Choose the Best Underlayment for Your Laminate Flooring: In-depth Guide

Laminate flooring is a popular choice for many homeowners. It’s durable, affordable, and versatile. However, selecting the right underlayment is crucial. This layer, installed between the flooring and subfloor, impacts the performance and longevity of your laminate floors.

The underlayment provides a solid foundation and offers benefits like moisture protection, sound insulation, and thermal insulation. With numerous options on the market, choosing the perfect underlayment can be challenging.

In this article, we’ll explore various underlayment types, features, and factors to consider when making your selection. This knowledge will help you make an informed decision, ensuring your laminate flooring performs well, is comfortable, and lasts for years to come.

Types of Underlayment

There are several types of underlayment available for laminate flooring, each with its unique properties, benefits, and price points. Understanding the differences will help you determine which one is best suited for your needs.

Foam underlayment

Foam underlayments are lightweight, affordable, and easy to install. There are two main types of foam underlayment:

Polyethylene foam: This option provides basic cushioning and support for your laminate flooring. It’s an economical choice, with prices typically ranging from $0.10 to $0.30 per square foot, ideal for budget-conscious projects.

Polypropylene foam: Slightly denser than polyethylene, this foam underlayment offers enhanced sound and moisture protection. Prices usually range from $0.20 to $0.60 per square foot, making it suitable for rooms with moderate foot traffic and moisture exposure.

Cork underlayment

Cork underlayment is a natural and sustainable material that offers excellent sound and thermal insulation. It’s also naturally antimicrobial and hypoallergenic, making it an ideal choice for allergy sufferers.

Cork underlayment is suitable for both residential and commercial spaces but may require a higher budget, with prices ranging from $0.50 to $1.50 per square foot.

Rubber underlayment

Rubber underlayment is known for its superior sound insulation and durability. It’s long-lasting and can withstand heavy foot traffic, making it suitable for high-traffic areas or commercial spaces. Some rubber underlayments are available in recycled rubber options, providing an eco-friendly alternative.

Prices for rubber underlayment generally range from $0.50 to $2.00 per square foot.

Felt underlayment

Felt underlayment is made from recycled fibers and provides good sound insulation. It adds a layer of cushioning for added comfort underfoot. Felt underlayment is suitable for a variety of applications, including residential and commercial spaces.

Prices for felt underlayment range from $0.30 to $0.80 per square foot.

Combination underlayment (Foam + Moisture Barrier)

Combination underlayments offer a convenient all-in-one solution, combining foam cushioning with an integrated moisture or vapor barrier. These underlayments are particularly suitable for damp or moisture-prone areas, such as basements or concrete subfloors.

Prices for combination underlayments can range from $0.30 to $1.00 per square foot, depending on the quality and features.

Each type of underlayment has its pros and cons, so consider your specific needs, budget, and the environment where your laminate flooring will be installed to determine which option is the best fit for your project. Keep in mind that prices may vary based on factors such as brand, quality, and region.

5 Factors to Consider When Choosing Underlayment

When selecting an underlayment for your laminate flooring, it’s crucial to weigh various features that can impact the overall performance, comfort, and longevity of your floors. Let’s dive into these key factors:

Moisture Protection

An essential aspect of underlayment is its ability to shield laminate flooring from potential damage caused by moisture. There are two primary forms of moisture protection to consider:

i. Moisture barrier: This layer prevents liquid water from seeping through and reaching the laminate. A good moisture barrier boasts a perm rating (permeability rating) below 1.0, signifying low permeability to water vapor.

ii. Vapor barrier: Designed to stop water vapor from penetrating the underlayment, a vapor barrier is particularly important for installations over concrete subfloors, which can release moisture over time. To be effective, a vapor barrier should be at least 6-mil (0.006 inches) thick.

Sound Insulation

Another vital feature is sound insulation. A quality underlayment should reduce both airborne and impact noise. You can assess the sound insulation properties of underlayment by looking at two critical measurements:

Sound Transmission Class (STC): This rating gauges the underlayment’s capacity to minimize airborne noise, like conversations or music. A higher STC value means better sound insulation. Aim for an underlayment with an STC rating of 50 or higher to effectively reduce noise.

Impact Insulation Class (IIC): This measurement evaluates the underlayment’s performance in dampening impact noise, such as footsteps or falling objects. A higher IIC value translates to better noise reduction. Select an underlayment with an IIC rating of at least 50 for optimal impact noise control.

Thermal Insulation

Good thermal insulation is yet another feature to look for, as it contributes to your home’s energy efficiency. Underlayment materials have an R-value, which indicates their thermal resistance. The higher the R-value, the better the insulation. R-values for underlayment can range from R-0.5 to R-3, with R-3 offering the most effective insulation.

Compression Resistance

It’s crucial that your underlayment withstands compression without losing its shape or effectiveness. Opting for a product with high compression resistance ensures that it retains its thickness and performance over time. Compression resistance is usually measured in pounds per square inch (psi), with higher values denoting better resistance. For durable support, choose an underlayment with a minimum compression resistance of 20 psi.

Subfloor Compatibility

Lastly, take into account the compatibility of the underlayment with your specific subfloor type. Some underlayments are tailored for use on concrete, while others are better suited for plywood, vinyl, or tile subfloors. To ensure the best performance and warranty coverage, always follow the manufacturer’s recommendations.

Underlayment Thickness

When selecting an underlayment, it’s essential to consider the thickness that will best suit your specific needs. Generally, underlayment thickness falls into two categories:

Standard Thickness (2-3mm)

The standard thickness for underlayment ranges between 2 and 3mm. This thickness is suitable for most residential applications and provides adequate support, noise reduction, and insulation for laminate flooring. The thinner profile also makes it easier to install and keeps material costs lower, with prices typically ranging from $0.15 to $0.50 per square foot.

Thicker Options (5-6mm)

For those seeking enhanced performance, thicker underlayment options are available, usually between 5 and 6mm thick. These underlayments offer improved sound insulation, thermal insulation, and comfort underfoot. Thicker underlayments are also better suited for use on uneven subfloors, as they can help to smooth out minor imperfections. However, these options come with higher material costs, typically ranging from $0.50 to $1.50 per square foot, and may require additional care during installation to ensure proper fit and function.

Installation Methods

There are various installation methods for underlayment, each with its own set of advantages and limitations. The three primary techniques include floating installation, glue-down installation, and nail-down installation. Let’s explore each method in detail, along with any relevant numerical facts.

Floating Installation

Floating installation is a popular method for underlayment and laminate flooring. In this technique, the underlayment is laid out over the subfloor without being secured using adhesives or nails. Instead, the laminate flooring is installed on top of the underlayment, and the weight of the flooring holds everything in place. This method allows for expansion and contraction, making it suitable for environments with fluctuating temperatures and humidity levels.

Floating installation is typically faster and more straightforward, making it a cost-effective option, with labor costs averaging between $1.50 and $3.00 per square foot.

Glue-down Installation

In glue-down installation, the underlayment is adhered to the subfloor using a specific adhesive. This method provides a stable and secure base for the laminate flooring. Glue-down installation is ideal for areas with heavy foot traffic or where a more permanent solution is desired.

However, this method requires more preparation and can be more time-consuming, with labor costs ranging from $2.50 to $4.50 per square foot, depending on the adhesive type and complexity of the job.

Nail-down Installation

Nail-down installation involves securing the underlayment to the subfloor using nails or staples. This method is less common for laminate flooring underlayment and is more frequently used with solid hardwood or engineered wood floors. Nail-down installation creates a secure bond between the underlayment and subfloor, but it may cause the flooring to be less adaptable to temperature and humidity changes.

Additionally, the labor costs for this method can vary widely, ranging from $2.00 to $5.00 per square foot, depending on the type of fasteners used and the complexity of the installation.

Recommended Underlayment Brands and Products

When selecting the best underlayment for your laminate flooring, it is helpful to consider trusted brands and products. The following recommendations offer high-quality materials and cater to a variety of budgets and flooring needs:

  • Roberts AirGuard: This underlayment provides a 3-in-1 solution, including a vapor barrier, sound reduction, and cushioning. Its closed-cell foam construction also helps to reduce noise and increase comfort.
  • QuietWalk: Known for its superior sound reduction capabilities, QuietWalk is a popular choice among homeowners. Its composition is made of dense recycled fibers, and it features a built-in vapor barrier.
  • FloorMuffler UltraSeal: This product offers top-notch moisture protection and noise reduction. The UltraSeal technology allows for easy installation and can be used with various types of flooring materials.
  • DMX 1-Step: It is a versatile underlayment that can be used with laminate, vinyl, and hardwood flooring. It is designed with air gap technology, providing excellent moisture protection and noise reduction.

Comparing the key features of these products can help you make an informed decision when selecting underlayment for your laminate flooring.

Installation Tips and Techniques

Proper installation of your laminate flooring underlayment is important to ensure the longevity and performance of your flooring. Here are some tips and techniques to help you achieve a successful installation.

Acclimate the materials: Make sure to let both the laminate flooring and underlayment materials acclimate to the room’s temperature and humidity for at least 48 hours before installation.

Inspect the subfloor: Ensure that the subfloor is clean, level, and dry before installing the underlayment. Any irregularities or moisture issues should be addressed prior to installation.

Overlap the edges: When laying the underlayment, overlap the edges by a few inches and tape them together. This helps create a vapor barrier and prevents moisture from seeping through.

  • Direction: Install the underlayment in the same direction as the laminate planks will be laid.
  • Seams: Stagger the seams of the underlayment and laminate planks to ensure stability and prevent the appearance of visible seams.
  • Expansion gaps: Leave a 1/4-inch expansion gap between the underlayment and the perimeter of the room, as well as around any fixed objects or transitions to other flooring types.

Trims and moldings: After installing the laminate flooring, finish the edges with appropriate trims and moldings to protect the expansion gaps and provide a professional finish.

By following these installation tips and techniques, you can ensure a smooth and successful laminate flooring underlayment installation that will provide the necessary support, comfort, and protection for your flooring investment.


When selecting an underlayment for laminate flooring, there are several factors to consider that can help ensure you achieve the desired durability, comfort, and soundproofing for your space. Some key points to keep in mind are:

  • Identify your specific needs for your space, such as moisture protection, thermal insulation, and sound reduction.
  • Choose an appropriate thickness and density to support your laminate flooring and provide the desired level of comfort.
  • Consider using a vapor barrier, particularly in damp or humid environments, to protect your flooring investment.
  • Take note of any specific manufacturer recommendations for both your laminate flooring and the compatible underlayments.

By carefully assessing your individual requirements and available options, you can make an informed decision when selecting the best underlayment for your laminate flooring project. Remember, a well-chosen underlayment can significantly enhance the overall performance and longevity of your floor.

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