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A top-quality floor underlayment provides a layer of cushioning, absorbs sound, and protects your flooring—be it hardwood, tile, or laminate—from water damage and wear and tear.
We researched the best underlayments on the market, assessing floor type compatibility, ease of installment, quality, and overall value. Our favorites include options for laminate floors, like the Roberts AirGuard 5-in-1 Floor Underlayment, concrete floors, like the Eco Cork Foam Premium 10-in-1 Underlayment, and tile floors, like the DUROCK Cement Backer Board.
Here are the best flooring underlayments.
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, but 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 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 provides a 3.2 millimeter, Class 1 vapor barrier to eliminate the need for anything additional, saving you time and money. The material is a low-VOC blend of polyethylene and granulated cork.
Other benefits include its waterproof and antimicrobial properties, making it resistant to mold and bacteria growth. It also 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 that you need more vertical deflection so there’s no movement in your floors. This DMX 1-Step 2.0 is up for the job, as it has 325 dimples per square foot for extra support. The added layer is particularly important when you’re refinishing your basement since basement floors 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
Whether you live in an apartment building or are rocking out with a band, you (and your neighbors) will appreciate an acoustic-style underlayment. This one from Floor Muffler reports having the highest acoustic ratings on the market, making it 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. This is a big plus for anyone living in one of the colder states. Other benefits include its self-sticking adhesive, which makes it easy to lie down, and the antimicrobial properties that make it 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 countertops. 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.
What to Look for in Floor Underlayment
Before choosing a floor underlayment material to install in your home, it's important to have an understanding of the various types of floor underlayment, the cost associated with each type, and which type is best for your floor.
There are several floor underlayment materials that are commonly used for professional and DIY flooring projects including foam, rubber, cork, rubber cork, and felt underlayment.
Foam underlayment is one of the most common underlayment options because it's cost-effective, easy to install, and incredibly versatile. Some products even have built-in adhesive strips to streamline the installation process.
Rubber underlayment is an excellent choice if the goal is sound absorption and insulation. It isn't as versatile as foam, but rubber has superior insulating qualities and it can be installed over wood or concrete subfloors without an issue.
Cork underlayment is regularly used in condo floor installations because it absorbs sound better than most other underlayment materials. It's also an environmentally-friendly choice. Just keep in mind that cork is susceptible to water damage, so it should not be installed in a bathroom, kitchen, or any other flood-prone areas of the home, like the basement.
Rubber cork underlayment combines the best of rubber and cork to create a highly effective material for insulating the floor. It is flexible and water-resistant, though rubber cork underlayment can stain vinyl. Despite the water-resistant qualities of this material, it's still suggested to install a vapor barrier to improve the durability of the floor.
Felt underlayment is typically denser than foam, which makes it a good sound absorber. Additionally, felt is usually made from recycled fibers, so it's an environmentally-friendly option that also helps to insulate the home. Some felt underlayment products even have a built-in vapor barrier.
Laminate flooring is a hybrid material made primarily of melamine resin and particle board with a transparent wear layer on the surface. Install foam underlayment for improved insulation and sound absorption. Cork underlayment is another good option that can greatly increase sound absorption.
Vinyl flooring is prone to staining when used with rubber or rubber cork underlayment. Instead, you should install cork underlayment for better sound absorption. Foam can also be used, though many vinyl flooring materials come with built-in cork underlayment, so this may not be a concern.
Tile flooring can shift and separate, forming cracks in the grout. To help prevent cracking, rubber cork underlay is the suggested material. The flexibility of this underlay, as well as the water-resistant qualities, makes it ideal for protecting and insulating newly installed tile flooring.
Hardwood flooring is commonly installed with foam underlayment because this material is easy to work with and affordable. However, cork is a better option for supporting hardwood flooring, if you don't mind paying a bit more.
Foam underlayment is an affordable option for most flooring materials. It's typically 3mm to 6mm thick and ranges from $0.22 to $0.30 per square foot.
Rubber underlayment is one of the most expensive options. You can purchase rubber underlayment from 2mm to 9mm thick. Expect to pay about $1.15 to $1.50 per square foot.
Cork underlayment ranges from about $0.50 to $0.75 per square foot. The underlayment can be 3mm to 6mm thick, and it's ideal for use with vinyl and hardwood flooring.
Rubber cork underlayment has a similar price as rubber underlay. It can be purchased in thicknesses from 3mm to 6mm at an average price of $1.15 to $1.50 per square foot.
Felt underlayment can vary in price depending on the manufacturer. Similar to foam, felt underlayment is usually 3mm to 6mm thick, but it has a higher cost, ranging from $0.75 to $1.25 per square foot.
What is floor underlayment?
Underlayment is a thin piece of material that exists between the bare wood or concrete floor and the finished flooring material, like hardwood or vinyl. This layer helps cushion the flooring, increase sound absorption, and improve insulation.
How do you install floor underlayment?
To install floor underlayment, first clean the surface of the sub-floor and inspect for any damage. Repair any problem spots, ensuring the subfloor is completely flat and does not have any protrusions, like nails or screws. Unroll the first strip of underlayment and secure with tape.
Work from left to right and make sure consecutive rows are against each other but do not overlap. Secure the sections together with tape to keep them in place. Install the flooring over the underlayment.
How do you remove floor underlayment?
Sometimes floor underlayment has been glued down, resulting in it being stuck to the sub-floor. In order to remove floor underlayment that cannot simply be pulled up, you will need to use a scraper or pry bar with a hammer. The thin metal can help separate the adhesive from the sub-floor, but this will be a long, manual process.
Keep in mind that the floor underlayment may also have screws or nails in it that need to be removed while peeling up the adhesive and underlayment material.
Why Trust The Spruce?
Additional reporting and research for this article were done by Timothy Dale, a long-time home improvement expert specializing in plumbing, construction, and product recommendations, among other topics.