Carpet Padding Buying Guide [Updated 2021]
Choosing the best carpet padding for your home is important.
It’s that simple (I’ll explain more on why early this article).
That’s why I think this is one of the most important articles I’ve written on buying carpet. It’s everything I know, I’ve researched, and I’ve experienced with padding.
Read this guide to make sure you don’t pay for features you don’t need. But more importantly, read it to make sure you don’t miss any features that could make your carpet a financial mistake.
You’ll learn how to choose carpet padding:
- why padding is important (and why you can’t always trust the salesman)
- why many people choose the wrong pad thickness
- choosing the best pad density for your needs
- types of carpet padding and pros and cons for each
- best padding for special cases like cat urine and more
- carpet pad costs
- my final recommendation of the best carpet padding
Let’s start with why padding is important.
Why padding is SO important (the bridge analogy)
Let’s compare carpet and padding to a bridge.
Both bridges and carpet have to hold up to traffic whether its cars or feet. So how do they do it? Let’s start with the bridge…
The asphalt is the “face” of the bridge. You drive directly on top of it. The asphalt has to be durable, or it will have holes and need to be repaved frequently.
But it doesn’t matter how great the asphalt is if there’s no support beneath it.
That’s where the bridge structure comes in. You can have the highest grade asphalt in the world, but it will crumble the first time a car drives over it if it doesn’t have the right foundation.
In the carpet world, the asphalt = carpet and the foundation/structure = padding.
In other words, the carpet needs the padding to hold up. Carpet consists of fiber woven into a backing. Without great pad beneath, the backing will break. If the backing breaks, the aging process of the carpet accelerates. The carpet gets wavy, and the fibers look worn.
Captain’s warning! You now know why padding is important, but did you know it’s so important that a “free padding” deal could void your warranty? Some carpet warranties outline specific requirements for the padding. If you have an uneducated or dishonest salesman, they may ignore these guidelines and give you the cheapest pad possible. Moral of the story? Check the warranty yourself. If the free pad doesn’t meet the requirements, bring it up to your retailer. You may get a free upgrade.
Pad thickness, aka pad height
We live in a “bigger is better” world.
But with padding, thicker pad isn’t always the best carpet padding. In fact, it might even be worse for your home. Thick padding may not be as durable, and anything over 8/16″ will cause installation problems.
The good news is most retailers know the padding thickness you need. It’s usually pretty simple because most carpets call for 7/16″ pad.
The good news is there isn’t much incentive for a salesman to mislead you here. There’s not extra profit in giving the customer a thicker or thinner pad.
But just because the salesman isn’t trying to mislead you, doesn’t mean you won’t get ripped off. What if he’s new and hasn’t learned how important padding is yet? Or what if the store just doesn’t care or do a good job of training their salesman? His inexperience might end up being your loss in a big way. This is why it’s always important to do your homework, and it’s even more important if your carpet retailer doesn’t have a great reputation.
Captain’s warning! Watch out for “fly by night” retailers and dishonest door to door salesman. They may try to unload whatever padding they have. In this case, there is an incentive for them to mislead you—they only have one type of padding and want to get rid of it. By the time you notice the damage, they’re nowhere to be found. Doing your homework is even more important when you aren’t dealing with a reputable retailer.
Pad density, aka pad weight
Pad density is the #2 factor in pad durability (#1 is the type of pad… more on that later).
Density is typically measured in pounds (per cubic foot) but sometimes you’ll see it listed as ounces (per square yard). Expect the pad density to be 3-10lbs for most common padding. The range for ounces isn’t as straightforward because you usually only see it listed with fiber or rubbers pads, and these have completely different durability properties. Don’t confuse yourself trying to convert ounces to pounds or vice versa. Pounds and ounces, in this case, are completely different measurements and can’t be compared directly (it’s not just a 1lb = 16 oz conversion).
Unless you don’t care at all about how long your carpet lasts (in which case you probably wouldn’t be reading this), you want to go with at least a 6.5lb pad.
If you’re planning on 10+ year carpet, I recommend going all out with 8+lb pad. It’s not much more money to get 8lb pad vs 6lbs, and it will hold up much better under your carpet.
Side note: the densities I just recommended are for standard rebond pad. Here is a full list of densities by pad type:
- Foam pad: Density is typically 2-5lbs.
- Frothed foam pad: Density should be 12+ lbs for durability.
- Rebond pad: Density is 5-10lbs. Go for a minimum of 6lb if durability is important
- Synthetic fiber pad: Usually rated in ounces but may be rated in pounds. Go for at least 30 oz and preferably 40 oz+ (or 7.5+lbs) if durability matters.
- Waffle rubber pad: Go for a minimum of 64 ounces. 90 oz is preferred.
- Slab rubber pad: Usually comes in 18-22lbs. I prefer 21lbs+ for durability or close to 100 ounces.
Some of these, especially fiber pad, may grade the durability “high,” “medium,” “low.” In this case, you would just have to trust that it is accurate. You could still ask for the density, but it may not be listed.
Captain’s secret tip! I’ll let you in on the biggest mistake carpet shoppers make when it comes to padding… they squeeze it. And they choose the softest. This leads to thick, low-density foam padding. Exactly what you don’t want. If you insist on squeezing the padding, just know the firmer the better.
Types of carpet padding
What type of carpet padding should you choose?
In most cases, rebond (see why below). But in other cases, you may overpay if you buy rebond. Or worse, buying rebond could void your warranty.
So what about foam padding, fiber padding, or rubber padding? These might work. It depends on your situation, so below I give you the pros and cons of each to figure out which will work best in your home.
Pros and cons of prime foam pad
Other names: prime urethane, foam pad
Are you getting free padding with your carpet? This is probably what you’re getting, and you should probably take a hard pass on it. Foam pad doesn’t hold up. And when you go back to our bridge analogy, that means your carpet doesn’t hold up. There are only a couple of situations where foam pad is acceptable for your house: rooms you don’t use and areas where you don’t need the carpet to last more than 4 years.
Captain’s warning! What’s the price of free? Any time the carpet store is giving something “free,” you better figure out why. Sometimes they just charge more for everything else. More dangerous, sometimes the “free” product or service is low quality. This can come back to haunt you. The best example is foam pad above, but it’s an important reminder: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Pros and cons of frothed foam pad
Other names: frothed urethane
Don’t confuse frothed foam with a standard foam pad. Not only are they different, but they’re actually at opposite ends of the padding spectrum. The difference is prime foam/standard foam has gas mixed in with the foam when it’s manufactured. Frothed foam does not.
This makes frothed foam extremely durable. It’s one of the few pads that may last through two carpet installations. In other words, you won’t need to replace the pad when you buy new carpet. So if frothed pad is so durable, what’s the trade-off? You guessed it… the price tag. As far as I’ve seen, frothed foam is rarely worth the cost. But since it is so durable, if you find a great deal, you should consider it.
Pros and cons of rebond pad
Other names: bonded urethane, bonded polyurethane
Rebond is the sweet spot for most homeowners. It’s one of the cheapest pads, but durable enough to hold up for many years (this assumes it is the correct density for your foot traffic).
So why would you not want rebond?
The most important reason is if your carpet warranty calls for something else. This is often true with loop carpets, so be especially careful there. You also might want to consider something more durable if you have excessively high foot traffic, which is usually limited to commercial buildings. And if you can snag a frothed foam or slab rubber pad for a similar price to rebond (unlikely), you might as well take one of those because they will be more durable.
Pros and cons of memory foam pad
Memory foam is made of frothed foam with viscoelastic gel infused. If you read my opinion on frothed foam, you know my opinion on it: it’s a great pad material. The viscoelastic part is where memory foam gets difficult to judge.
Have you ever stepped on a memory foam mat? Laid on memory foam bed? Then you know how comfortable it is. Memory foam padding is no different. But this goes back to the bridge analogy (I’m getting more use out of this analogy than I thought). Memory foam squishes. Over time if the structure under the carpet is squishing, the carpet will get damaged.
That said, there are varying types of memory foam. Some more firm, and some like a squishy pillow. That makes it difficult for me to give a straightforward opinion on memory foam carpet pad. However, I will say this:
I don’t think memory foam will perform better than a high-quality rebond pad. But it will likely be more comfortable, so if you’re going all-in on comfort, it’s still a pad to consider.
(hopefully, as more and more people try memory foam, I’ll be able to give a more definite opinion on performance–at least with certain brands)
Brand explosion in memory foam pad: Carpet padding has always been an afterthought. With memory foam, you’re starting to see carpet manufacturers part with brand names like Tempurpedic and Nike. The verdict on many of these is still out. My opinion and prediction is that the brand names are more for marketing purposes, but they will perform similar to other high-quality foam pads. Time will tell. In the future, I may try to do in-depth brand specific reviews.
Feel free to let me know if you have any questions in the meantime.
Pros and cons of fiber pad
Other names: synthetic felt, felt pad, jute
I consider fiber pad a specialty pad. It’s a flat dense pad that’s not very spongy. This makes it a great support for Berber, and other carpets that call for fiber pad in their warranty. Fiber pads come in synthetic and natural varieties. Most are synthetic now, and you should go with synthetic in most cases.
Natural fibers such as felt and jute tend to mold easily. For both the synthetic and natural fiber pads, I’d let your warranty make the decision if it’s right for you or not. If your carpet warranty calls for it, then you obviously need to go with it. If it doesn’t call for it, I don’t see an advantage in fiber pad.
Pros and cons of waffle rubber pad
A good quality waffle rubber pad is similar in durability to rebond but costs more. This padding literally looks like a waffle (yum… waffles), and the pockets (that I like to fill up with syrup in my waffle) make this not as durable as slab rubber.
Since there are pads that perform similarly at a lower cost, I don’t recommend you buy waffle rubber with your carpet. With that said, if you find an amazing deal (going out of business sale, installer trying to dump excess, etc), have some lying around, or know someone that wants to get rid of it, it does make perfectly capable carpet padding.
Pros and cons of flat rubber pad
Other names: slab rubber padding
This is the premium carpet padding (although frothed foam can make a case for itself). You can pull up carpet 10 years after its installed and the rubber pad will look the same in high traffic areas as it did new. In your home, I’d expect this padding to last through two sets of carpet or more. Flat rubber is expensive, so consider it a luxury for most homeowners.
And what’s the point of a luxury you can’t show off?
You might find this highly durable padding worth it if you want to live in your house 20 years or more (you won’t need to replace the pad with new carpet), you have very high traffic areas, or you just want to guarantee your giving your carpet the best shot at lasting as long as possible.
Other carpet padding frequently asked questions
Sometimes the canned answers don’t work. I’ve taken the most common emails I get regarding specific questions on carpet padding and answered them here.
What is the best padding for basement moisture?
Your choices are basically standard padding or moisture barrier padding. But will moisture barrier fix your problem? This deserves a whole page, and we’ve got exactly that. Read more about moisture barrier padding for basements.
What is the best carpet padding to resist pet urine?
There’s a lot of bold marketing statements out there for carpet padding. Eliminates pet odor. Makes cat pee easy to clean. Won’t let your dog damage your floor. But at the end of the day, do any of these claims hold up?
There are a few options for padding if you have a pet urine problem. The biggest is using moisture barrier padding for pet urine. But this doesn’t always work and can sometimes make things worse. I have a page on waterproof carpet pads that will help you make an educated opinion on if moisture barrier pads make sense for your home.
Can I reuse carpet padding?
Probably not a good idea. But there are a few cases where it makes sense and saves you money. One is if you have slab rubber or frothed foam pad. Frothed foam is newer and unlikely you’ll be able to tell the difference in it and normal foam, so let’s skip this one. If you have slab rubber (not to be confused with waffle rubber… see above if you don’t know the difference), it most likely can be reused. You also have a chance of reusing a good quality rebond pad if it’s in a low-traffic area. Make sure it looks in good shape, and more importantly make sure your installer thinks it looks in good shape.
What is the cost of carpet padding?
Like carpet, it varies. I use $0.50 sq/ft as an estimate. But to find out more on how much you should pay for your specific padding features, check out our carpet and padding pricing page.
Captain’s money-saving tip! Most retailers will charge you for the same amount of padding is carpet. But since padding doesn’t have to be matched (it can be cut into pieces to get it to fit), you generally need about 15% less square feet! This means you should be able to ask for 15% off the final padding bill. The retailer may hesitate at this because it is the industry standard to charge you for more, but bring it up will at the very least 1. show them you know what you’re talking about and 2. set the stage for negotiations on other parts of your purchase.
What is the best padding for Berber carpet?
Berber and other looped carpets may require a specific type of pad other than rebond or foam. This is because it sometimes needs a firmer thinner pad to support it. The answer is usually a fiber pad or slab rubber. The important thing is you need to check your warranty. The last thing you want to do is void your warranty because you didn’t buy the right pad!
What is the best padding for floors with radiant heat?
One advantage of carpet and padding is they insulate your home. This is a problem if you have radiant heat. (Don’t know what radiant heat is? Then you don’t have it.) The best pads are typically a thin waffle rubber pad or a synthetic fiber pad. Both of these are thinner and will allow more heat to pass. As always, consult your radiant heat system company to be sure what you get is appropriate for your system.
A note on padding for area rugs
Update: I created a page dedicated to padding for area rugs, you can check out by clicking here.
If you’re installing carpet, you can skip this section. But if you’re wanting padding just for a rug in your home, read on.
Rugs require different padding than carpet. Too thick and soft of padding like you might find with rebond, could lead to sharper objects like high-heels, piercing straight through a thinner rug.
Generally, with rugs, you want a felt pad, a rubber pad, or a mix of felt and rubber. Just like in carpet, if you love your rug, support it by not cheaping out on the pad. Firmer pad is usually required to give rugs support. An even surface is critical for rugs–this means no waffle padding, and if you’re laying the rug on an uneven surface like carpet, you need even firmer padding.
If your rug will be on a hard surface, you have to worry about the rug slipping. Rubber usually avoids this. If you have a big rug–particularly one that is partially under furniture like a table–you don’t have to worry about it slipping. In these cases, plain felt pad will likely work.
Amazon can actually be a pretty good resource for area rug padding. They let you filter by size, and you can see what other owners think of them, and what rugs they’ve had success with click here to check them out.
(note: I receive a small commission if you buy through Amazon, but this doesn’t affect the price you pay)
Also, if it’s an expensive rug, check out the manufacturer’s recommendations. Same with the flooring beneath–certain pads can damage the flooring you lay it on, so make sure the manufacturer doesn’t forbid certain rugs.
One last note: many cheaper pads are made of PVC. If you care about the flooring beneath, you may consider a different type of pad. PVC can stain the flooring beneath the rug.
Captain’s next steps:
Who knew there was so much to consider when choosing carpet padding?
The good news is it’s a decision that will pay off for years. Choosing the right type of carpet pad and specs will make your carpet look good for years longer than a sub-par pad.
So which pad should you choose?
For many people, the best carpet pad is a 7/16″, 8-pound rebond pad. It’s a great mix of performance with a value price tag, but there are definitely exceptions. Maybe you can save money buying pad that is lower quality, or maybe you’d enjoy the comfort of a high-quality memory foam pad.
And always remember to check your warranty, some carpets (especially carpet like Berber) may require a specific type of pad such a thinner, dense fiber pad.
Now that you confidently know how to choose the best type of carpet pad, here’s what I’d consider doing next:
- If you want step-by-step tips on buying carpet, check out our unbiased carpet buying guide. It’s been used by 100’s of thousands of shoppers to get an edge on buying their new flooring.
- If you are ready to buy carpet but want advice on finding a pre-qualified installer, HomeAdvisor takes the stress out of finding an installer on your own. They do the homework for you, just click here to enter your zip code and information on your project.
Any questions on padding? Let me know in the comments below.