The 10 Best Laminate Underlayments
This wiki has been updated 27 times since it was first published in March of 2017. Before installing your new laminate flooring, it's important to start with a good underlayment. The right base can deaden sound, add thermal insulation, and provide the perfect spring for comfortable walking. Some of the most effective include premium, all-natural options, as well as vapor-blocking, synthetic products. And an electrically-heated choice can keep your toes toasty on snow days. When users buy our independently chosen editorial picks, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki.
June 16, 2019:
It's only a thin layer, but an underlayment can really affect the "performance" of laminate flooring — insofar as floors actually "perform," that is. Sure, they pretty much just sit there, but you want them to be comfortable, warm, mold-free, and not hollow-sounding. If you're on a tight budget and don't need anything too fancy, the Floorlot should do the job. Cork is typically considered a premium material, and it's naturally very springy and great at deadening sound. The Manton is the most affordable of those, and comes at an average thickness. Concrete-based installs and those in high-moisture parts of the house generally need a vapor barrier, and there are many brands that make synthetic, combination products to fill those needs. ECF makes one such option with cork rather than the rubber or felt used for many others. The Roberts is a long-time classic that's surprisingly effective for what's practically just glorified felt. The UltraSeal and Silverstep are two of the most popular vapor-proof models, and they're also pretty cost-effective.
There are some that are notably more dense, such as Roberts Jack Black and to an even greater degree the IncStores Rubber. Steico's Wood Fiber underlayment is also considerably effective even though it isn't very thick. Finally, if you can afford it and are willing to undergo a considerable amount of wiring, ThermoFloor is a high-end product that electrically heats your floor so you'll hopefully never get cold feet again.
Kick Carpeting To The Curb
Nowadays, most people are yanking that carpet up to reveal a much more attractive natural flooring underneath.
I get the appeal of carpeting. I really do. On a cold winter's morning, waking up and setting your bare feet down on a nice cushy bit of carpeting provides a lot of comfort. And lounging around on the floor, whether reading a book or playing a board game with the family, is much more comfortable with a plush carpet beneath you.
The problem that I have with carpeting is rather multifaceted. For starters, all of that comfort goes flying out the window the moment you stop to think about how dirty your carpet probably is. Carpeting attracts and captures all manner of debris from shoes and pets, and it requires the work of a powerful vacuum or an even more powerful carpet cleaner to get it close to sanitary.
Perhaps even more offensive, however, is the fact that carpeting, especially compared to wood flooring, is rather ugly. There was a brief time, mainly in the 1990s and Suburban America, wall to wall carpeting was seen as a kind of status symbol. Nowadays, most people are yanking that carpet up to reveal a much more attractive natural flooring underneath.
Of course, sometimes that flooring underneath the carpet is little more than a slab of concrete. Or, the wood flooring beneath the carpet has been so severely damaged over the years that the whole thing needs to be replaced. Fortunately, flooring jobs are easier and less expensive than they've ever been. Over a simple subfloor or concrete slab almost anyone can install an attractive floor.
Many of these new floors are made of laminate materials designed to look like natural wood flooring, but to perform far better. Sealed laminate materials don't require anywhere near the kind of maintenance or attention as natural wood, and their lifespan is far greater, as they resist everything from nicks and scrapes to infestation from insects. Given how easy laminate is to install, clean, and maintain, it's a wonder anyone opts for carpeting in this day and age.
How To Choose The Underlayment For Your Floor
Unfortunately, you can't simply lay laminate down over whatever already exists in your home. In most cases, you'll find yourself installing it over a subfloor or concrete, with the latter appearing most often in basements or under the ground floors of homes without basements. If you tried to install your laminate flooring on top of these materials, it would shift crudely as changes in the climate caused it to expand and contract. It would also be rather uncomfortable to walk and sit on, as you would have nothing but one hard surface sitting on top of another.
That's why the makers of laminate flooring implore you to install laminate underlayment. This material, usually made from a polypropylene or polyethylene, comes in rolls that are very easy to unfurl and cut to the exact dimensions of your space. Once it’s in place, you can easily install your laminate flooring on top of it, giving it a kind of natural cushion.
Finally, if you want your installation to be as simple as possible, look for an underlayment that comes with its own layer of adhesive.
Different environments call for slightly different styles of underlayment, however. And choosing the right underlayment for your laminate flooring will ensure the highest degree of comfort and the longest lifespan for your new floor.
For example, if you're installing a laminate floor over a slab of concrete, you should look for a laminate underlayment that has a vapor barrier layer. Concrete has a tendency to attract condensation, and in moist basement environments this feature is exacerbated. A vapor barrier will help protect both your underlayment and, more importantly, your laminate flooring from encountering any of this moisture. Over a simple subfloor, a vapor barrier is usually optional, but it’s often recommended in more humid climates.
An important feature to look for when choosing your laminate underlayment is its ability to absorb sound. This is especially vital if the floor you're installing is above any living space, such as a multi-level apartment or the main floor of a house with a basement bedroom. If you're concerned about sound deadening, keep an eye out for two designations. When you see the letters STC or IIC, the numbers that immediately follow these letters indicate an underlayment’s potential to dampen sound. The higher these numbers are, the more sound their underlayments will absorb, with the former referring to airborne noises like voices and televisions, and the latter referring to impact sounds such as footfalls.
Finally, if you want your installation to be as simple as possible, look for an underlayment that comes with its own layer of adhesive. These are usually little more than thin strips that run the length of an underlayment roll, but having them can make the process go that much faster.
Getting The Most Out Of Laminate Flooring
Once you have your laminate flooring installed, you want to do all you can to ensure that it lasts as long as possible. There are some simple tricks you can employ and investments you can make to keep that new floor in tip top shape.
When cleaning, look for the most natural ingredients possible, and make sure to use minimal moisture when mopping.
For starters, just because your laminate flooring looks like wood, that doesn't mean you should treat it as such. Pine scented products, though very popular in the maintenance of wooden furniture, are not ideal for laminate floors. They often leave a soapy residue that reduces their glossiness. When cleaning, look for the most natural ingredients possible, and make sure to use minimal moisture when mopping.
If you happen to spill anything, clean it up as soon as possible. Moisture and laminate flooring are not friends. This is why some underlayments come with that valuable vapor barrier, which is designed to keep moisture from getting to the underside of your flooring. Only you can protect the top side of your flooring, so keep an eye out for spills or anything else that could add moisture on your floor.
Finally, just because we spent a little time bashing carpeting, that doesn't mean that an area rug is anything but a brilliant investment. Not only will it serve as a natural barrier against everything from stones caught in the underside of a pair of shoes to a knocked-over glass of juice, but a good area rug will add both comfort and style to a space, elevating your home to the next level of elegance.