Most of us have probably experienced this at some point. The sound of general noise or footfalls from overhead. Any kind of hard-surfaced flooring is going to amplify sound. And if you’re trying to sleep, it seems to be amplified a thousand-fold.

This is where cork vs rubber underlayment comes in. Either one is the perfect solution if you need to deaden sound. I’ll discuss the properties of both, and you can decide which makes the best sense for you.

If you’re only concern is sound, then rubber is the best choice—in a completely apples to apples comparison of cork vs rubber. However, a thicker layer of cork can reproduce the efficacy of rubber. And while cork underlayment is more eco-friendly, rubber is known to off-gas and smell.

Frankly, they’re both great choices, so keep reading to find out more.

Cork Underlayment: Sound Reduction & More

Cork underlayment has a whole lot going for it. For many, the choice comes down to two options. Cork vs rubber underlayment. Not only is cork an excellent choice for sound reduction, but it also has the following benefits as well.

  • It’s comfortable to walk on
  • It’s durable
  • It can help reduce stress cracks
  • It adds another layer of insulation to your home
  • It’s environmentally sustainable
  • It has multiple installation methods
  • It’s significantly cheaper than rubber

Acoustics and Sound Reduction

Hardwood flooring comes with drawbacks, and one of the biggest is how noisy it is. Even the softest of footfalls will cause a vibration, and vibration equals sound. Homes and rooms full of echoing sounds aren’t exactly relaxing or comforting.

Underlayment is the answer. And cork underlayment is naturally capable of insulating sound, thanks to its cellular structure.

Brown Corkboard
The cellular structure of cork is why it’s so great at sound reduction

We’ve all seen the memory foam commercials where it’s compressed and then pops back up and regains its original shape. Cork has the same characteristics, just not to the same extent. But that ability is what provides the barrier against sound waves.

The millions of cells in cork are laid out in a honeycomb pattern and are filled with air. Just a single cubic inch of cork can have up to 100 billion of these air pockets—all providing insulation, but more importantly in this case, these pockets of air will deaden sound in any and all directions. Get to know more about cork.

Here are some sound deadening stats.

ThicknessSound Reduction Capabilities
12mm corkCan reduce sound by up to 48 decibels
6mm corkCan reduce sound by up to 23decibels
3mm corkCan reduce sound by up to 13 decibels

Something else to look out for is an STC score. This stand for Sound Transmission Class. The score is based on how sound travels through a variety of building components including floors, wall, windows, doors, and more.

While this score is often only important in multi-family and commercial buildings, it does have relevance for single-family homes as well.

At 6mm or 1/4 inch think, most cork underlayment has a STC score of 50. However, doubling the thickness doesn’t mean doubling the score since 12mm or 1/2 inch thick cork only has a score of 75.

So thicker is better, but in some cases, you’ll get more value from the thinner version.

Let’s talk more about value.

Value for Money

The cost of cork underlayment will vary depending on how thick it is. Typically, the range is between $0.55 and $1.30 per square foot.

Thickness in InchesPrice Per Square Foot
1/8$0.55
1/4$0.65
1/2$1.30

Sure there are cheaper options, but remember all the advantages of going with cork that I mentioned above. So while your initial investment might be to reduce sound, the relatively low cost of adding cork will also provide other benefits.

Added Comfort

Hardwood flooring is, well, hard. That means there is an impact to your body with every step you take. Having an underlayment like cork reduces some of that impact since it adds a layer of softness. A layer of resilient, air-filled pockets that depress and spring back up as you walk across the floor.

Reduces Stress Cracks

Imagine spending a fortune on your flooring and then watching as stress cracks develop. Cork underlay, along with a good moisture barrier, can guard against stress cracks.

Hard Wood Floor
Cork underlayment reduces stress on hardwood floors

Stress cracks are due to too much moisture in the air. As humidity rises in a home, wood expands. In the cold, when there is little humidity, it contracts. When these changes happen excessively, your flooring can crack.

Having underlayment that can guard against that is certainly cost effective.

A more in-depth discussion for your hardwood floors: Finding the Perfect Underlayment for Hardwood Floors [Guide]

Cork Has Insulating Properties

Got a basement that’s a bit colder than the rest of the house? Having a cork underlayment on your main floor will help keep that cold air downstairs and your hardwood floors a little warner.

Your bare feet will thank you for it!

So think of your cork underlayment as something that could conceivably reduce some of your heating costs. Certainly, value for your money.

Now let’s talk about rubber.

Rubber Underlayment: Sound Reduction & More

Since it’s often made using recycled rubber products, this is another environmentally safe option. In addition to providing sound reduction, it also:

  • Protects against mold and mildew
  • Makes your floors more comfortable to walk on
  • It’s easy to install

Acoustics and Sound Reduction

When it comes to sound, rubber underlayment wins against cork. While cork is capable of reproducing the same amount of noise reduction, it needs significantly more material to achieve it. To get the same benefits, cork needs to be 30% thicker than rubber underlay.

But that’s not as bad as it sounds, since rubber underlayment is way more expensive than cork. Maybe.

I say maybe because like everything else, there’s quality rubber and rubbish rubber. The rubbish rubber will be cheaper. Having said that, if you’re sourcing your materials right here in North America—or anywhere in the western world—you shouldn’t have to worry about quality. But be suspicious of anything suspiciously cheap.

Good rubber underlayment can cost between $2 and $4 per square foot at 4mm thickness. But remember what I said above about needing 30% more for cork to be equal to rubber in noise reduction?

Using the cork pricing info above we get this.

MaterialThicknessCost
Cork12 mm (1/2”)$1.30 per sq f
Rubber8 mm (1/3”)$4 to $6 per sq f

Granted, there’s a good chance you wouldn’t need underlayment that thick, but it’s a helpful comparison.

And remember, this is on top of the cost of your flooring. Are you prepared to add the cost of rubber to your installation? Many say no and go for cork. And that really isn’t too surprising.

Rubber underlayment will offer the same type of additional benefits you’ll get form cork.

Conclusion

Honestly, in the final analysis it’s going to come down to two things. Cost and odor.

Buy cork underlayment if:

  • You’re looking to reduce costs
  • You are sensitive to odors

Buy rubber underlayment if:

Whichever one you choose will help to silence the echoing noise in your home.

Thanks for reading to the end! Why not check out below to see if there are any other questions, we can help you with.