Rug pads are thin underlays that are made specifically for use under area rugs or “scatter rugs.” They serve to protect the floor and the rug, to keep it from sliding around, and can also make the rug more cushiony and comfortable. Rug pads also improve the thermal insulating value of the rug and help deaden sound in the room.
There are many different options available for rug pads, but not all of these options will suit every application. It is best to buy a pad that is specially designed for use under an area rug. Avoid cutting pieces of under-carpet padding to fit your rug, as rug pads have unique qualities not found in carpet padding.
What to Consider When Choosing a Rug Pad
Though it's often overlooked, a rug pad has many benefits beneath an area rug. Keep these different considerations in mind and prioritize when choosing a material for your area rug, as each type of material has different benefits.
- Safety: Preventing a rug from slipping underfoot is one of the main reasons why a rug pad is important. This is especially important with smaller rugs and those that are found in entryways and hallways.
- Comfort: A rug pad beneath an area rug makes for a thicker, cushier floor covering. This can be important for heavy-traffic areas or play areas and recreation rooms.
- Soundproofing: A rug pad can help deaden sound in a room.
- Environmental impact: Some rug pad materials are 100 percent natural or made from recycled materials, while others are synthetic materials that may outgas small amounts of chemical VOCs (volatile organic compounds).
- Cost: If budget is an issue, you will want to consider the comparative costs of different rug pad materials. For example, it's possible to spend as little as $25 for an 8 x 10 economy polyester pad, or as much as $300 for a top-of-the-line memory foam pad.
- Protection of floor and rug: Some rug pads have an open weave design that allows air to circulate between the rug and the floor. This can be an important consideration for controlling humidity that can damage hardwood floors or the rug.
Check With the Flooring Manufacturer
Before selecting your rug pad, check the recommendations of your flooring manufacturer. Some types of materials found in rug pads may not be recommended for use on certain flooring types, as they may cause damage to your floor.
For example, a rug pad made of PVC (polyvinyl chloride) can cause discoloration in vinyl flooring and certain types of hardwood finishes. Even laminate floors often hailed as ‘indestructible,' are not necessarily immune to damage from inappropriate padding. Always check your floor’s warranty to determine if any materials are prohibited from use, and never use any type of product or material that is not recommended by the manufacturer.
Types of Rug Pads
The are seven types of rug pads currently available. Carefully consider their characteristics to select the type best for your situation.
Rug pads made from 100 percent felt are typically made from recycled natural and synthetic fibers woven together to make a relatively thick and cushy pad at an affordable price. Felt pads may include fibers of wool, cotton, polyester, nylon, and other materials, all visible in the woven pad, which usually has a grayish color.
Felt is one of the most popular of all rug pad materials, but slipping can be a problem with felt pads placed on hardwood or tile, especially with small rugs. In these cases, a hybrid felt/natural rubber pad will be a better choice (see below).
- Good for: All floors where a thick cushion is wanted and slipping is not a concern.
|Absorbs sound||Slippery on hard floors|
|Excellent cushion||May be too thick for some rugs|
|Won't stain floors|
Along with felt, natural rubber is one of the most common rug pad materials. Natural rubber rug mats are usually beige or whitish in color with a waffle-or mesh-like texture. Manufactured from sap from rubber trees, they are entirely natural and pose no hazards for outgassing hazardous chemicals. They offer very good non-slip properties and are excellent for small rugs and doorway rugs on hard, slippery floor surfaces. They also are moisture resistant, making them good in bathrooms and other damp areas.
Natural rubber rug pads tend to be fairly thin, starting at about 1/10 inch, so they can be a good choice where you want a low profile.
- Good for: Any flooring type, especially hardwood.
|Non-slip||More expensive than synthetics|
|Excellent water resistance|
It's quite common for manufacturers to combine felt and natural rubber to create a hybrid pad. The thin rubber bottom layer makes the pad non-slip, while the thicker upper felt layer offers a great cushion for the overlying rug. They are a good choice for any size rug on a hard flooring surface. Make sure the bottom layer is genuine rubber rather than latex or polyurethane, which may leave residue on the floor.
- Good for: Any flooring material where both grip and cushion are needed.
|Good grip||May be too thick for some applications|
|Good cushion||More expensive than some other types|
Latex is a synthetic, man-made rubber that is often used for inexpensive carpet pads. It has many of the same advantages of rubber—good grip and good cushion—but latex pads often include filler materials such as clay, which can leave a sticky, hard-to-remove residue on the floor over time. But latex pads do hold up well to water, making them a good choice for kitchens, bathrooms, and outdoor locations.
- Good for: Damp locations, like kitchens, bathrooms, and outdoor locations
|Good grip||Short lifespan|
|Cheaper than rubber||May leave residue on floor|
This material is a form of synthetic foam that has excellent cushion and resilience. It is the same material that is now so popular for mattresses and pillows. As a rug pad, its performance is top-notch, offering an excellent cushion, good sound-deadening and thermal insulating properties, and a long lifespan. It can, however, sometimes slide around on hard, polished floors, unless you buy a type that has a non-slip coating.
Unlike PVC and other synthetic foams, memory foam is relatively stable with little potential for outgassing or staining hardwood floors. Several thicknesses are available, ranging from 1/4 to 1/2 inch.
- Good for: All flooring materials.
|Excellent cushion||Most expensive carpet pad|
|Long lifespan||May slip on hard floors|
|Little outgassing of VOCs|
|Good insulating properties|
An inexpensive option is a PVC (polyvinyl chloride) rug pad. There are various types available, and they are usually made from recycled PVC plastics. The pads have a mesh-like look, similar to rubber and latex. If you choose a PVC pad, select the densest material available, as some types will quickly break down under use. Be aware that PVC can outgas VOCs (volatile organic compounds) that pose potential health risks to you and your family. But PVC rug pads can be an excellent choice outdoors, for patios or poolside rugs.
- Good for: Outdoor locations; non-wood indoor floors in damp locations.
|Very inexpensive||Poor cushion|
|Good moisture resistance||Wears out quickly|
|May leave sticky residue|
|May stain floor finishes|
In areas with high moisture, a polyester rug pad can be a good choice. It is also well suited where pet stains are a likelihood, as well as in outdoor locations. These pads look like very thin felt pads—woven mats with visible fibers. Like other synthetic floor pads, polyester is made from petroleum-derived chemicals which can affect polyurethane floor coatings.
For laying an area rug over carpet, look for a specially designed rug-to-carpet pad. These pads are typically made of polyester with a vinyl coating and are made to prevent the rug from bunching up on the carpet underneath.
- Good for: Outdoor rugs, pet areas, moist areas; between carpets and rugs.
|Excellent moisture resistance||May stain wood finishes|
|Very inexpensive||Can be slippery on hard surfaces|