Hardwood Floor Underlayment: What Is It and Why Is It Needed?

Hardwood Floor Underlayment: What Is It and Why Is It Needed?

Installing new hardwood flooring in a home or an office can be a complicated process that can benefit greatly from the expertise of a specialist. To achieve durability and stability for new floors, it’s important not to skip any crucial steps, and take every possible measure to ensure proper installation and finishing. Clients who prefer to handle the process themselves might unfortunately be unaware of certain extra steps that can prolong the longevity of their new floors. 

One of these steps is the floor underlayment. This is basically a layer of protection placed between the subfloor and hardwood floors, that can significantly extend the durability of the wood. Many clients aren’t even aware that such a step is beneficial in the installation process, but an experienced flooring specialist will surely recommend it before the finishing process, for several reasons. 

Benefits of underlayment for hardwood floors

The underlayment provides a stable foundation for newly-installed floors, and acts as a protective barrier that helps these floors stay in top shape for many, many years. Adding an underlayment between the hardwood floor and the subfloor can improve stability and make sure that the floor is perfectly even. It also serves to ‘mask’ any imperfections in the subfloor, thus preventing dents or an uneven look. 

The underlayment also works very well as insulation, protecting the floor from moisture, dust, and excess temperatures. Underlayments work very well as vapor barriers, and they also provide excellent soundproofing, as an added bonus. Different materials offer different advantages: cork is known for its thermal reduction capabilities, keeping the floors at a stable temperature and preventing dents; foam provides extra cushioning and sound dampening, while rubber provides stability and waterproofing. It all depends on the specifics of the project.

Types of underlayment 

There are different types of underlayment to choose from on the market, but a flooring expert can help you pick the right material for your particular needs. We’ll go through the most commonly-used types of underlayment to show you the pros and cons. 


If your client is on a budget, then felt underlayment is the best option, as it’s cheaper than the other types of underlayment on our list. However, it can be layered to provide extra cushioning, if needed. Felt is easy to install, easy to remove, and provides basic soundproofing and moisture/vapor protection. It’s also usually an environmentally-friendly option, created from recycled materials. However, felt doesn’t do very well in high-humidity climates, so if that’s your situation, you might want to look at other options. 


Cork underlayment is an excellent choice to protect hardwood floors. It’s slightly more expensive than felt, but provides much better soundproofing and more cushioning. Cork also works well to keep temperatures warm during winter, and pairs very well with in-floor heating systems. Last but not least, it has antimicrobial properties that can prevent bacteria and mold from taking hold of the hardwood floors over time. The downside is that it’s not waterproof, so you will need to pair it with a moisture/vapor barrier. 


Much like cork and felt, rubber underlayment is easy to install and easy to remove, without doing any damage to the floor and subfloor. It provides great soundproofing and cushioning, much more than cork or felt, and also better insulation at basically the same price as cork. Rubber is also naturally waterproof, so you won’t need to worry about water damage or issues like mold or mildew. The only downside is that for a while after installing the hardwood floors, there will be a new rubber smell in the room. This should dissipate in no time, however. 


Foam is another solid option when it comes to protecting hardwood floors from long-term damage. This type of underlayment significantly reduces friction between the floor and subfloor, and offers a high level of soundproofing, so it works great for high-traffic areas like a living room or a small office. What’s more, a foam underlayment is flexible and can handle the wood expanding and contracting during the seasons. Some foam underlayments come with a moisture or vapor barrier included; this protects the hardwood floors from moisture and water damage, so it can be a good option for kitchens or basements where moisture tends to form. 

If you’re looking to buy hardwood or engineered flooring or accessories, stains, and various other types of equipment, check out our offerings at First Atlanta Flooring, and don’t hesitate to contact us for more details.