Installing laminate hardwood flooring can significantly impact a home’s aesthetics by adding the rich look of hardwood flooring. But for professional results that last, laminate must be correctly installed on top of a quality underlayment, which is key to providing adequate support for the flooring while protecting it from damaging moisture.
Most underlayment consists of two layers: a felt layer that provides cushioning and a vapor barrier that protects the flooring from moisture and mold growth. Underlayment also features adhesive tape, which helps connect each strip of laminate, ensuring there are no gaps.
If you’re considering installing laminate flooring and are on the hunt for the best underlayment, read on to learn about what features to consider when shopping for this material and learn why the products below are considered among the best you can use in your laminate flooring project.
- BEST OVERALL: Roberts First Step 630-Square Foot Roll Underlayment
- BEST BUDGET: Roberts 100 sq. ft. Roll Serenity Foam Underlayment
- BEST COMBINATION: FLOORLOT SHOP. FLOORS. DELIVERED Gold Laminate
- BEST CORK: QEP 72003Q 1/4-Inch, 6mm, Cork Underlayment
- BEST FOR NOISE ABSORPTION: Roberts 70-193A Felt Cushion Roll Underlayment
Types of Laminate Underlayments
Selecting the right type of underlayment is essential to successful laminate flooring installation. Underlayment comes in three different types, each of which is suited to certain types of subflooring. Keep in mind that some subflooring comes with attached underlayment, in which case you do not need to purchase or install the underlayment.
True to its name, this type of underlayment consists of a thin layer of foam that acts as a buffer between the laminate flooring and subfloor. This creates a cushion between the floors that minimizes noise while giving the floor a little more flex for those walking on it. Foam underlayment does not provide a vapor barrier, so it should not be used for damp areas. As such, this type of underlayment is suitable for plywood and oriented strand board (OSB) subfloors.
Combination underlayment combines a foam layer with a vapor barrier that protects laminate flooring against moisture. The vapor barrier layer allows this type of underlayment to work with concrete subfloors as well as OSB and plywood.
Cork is a premium underlayment used to reduce noise. It also has natural antimicrobial properties that prevent mold growth between the laminate flooring and the subfloor. Cork also provides ample cushioning, is a good insulator, and absorbs sound well. Cork is also significantly more expensive than foam or combination underlayment, costing nearly twice as much.
Features to Look for in the Best Laminate Underlayment
Selecting the proper underlayment depends on a variety of factors, including the type of subfloor it will cover. The underlayment’s thermal rating, thickness, and sound absorption qualities should also be taken into account.
The type of subfloor largely dictates what type of underlayment you should use. Underlayment used on a concrete floor requires a vapor barrier to prevent moisture from collecting between the subfloor and flooring, which could cause mold growth. Also, consider where the flooring will be installed. Flooring installed on the upper floor of a home or apartment complex should have underlayment that provides adequate sound buffering to prevent noise from traveling to the floor below.
Pay attention to the underlayment’s R-value, which measures its ability to insulate. The higher the R-value, the better its insulation properties.
Underlayment with a high R-value will keep the floor warmer during cold weather while preventing heat loss through the floor. Likewise, it will help keep conditioned air in the home during warm weather while keeping hot air out. Typical fiberglass insulation found in the exterior walls of houses has an R-value of 3 to 5. Most underlayments have an R-value of 2 or 3.
Many DIYers may believe that a thick underlayment will create a more cushioned feel. While this may be the case with carpeting, using a too-thick underlayment material is a mistake with laminate flooring. A thick underlayment allows the flooring to flex too much, causing the seams between the boards to separate. On the other hand, laminate underlayment that is too thin can make the flooring noisy and hard. Felt laminate underlayment should have a thickness of between 2 millimeters and 3 millimeters to provide ample cushioning while still maintaining adequate support for the floor. Cork underlayment is more firm than felt, so it should be about twice as thick in order to provide adequate cushioning.
Laminate flooring has the potential to be rather noisy as it flexes against the subfloor. A good underlayment provides a noise-reducing buffer between the two surfaces, preventing annoying creaking sounds. If you live in a condo or apartment, sound absorption is a must to avoid conflict with your neighbors below. In fact, many apartments and condo communities require underlayment that has a minimum sound rating.
Some underlayments have Sound Transmission Class (STC) and Impact Insulation Class (IIC) ratings. STC ratings refer to the material’s ability to block airborne noises, using a scale ranging from 15 to 80, with the higher number being the best. A standard wood floor has an STC rating of about 40.
IIC ratings measure how well material blocks impact noises such as footsteps or furniture that is being moved. A hardwood floor with no sound insulation has an ILC rating of around 45.
Flooring underlayment designed to reduce sound will increase the flooring’s STC and IIC ratings into the 60s.
Our Top Picks
The underlayment products selected here take into account the above considerations. They provide multiple layers that offer adequate support for floating floors and also muffle sound, insulate, and serve as an effective vapor barrier to prevent mold.
With multiple layers that add protection, comfort, and sound buffering, this product from Roberts is one of the best all-around underlayments for laminate flooring. At the heart of this underlayment is its Styrofoam bead layer, which serves as a cushioning system between the subfloor and underlayment while also leaving space for air movement, helping prevent mold growth. This product is thick enough to correct small imperfections in the subfloor and inconsistencies in the seams.
A vapor barrier protects against moisture. Installation is made easy by a sizable adhesive strip that allows for ample 4-inch overlap, preventing any gaps that could allow moisture through. This underlayment also serves as an effective sound barrier, making it suitable for use on upper floors. Each roll provides 630 square feet of coverage.
- Designed for airflow and anti-mold growth
- Covers 630 square feet of flooring
- Adhesive strip and 4-inch overlap for easy installation
- Only for concrete slabs and wood subfloors on or above grade
For homes with wood subfloors, a moisture barrier may not be required, making this foam underlayment from Roberts a suitable option. This product, which comes in 100-square-foot rolls, uses a 2.4 millimeter polyethylene foam, which adds cushioning while smoothing out minor imperfections in the subfloor to allow more even laminate flooring installation. It can be used for radiant heated floors and will work with concrete floors when combined with a vapor barrier.
This underlayment is also nicely priced; but keep in mind it does not include the helpful built-in adhesive strips that make other products easy to install. Each roll is 25 feet long and 4 feet wide.
- Budget-friendly underlayment
- Built-in moisture barricade
- Compatible with many floor types
- Limited coverage (100 square feet)
- Does not include adhesive strips
With its three layers, this underlayment provides protection, comfort, and sound absorption, making it one of the best combination underlayments you can lay on a floor. It includes a 3-millimeter-thick layer that adds comfort to laminate flooring while helping to level uneven sections and seams in the subfloor. This thicker layer provides a good insulation barrier, keeping bare feet feeling more comfortable in the wintertime, and an excellent sound buffer, making it ideal for upper floors and apartments and condos. A built-in vapor barrier makes this underlayment suitable for moisture-prone areas.
Peel-and-stick adhesive coupled with a printed grid serves as a guide for lining up the sheets to make installation easy. A large lip allows for plenty of overlap to prevent gaps between pieces. This underlayment comes in 200-square-foot rolls.
- Affordable underlayment
- Extra thick (3mm) for sound absorption and thermal control
- Designed with grid lines, tape, and adhesive for installation
- Covers over 200 square feet
- Does not come with a double moisture barrier
With its ample thickness, this cork underlayment serves as an excellent barrier for sound while smoothing over imperfections in the subfloor. Keep in mind, a cork underlayment must be thicker than felt to provide adequate cushioning but, as it isn’t as soft as felt, its additional thickness will still provide the support a floating floor demands. At 6 millimeters thick, this underlayment has an STC rating of 61, making it suitable for upper floors and lower floors.
It also effectively serves as an insulator, helping to keep the floor warm in the wintertime while preventing heat loss through the floor. Installation is easy: either lay down or glue down. Its superior thickness also allows this product to resist the transfer of imperfections and cracks from the subfloor to the laminate flooring. This premium cork underlayment comes in 25-foot rolls.
- Thicker than average underlayment (6mm)
- Made for thermal control
- Suitable for main and upper-floor installment
- Compatible with many kinds of flooring
- Cork material has low moisture resistance
- Limited coverage (100 square feet)
With its superior sound-damping qualities, garnering an impressive STC rating of 66, this thick felt underlayment from Roberts does an excellent job of preventing sound from transferring from upper to lower floors. Since it absorbs noise, this underlayment will also minimize noise in the room and dampen sound traveling to other rooms.
The 3-millimeter-thick underlayment also creates a cushioned feel for laminate flooring and serves as effective insulation as well, keeping the floor warm in the wintertime. A film overlay adds a moisture barrier that protects the flooring from mold growth. With a built-in 3-inch overlap between pieces, this underlayment is easy to install without creating gaps.
- Built-in film overlay for moisture control
- 3mm thick for thermal insulation and support
- Comes with 3-inch overlap for complete coverage
- Can be used on multiple flooring levels and types
- Expensive compared to other underlayment
- Does not come with adhesive
Selected for its ability to cover ample square footage, moisture-wicking capabilities, built-in adhesive strips, and 4-inch overlap, the Roberts First Step is our overall top pick for the best laminate underlayment. If your floor type demands a stronger moisture and sound barrier, the Roberts Serenity Foam underlayment is a more suitable choice.
How We Chose the Best Laminate Underlayments
Underlayments for your floors can help enhance the soundproofing of your home, reduce the likelihood of mold, and can help even out divots and/or bumps in your current flooring. Each product above can aid in some or all of these floor-related ailments, with some of them having the advantage of a few additional special features.
For example, some of the options above are made to cover the largest surface areas of your home with up to 630 square feet of material, while others are made with a moisture-wicking, mold-preventing barricade for those homes or rooms that have high humidity. Plus, you can also look at some of these top picks for extra-thick material of up to 6mm for extra padding on uneven floors.
Finally, some of these underlayments also come with easy installation in tow due to the built-in adhesive strips and overlaps for full coverage and reliability. However, always by sure to check on underlayments that do not have these features as they may require accompanying glue or other adhesives during the installation process.
FAQs About Laminate Underlayment
If you still have questions about underlayment thickness, how to install underlayment, or why it’s so important, read on for answers.
Q. How thick should laminate underlayment be?
Laminate underlayment is typically between 2 millimeter and 3 millimeter thick, with 3 millimeter offering ample cushioning and insulation without compromising the joints between the boards.
Q. Which side goes up on laminate underlayment?
Unroll the underlayment making sure that the white adhesive side is faceup. This allows overlapping pieces to connect. If the white adhesive strip is facing down, the underlayment is upside down.
Q. What happens if you don’t put underlayment under laminate flooring?
Underlayment is a requirement for laminate flooring. Underlayment allows the floor to float, preventing it from creaking, providing stability, and ensuring the locks between the planks are well supported. Skipping underlayment can actually ruin the flooring.