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Anyone who has ever stood on the cold, hard tile in their kitchen while making dinner and wound up with an aching back or who has been woken up by the sound of heels clacking on a wood floor will appreciate the benefits of a floor underlayment during their next renovation. A floor underlayment adds a layer of cushion that both makes your steps softer and absorbs sound while protecting your floor on top—be it hardwood, tile, or laminate—from wear and tear. Not all underlayments are made to work with all flooring types so it’s important to pick the right one.
Here, the best floor underlayments for your needs.
Best for Laminate: Roberts AirGuard 5-in-1 Floor Underlayment
Laminate flooring can be thin and hard to stand on for hours on end, so you’ll want a floor underlayment that gives a soft cushion. This pick features thousands of tiny spheres that not only give you a softer, more stable step, they also allow air to move through the flooring which prevents the growth of bacteria, mold, and mildew. This underlayment is also infused with Microban for a double whammy of antimicrobial protection—it actively kills germs and fights mold before it becomes a problem in your home.
Other benefits are that this underlayment reduces noise and sound transmission and works with radiant heated floors. It's easy to install and hardy enough that it won't rip while you're working on your floors, which you or your contractor will appreciate.
Best for Hardwood: Quick-Step Combi Floor Underlayment Pad
This underlayment acts like a shock absorber for your hardwood floors, distributing the load more evenly to prevent noticeable wear and tear. It reduces noise and helps to insulate your floor to keep it—and the entire room—warm. It works over concrete or wood subfloors to prevent decay.
Per the manufacturer, the floor underlayment pad meets or exceeds all known standards for moisture protection, impact strength, resistance to UV radiation, and durability. It’s easy to install; simply roll it out and tape it down.
Best for Concrete: Eco Cork Foam Waterproof Premium Plus 10-in-1 Underlayment
When you have a concrete subfloor, typically you’ll need a vapor barrier, but this Eco Cork Foam (ECF) provides a 3.2 millimeter, Class 1 vapor barrier to eliminate the need for anything additional, saving you time and money. The eco-friendly foam is non-toxic, with low VOC emissions so you can sleep well knowing it won't endanger your family or pets.
Other benefits include its waterproof and antimicrobial properties, making it resistant to mold and bacteria growth, and the fact that it provides sound absorption and promotes even weight distribution to extend the life of your floors. You can use it on any floor of your home, including in the basement over wood or concrete subfloors, and it works with nearly any flooring type.
Best for Vinyl: DMX 1-Step 2.0 Underlayment
Vinyl is thinner than laminate, which means you need more vertical deflection so there’s no movement in your floors; this DMX 1-Step 2.0 has 325 dimples per square foot for added support. The added layer is particularly important when you’re refinishing your basement, since basement floors by their very nature are more susceptible to moisture exposure that leads to mold.
Thanks to the many dimples, this floor underlayment allows moisture to evaporate, so it won’t damage your vinyl flooring (or lead to mold in damp conditions). Another advantage is that it will keep your floor from getting too cold, which can raise your heating costs. It also works with laminate and engineered hardwood floors.
Best for Noise Reduction: FloorMuffler Ultraseal Premium Underlayment
Those who are looking to keep things quiet—whether they live in an apartment building or are rocking out with a band, will appreciate an acoustic-style underlayment. This one from Floor Muffler reports having the highest acoustic ratings on the market and should be up to the task of muffling nightly dance parties.
It’s made of polypropylene foam that surpasses even California’s strict VOC emissions standards. It works with laminate, solid wood, and engineered wooden floors to not only tamper down sound, but also to cushion your steps and trap in radiant heat—a big plus for anyone living in one of the colder states. Other benefits include that its self-sticking adhesive makes it easy to lie down and it’s antimicrobial and mold and mildew resistant.
Best for Tile: DUROCK Cement Backer Board
A cement board is your best choice to go under stone, ceramic, or porcelain tile. Why? It’s water and mold-resistant, smooth, and easy to cut. It’s fire resistant, too, up to 200 degrees, which makes it a smart option for your kitchen.
This pick works over wood and steel framing to create a smooth, even application of your tiles and can even work on your counter tops. The Durock brand features edges that are wrapped for a cleaner appearance, easier handling, and less potential for damage during insulation. It comes in 0.25-inch or 0.5-inch thickness, so be sure to select the recommended one for your specific job.
Best Budget: TrafficMASTER Polyethylene Foam 2-in-1 Underlayment
This soft layer of 2-millimeter thick Polyethylene foam is lightweight and flexible enough to offer a cushion and absorb sound associated with laminate, solid hardwood, or engineered hardwood floors. It provides a moisture barrier and is appropriate for any level of your home, including below ground basements and subfloor heating.
This pick is quick to install, thanks to a self-adhesive strip. For the price, it's a nice, lightweight option that will work for multiple areas of your home, if you're reflooring more than room at once.