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Unsurprisingly, I have plenty of people asking me how to soundproof a plasterboard wall. After all, the normal structure of these walls leaves plenty to be desired when it comes to noise blocking.
Luckily, their structure actually makes them really easy to soundproof, providing you’re willing to get stuck in with a bit of a DIY project. Of course you’ll need all the right materials too, but this article contains information on what you need to get this done.
In this article, I look at how to soundproof a plasterboard wall. I offer a complete guide and one intended for those on a tighter budget, or for those who don’t really want to completely rip a wall down. I also look at some of the reasons why plasterboard walls are so bad for soundproofing, as this’ll help you do the job more efficiently.
But, before that you may not want to miss out on my simple guide on Soundproofing a stud wall.
Why are plasterboard walls so bad for soundproofing?
Plasterboard walls, also called drywall or stud walls, are a quick, easy, and inexpensive way to create internal partition walls. In fact, they’re so easy to build that almost anyone could throw one up in a few hours.
The basic structure of a plasterboard wall consists of a frame of wooden joists (or studs), which are generally vertical, but there may be some horizontal studs for stability. Plasterboard is then nailed to either side of this structure, and you have a wall!
However, while this structure is great for quick and easy construction, it’s generally awful for soundproofing. For starters, plasterboard is generally quite thin, and not very dense. As we know by now, these are two characteristics to avoid if you want a soundproof structure.
What’s more, the air cavity between the two panels of plasterboard is an excellent space for sound waves. They pass through one side of the plasterboard by vibrations and end up in the cavity.
Within this space, which consists of plenty of flat surfaces, the sound waves are able to bounce around and reflect off the plasterboard panels. Aside from then escaping into the other room, all this bouncing around causes the sound waves to amplify, thereby making them louder.
The air cavity within a plasterboard wall is an amazing echo chamber, which is obviously the last thing you want in your house, particularly if someone is being noisy elsewhere.
Therefore, to soundproof a plasterboard wall, it’s worth addressing these weaknesses.
Soundproofing a Plasterboard Wall
Also, to help get a better understanding of the problems you’re addressing, it’s worth knowing whether you’re trying to block airborne noise or impact noise. These are defined as:
- Airborne noise is just that, sounds transmitted through the air (source). This will typically be people talking, TV sounds, or dogs barking.
- Impact noise is caused by something hitting a surface (source). In a house, this’ll typically be doors shutting and footsteps.
Generally speaking, airborne sounds are “weaker” and therefore are easier to block from a room. Impact noise is slightly harder to block because it’s usually caused by something impacting directly with the surface, which makes them slightly “stronger”.
It’s worth figuring out what kind of noise you’re trying to block because it’ll affect how thorough you need to be with your soundproofing project. For example, you’d have a much easier time trying to block out the sound of a TV in the next room than you would trying to block the sound of someone constantly slamming a door.
Once you’ve got an idea of what you’re trying to keep out of the room, you should know what soundproofing solutions you need to employ. The first method below is for a complete soundproofing project, and so is much more thorough. The second is enough to deal with minor airborne noises, so doesn’t take as much work.
While researching this topic, I found that there are 3 main steps involved in soundproofing a plasterboard wall, which are:
1. Decouple the stud wall
The best (and biggest) first step to soundproofing a plasterboard wall is to decouple the studs. This is basically a fancy way of saying you’ll isolate the two sides of plasterboard from each other by hanging them on separate studs.
The reason this is necessary is because sound waves travel as vibrations, both through the air and solid surfaces. Sound waves therefore transmit through a wall by vibrating through one side, through the studs, and then through the other side of the wall.
In doing so, some of the sound waves’ energy is absorbed by the wall, but not enough to deaden them to acceptable levels. So, one of the best ways to tackle this is to prevent them from passing through the wall. However, this is quite a big job, so be prepared for some construction work.
To decouple a wall, you have 3 options:
- Double stud walls
- Staggered stud walls
- Resilient clips
Double Stud Wall
A double stud wall is pretty self-explanatory, and basically involves you building two separate walls with a small air cavity between them. This method is the best for soundproofing, but also takes up double the space of a normal wall. Therefore, it might not be the most practical solution.
Staggered stud wall
A staggered stud wall involves fitting the studs in a staggered pattern, so each side of the wall is hung on its own studs. The air cavity is then filled with insulation. This method is fine, and it takes up less space than a double wall, but still more than a normal wall.
Read my article on staggered stud and double stud wall, in which I compare the construction and effectiveness of these decoupling methods.
Soundproofing clips (Resilient clips and hat channel)
The third option is to use resilient clips and a hat channel. This method involves using the existing studs, but isolates the plasterboard by hanging them on clips. These clips flex and absorb the vibrations before they pass into the studs.
The resilient clip method takes up the same space as a normal wall and is actually more effective than a staggered stud wall. If you’re short on space and want to decouple the wall, then this is the method I’d choose.
You can buy hat channels and resilient clips from almost any DIY store. Also, they’re really easy to fit, as all you need to do is attach them to the studs and then hang a new panel of plasterboard.
Read my exclusive article on soundproofing clips and resilient channel.
The purpose of decoupling the plasterboard wall is to absorb the majority of the sound waves before they can enter the air cavity. Doing this greatly reduces the problem of echo, and means you won’t need to be as heavy with adding mass in the later stages.
However, as I’ve mentioned, this is quite a big project, as it’ll at least involve taking down half the wall. Also, decoupling isn’t very effective against low frequency sound waves. For this reason you’ll definitely need to include some sound dampening methods in the later stages.
1.5. Isolating the studs
Along with decoupling the wall, an additional step is to isolate the studs themselves. Doing this completely separates them from the rest of the building, which effectively removes the problem of impact noise altogether.
This step involves taking the whole stud wall down because you need to add isolating pads to the bottom and top of the wall. For this reason, it’s best done on new-build walls, but can be done on existing structures too.
You’ll need to buy some rubber feet, which are essentially rubber hockey pucks, or some rubber isolation strip. Obviously the material needs to be flexible, and should be as thick as possible. If I’m building a floating wall in this way, I use 6mm rubber strips to sit the stud wall on.
While this is a pretty drastic step, it’s actually much easier than trying to build a double stud wall. If you reuse the existing stud frame, you’ll need to shorten the vertical studs accordingly based on how thick your isolating strips are. However, that’s not too big a job.
2. Insulate the wall cavity
As I mentioned earlier, the air cavity in a stud wall is a prime location for sound waves to echo and amplify (resonance). Therefore, it’s necessary to add some insulation into this space to improve sound dampening.
The purpose of insulation isn’t necessarily to add mass, although this does help. It’s primarily to prevent resonance by reducing sound amplitude as it passes through the fibers. That is why, the insulation has to be loose (low density).
There are plenty of brands of insulation on the market. Check out my top recommendations for insulation.
3. Add mass to the wall
After you’ve addressed the biggest problem with the stud wall (the air cavity), it’s time to pay attention to the exterior of the wall. The best thing you can do here is add more mass, and you’ve got plenty of options available for doing that.
The purpose of adding mass is twofold: first, more mass blocks sound waves from passing through the structure, particularly if it’s very dense mass (which it should be). Secondly, more mass means it’s also harder for the structure to vibrate, making it harder for sound waves to pass all the way through.
However, adding mass doesn’t always deal with the problem of low bass frequencies. This is because they have longer wavelength, and so can travel further. As a result, you’ll need to add much more mass if your issue is low frequencies.
Your most accessible options for adding mass to a plasterboard wall are:
- More plasterboard. While this isn’t very dense, it’s the most logical choice because it gives you a workable surface to paint. However, plasterboard isn’t very dense, and so you might need a couple of layers.
- Mass loaded vinyl. This product is specifically for soundproofing, and is very dense but not very thick, making it great for putting on walls. That said, you won’t be able to paint it, and it’s not very attractive.
- Vehicle sound deadening mats. These are designed to reduce noise in a vehicle, but can do the same job on a wall. They usually have a self-adhesive backing, making them very easy to work with.
Mass Loaded Vinyl (MLV)
For the purposes of this article, I’ll explain how to work with mass loaded vinyl (check prices on Amazon), as it’s probably the most effective option and is my favorite to work with. A single roll should be enough to cover a whole room, but just be aware that it’s not the cheapest product to buy.
The best way to work with mass loaded vinyl is to replace the plasterboard after insulting the stud cavity. Next, simply fix the mass loaded vinyl to the plasterboard, and you can do this by nailing or gluing it in place. In fact, I’d recommend nailing it and then sealing the edges with sealant.
Then, fix another layer of plasterboard onto the outside. This creates a sandwich with soundproofing materials in the middle, meaning you’ve got a dense structure and a workable surface to decorate too.
Obviously, as you’ve probably gathered by now, adding mass to the wall means sacrificing space within the room. This is unavoidable with this step, as all mass has some kind of volume. However, this is why I recommend mass loaded vinyl, as it’s not very thick.
The amount of space you lose in the room will depend on how many walls you’re soundproofing. I’d recommend only focusing on internal facing walls, as these will need the most work, and should mean you won’t lose too much space within the room.
Another option for adding mass to the wall is to use soundproof plasterboard. This is basically a ready-made version of the wall construction I describe above, as it has soundproof foam between two layers of plasterboard.
However, I’ve never been that impressed with the results because it isn’t as dense as something you can build yourself. Also, it’s quite expensive considering it’s still just plasterboard. So, I’d recommend just adding mass yourself and sticking with normal plasterboard.
Some Quick Solutions
While the above method is very effective at soundproofing a room, it’s quite a lot of work. Also, there might be plenty of reasons why you can’t take the stud wall apart, meaning you can’t insulate the air cavity.
The only problem is that this is one of the most effective steps because a stud wall isn’t very dense, and so without insulating the wall cavity you won’t be making much difference. I’d always recommend this step if you’re able to do it.
1. Add mass
If you’re unable to open the stud wall up and add insulation to the cavity, then your first step should be to add as much mass as possible to the wall. I’d recommend adding several layers because you’ll have to compensate for the lack of mass in the middle of the wall.
For this option, it might be best to use sound deadening mats (Amazon link), as these are usually less than ½ inch thick, meaning you won’t lose too much space within the room. Also, they’re really easy to just fix directly onto the drywall.
Much like the mass loaded vinyl method suggested above, I’d still add another layer of plasterboard over the top to give you a workable surface. You’re likely to lose more space within the room with this method because you’ll need to add more to the wall.
Also, I’d recommend working on both sides of the wall, as opposed to only doing one side if you’re insulating the cavity. Again, add sound deadening mats and a layer of drywall to either side, as this should give you a nice thick wall to work with.
2. Add something soft to the wall
While I usually only suggest this method for budget soundproofing options, it’s actually quite useful when you’re trying to soundproof a plasterboard wall like this. When I say something soft, I mean something like curtains or drapes, or fabric wall hangings.
The intention here isn’t really to add mass to the wall, although it does help with that. Instead, using something like curtains breaks up the flat, solid surface of the plasterboard wall, which makes it harder for sound waves to reflect off the surface.
This is basically adds sound attenuation to the wall. All this means is that the sound waves are absorbed by the soft surface and so are prevented from reflecting. More than anything, this also means that fewer sound waves will transmit through the wall.
Technically, this counts as acoustic treatment instead of soundproofing, and this is the sort of thing you do to improve sound quality within a space. However, it also indirectly improves soundproofing because fewer sound waves means lower volume, and a smaller problem overall.
For this, all I’d do is fix a curtain rail to the stud wall, obviously being careful to attach it to the studs so that it can hold the weight of the curtains. Use as many curtain rails as it takes to cover the stud wall, and you can hang curtains on as many walls as you want.
Also, I’d use the heaviest drapes you can find. Things like velvet curtains are always a good option because they’re usually also lined, making them even thicker still. You need to ensure the curtains are long enough to reach the floor with a bit of material left over to bunch at the bottom of the wall.
The benefit of doing this is that you can open the curtains when you don’t need the full level of noise reduction on the wall. For example, you might only need them when watching TV or sleeping, meaning you can have them open when not in use.
Just bear in mind that this won’t do loads for soundproofing, but will hopefully make sounds generally more muffled. However, when combined with plenty of extra mass on the wall, this should be pretty effective at reducing noise pollution within the space.
3. Use acoustic treatment within the room
Along with hanging some curtains and adding mass, it can also be helpful to use some acoustic treatments within the room you’re trying to soundproof. While this won’t be necessary in all situations, it can be helpful for things like home theaters and entertainment rooms.
Also, this won’t be particularly useful if you’re trying to block noise coming from another room. That said, if you’ve got access to the room then you could always just add the acoustic treatment in that room instead.
Much like with curtains, the purpose here is to break up flat surfaces within the room and use products that are going to absorb a portion of the sound waves, which will reduce the overall level within the room. Therefore, fewer sound waves bouncing around means less noise pollution escaping through the wall.
Which products you use will depend on the type of sound you’re trying to treat. For example, acoustic foam (Amazon link) is great for treating high and mid-range frequencies, as its open cellular structure allows sound waves in, but prevents them from escaping again.
Also, acoustic foam generally has an egg box or pyramid structure, which helps to break up flat surfaces. Instead of covering the whole wall with acoustic foam, you should just focus on the main reflection points within the space, which are usually the corners.
Similarly, bass traps are specifically designed to absorb low frequency waves, which are the main offenders for transmitting through a plasterboard wall. Fitting some bass traps at 45-degree angles over the corners of a room will do a great job at managing those rogue sound waves that are creating a problem.
If you decide to start adding acoustic treatment to your space, don’t make it the only thing you do. Acoustic treatment alone isn’t enough to manage noise pollution because it’s actually designed to reduce echo and reverberation, rather than block sound altogether.
However, when combined with added mass on the walls, it’ll certainly make a difference to the overall levels of noise pollution. I’d recommend focusing on adding mass to your walls and then seeing what noise pollution levels are like after. If you’re still not happy, then consider adding some acoustic treatment products.
Some final thoughts
As you can see, the level of soundproofing you end up with will depend on how big the job is. If you’ve got the time and the resources, I’d definitely recommend decoupling the wall because it’s the most effective way to block sound transfer.
However, if you’re on a tighter budget, then you can definitely make a difference by just working on the outside of the wall. The key is to find the densest products available and add as much as possible. Whichever option you choose, just make sure you brush up on your DIY knowledge before you start!
Thanks for reading! Check out my top recommended products for soundproofing.