Best Underlayment For Hardwood Floors

Your hardwood floor is a feature you should be cherishing. Not only does it look great, but it is also a luxury to look after in your home.

While you may clean, polish, and wax that hardwood often enough, you should protect it with underlayment. While installing an underlayment may seem like a big undertaking, the benefits are huge.

If you can hear your hardwood floor creaking and it has an uneven appearance, those problems are likely to get worse over time. Due to moisture buildup and humidity, your hardwood floor can become warped, and even rot from underneath.

There is also the daily foot traffic to think about and all the heat that escapes during winter. Before your hardwood flooring has to be ripped up, retain it with underlayment.

With the best underlayment, you can protect your hardwood floors for years to come. You should be able to walk across them bare-footed and feel the warmth.

Walking across your hardwood floor should be whisper quiet and it can be with some underlayment. Consider pairing the hardwood with the best underlayment and enjoy a great, reassuringly solid hardwood floor.

Best For Durability

Roberts 70-025 Qep 70-029 Unison Underlayment, 48 in W X 25 Ft L, Polyethylene, 100 Sq Roll

Roberts has been a leading brand for flooring installation so you should expect their underlayment to hit the mark.

They excel in innovation and the Unison 2-In-1 Polyethylene Foam Underlayment is well worth considering. Their underlayment is designed to reduce sound and even help with minor sub-floor corrections.

The polyethylene foam is a great material for cushioning and in this underlayment it is 3/32” thick which is substantial. In-film overlaps are included for increased durability and an adhesive strip should seal out moisture which we liked in our testing.

A thick top film also offers added protection from moisture vapor meaning that your hardwood flooring should be well protected.

Pros

  • In-Film Overlaps - Better durability and an adhesive strip to keep the layer in place and seal out moisture
  • Cushioning - The underlayment is thicker than most with polyethylene foam for extra cushioning
  • Thick Top Film - A 2mil thick top film offers protection from moisture vapor and durability

Cons

  • Difficult To Unroll - The top side of the underlayment is rolled to the outside making it tricky to unroll

Best For Heated Floors

QuietWalk Plus QW100PLUS Underlayment for Hardwood, Laminate and Vinyl Plank Flooring with Moisture/Vapor Barrier and Sound Absorption (Nail, Glue & Float Applications), 3' x 33.4', Blue

Keeping your hardwood floors warm can be difficult, especially in winter. That is why having an in-floor heating system is ideal to keep your feet toasty, even without socks.

Quietwalk Plus QW100PLUS Underlayment has been approved for use with in-floor heating systems so you should feel the full benefit. That means the heat will be evenly distributed and you can benefit from added insulation in your home.

The underlayment is relatively easy to install too as it can be used with a floating floor, or it can be glued or nailed down. An innovative vapor barrier is included to allow nailing to penetrate then self-seal, this was a factor we particularly liked in our testing.

The underlayment also uses recycled fibers which provide added sound reduction, moisture protection and help the hardwood floor be compression resistant.

Pros

  • In-Floor Heating System Approved - Heat will be evenly distributed and the underlayment has been approved for use with in-floor heating systems
  • Versatile Application - You can use this underlayment with a floating floor, it can be glued down or nailed
  • Recycled Fibers - These are ideal for great sound reduction
  • Compression Resistant - The recycled fiber structure provides a compression-resistant layer

Cons

  • Occasional Hard Lumps - There are reports of some hard lumps being found in the foam component

Best For Larger Hardwood Floors

First Step 630-Square Foot Roll Underlayment

You may have a large hardwood floor that you wish to protect and linking them together can be a chore. After buying several rolls, it can be a task simply putting them together. Thankfully, Roberts has devised an overlap and tape to make that linking so easy.

That’s not to mention the protection that all that underlayment will provide. Superior sound reduction and a material that has been designed to help minor sub-floor imperfections.

That comes from two sheets of plastic that sandwich a layer of polypropylene foam beads. This underlayment is also approved for multi-level environments and should provide a smoother surface.

Using a cushioning styrofoam feature, the underlayment actively prevents moisture from damaging your hardwood floors. With Gold Guard acting as anti-microbial protection, the underlayment will also protect mold growth which was a feature we liked in our testing.

Pros

  • Thick Layer - The underlayment measures a 3mm thickness which is sizeable
  • Easy Linking - Each roll comes with an overlap and tape for installation and linking together multiple rolls
  • Superior Sound Reduction - This underlayment is approved for multi-level environments and should provide great sound reduction
  • Level Imperfections - The layer has been designed to help level minor sub-floor imperfections for a smoother surface
  • Gold Guard - Provides constant air circulation and anti-microbial protection

Cons

  • Possible Crinkling - There may be a slight crinkling sound underfoot for certain hardwood floors

Best For An Eco-Friendly Option

QEP Natural Cork Underlayment Roll - 1/4' (6 mm) - 200 sq. ft., 48' x 50' (72000Q) , Brown

Cork is a great material to use for underlayment. Not only is it renewable, but it also helps prevent sound from traveling between floors.

If that is one factor you are considering then QEP Natural Cork Underlayment may be the one for you. If there is one eco-friendly option that can swing your decision-making then consider this one.

A crack isolation membrane also helps prevent stress cracks from appearing in your hardwood floors. Be careful with the cork though as it can rip when not handled properly though this did not present a problem in our experience with this product.

Once you can get it down, the installation is straightforward for gluing and a loose-lay configuration.

Pros

  • Crack Isolation Membrane - Prevents stress cracks from the subfloor to your hardwood flooring
  • Easy Installation - The underlayment is easily installed for gluing or loose-lay configuration
  • Green Product - Each layer is made from natural and renewable cork
  • Insulated Sound Transmission - Should prevent sound traveling from the floor surface to below floors

Cons

  • Pricier - As a material, cork is dependable but usually more expensive

Best For Black Felt Paper

ASU-15 Hardwood Flooring Underlayment Felt Paper

If you are looking for an underlayment that provides great value then consider black paper felt. As well as being relatively easy to install and fit, these rolls also provide more coverage for your money.

You should be able to cover 432 square feet with each roll of South Shore Flooring ASU-15 Hardwood Flooring Underlayment.

As well as that sizable coverage, the underlayment is also asphalt-saturated which acts as a moisture barrier from your subfloor to the hardwood floor. Yes, you may think that is ideal for your roof (and it is) but this works great for underlayment too.

One of the other redeeming features of black felt paper is how uniform the texture is and that was an aspect we liked in our testing.

Pros

  • Uniform Texture - You can rely on the texture from each roll and it should not tear easily
  • Vapor Barrier - This is asphalt-saturated which will reduce the floor of moisture from the subfloor to your hardwood floors
  • Large Quantity - Each roll should cover 432 square feet
  • Budget-Friendly - For the amount of coverage each roll provides, this underlayment provided great value for money

Cons

  • Appears Thin - Some users have commented that the underlayment appears a little thin

Buyers Guide

Finding the right underlayment can be down to numerous factors. An easy way to find the best one is to try to pair the type of hardwood you have in your flooring with an appropriate material for the underlayment.

Some hardwoods may require extra padding while others only need a moderate amount of support. Certainly, finding one that can prevent moisture from damaging your hardwood is ideal.

The underlayment should add to the stability of your hardwood flooring as well as provide shock absorption, insulation, and a reduction in sound.

You should not be creeping over your hardwood floors for fear of them creaking. Also, the damage that your hardwood flooring is taking from underneath should not be ignored.

Adding underlayment is a great investment to ensure that your hardwood floors last for years, and even decades, to come.

Best Underlayment For Hardwood Floors

Material

There are essentially four different materials that are used for an underlayment that are ideal for hardwood flooring. Each has its own properties which can best serve your hardwood floor.

Black paper felt is likely to be the budget choice as it is relatively easy to install and fit while providing a decent barrier against moisture.

Surprisingly, this is also a versatile material that could be used on your roof if it is covered in asphalt. Another affordable option is felt which creates a tight seal to insulate a room and protect against too much humidity.

Felt is also often made from recycled materials meaning it is a good choice for the environment too.

For a natural, eco-friendly material, cork is a long-lasting option for underlayment. As well as being renewable, it helps dampen sound really well. However, cork is not water-resistant which is something to think about.

For even better sound dampening consider rubber. This material can easily absorb noise and impact, it is also really flexible and easy to install. Finally, foam is likely the most ideal material for underlayment so it is likely your most expensive option too.

There is good reason for that as it is renowned for insulating sound and heat. However, the foam does compress over time.

Your Hardwood

The hardwood that makes up your flooring can be paired with an underlayment of a particular material. Finding the right material can complement the hardwood and ensure it is looked after.

For instance, walnut may seem hard enough yet it actually makes for a really soft hardwood flooring.

For added support and durability think about pairing it with a cork underlayment. Oak is also a softer type of hardwood that works well with rubber underlayment due to its shock-absorbing and insulating properties. 

There is also cherry as a softer hardwood for flooring which may require additional support so go with an underlayment made from either rubber or cork.

For harder types of hardwood such as hickory and maple, go for a more moderate layer of underlayment to suit it. Materials such as foam or rubber work well with maple due to the insulation and support they offer.

Hickory is a truly durable hardwood that should not need that much assistance to withstand foot traffic and a foam underlayment should be fine.

Moisture Prevention

You should be looking out for your hardwood floors and moisture coming from underneath is a definite threat. Should your hardwood floor suffer continual exposure to water and humidity it could crack, warp, weaken or even rot over time.

This is likely not from water coming onto the surface but the damage is likely to occur from water underneath the flooring. Humidity plays a role in evaporating the water and that moisture then penetrates upward.

The right sort of underlayment can provide a barrier to prevent the moisture from getting to the hardwood and act as a layer of much-needed protection.

Your underlayment may be a thin barrier but it is a crucial one that separates the ground and upward moisture from your hardwood flooring. Preventing the moisture from gathering is a wise measure to ensure that you do not have to replace your hardwood flooring at a later date.

Adding underlayment should prove to be a wise investment over time, certainly if it prevents you from having to pay for new hardwood flooring.

Reducing Sound

As well as preventing moisture from damaging your hardwood, underlayment can also reduce sound. Without underlayment, hardwood flooring can usually produce a creaking or clicking sound whenever they are walked on in certain places.

Over years, that can get truly irritating so installing underlayment is one, easy way of reducing that sound. If you cannot walk across your hardwood flooring for fear of waking up anyone sleeping in the floor below then that is an issue you will want to resolve.

Shock Absorption

Your hardwood flooring is there to be walked over yet the planks can suffer. Such signs of damage can include that annoying creaking sound that can indicate bent planks.

Having underlayment can lower the impact of shoes and heavy furniture. The underlayment can also lower the sound as a result.

That functionality also extends to cushioning. Hardwood floors are… hard, and an extra layer of cushioning can be comforting. That cushion can also make a real difference to someone who suffers from pain in their joints.

Just from a tiny bit of give and leeway to allow your hardwood floor to expand then contract. The layer of underlayment is not likely to be especially thick but can make a big difference.

Stability

Helping to reduce the impact and sound of your hardwood flooring goes a long way to improving its stability over time. Hardwood changes over time and constant exposure to fluctuating temperatures and humidity creates a natural expansion then contraction.

A layer of underlayment helps to mitigate that process and prevent your hardwood floors from warping, buckling, and even pulling apart at the seams. A properly supported and stable hardwood floor can last over time and that durability can come from a layer of underlayment.

Insulation

Old houses with hardwood floors have a timeless quality and value to them. However, without underlayment, they can be difficult to heat up.

During winter, hardwood floors can absorb the cold from outside and underneath from the subfloor meaning they can be unbearably cold under bare feet. Just as the underlayment reduces sound and impact, that thin barrier can also help keep the heat in.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Thick Should Underlayment Be Usually?

The thickness of your underlayment usually depends on the material itself. Certain materials are better at insulation and sound protection than others so bear this in mind. A general thickness to consider is between a quarter and half an inch.

The main purpose of your underlayment is to add a layer that increases the stability of your hardwood floor. In the process, it should also act as a cushion for a more comfortable experience underfoot.

In a practical sense, the underlayment should provide a decent layer of moisture protection and also try to resolve any minor subfloor imperfections.

Can I Use Felt Paper For My Roof And My Hardwood Flooring?

You may be surprised to learn that you certainly can use the same sort of felt paper for both your hardwood flooring and your roof.

Asphalt-covered black felt paper is great as an extra layer of protection against moisture buildup. It also works well to dampen sound so you can imagine why it is ideal for your roof and hardwood flooring.