These days, laminate flooring has become the best thing since sliced bread. In the past, if you wanted to install new flooring, your options were either to pay through the nose for new hard wood floor or install a cheap looking laminate.
Today’s laminate floors are beautiful, and to the average person, they look just as good as the genuine article. If you’re thinking of installing a new laminate floor over a hardwood floor, one thing you’re probably wondering about is the underlayment. Today, we’ll take a look at some of the top options on the market, and cover all you need to know to select the best underlayment for vinyl plank flooring.
These five underlayments represent the best underlayment for luxury vinyl plank flooring products on the market. Depending on the needs of your project, you’re sure to find one or two underlayments on this list that are ideal for you.
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MP Global QuietWalk
QuietWalk from MP Global Products is one of the most luxurious options available, and it checks every box when it comes to features.
This underlayment is ideal for use with laminate, engineered floating and luxury vinyl plank floors. It’s advanced 3-in-1 underlayment that provides sound reduction, cushioning and a moisture barrier.
This luxury vinyl plank underlayment is also approved for use with radiant heating systems as it allows heat to move evenly through the floor, while still offering protection from moisture and thermal shock.
It’s made from recycled materials, and it’s highly compression resistant, so it’ll still provide the same cushioned feel for many years to come.
The recycled materials that make up QuietWalk also do a great job absorbing sound, so it’s ideal for use on second levels, apartments, and condos. The material is also treated with an antimicrobial, so it’s also resistant to mold and mildew.
QuietWalk contains no VOCs, and it doesn’t have any sort of off-gassing period or chemical smells which persist even after you’ve installed the floor, which is a downside with many other underlayments.
This luxury vinyl plank underlayment is a bit on the expensive side, but it’s a top-of-the-line product that delivers every feature imaginable, so if you’re looking for the best, this is a solid choice for your project.
What We Like
- Made from recycled materials
- Sound absorbing and anti-microbial
- Great feel underfoot
What Could Be Better
- Not compatible with vinyl plank flooring less than 5mm thick
FLOORLOT 3mm Foam Underlayment
This 3mm underlayment for luxury vinyl plank flooring from FLOORLOT is an economical option that still delivers plenty of benefits.
This underlayment has a moisture/vapor barrier, it’s antimicrobial, so it’s mold and mildew resistant, and at 3mm, it’s thick enough to provide ample cushioning. It also provides light, sound reduction.
Both the moisture barrier and overlap are .04mm PE moisture barrier film, which provides a completely watertight seal, making it ideal for installation over a concrete subfloor.
This underlayment for luxury vinyl plank flooring is also considerably cheaper than many competitors, making it a solid choice for anyone looking to include an underlayment without adding a sizable additional cost to their vinyl flooring project.
While this underlayment for vinyl plank flooring does provide some light cushioning and sound reduction, if you’re looking for a bouncier feel from the floor, or if you’re installing luxury vinyl flooring on a second level or in a condo or an apartment, this may not be the best choice.
What We Like
- Ample cushioning
What Could Be Better
- Only provides slight sound reduction
Roberts First Step Underlayment
If you’re looking for top-class features at a price that won’t send your project cost into the stratosphere, Roberts First Step is a product to take a look at.
This thick 3-in-1 underlayment for luxury vinyl plank flooring features a thick layer of foam flooring material sandwiched between layers of moisture barrier film. The resulting product creates a pocket of constantly circulating air beneath the floor, which inhibits mold and mildew growth. It also has Gold Guard antimicrobial protection to further increase the mold and mildew resistance.
First Step also provides impressive sound reduction, good cushioning, and protection against moisture. It can also correct minor subfloor imperfections, making it ideal for installation when your subfloor is less than perfect.
While this luxury vinyl plank flooring underlayment delivers by virtually every measure, it’s still firmly in the middle of the pack when it comes to cost, so it may be a great choice if you’re looking to keep your projects cost down without sacrificing the final product.
What We Like
- Antimicrobial and sound absorbent
- Good cushioning
- Corrects minor subfloor imperfections
- Compatible with radiant luxury vinyl flooring
What Could Be Better
- Styrofoam beads create a bit of a mess
Feather Step 3-in-1
Feather Step’s 3-in-1 underlayment for luxury vinyl plank flooring is an economical option worth considering if you’re looking for a cheap underlayment that still does a solid job.
This 3-in-1 foam underlay for luxury vinyl plank flooring is 2mm thick and can be used with any type of laminate and vinyl flooring, including engineered hardwood floating floors. It’s recommended for installation on any type of subfloor.
Feather Step provides a moisture barrier layer, and a rubberized foam layer to protect against moisture while providing light cushioning. While they claim to provide superior sound absorption, at only 2mm thick, the sound absorbing properties of this underlayment are mediocre.
While it does provide a solid moisture barrier, it isn’t rated to prevent mold or mildew, so if moisture if an issue with your subfloor, there’s a good chance this product won’t stand up well against mold or mildew.
If you’re able to forgo mold and mildew resistance, this may still be a very solid choice for your project, especially considering how much cheaper it is compared to the high-end options available on the market.
What We Like
- Provides light sound absorption
What Could Be Better
- No mold or mildew resistance
Roberts 70-193 Super Felt Underlayment
Roberts Super Felt is a popular underlayment for vinyl plank flooring. It is made of felt, so it provides a luxury feel, especially compared to cheaper foam underlayments for vinyl plank flooring.
This 4mm thick felt underlayment has great insulation properties, making it ideal for installation over a concrete subfloor. The moisture barrier ensures that any moisture present in the subfloor can’t make its way to the floor above.
Felt underlayments are also incredibly sound absorbent, which makes them a smart choice for use on second levels, apartments, and condos. Felt also provides a rich sound in the room, so your vinyl flooring will sound more like genuine wood.
It’s thicker than most options, so it provides impressive cushioning as well, which makes the floor above a pleasure to walk on.
Unfortunately, since it’s made of felt, it isn’t mold or mildew resistant, so you may want to avoid installing it in rooms where mold or mildew may present a problem. Additionally, you could treat the vinyl plank underlayment with an antimicrobial spray prior to installing.
What We Like
- Great sound absorption
- Good cushioning
- Improves the sound of your floor
What Could Be Better
- Not antimicrobial
Know Before You Buy
Before you decide on the best underlayment for vinyl flooring for your project, there are a few things you’ll need to consider to select the best underlayment for vinyl plank floor.
Selecting the Proper Underlayment for Your Subfloor
Depending on the subfloor you’re installing over, you’ll find that some underlayments are better suited than others. Determining the kind of subfloor you have is the first step to selecting the proper underlayment for your project.
Concrete subfloors are notoriously unforgiving, and an underlayment is a practical requirement when installing over concrete. If you’re installing over a concrete floor, you’ll want to select an underlayment that provides ample cushioning as well as a moisture barrier. 2 in 1, 3 in 1, and cork all make good choices for concrete subfloors.
Plywood or OSB
If you’re installing on top of plywood or OSB, moisture is no longer a concern, so you’ll be able to skip the plywood underlayment / moisture barrier entirely if you wish. You may want to go with foam or cork in these installations, and if cushioning isn’t important to you, you can forgo an underlayment altogether.
If you’re installing new vinyl flooring over an existing floor, such as hardwood, tile, laminate, or vinyl, then foam or cork underlayment make good choices. Like plywood or OSB flooring, you can forgo the underlayment entirely if you prefer.
Types of Underlayment
There are several different underlayment styles to consider, and depending on the type of floor you’re installing, the subfloor, and the environment, you’ll find that one type is best for your needs.
Foam underlayments are one of the industry standards. They’re ideal for installation on top of plywood or OSB subfloors where moisture isn’t an issue. They’re also one of the cheapest options available.
2 in 1 underlayment has two layers; one acts as a moisture barrier while the other provides light cushioning and protection for the bottom of your vinyl flooring.
3 in 1 underlayment is similar to 2 in 1, with an added layer that has sound dampening characteristics. This type of underlayment is ideal for floors on the second level of a home.
Vapor Block Film
Vapor block film isn’t so much an underlayment as it is a barrier against vapors and moisture. This is often used with high-end vinyl flooring that has an underlayment pre-attached to each plank.
Cork underlayments are hypoallergenic, and it protects against moisture as well as mold and mildew. It provides nice cushioning and has sound-dampening characteristics as well, which makes it ideal for rooms on the second level.
Felt underlayments offer impressive sound reduction and provide a solid and well cushioned feel. Many felt underlayments aren’t resistant to mold or mildew, so they’re best used for installations where mildew isn’t a concern.
Once you know the type of subfloor, you’re working with, selecting an underlayment becomes much easier. But, there are still a few additional things to consider before making a decision.
Location is Everything
Depending on where you’re installing the new vinyl flooring, you’ll find that you need different things from your new underlayment.
For example, if you’re installing new vinyl flooring in a basement, or another space where moisture may be a concern, an underlayment with a moisture barrier is critical.
Meanwhile, if you’re installing new vinyl flooring in an apartment, condo, or the second floor of your home, noise is sure to be a concern, and an underlayment with sound dampening properties becomes important.In fact, many condos and apartments have regulations on the type of underlayments that must be installed when vinyl flooring is being replaced.
The thickness of an underlayment is usually a good barometer of what to expect in terms of benefits. Thicker underlayments usually provide more cushioning and better sound absorption than thinner ones. They can also contribute to a satisfying and wood-like sound when you walk on the floor, while thinner underlayments tend to sound more hollow.
Mold and Mildew Protection
Mold and mildew are a consideration for many homeowners, especially when installing over a concrete subfloor or in a basement. Some subfloors have antimicrobial properties which inhibit the growth of mold or mildew, which is a feature you’ll want to have if you’re installing vinyl flooring in a humid environment.
Some underlayments have thermal insulation properties which are critically important to those with radiant heat vinyl flooring, or for installation above a concrete subfloor.
These underlayments carry an R-rating, which indicates how well the material conducts heat. The higher the rating, the less heat (or cold) is conducted through the vinyl flooring.
For floors with radiant heating, you’ll want to find an underlayment with a low R-value, as it will conduct more heat than an underlayment with a high R-value. Meanwhile, if you’re installing over a concrete subfloor and you’re tired of waking up to a freezing floor every morning, an underlayment with a high R-value will help resist the cold that’s coming through the subfloor.
While underlayments are substantially cheaper than your new luxury vinyl floor is, they can still add cost to your vinyl flooring installation. High-end underlayments can run up to about $.50-60 per square foot, while cheaper options are available for $.10-20 per square foot.
If you’re looking to make sure your project stays under budget, you may wish to opt for an underlayment that is less expensive than the vinyl floor. Keep in mind that the underlayment will influence the way your floor feels and reacts, so it may not be the best area to cheap out on.
Q: Do I need to install an underlayment?
While an underlayment is optional for certain applications, it’s important that you install an underlayment for certain subfloors. underlayments must be used with concrete subfloors, or anywhere that moisture is a concern.
You may wish to avoid the underlayment altogether if you’re installing over a plywood or OSB subfloor, or over existing vinyl flooring, it’s up to you whether you include an underlayment.
Beyond their practical functions, underlayments also can help cushion the floor, reduce noise and help the floor stay warmer in the winter. So, even though certain subfloors don’t require an underlayment, many people choose to install them anyway.
Q: What if my flooring has an attached underlayment?
Some high-end floors come with an attached underlayment that provides a moisture barrier, sound dampening, and cushioning properties. When you’re dealing with this type of flooring, no additional underlayment is required.
Q: How do I install the underlayment?
Installing underlayment is almost as easy as rolling out an area rug. All you’ll need to do is unroll the underlayment onto your floor.
One end will have a plastic strip while the other will have an adhesive strip. Unroll the underlayment so that the adhesive strip is facing up. Remove the backing from the adhesive strip, and tack it down to the plastic strip on the next piece of underlayment.
Once you’ve rolled out all of the underlayment, you can use a utility knife to cut around any obstructions or corners.
For most laminate and vinyl flooring projects, and underlayment provides several important benefits such as sound absorption, moisture protection, and a well-cushioned feel. Each of the five underlayment’s deliver an impressive array of features, and they all represent a solid choice for your next project.
But there can only be one winner, and the title of best underlayment for vinyl flooring belongs to Roberts First Step.
While you can certainly find an underlayment that’s considerably more expensive, you’ll have trouble finding one that delivers as many benefits. This underlayment is affordable, it does a great job of absorbing sound, it provides comprehensive protection against moisture, mold, and mildew, and a comfortable feel for the people walking on your floor.
If you’re looking for a more economical choice, FLOORLOT 3-in-1 foam underlayment may make a solid choice for you, as it manages to deliver most of the benefits of Roberts First Step at a lower price. Or, if money is no object, and you’re looking to purchase whatever you need to have the best of the best, you may want to reach for MP Global QuietWalk. What underlayment will you choose? Tell us your thoughts in the comments.
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