Do you live in a high-density building and have toddlers, a boombox, a dog, or a potbellied pig? Are you constantly dreading having your downstairs neighbors rat you out to the super for all the noise generated by your beloved little rascals? It’s time to summon the noise control power of your floor coverings, like rugs.
Rugs absolutely help with soundproofing. They dampen vibrations, reducing sound transfer to some extent. They’re a fashionable way to deflect noise and add value to rooms. Shoes, furniture, toys, and pet feet are quieter on rugs. Woods Rug Laundry claims that woolen rugs reduce noise by up to 46%.
If noise reduction is a top priority, read on to find out how the ubiquitous rug can assist you in your quest for silence.
How Do Soundproof Rugs Work?
There are two ways to make a venue quieter: by blocking sound entirely and by adding surfaces that absorb reverberation or sound before it reaches the ears. Rugs belong to the second category.
Rugs are best used for sound insulation as they absorb ambient sound, making them ideal for recording studios. They can also be used for soundproofing (blocking sound from entering or leaving a venue), but they are limited in what they can do. They dampen vibrations and reduce noise levels, but they can’t make a room totally silent.
How Much Difference Does a Soundproof Rug Make?
The difference in acoustics is significant when a thick, multi-frayed rug is placed in a high-traffic area. The structure of the rug helps deaden ambient sounds. The Carpet and Rug Institute claims that, depending on how thick a rug is, it can eliminate footfall noise by up to 100%.
What Rug Type Works Best at Soundproofing?
The best rug for insulating and dampening sound is a thick, multi-frayed one with a fuzzy top. This type is called a “cut pile.” According to the Carpet and Rug Institute, cut-pile carpeting tested better at absorbing sound than the loop-pile kind.
A soundproof example is a wool rug because of its open fuzzy structure, which traps sound. If you’re not into wool, there are variants that are also open-cut and fuzzy. The more fibers a rug has, the better it can deaden sound. The more area it covers, the more effective it is. Avoid flat rugs. They don’t have the foundation for sound absorption.
An alternative to rugs is acoustic blankets. They look like mover’s blankets one finds in freight elevators. Don’t be fooled by the term; they work like rugs in that they’re not just meant for walls. At $10 a square foot, they’re an inexpensive rug substitute.
If you’re on a budget, you don’t have to buy acoustic and industrial blankets. Just get a couple of professional mover’s blankets and layer them. This will cost much less, yet give you the increased density needed for better acoustic performance.
The Best Soundproof Rugs
Whatever design or style you choose, you’ll want to make sure the rug is thick and has open fibers. Here are my top picks.
Flokati Soft Wool Shag Rug
Made from handwoven New Zealand washed wool and 2.5” thick, this rug provides a soft, cushioned feeling underfoot. It dampens both ambient and footfall noise. (New Zealand wool is the same material used to make woolen sweaters.) Be prepared for this rug to shed a couple of weeks after installation. It takes time for the fibers to settle, so this is normal.
FurFurug Faux Sheepskin Shag Rug
Despite being made of artificial animal wool, this rug is as effective in deadening sound as a genuine wool model because it has a deep pile and open fibers.
Paco Home Shag Rug
Made of 100% polyester and 2.76” thick, this is a great synthetic rug for sound dampening because of its open-pore material that traps and muffles sound.
Safavieh Venice Shag Rug
This plush handwoven, power-loomed, high-density acrylic pile rug is 3” thick. Ideal for dampening sound and softening ambient noise.
Have your rug professionally cleaned every two years to prolong its life. Give it a shake in between cleanings to remove dirt and grime.
Rug Placement for Optimal Noise Reduction
The best way to get the most soundproofing impact out of your rugs is to place them on a hard floor. We’re talking cement, marble, tiles, and wood, all of which have a tendency to reflect sound. Place the largest rug you can find in the most open part of the room where the most noise will reflect off the floor.
The vibration of air molecules transmits sound. Empty spaces amplify sound. Hard surfaces reflect interior noise, such as voices, vacuum cleaner roar, or barking. In contrast, soft surfaces absorb sound.
So, to implement this logic, all you need to do is decorate your home with soft furnishings and adorn your floors with rugs and their cousins. It isn’t enough to buy rugs and just scatter them helter-skelter around your home. You have to consider these factors to determine the correct rug type to buy and its placement:
This is a detailed description of the difference between soundproofing and sound absorption mentioned earlier. This will help you choose the type of sound-control product you need.
The Soundproofing Store, a soundproofing specialist in the UK, explains the difference:
Soundproofing is used to isolate or block sound inside a room or to keep external sound from entering. Sound absorption uses sound-dampening materials to prevent noise from resonating, echoing, and amplifying within a room.
Soundproof Cow, a dealer in soundproof building materials, offers this distinction:
If the sound is generated in a different space, room, or enclosure from where you’re located, choose soundproofing products. These prevent noise from traveling through walls, ceilings, floors, doors, and windows.
If the sound is generated in the same space as where you are, choose sound-absorbing products. These reduce echo. Since rugs absorb both external and internal sound, they work both ways.
What kind of sounds do you want to block? Are you inside the room with the sound, or is it seeping through a wall? Is it echoing within your open space? These are the types of noise that can be treated with soundproofing:
- Impact noise (aka structure-borne sound)—a vibration that travels through a structure or sound created through the physical impact on building mass, such as that of people walking or doors slamming. This spreads through floors into joists, then passes through the ceiling of the room below.
A joist is a piece of wood laid horizontally to which the planks of the floor, or the strips of a ceiling, are nailed. Joists are incorporated into a floor framing system to provide strength and solidity .
- Airborne noise—sound relayed through the atmosphere, like voices, meowing cats, TV audio, or music. Problems with this type are partly caused by substandard building construction.
These two actually cause each other. Airborne sounds make buildings vibrate, while impact sounds make airborne noise.
Decide where you want to implement noise control: living/working quarters (bedroom, library), type of space (restaurant, recording studio), or equipment (boat, car, RV).
Noise Reduction Coefficient (NRC)
This represents the amount of sound acoustic products can reduce. The higher the number, the greater the sound absorption. Find the NRC rating in product descriptions and labels.
So what if you can’t afford soundproofing specialists? Now that you know the relationship between furnishings and sound, you can proceed with soundproofing your home using reasonably priced home decor, especially floor coverings.
What Type of Floor Covering Is Best for Soundproofing?
Carpets are the top choice for bedrooms because they not only absorb sound; they also control room temperature. They’re available in a wide variety of styles, colors, patterns, warmth/softness levels, and budget ranges. The Spruce—a network of lifestyle sites providing advice on home decor and repair, pets, and crafts—categorizes them as such:
- Cut pile—The tips of the fiber loops are cut. The most popular type for bedrooms is textured cut-pile carpeting because it’s dirt-resistant. Variations are Saxony, textured, and frieze.
- Loop pile—The tips are left uncut and looped. The main types are Berber and level loop.
A thick shag carpet considerably reduces noise levels. Choose tightly woven carpets. They’re better at preventing sound from passing through them.
Usually meant to soften hard flooring (such as wood or laminate), area rugs and runners can be used on high-traffic areas (like hallways and entrances) to reduce footstep echo and prevent sound from seeping into other units. Experiment with size, color, pattern, weave, and material to complement your home’s decorating theme.
How big should an area rug be? If you plan to put your bed on it, the rug should extend out at least two feet from both sides and the foot of the bed. Smaller rugs at the base of the bed or along the sides should be big enough to fill up most of the space.
If you’re not a fan of thick carpets, layer some area rugs over each other. Or place an area rug over a regular carpet.
Cork is normally used in kitchens because it’s durable and comfortable for people to stand on for a long time. But it can also be used in bedrooms for sound absorption. It acts like memory foam.
When you dig your heels into it, an indentation forms, but it springs back once you release your shoes. It doesn’t behave the same way with heavy furniture, though. Cork flooring is eco-friendly but expensive.
Check out my review of the best cork underlayment.
Removable Foam Floor Tiles
Unika Vaev, a dealer in textile-based acoustic products, recommends these for small children’s play areas. They don’t just dampen sounds; they’re also a cinch to clean.
One variation is the puzzle piece floor mat. It’s made of a foam material that’s great for shock absorption. An example is the BalanceFrom Kid’s Puzzle Exercise Play Mat with EVA foam interlocking tiles. The adult equivalent is the exercise mat, also made of foam and sometimes, rubber.
These double as appliance floor protectors and impact-reduction tools. An example is the 0.25” thick Rubber-Cal rubber anti-vibration mat.
Designed to withstand heavy equipment and meant to be used with washing machines, it is made from 100% recycled rubber tire material. As it absorbs vibration and isolates noise from equipment, it also works for other kinds of unwelcome sound.
Carpet Underlays vs. Rug Pads
Both can be customized to fit, but the latter is cheaper. Thick pads underneath rugs reinforce sound reduction by up to 50-70% (source). Not only do pads make rugs softer for walking, but they’re also important for preventing slippage. Some rug pads are made of environment-friendly material, like recycled rubber.
A truly soundproof carpet is one combined with soundproof underlayment (aka carpet underlay), but it’s quite expensive, requires professional installation, and involves ripping out floors.
What Are the Best Rug Pads for Soundproofing?
Buy the thickest possible, since pad density cuts down on noise passing between floors. Take note that pads made from memory foam are not anti-skid, and thicker pads cost more. Also, some pads are not recommended for surfaces like vinyl, natural stone, or carpet. Before you hit the stores, have your rug measurements handy.
Bustle, a lifestyle digital network tackling modern living including home decor, nominates these three as the best for soundproofing, in this order:
- Rug Pad USA 0.5” Cushioned Memory Foam Rug Pad — Made from memory foam in a wide range of sizes, this is one of the densest available. It works on hardwood floors and many other surfaces like concrete, stone, vinyl, and laminate flooring. It’s soundproof and water-resistant, but not anti-slip, so don’t use it in hallways and high-traffic areas. Otherwise, use double-sided carpet tape to prevent skids.
- Rug Pad USA 0.25” Felt and Rubber Rug Pad — This cushy, premium padding measures 8’x10’ and is made of recycled material. Designed for hard-surfaced floors, it’s anti-slip, cheaper, and comes with a 20-year warranty.
- Gorilla Grip 0.25” Felt and Rubber Rug Pad —Though the most affordable on the list, this anti-slip pad isn’t as versatile. It can stain certain surfaces, like natural stone, acrylic, vinyl, porous, carpeted, lacquered, or refinished floors.
Rug Pad USA, the manufacturer of the top two, recommends these models:
- Superior Lock —for rugs smaller than 8’x10’ or those in high-traffic areas. It’s thickest size (7/16”) offers maximum noise reduction.
- Cloud Comfort —pricier, but it’s their best pad for reducing noise. It’s made of 100% viscoelastic memory foam, the same material used in high-end mattresses.
- Eco Plush —made of 100% heat-pressed felt fibers.
The last two pads aren’t anti-slip, so they’re better used with larger rugs anchored down with furniture.
Beyond Floors and Rugs
In the future, if your budget is larger, you can opt for these alternatives:
The regular kind isn’t dense enough to block airborne noises nor absorb vibration seeping through walls. It will absorb some echo noise, however. That’s why you need the acoustic type.
Acoustic foam consists of polyurethane-based materials, such as polyester, polyether, and extruded melamine. The foam works by catching sound waves in open cells found inside it and across its surface.
Mount acoustic foam on doors, floors, and ceilings with Velcro strips. Use one- or two-inch pads for mid- to high-range frequencies; thicker for low-range.
Check out my article on acoustic foam to know more about its effectiveness.
Meant for walls, but can also be applied to ceilings. To determine the number of panels you’ll need, take measurements of walls, ceilings, or rooms you want to soundproof.
Check out my article on acoustic panels.
If you want to block noises coming through your wall, the Soundproof Store suggests their ProSound™ SoundBoard4. Its four layers of different high-mass soundproofing materials block a wide range of sound frequencies.
It’s ideal for medium levels of noise, such as regular conversation, normal music levels, and TV audio. It reduces noise to a minimum of 50%. It involves a simple direct-to-wall installation without the need to remove existing wall coverings.
Acoustic Floor Tiles
These are special floor tiles that help reduce echo and reverberation in rooms with hard surfaces and floors.
Commercial Rubber Flooring
Known for its sound-absorbent qualities, it’s also resistant to skids, mold, and mildew.
Mass-Loaded Vinyl (MLV)
This material looks thin but is high-mass and very dense. As it creates a sound barrier on floors or walls, it’s perfect for sound absorption.
The Soundproofing Store suggests their ProSound™ SoundMat3 Plus, which contains two layers of mass-loaded vinyl to block airborne noises and a middle layer of specialist acoustic sealed foam to reduce impact noise.
As it doesn’t absorb water, it’s suitable for all final floor finishes and critical in cases of water damage. It can be used beneath underfloor heating. The mat is easy to cut and install and doesn’t need adhesive.
Soundproof Living claims that if you want to achieve higher levels of noise reduction, you should layer MLV, rubber, and a thick carpet.
Contrary to myth, sand makes great soundproofing material because it’s heavy and made up of small grains. As it doesn’t leave any gaps, it will block airborne noises. People in the Victorian era often placed it on their floors. It’s still used today, but rarely, because it’s very messy to install and remove. It also tends to settle in lower areas, rendering floor surfaces uneven.
Sound-Deadening Floor Insulation
This is used around floor joists. It acts the same as insulating a stud wall. Its dense material blocks echo from sound waves.
Full-On Floor Insulation
Only for those prepared to gut floors and renovate big-time.
Rugs shouldn’t just be relegated to floors. Intricately designed types and those made of unique or fragile material are best viewed with a critical eye and not stepped on. They serve a double purpose: they can be hung on walls to absorb airborne noise or prevent vibrations from traveling through. Some people attach rugs with acoustic pads to their ceilings to block noise from floors above.
Switching to soft furnishings can reduce noise to a certain degree. Consider upholstering if you want to keep existing hard seating.
For the deep-pocketed, there are numerous other soundproofing solutions, such as special doors, windows, curtains, and devices you can install on walls and ceilings, like sound clips.
By now, you know enough about how sound travels and what materials can inhibit its journey. Noise reverberates off hard surfaces, so, logically, just decrease the number of hard surfaces to reduce the noise to a certain degree. This is the affordable route, along with replacing hard furniture with soft furnishings—rugs included.
Those with bigger budgets can invest in the sophisticated soundproofing products previously mentioned, or splurge on professional insulation. The choice is yours or as your circumstances dictate.