Do I Need Underlay for Laminate Flooring?

Underlay for Laminate Flooring

So you’re thinking about installing laminate flooring?

Excellent choice. Laminate floors combine style and durability and will be a perfect pick for your living room, bedroom, or dining room.

But have you given enough thought about underlay? Do you even need to lay underlay before installing your new, shining laminate flooring?

The short answer would be a simple yes. Laminate flooring does require the separate underlayment to perform. The real question here is not if but what type of underlayment you need for your laminate floor.

To answer that, we first need to explain what underlayment is and why your laminate flooring needs it.

What Is Underlay?

Underlayment is a soft pad installed directly under the flooring. It’s not a part of the structural subfloor of a house. However, installing it will enhance the floor’s appearance, physical comfort, and sound reduction.

Underlay is installed no matter the floor type. Whether you’re thinking about installing timber flooring, vinyl flooring, or hybrid flooring, you will require some underlayment.

Now, when it comes to laminate underlay, many refer to it as “padding.” It’s a spongy sheet rolled before the flooring is laid between laminate planks and the subfloor.

What is the purpose of laminate underlayment? That depends on your overall goal. Generally, installing laminate flooring underlayment will:

  • provide a better-looking result,
  • provide enhanced noise reduction,
  • improve the floor stability and smoothness,
  • provide an additional moisture barrier,
  • add softness and comfort to the floor,
  • increase durability and longevity of the laminate flooring.

What Are the Types of Underlay?

Underlays divide into two primary categories – rigid and soft underlays. Each comes with different underlayment types, which have distinct features and purposes.

Rigid Underlay

Rigid underlayment systems are fixed to a subfloor with screws, staples, nails, or adhesive. It can serve two purposes. It can either:

  • provide a flat surface for the flooring to lie on top of it,
  • or serve as a compression plate to spread the footfall weight over a larger area.

As for the different types of rigid underlay, the primary ones are:

  • Plywood underlay. It works best as timber flooring underlay that needs to be secret nailed or direct stuck. First, ply sheeting is screwed to the subfloor, which allows the timber to be glued or secret nailed to the plywood.
  • Fibre-cement sheeting. Another type of underlayment that works best with timber floors is fibre-cement sheeting. It’s also recommended for tile floors, as it helps spread the weight placed on individual tiles over a larger area.
  • Masonite and MDF underlays. These are typically used for vinyl floors. Such underlays are nailed to the subfloor with a nail gun, with vinyl flooring glued on top.

Soft Underlay

Contrary to rigid underlay, soft underlayment isn’t fixed to the subfloor. These systems are usually purchased in rolls rolled out onto the subfloor with the weight of the floor covering holding them in place.

Soft underlays are typically used for:

  • enhancing the underfoot comfort
  • or absorbing sound.

In most cases, you can choose between the following soft underlays:

  • Carpet underlay. Carpet underlay can be made of foam or rubber. Such underlays are typically used as carpet flooring underlay, as they can enhance the carpet’s physical comfort. Also, since carpet underlays don’t have a moisture barrier, they allow carpet floors to breathe and not trap moisture.
  • Hard flooring underlay. Such underlays are made of open-cell or closed-cell foams. Open-cell foam is lower in density than closed-cell foam, making it a less expensive option. However, it is less durable, making closed-cell foam a much better option in the long run. Hard flooring underlays can help with moisture control and enhance the overall physical comfort of the flooring.
  • Hybrid flooring underlay. These are foam underlays that are pre-attached to hybrid floors. Since such floors come with underlayment attached, they don’t require any additional underlayment, which can compromise the integrity of the joints of the hybrid floor.

What Is the Best Underlay for Laminate Flooring?

The short answer is hard flooring underlay with closed-cell foam. However, there are several things you need to consider when choosing the best underlayment for your laminate installation.

Consider the following:

  • Density and thickness. When it comes to laminate flooring, it’s best to opt for lower density and thinner underlay. It will help spread your weight over a larger surface area. The underlay will compress too much and damage your floor if it’s too thick. How thick should it be, then? We’d recommend an underlay between 3 and 5 mm for laminate flooring.
  • Subfloor type. On what type of subfloor are you installing your floor? If it’s a concrete subfloor, you should opt for underlayment with a vapour barrier to help with moisture control. If it’s a wood subfloor, such subfloors are typically installed on higher floors, so it’s better to have an underlay that helps with noise reduction.
  • Underfloor heating. If you have underfloor heating, your underlay needs to allow the heat to pass through the flooring into the room. In that case, you should opt for an underlay with a low thermal insulation rating. However, if you want your underlay to work as an insulator, you should choose an underlay with a higher insulation rating.

Why Do Laminate Floors Need Underlay?

We’ve already mentioned several general reasons for installing flooring underlay. Now, let’s focus on laminate flooring and cover in more detail the importance of installing laminate flooring underlay.

Underlayment Helps Correct Subfloor Imperfections

In general, laminate flooring can be challenging to install on imperfect surfaces. Even the tiniest subfloor imperfections can later be transmitted or duplicated by your flooring, making it less comfortable to walk on.

That’s because laminate floors are often relatively thin, making them more prone to damage from wear and tear.

By covering subfloor imperfections with underlayment, you can ensure your laminate floor stays in good shape for longer. It will also protect your flooring from any shocks and impacts caused by foot traffic and furniture.

Better protection means fewer repairs and extended floor lifespan, saving you a lot of trouble and money in the long run.

It Absorbs Sound

Because laminate flooring is thinner than, for example, solid hardwood, it requires help to act like natural wood. That help is provided by an underlayment, which enhances the floor’s density to limit the sound transmission in the room and to rooms below.

It Helps Prevent Moisture Damage

If you install your new flooring on a concrete subfloor, the underlayment will help protect the floor from moisture damage. Such surfaces are more prone to rising moisture, which can severely damage your laminate floor and reduce its lifespan.

If you know that moisture issues can come into play, invest in a closed-cell foam underlay with a proper vapour barrier. Some underlays also include a waterproof layer if you believe you need one.

Laminate Underlay Softens Footfall

If you want to lay laminate flooring on hard surfaces, such as concrete floors, extra cushioning will ensure your floor is much softer and, therefore, more comfortable to walk on.

On the other hand, the wood subfloor should have enough flexibility to soften the surface. Still, underlay will ensure the weight is evenly distributed, keeping the entire surface intact and softer to walk on.

When Isn’t Laminate Underlayment Required?

While installing underlayment is recommended when it comes to laminate floors, there are several exceptions when laying it may not be required. Two exceptions, to be exact.

The Flooring Has Pre-Attached Underlay

If your laminate flooring already has a pre-attached underlayment, buying an extra underlay is not necessary. We mention that because more and more laminate floors come with pre-attached underlays.

If you purchase such a floor, installing a second layer of underlayment may even have an adverse impact on your laminate planks, especially the stability of the flooring.

Extra underlayment will disturb the flooring’s locking system. If the planks don’t lock together correctly, they will eventually become loose.

When Excessive Costs Come Into Play

The most significant issue many people have is the cost of laying an underlayment. Indeed, laminate underlay can be expensive, especially when it comes to premium products with improved moisture barriers and noise mitigation systems.

In such a case, installing underlayment may not always be necessary. For example, if you want to install laminate flooring in a room that doesn’t require too much attention, like a laundry room or pantry, you may skip laying an underlayment.

However, be sure to clean and, if possible, even out the subfloor. If you remove all nails, screws, or dips, you should be able to lay laminate flooring on top easily.

Do I Need Underlay for Laminate Flooring?

So, rewinding to the question asked in the title – do you need underlay for laminate flooring?

You do. And while there are instances when you might avoid installing underlayment, the rule of thumb is to include it in your next flooring project.

Laminate underlayment will help prevent your floor from moisture damage, absorb sound, cover subfloor imperfections, and distribute weight more evenly. In the process, it will reduce the floor’s wear and tear, increasing its lifespan and providing you with peace of mind.

So yes, if we were you, we’d definitely go for an underlay before installing your floors.

And if you want to learn more about floor installation, types of flooring, and generally everything flooring-related, ID Flooring is your go-to place.

Read more similar guides or contact us whenever you require to change your floor. We’ll help you choose the best flooring possible for your house.

Laminate Underlayment FAQs

How to lay laminate underlayment?

Although it’s always better to opt for a professional to lay your underlayment, you can try laying it yourself if you feel confident. Here’s a short guide on how to do it:

  1. Clean your subfloor properly. Remove any nails, screws, and even out noticeable imperfections. Once you’re finished with that, ensure the subfloor is completely dry.
  2. Start rolling out your underlayment along the length of the room. If there are any pipes, leave a 10 mm gap around them.
  3. When rolling on concrete subfloors, lay the underlay of the vapour barrier side down. If you’re lying on a wooden subfloor, ensure the underlay is laid on the rubber side.
  4. Once you cover the subfloor, use a knife to cut off any surplus.
  5. Secure the seams of the underlay with tape (vapour tape for concrete subfloors and underlay tape for wooden subfloors).
  6. Check if the underlay is attached correctly. If yes, you can proceed with installing your laminate floor on top.

Also, a piece of advice, before you lay your underlayment, remove your skirting boards (if they’re already installed). Installing them after you lie your underlay will produce a more professional finish.

Why use laminate flooring underlayment?

Due to the nature of laminate floors (they’re relatively thin), installing them on an underlayment helps improve their noise reduction and soften footfall.

Besides that, laminate underlayment can also prevent moisture damage and ensure the weight is distributed more evenly, reducing the floor’s wear and tear and increasing its lifespan. It can also provide insulation, helping you save some money on energy bills in the winter.

How thick underlay do I need for laminate flooring?

Your laminate underlay should be between 3 and 5 mm for the best performance. This range provides the most comfort without causing problems with the floor’s locking system.

Can I use carpet underlay for my laminate flooring project?

No, using a carpet underlay for a laminate floor isn’t recommended. It can cause you more trouble than you think, especially in the long run.

That’s because carpet underlay is thicker than laminate underlay. It’s also too bouncy. These two factors mean it can damage your floor’s locking system.