’t worry. You won’t have to shell out a lot of cash if you don’t want to do so. Just find a large, soft carpet like this one and you should be all set.
2. Put a Rug Underlay Under the Carpet
If the rug you end up choosing can’t quite absorb the impact of your footsteps, there’s one product that could turn it into a luxurious memory foam carpet — an underlay! Despite its thickness, the underlay should be almost imperceptible under your rug. However, the difference it makes will be unmistakable.
The memory foam rug underlay from RUGPADUSA is available in quarter- or half-inch thicknesses. The largest rectangular option is twelve by eighteen feet long, and there are some round versions as well.
But really, no matter which size you get, you can easily trim it down to whatever dimensions you need. You won’t need any special tools to do it — just a pair of basic kitchen scissors. Ideally, the mat should be about an inch smaller than the rug you want to slide it under on all sides. That inch will allow the carpet to slope on the sides, creating a beveled effect and preventing you from tripping over the edges.
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Of course, if you’re worried about falling over, get a thick carpet with sloped sides. This Kangaroo mat comes in different colors and lengths but all of those options are pretty narrow. Still, it’s a good choice if you need a rug for a hallway, kitchen, or bedside.
On the other hand, if beveled sides aren’t a necessity for you, you might want to look into crawling area rugs. Hey, if they can absorb the impact of a toddler’s temper tantrum, they’ll surely be able to handle heavy footfall as well. On top of that, they come in rather large sizes and some pretty decent colors as well. However, if you decide that you like your carpet better, you could simply put it over the soft area rug instead.
3. Use Rubber Mats
Putting a rubber mat under your carpet is certainly a subtler solution than using underlays. After all, rubber is thin enough to be undetectable when you cover it with a rug, flexible enough to absorb impact noise, and dense enough to prevent airborne sound from passing through the floor.
Even the most basic kind of rubber should be able to achieve some of the results you’d get by increasing the mass of your floor from the inside. All things considered, neoprene is fairly similar to another famous soundproofing material we’ll discuss later — mass loaded vinyl. Unlike woven fabrics, rubber and MLV don’t have any of those gaps that make it easy for sound to slip through.
Still, while rubber is flexible enough to cushion any footfall, it probably won’t be as absorbent as memory foam. Fortunately, some products occupy the middle ground between those two extremes. Rubber foam mats, similar to the ones that are used for fitness equipment, are a great option if you still want to add some bounce to your floor.
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What’s more, there are other reasons to want a rubber mat. For example, the carpet itself may not have any kind of slip-resistant backing. In that case, having a basic rubber mat under your carpet could literally save your behind. After all, taking a tumble would inevitably result in a significant amount of noise.
Ultimately, all of the solutions we’ve discussed so far are pretty straightforward. If you want to layer them, you can put the rubber down first, then a memory foam underlay, and top it off with a carpet. But really, there’s no need to overdo it. In fact, as another option, you could also use the following product.
4. Get Interlocking Floor Mats
If you don’t want to have to deal with a huge rubber roll or rectangle, interlocking floor mats could be just what you need. Puzzle-piece mats are also great if you need to cover an oddly-shaped area. On top of all that, they’re also great at absorbing impact noise!
An interlocking floor mat is another product you might put under your treadmill or exercise bike. But of course, those aren’t the only uses you can get out of them. Instead, you could use them as you would any of the carpet underlays you’ve already seen. Alternatively, you could leave the interlocking floor mats exposed without covering them with a carpet.
After all, many interlocking floor mats come with a combination of tile colors, which you can use to create a pattern on the floor. These 0.4-inch thick tiles from innhom come in gray and black in different quantities. They also have a texture you might find appealing, particularly if you’re into the industrial look. However, other interlocking mats come in a variety of other shades or even a mix of colors.
Generally, these products also include edge pieces you can attach around the sides. Those can make the whole thing appear more put-together and eliminate any chances of tripping.
Another thing that could help you avoid that would be gluing the mat to the floor. That may even increase the mat’s dampening abilities, especially if you use an acoustic caulk or Green Glue. However, you’d have to be willing to potentially ruin your current flooring.
While these tiles can look perfectly fine in nurseries and gyms, they’re not exactly appropriate for all spaces. Determining whether interlocking tiles are the right fit for the floor you’re trying to soundproof will be up to you.
5. Try Cork Tiles
Cork is a fantastic soundproofing material: it can be used over or under the floorboards. Thick cork tiles can soften your floors without looking too awkward even if you decide to leave them exposed. There’s only one catch — most cork products aren’t waterproof!
But even though it’s not completely waterproof, cork is still somewhat water-resistant. Additionally, it has certain anti-microbial properties, so you won’t have to worry about mold growth even if you do spill on the tiles. Of course, if you’d rather be safe than sorry, keep them in areas that don’t get soaked very often. And if you need to soundproof a kitchen or bathroom floor, opt for a rubber mat instead.
Now, cork tiles are usually 12-inch squares, though you could also use hexagonal ones. These products are generally fairly thin because their main function is to serve as push pin bulletin boards. That’s also why most of them have a self-adhesive back or at least include mounting tape.
If you don’t want to glue the tiles to the floor, you could attach them to a piece of rubber. In addition to letting you move the cork whenever you need to, that will also increase its efficacy. Alternatively, stick them to the underside of your carpet to thicken it up. However, keep in mind that the tiles you get will have to be at least half an inch thick to even have any soundproofing properties, to begin with.
6. Construct a New Layer of Flooring on Top of the Existing One
If you think your floor is much too thin to soundproof properly, you can always add another layer of flooring. Most people do it by simply laying new tiles or laminate right over the existing surface. However, if the floor below is hollow, even that might not help matters.
Many people assume that laying down a new layer of tile or laminate on top of existing flooring is easy. But before you do anything drastic, do your research. Most experts recommend taking the time to rip off the old layer of flooring down to the subfloor before applying tile or laminate. Tiles can be especially complicated because they require a lot of preparation before you even get to the final layer.
Laminate, on the other hand, is much easier to cut and install. However, in this particular instance, we’re talking about installing new flooring on top of the existing one. While it’s not recommended, you could do it by following these guides without getting to the subfloor first. But that would prevent you from inspecting the subfloor and addressing any potential squeaks or shifts before applying the flooring.
If you’re particularly worried about noise transfer, though, you’ll want to carefully select the new flooring you’re installing. But if you’re wondering which type of flooring would be the best in that regard, you’ll find out after this guide.
7. Install Soundproof Floor Underlayment
Most flooring installers leave the thinnest layer of plywood under your floor covering, in place of better underlayment products. But if you want to soundproof your floor properly, you’ll need something that can prevent sound from leaking downward. That’s where soundproof floor underlayment comes in.
After all, plywood is highly reflective, so it won’t absorb any of the impact noise that comes its way. Moreover, since most people don’t take the time to apply sealant between the measly sheets of plywood, even airborne sound can travel through them.
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However, if you want to correct that, you’ll have to know what your floor looks like under that surface layer. If we’re talking about the standard setup, your floor probably has:
- The floor covering, whether it’s wooden floorboards, tiles, linoleum, or any of the other flooring options you might have installed
- The adhesive layer which is usually either cement or glue
- Underlayment, which is more often than comprised of slabs of plywood
- The subfloor (thicker plywood that provides a stable surface for the rest of the floor layers)
So to install your underlayment properly, you’ll once again need to get to the subfloor. From there, it’s only a matter of selecting the best soundproof underlayment for your home. Since some of them don’t have a vapor barrier, they wouldn’t be an appropriate solution for just any room.
In any case, floor underlayment comes in rolls and it usually has a peel-off strip of tape on one side. Connecting the pieces into one big surface should take care of any airborne sound while the soft foam, felt, or cork core of the product will soften impact noise.
8. Put MLV Under the Floorboards
Mass loaded vinyl is an incredibly useful and versatile soundproofing material. In this case, you could either use it as a carpet underlay or as a flooring underlayment. The installation process should be no different than installing regular underlayment, though you’ll need to tape the pieces together yourself.
MLV has been lauded as a miracle material, and once you look into its properties, you’ll see why. So if you decide to install it instead of soundproof underlayment, you’ll need a way to keep it down. Remember, the stuff comes in rolls, so you might want to let it relax after you lay it down.
After a few hours, you can adjust the positioning, cut it down to size, and tape or nail it down. When you finish, you can either return the original flooring or lay down a new one.
9. Add Soundproof Floor Insulation
No matter how hard you try, your floor will only be as good as the insulation batts between the floor joists. If there are none, the hollow space between the subfloor and the ceiling drywall below will only amplify noise. Stuffing that area with insulation or any other kind of absorbent material should prevent that from happening.
So if you’re already having to take off your flooring down to the subfloor level, it can’t hurt to peek underneath that layer. Once you do, you’ll see the joists, which are the flooring equivalent of wall studs. If you’re lucky, your floor will already have some kind of insulation in place between those slats.
However, if you don’t find any, you can drop in some dense acoustic insulation. If you find any obstacles, you can cut out the insulation with a serrated knife. After you have the floor completely stuffed, return the subfloor, nailing it securely into the joists. Do the same with the rest of the flooring levels until your floor is completely restored.
10. Use Floor Joist Isolators
Floor joist isolators are thick pieces of rubber you’ll use to separate the floor joists from the subfloor. They should eliminate much of the noise that travels through these structures to the floor below. What’s more, they’ll alleviate any squeaking sounds that may be caused by those two surfaces rubbing against each other.
There is only one way to successfully decouple your floor from the rest of the building structure. You need to use joist isolators! These simple rubber parts are cheap and compact, so they won’t drastically change the height of your floor.
What’s more, they’re relatively easy to install as well. Just slip them on over the standard joist frame so that they’re between 12 and 24 inches apart. The only problem will be nailing the subfloor back into place, but if you follow the product instructions, you should be able to do it without a hitch.
11. Use the Plywood and Green Glue Technique
Green Glue is an excellent sound dampener as long as you put it between two solid surfaces. In this case, you’d use it to fuse two sheets of plywood before placing them on the ground and sealing the edges between the different pieces. Lastly, cover them with the flooring of your choice.
If you’ve already worked on soundproofing your walls, you may be familiar with the Green Glue sandwich technique. As we have established, this damping compound needs to be between two solid surfaces. If you try it on your wall, you might use drywall, but for flooring, plywood should do the trick.
Later, when you step on the floor, the impact will vibrate the top layer of plywood. The Green Glue will, in turn, heat up, converting that vibration into thermal energy. According to the manufacturer, you’ll have to spend two tubes of the stuff per 2 by 4-foot sheet of plywood. If you can’t afford it, opt for the MLV underlayment instead.
After all, this solution will only be effective if you apply two 0.5 mm layers of glue on your plywood sheet before laying the second panel on top. Once you do that, remove any air bubbles by sliding your feet from the middle of the plywood sandwich toward the edge.
When you have enough sandwiches to cover the whole floor, lay them down on top of the subfloor. Top the whole thing off with the underlayment of your choice, and you can call it a day!
Do These Soundproofing Methods Work Both Ways?
Many of the solutions you might use to soundproof your floor will also have an effect on the ceiling below. But can they be implemented from below? Not really. If the floor above you is inaccessible for any reason, there are other methods you can use to soundproof your ceiling.
For one, you could install soundproof panels, apply MLV, or even construct a drop ceiling. Furthermore, you could also apply the Green Glue sandwich technique from below. In fact, most of the techniques I’d suggest wouldn’t damage the existing ceiling drywall.
However, if you do have access to the floor above you, you should try the methods listed in this guide before doing anything too drastic. If you end up having to open the floor up, dropping insulation batts down from above is certainly easier than trying to shove them between the ceiling joists.
Can You Soundproof the Floor on the Cheap?
Unfortunately, no matter which soundproofing method you choose for your floor, you should expect to shell out quite a bit of cash. Most floor soundproofing materials are cheaper when you buy them in bulk. However, if you’re working on a large surface area, you’re guaranteed to burn through your budget quickly.
The cheapest option you could have is to lay down some carpets and hope for the best. Even purchasing new rugs would be less expensive than most of the other options.
Memory foam rug underlay, rubber rolls, and interlocking mats are all in a similar price range. They’re not too pricey, but they can get you over the $100 mark if you’re not careful. So if you just need to thicken your carpet up a bit, cork tiles may be the cheapest option.
Most of the products you need to apply underneath your floorboards are expensive. However, when you take their effectiveness into account, you have to admit that the price point is worth it. Whether you use underlayment or MLV, covering the entire surface of the floor will produce better results than you would have gotten with a carpet underlay.
If you’re going to go for the Green Glue sandwich, remember that you’ll have to apply two tubes of glue per each 2 by 4-foot sheet of plywood. Depending on the surface area you’re trying to soundproof, that cost can pile up. But it would also be more effective than cheaper solutions, so that’s also worth considering.
Best Flooring Material for Soundproofing
When it comes to the noise-blocking ability of your floor, thick, wooden floorboards are the best floor covering anyone could ask for. If you top them off with some carpets and rugs, the floor should be practically impenetrable. Still, if you properly treat the space below the surface flooring, any material would perform similarly.
Most old homes have that sturdy, wooden flooring we all dream about. But if you live in a prefabricated house, carpeting, laminate, vinyl, or linoleum may be your only options. Out of those, carpeting would obviously be the best in terms of impact noise transfer. However, most of us feel like the age of wall-to-wall carpeting is long gone — and we’d all like to keep it that way.
So we’re left with vinyl, linoleum, and laminate. Because they look so similar, the first two are often conflated — but they’re actually different materials. For one, linoleum is a completely natural product, while vinyl is a synthetic rubber.
Still, since we use vinyl and rubber for floor soundproofing already, either one should be a good choice. Keep in mind that you’ll have to cover it with a carpet if you want to decrease echoing and increase impact noise absorption. As they are, both vinyl and laminate are much too thin to help on that account.
Now, laminate is widely considered to be the most cost-efficient flooring option. Simply put, it gives you the most bang for your buck. It can approximate wood with its appearance and durability, while also being incredibly easy to install.
Lastly, you have ceramic tiles. Those are fantastic options for bathrooms, kitchens, and outdoor areas. And, considering all the materials that go under them, they should add a few noise reduction points to your floor.
As you now know, there are many ways to go about soundproofing a floor. Depending on whether it’s hollow or insulated, you could either start from the top or bottom of the list above. One thing is certain: if your floor doesn’t have any acoustic insulation between those joists, you’ll be hard-pressed to soundproof it with MLV alone.
What’s more, if you only apply the surface-level solutions, you won’t get a chance to look under the floorboards. You wouldn’t want to finish soundproofing the floor only to find out that the joists are squeaky! If that issue comes up, you’ll need to address it before you thicken up the floor to prevent sounds from passing through.
If you live in a rental unit, you won’t be able to do any construction work. Even though you can’t go against building code and open up your apartment flooring, you could use some of the solutions I explained at the beginning of the list. Lay down some MLV, rubber, or carpet underlay and cover it up with rugs and carpets. That should put an end to your neighbors’ complaints!
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