Guide to Soundproof Flooring: Best soundproof floors and how to make any floor quieter
Ever hear your upstairs neighbor above you walking and it sounds like a stampede of elephants?
What about hearing their TV?
Or maybe there’s no way upstairs, but the room you’re in sounds like an echo chamber?
This can all be fixed, or at least limited, with your flooring choice. In this guide to soundproof flooring, I’ll cover the best floor choices to limit noise.
But sometimes you’re stuck with the floor you have, or maybe you don’t have the floor yet but know you want… let’s say, hardwood. I’ll go over the best ways for you to limit the sounds as much as you can.
There are two types of sound that can be a problem: impact sounds and transmission sounds.
Impact sounds are things hitting the floor. Usually, this will be dropped objects or footsteps.
Transmission sounds are conversations, TV, and music going through the floor.
Sometimes a floor is good at reducing both, but this isn’t always the case. Sometimes you get a floor or material that is good at one but not both. Here are measures you will find for some materials or flooring to gauge both of these types of sounds:
Impact insulation class (IIC)
This is the measure of how much a material or floor reduces the impact sounds. The higher the number, the more sound reduction. Here are some common examples:
IIC 50 is the lowest rating. Examples include stone and tile.
IIC 60 means medium impact. Examples include woods and laminates.
IIC 65 has a high level of absorption. Examples include carpet and cork.
Noise Reduction Coefficient (NRC)
The NRC refers to the amount of noise that a material actually absorbs from the room around it. High NRC reduces background and ambient noise, which clarifies speech and the sounds closest to you.
Carpet has the highest NRC rating. Cork and some types of vinyl also have very high NRC scores.
Best flooring materials for a soundproof room
The best time to soundproof your floors is when you’re choosing your floor. If you know sound will be an issue, these are your top 2 floor choices (note: any link recommendations I may earn a small commission from, but this doesn’t change what you pay or I recommend):
For a combination of appearance, durability, and sound-proofing, there are few materials that will beat cork. Cork is noted for its “sponginess” when you walk on it, but its other famous feature is that it can absorb the sound around it.
Cork floors are made out of the bark of the cork tree in southern Europe. Every few years the bark is harvested and regrows again without ever damaging the tree, so it is both eco-friendly and sustainable.
It is actually the same soundproofing material that recording companies use to eliminate background noise in their studios. When you install it into your home, you will notice that everything is a lot quieter, as the porous cork wood soaks in the sound waves and prevents them from bouncing around your room.
Cork comes in a much bigger variety of styles than I imagined and is a pretty easy DIY. You can read more about buying cork with our unbiased cork buying guide.
The cool thing about cork is that it can be used as a floor, under your floor, or just as a sound dampening accessory.
Carpet is often the least expensive soundproof flooring, and nearly always the quietest. Pets, children, and adults will make very little noise walking on carpeted floors, and the carpeting materials reduce ambient sounds in a room.
In the long run, however, carpet lacks durability. Carpets flatten out under heavy furniture and foot traffic until they need to be replaced. It requires more maintenance than other floors since it will need to be vacuumed on a regular schedule and dirt can pile up deep in the carpeting.
If you’re considering carpet, check out my guide on soundproof carpet.
Next best thing: adding underlayment to flooring
Maybe you don’t want cork or carpet.
How good are the remaining soundproof options?
On their own, not great. But with underlayment added, pretty good.
Underlayment has multiple purposes depending on the flooring. In some cases, it is required to help the durability of the flooring. In other cases, it is added as an extra for insulation against sound, temperature, and possibly moisture.
Here’s some brief information on popular floors with underlayment:
Laminate + underlayment
Laminate floors have only moderate IIC ability and do a poor job of absorbing transmission sounds on its own. The good news is usually laminate is installed with underlayment. If you care about sound, definitely install it. It makes a significant difference in sound transmission.
There are many things to consider when buying underlayment for laminate, but one is you can choose how well it reduces sounds. You can get more tips on buying laminate underlayment here.
Cushioned (also known as resilient) vinyl comes with a foam layer beneath. This makes a decent (but not excellent) sound resistant floor.
A few other benefits: it offers an impressive level of durability at a fairly low cost. It can handle a fairly high level of foot traffic and like all vinyl, it is also moisture-resistant, which is why you’ll often find it installed in bathrooms.
Its main drawbacks are in its appearance – some people find it looks “fake” – and that the surface design layer can be easily cut with sharp objects.
A better-looking version of vinyl is luxury vinyl, but it usually isn’t installed with underlayment. The only real reason for underlayment with luxury vinyl is purely for blocking sounds.
I don’t think of cushion or underlayment for hardwood, but it can be added and will help with moisture as well as sound. Engineered hardwood has more options as far as underlayment because it is a “floating floor.” Glued or nailed down solid hardwood will usually have limited underlayment options. You can check when you purchase your floor what your options are, and the best for reducing sound.
This is a minor point but one worth considering: When you buy your floor, choose thicker if you can. The more material you have, the more sound will be reduced. This is true even if your floor isn’t great at reducing sound.
Ways to soundproof an existing floor
But Captain, I’m not going to replace my floor just to deal with the noise issue. What can I do with my existing hardwood/vinyl/tile/[insert other floors here] floor, so I’m not annoyed every time someone is upstairs?
There are two options: add insulation in the ceiling and add something on top of the floor. Adding the insulation in the ceiling, I’ll save for another website so we can stick to flooring.
Here are ideas for the top of your floor:
Okay, this isn’t groundbreaking news, but a rug is probably your best option. Plus, there are so many varieties of rugs, I don’t believe you if you say you can’t find one you like.
A rug will most help impact noise. It will help sound transmission some, but probably not a whole lot since it will only cover part of your room.
The best places for the rug is anywhere in high traffic areas or under furniture that people use (beds, couches, etc). You can learn more about rug placement here.
One last tip on rugs: the thicker the better when it comes to sound.
Just like carpet pad, they also make rug pads. They are used for 3 reasons: help protect the rug, keep the rug from slipping, and for insulation (sound and temperature).
We’ll be focusing on the last part. You’ll probably want to go with a thick rubber and felt pad, but you can read more on pad materials in our rug padding guide.
Interlocking floor mats
Another option for deadening sound post-installation is to layout interlocking floor mats in high-traffic areas, children’s playrooms, or garages. These interlocking mats fit together like jigsaw puzzle pieces so they are quick and easy to install, and effectively soundproof wherever they go.
You can find them in a variety of colors, or even printed and patterned styles for children’s rooms and nurseries. You can check some out on Amazon here (note these are colored for a kids room, but they also have all black), but be forewarned, these really only work for “activity” or children’s rooms. They don’t give off a professional vibe.
Captain’s parting words!
Creating a soundproof floor is important, and it is best to start the process before you even start buying your new flooring. The flooring material you choose will make a big difference when it comes to having a quiet home.
Any questions on soundproofing your flooring? Let me know in the comments below.