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How to Choose the Best Underlayment for Vinyl Plank Flooring: 10 Underlayment Options

How to choose the best underlayment for vinyl plank flooring

You have spent hours and hours searching for the perfect vinyl plank flooring for your home. But did you know the underlayment is just as important — if not more — as the flooring itself? Finding the perfect underlayment for your vinyl plank flooring is crucial for longevity. However, searching for the best underlayment for vinyl plank flooring can be overwhelming with all the different brands, thicknesses, and types.

This article will give you a comprehensive overview of how to choose the best underlayment for vinyl plank flooring. We will finish by briefly reviewing the 10 best underlayments for vinyl plank flooring to narrow your choices down. Let’s get into it.

Do You Need Underlayment for Vinyl Plank Flooring?

Do You Need Underlayment for Vinyl Plank Flooring?

Before getting into the nitty and gritty of the “underlayment world,” let’s determine whether you actually need it or not. Although “need” is not the right word in this case as it’s more so an improvement rather than a necessity. Underlayment is used to cushion the floor, dampen the noise level, and protect the flooring from humidity. It also provides a smooth and level surface for installing the flooring.

You do not need underlayment for vinyl plank flooring if –

  • The vinyl comes with an attached pad underlayment: Most luxury vinyl planks and tiles include a thin foam pad underlayment. Typically, you don’t need extra underlayment if that is the case.
  • The flooring underneath already has an underlayment: One of the many excellent qualities of LVP and LVT is they can be installed over existing flooring as long as they are in good condition. If the existing material includes a cushiony underlayment, you might need to skip underlayment for the new floors. Otherwise, excessive padding might make the flooring squishy.

How to Choose the Best Underlayment for Vinyl Plank Flooring

Although underlayment looks all the same at first glance, it has different properties and specifications that impact its performance. To choose the best underlayment for vinyl plank flooring, you need a brief understanding of these matrices and your individual underlayment needs.

Underlayment thickness

The thickness of underlayments varies from one to six millimeters. However, most vinyl plank flooring underlayments are typically 2-3 millimeters thick. When choosing the thickness of the underlayment, keep in mind that thicker is not necessarily better.

You may have heard that installing vinyl flooring over 1-1.5mm underlayment is a good rule of thumb. However, making definitive statements about the required thickness of the underlayment without looking at the make-up and density of the vinyl can cause problems. Consult the manufacturer and a flooring expert to determine the best thickness for vinyl flooring underlayment.

Underlayment types

There are several different types of underlayment, each with unique benefits. The most popular types of underlayment are –

  • Foam: Foam is the most popular underlayment material as it’s inexpensive and provides good cushioning and insulation. The average thickness of foam underlayment is between 1-3 millimeters. However, the foam does not have any vapor barrier. Meaning it is not ideal for humid areas.
  • Cork: Cork has reasonably well noise dampening and insulating properties. Like foam, cork has no vapor barrier and is susceptible to moisture damage. However, cork resists mold and mildew growth if it gets wet. Cork is also hypoallergenic.
  • Felt: Felt is commonly used over wood, tiles, and concrete subfloors. Felt is denser than foam, which gives it improved insulating properties. You can also find felt underlayment with a vapor barrier for areas with moisture issues.
  • Plywood: Plywood is typically used as underlayment for vinyl sheet flooring. It does a great job of covering imperfections of the subfloor and creating a smooth base for the vinyl planks. However, it is quite hard and does not provide much cushioning. It also raises the floor level, which you need to take into account during installation.
  • Oriented strand board: Oriented strand board (OSB) has similar properties as plywood but offers better durability.
  • Particle board: A particle board is a fairly reasonable inexpensive underlayment option. However, it is not very durable and does not work well in humid conditions.
  • Rubber: Rubber protects the vinyl from moisture. Rubber is also dense and provides great sound and thermal insulation.

Subflooring and Underlayment

The best type of underlayment also depends on what subfloor you have. For example –

  • Concrete: Since concrete floors are very hard, they require good cushioning. Also, concrete floors tend to get cold and amplify sounds. So, they also require a good level of thermal and sound insulation. You should also pick an underlayment with moisture regulation.
  • Wood: Wood subfloors provide good cushioning. They also regulate temperature and moisture well. However, they do not absorb sound. So, an underlayment with higher STC and IIC values is ideal for wood subfloors.
  • Existing floors: Depending on what type of existing floors you have, OSB or plywood underlayment might be a good choice to account for any unevenness.

Do you need moisture protection?

Although vinyl plank flooring is waterproof by design, prolonged exposure to moisture can still cause it to warp. Look for underlayment with a vapor barrier to create protection against subfloor moisture issues. Additionally, look for mold and mildew-resistant underlayment in humid areas.

Do you need thermal and sound insulation?

Underlayment provides insulation from the cold subfloor and prevents heating loss through the floor. Pay attention to the underlayment’s thermal resistance or R-value, which represents resistance to heat or how well the material insulates. A higher R-value indicates better insulating properties. Look for an R-value in the range of 0.2 and 0.4. If you have a radiant heating system, you also need to consider your underlayment’s compatibility with underfloor heating.

You might not need sound insulation if you don’t have any living space below you or live below grade. Otherwise, pay attention to the STC and IIC of the underlayment, which refers to how well it reduces airborne and structure-borne sound. The higher the value of these matrices, the better sound insulation you will get. 

What is the Best Underlayment for Vinyl Plank Flooring?

Before discussing the best underlayment for vinyl plank flooring, let’s discuss the different rating methods explicitly developed to rate an underlayment’s quality. The four applicable underlayment ratings are –

  1. Sound transmission class (STC) – Refers to how well a building element reduces airborne sound. The higher, the better the sound muffling.
  2. Impact insulation class (IIC) – Refers to how well the floor ceiling reduces structure-borne sound. A higher value means more effectiveness.
  3. Delta IIC (ΔIIC) – This shows how much a product improves the IIC performance when added to a specific assembly. A higher value means more improved IIC performance after the addition.
  4. Thermal resistance (R-value) – Represents resistance to heat or how well the material insulates. The higher the number, the less heat transmits through it — consequently, lower energy bills.

Best Underlayment for Vinyl Plank Flooring

1. MP Global Products QuietWalk Plus: Versatile and well-rounded

Rating & Specification

IIC Sound Rating – Impact Vibration Sounds 71
STC Sound Rating66
Delta IIC Sound Rating22
Moisture barrier.423 lbs / 1000 sq ft / 24 hours

QuietWalk Plus from MP Global Products features more versatile applications with the particularly attached vapor barrier allowing glue or nail-down applications. It offers superior sound ratings, reducing unwanted traveling noise. It also provides excellent moisture protection and proper compression to support the tongue and groove —an improvement compared to the previous products from MP Global Products. Due to its flexibility, QuietWalk Plus smooths out imperfections on the subfloor surface while being firm and supportive.

QuietWalk Plus is made from recycled materials and includes no VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) or off-gassing from materials. The higher insulating value provides comfort through seasonal changes. It is also approved for in-floor heating systems.

2.      Bestlaminate 3-in-1 Vapor Barrier Flooring Underlayment: Budget-friendly

Bestlaminates provides dual functionality of cushioning and moisture protection at an affordable price for those on a budget. It pairs well with any type of subfloor. This universally compatible underlayment is suitable for all flooring, including vinyl, laminate, bamboo, hardwood floors, and engineered hardwood. It’s 2mm thick to provide a good level of insulation.

Its self-adhesive design and built-in tape edge make it extremely easy to install. It comes with an overlapping film to ensure the underlayment is completely waterproof. However, keep in mind that it does not provide high coverage.

3.      STEICO Wood Fiber Flooring Underlayment: Natural and mold-resistant

Rating & Specification

IIC Sound Rating – Impact Vibration Sounds 50
STC Sound Rating55
Moisture barrierVapor open system

The Wood Fiber Underlayment from STEICO is an all-natural underlay ideal for a wide range of flooring materials. It is free from VOC, formaldehyde, glue, and toxic emissions. Instead of synthetic adhesive, it uses “Lignin,” a wood resin secreted in the process of milling wood and acts as a binding agent of the wood fibers.

The Wood Fiber Underlayment comes in two thickness levels to compensate for the imperfection on the subflooring surface. Its unique vapor-open system makes it a breathable material that prevents mold growth in a moist environment while protecting the flooring from water. It is light and also easy to handle and install. 

4.      Floorlot Laminate Flooring Underlayment: Excellent sound insulation

This underlayment from Floorlot will give you the ultimate protection from moisture with its laminated moisture barrier. It includes a built-in vapor barrier, so no other films are required. Its tape and overlap system provides a strong seal and prevents mold and mildew growth. Additionally, it quiets sound from foot traffic and minimizes the hollow sound associated with floating floors.

This cushioned 3mm thick underlayment helps smooth out minor subfloor imperfections and irregularities. It comes with a peel-and-stick tape and overlap system, making the installation super simple. However, one thing to keep in mind about this underlayment is that it doesn’t work well with thin vinyl flooring.

5.      Bestlaminate 2-In-1 Silent Vapor Barrier: Good insulation at low thickness

Rating & Specification

IIC Sound Rating – Impact Vibration Sounds 70
STC Sound Rating65
Thickness1.5 mm

This product from Bestlaminate is excellent for reducing noise with exceptionally high IIC and STC ratings. It also has decent thermal resistance to keep you warm and cozy. Its 1.5 mm thick cushioning absorbs shocks effectively. However, it is not thick enough to smooth out dents and holes on the subfloor.

The 2-in-1 silent vapor barrier is made of Green Virgin EVA with Black PE Film that is environmentally friendly and 100% recyclable. It also has antimicrobial properties. It is a great option for anyone concerned about chemicals, as it exceeds all requirements for VOCs.

6.      Roberts First Step 630 Square Foot Roll Underlayment: Ideal for humid conditions

Rating & Specification

IIC Sound Rating – Impact Vibration Sounds 68
STC Sound Rating67
Delta IIC Sound Rating20
Moisture barrier.154 lbs / 1000 sq ft / 24 hours

This underlayment from Roberts is an excellent choice for wet or humid areas as it features Gold Guard antimicrobial protection. It also offers advanced air circulation that inhibits mold growth. Additionally, it has excellent sound and thermal insulating properties. Its 2mm thickness helps to even imperfections of the subfloor. It comes with an adhesive strip and 4 in. overlapping film for linking multiple rolls.

The First Step Premium 3-in-1 Underlayment is compatible with floating laminate and engineered wood floorings and works with all types of subflooring. But it cannot be used with vinyl flooring that requires glue or nail-down installations.

7.      QEP Natural Cork Underlayment Roll: Ultra thick and natural

Rating & Specification

IIC Sound Rating – Impact Vibration Sounds 61
STC Sound Rating60
Delta IIC Sound Rating22

This natural cork product should be your top choice if you are looking for a cork underlayment. This environmentally-friendly cork underlayment is naturally hypoallergenic and contributes to healthier indoor air quality. It also reduces sound and works well for thermal transmission — ideal for radiant floor heating systems.

This underlayment is much thicker compared to the others. So, ensure your fixtures are properly installed to account for this added height. Since it’s made of cork, it is a bit on the pricier end.

8.      AMERIQUE Premium 3 mm Thick Flooring Underlayment: Protects from moisture, mold and mildew

If you are looking for thicker underlayment, you should consider Amerique’s 3-millimeter option. It comes with a vapor barrier and tape to protect you from moisture. It also offers mold and mildew protection. It is made with closed foam technology for sound reduction. This underlayment is ideal for wood, laminate, and floating floors.

Although the underlayment is quite thick, the silver foil coating is cooperatively thin and might break during installation. It comes with a self-adhesive strip, but you might need to use your own tape in some areas with insufficient adhesive.

9.      FloorMuffler Ultra Seal Underlayment: Integrated moisture protection

Rating & Specification

IIC Sound Rating – Impact Vibration Sounds 71
STC Sound Rating66
Delta IIC Sound Rating25
Moisture protectionClosed-Cell XLPP Core

This underlayment from FloorMuffler is designed specifically for vinyl plank flooring. It is ideal for both floating and double glue-down installations. Its Closed-Cell XLPP Core creates a moisture barrier without needing any additional films. It is also mold and mildew resistant and does not contain any VOCs. Additionally, it is compatible with underfloor heating systems.

Although it is only 1 mm thick, it helps eliminate subfloor imperfections. It is lightweight and features an UltraSeal system for easier handling and installation. It is also a bit pricey compared to its alternatives.

10.  Roberts 70-193A Super Felt: Compatible with radiant floor heating systems

Rating & Specification

IIC Sound Rating – Impact Vibration Sounds 67
STC Sound Rating66
Moisture protectionVapor barrier

This underlayment from Roberts is designed to simultaneously provide excellent cushioning and deadening sound. It’s also eco-friendly as it is made from recycled felt fibers. Additionally, it features a vapor barrier that helps combat moisture and humidity. It is also suitable for radiant floor heating with an R-value of 0.59.

This product features a 1-3/4 in. adhesive strip and 3 in. overlap film for linking multiple rolls — ideal for covering large areas. It is also ideal for all types of subfloors, including wood and concrete.

Did you find this article helpful in choosing the best underlayment for vinyl plank flooring? Comment below and let us know!

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