What Materials Absorb Sound Best?

sound absorbing materials

If you are a homeowner, you have probably faced noise problems. Whether your neighbors are being too loud or a room has too many reverberations, you’ll want to know how to manage and control sound waves. This way, you can maintain a private, quiet space to live in.

Let’s talk about the materials that absorb sound the best, and how you can apply them to your home.

Sound Absorption Vs. Deflection

It’s common to confuse materials that absorb sounds and materials that block sounds. If you’re looking to control sounds in your apartment, you need to know the difference between these methods.

Sound-absorbing materials will only absorb echoes within a room. Sound-blocking materials will reduce the transmission of sounds.

When you want to stop hearing loud neighbors, use materials that block sounds. These will be dense and heavy, creating a barrier between you and unwanted noise.

If you’re building a home office, theater, or studio, you might want to improve the sound quality of a room. Sound-absorbing materials are the best option for this. They will be soft and able to absorb any annoying reverberations in a room.

Why Sound Travels At Different Speeds Through Different Materials

Sound waves travel much faster through solids than through the air. This is because sound waves are kinetic energy that moves by vibrating molecules. Solids have molecules that are close together, so sound waves can travel between them more quickly.

To reduce the number of sound waves that enter a room, you need either sound-absorbing or sound-blocking materials. These will either absorb or reflect the incoming sounds, providing a much quieter living space.

Which Materials Absorb Sound Best?

When improving the sound quality of your house, it’s important to know which materials are the most effective. These do not fully soundproof a room, but will significantly control sound reflections and echoes.

Here is a comprehensive list of materials that are great at absorbing sounds:

1. Acoustic Foam

Acoustic foam improves the sound quality of a room by absorbing the residual reverberations or echoes. It is used to reduce resonance and background noise. You can find acoustic foam as tiles in different sizes, shapes, and colors.

You’ll notice that acoustic foam is a very lightweight material. It is soft, similar to regular foam, but it specifically targets sounds. Acoustic foam is generally made from polyurethane or extruded melamine foam. This material has open cells which easily absorb unwanted sound waves.

Acoustic foam can be installed across walls, ceilings, and doors. It is commonly used in offices, theaters, gymnasiums, and homes. They are very effective in large rooms which tend to produce extra reverberations.

You can find acoustic foam cut into columns, pyramids, cones, or triangle shapes. Each brand claims that its shape is the most effective. Generally, acoustic foam just needs to be thick and soft to have maximum absorbent qualities.

Acoustic foam could cost from $10 to $100, depending on the brand and the size.

2. Sound Blankets

Many musicians use sound blankets to line their studios because of their ability to absorb sounds. You can often find sound blankets that both absorb and block sound waves. This makes them very effective in soundproofing a room.

Sound blankets are typically made from a composite material that adds mass to a wall. Most brands use mineral wool, cotton, or multi-layered polyester. This creates a barrier against sounds but also improves internal sound quality. They are thick enough to absorb most sounds, but won’t block 100% of sounds.

They are fully customizable, so you can get one that suits your specific needs. Many brands make sound blankets in a variety of styles and colors, so you never have to sacrifice your personal style to soundproof a room.

The best part of using a sound blanket is its versatility. You can easily install them over walls, windows, or doors and move them at a moment’s notice. Because they are removable and reusable, they are a worthwhile investment.

Although they cost more than a standard blanket, sound blankets usually aren’t too expensive. You can even order them in bulk to reduce the overall cost.

A good quality sound blanket can cost anywhere from $40 to over $200. Often, the more expensive sound blankets will offer more high-quality materials and extra thickness to absorb more sounds.

3. Sound-Absorbing Underlayment

If you’re looking to soundproof your flooring, a sound-absorbing underlayment is a great option. This is laid between flooring to protect against airborne and surface noise. An underlayment can absorb, as well as block, sound waves from traveling through a surface.

You can install an underlayment underneath hardwood, tile, plywood, or concrete. This can be a great alternative to installing carpeting or rugs.

Underlayment is usually made from cork sheets, rubber, vinyl, or foam. Each of these materials is dense enough to insulate against sounds.

All underlayments will absorb some noise. They are also useful in creating a stable base for flooring. After installing an underlayment, you can have more comfortable floors that won’t transfer sounds to your downstairs neighbors.

To install an underlayment, it will generally cost around $3.40 to $5.31 per square foot.

4. Noise-Reducing Curtains

Soundproof curtains are one of the most aesthetic solutions to your soundproofing needs. These look similar to regular curtains but are made with a custom material specifically for absorbing sounds.

Noise-reducing curtains are thick, dense, and made from triple-weave polyester fabric. Their tight weave allows them to be very effective in soundproofing a window.

You can simply hang them over a window using the metal grommets at the top. They slide easily over a curtain rod, transforming your home into a quiet living space.

These curtains are available in many different sizes, colors, and patterns. This way, you can find some that match your personal style. Even though methods like acoustic foam are effective, noise-reducing curtains are much more attractive.

The average cost of noise-reducing curtains is around $50. However, many brands make these curtains, so you can be sure to find one within your price range.

5. Acoustic Partitions

Acoustic partitions might not block sounds, but they do a great job of absorbing sound waves. They have a similar effect to using soft furniture to sound treat a room.

If you go into an office space, you’ll probably see dividers separating all of the cubicles. These are usually acoustic partitions. An open-concept office space will often be very loud and distracting for workers, so these are placed to reduce background noise.

When choosing the right acoustic partition, make sure to find one that is made from soft materials. Fabrics like polyester and cotton will be beneficial in absorbing sound waves.

Although some partitions are permanent, you can find some that are moveable. Certain partitions have wheels that allow you to move them whenever you’d like. This would come in handy, especially since acoustic partitions are usually between 4 and 6 feet tall and 5 or 6 feet wide.

Depending on the size, an acoustic partition could cost between $50 and over $200.

6. Fiberglass Insulation

Fiberglass insulation is installed in many homes because of its soundproofing ability. It is made of small particles of recycled glass which stop the transmission of sound, as well as heat and cold. Sound waves and temperatures are absorbed into the material, preventing them from entering a home.

This insulation is great for absorbing sound waves. Although fiberglass insulation won’t block any sounds, it will still highly benefit your living space.

The Noise Reduction Coefficient for fiberglass insulation is between .90 and .95. For this NRC, a good soundproofing material will have a score close to 1. As you can see, fiberglass is a high-performing material.

Fiberglass insulation will not block 100% of outside noises. However, they do absorb the majority of sounds and would be a great addition to any home.

This material costs around $.30 to $1.50 per square foot. If you have a 500 square foot area to insulate, you’ll likely spend around $150 to $700, not including the cost of professional help.

7. Acoustic Polyester Panels

Polyester panels are commonly used in schools, restaurants, gymnasiums, and homes. They are effective in controlling sound, while also having a sleek look and inexpensive price.

If you’re looking for an environmentally friendly sound absorption method, you can’t go wrong with acoustic polyester panels. They are usually eco-friendly, with no formaldehyde, chemical irritants, or odors. You can even find some brands that make panels out of recycled polyester.

A 2-inch thick polyester panel has an NRC of about .95. This is very close to 1, so it will do a great job of absorbing sounds.

You can install these panels on any flat surface. They are usually placed on walls, but can also go on ceilings and doors.

Polyester panels are usually sold in packs. These can cost between $35 and $60.

8. Sound-Absorbing Egg Cartons

Although egg cartons are not as effective as other methods, they can reduce echoes and sound resonance. They will not block unwanted noise from entering your home, but they can improve sound quality.

Egg cartons are made from paper fibers. This is a good material for absorbing sound waves, although it may be more beneficial when combined with other methods.

You can layer sound-absorbing egg cartons onto a wall to increase the sound quality of any room. This isn’t the most aesthetic method, but it works if you need an inexpensive material.

Overall, egg cartons work in slightly reducing extra sounds, but won’t fully eliminate outside noise.It is a very thin material, so you may be more benefitted by a different option on this list.

For this method, all you have to do is collect empty egg cartons and attach them to the walls. This can be much cheaper than using acoustic foam. You can even buy a pack of 250 empty cartons for around $80.

9. Furniture

Sometimes, the best sound-absorbing material is already in your home. Furniture is made of soft, thick materials that will be very effective in absorbing sound waves. You simply have to strategically arrange your furniture for maximum soundproofing.

For dampening sound, choose furniture that is upholstered. It should be made from plush fabric, such as suede, microfiber, chenille, or corduroy. These will be more absorbent than materials like leather.

If there is a lot of sound traveling through a specific wall, you can arrange your couch to cover that area. Even covering the sofa in plush cushions and blankets will amplify its ability to absorb sound waves.

The best part about this method is that you probably already have furniture. This sound-absorbing method is readily available in your house, so you simply have to rearrange your decor.

10. Carpets and Rugs

When finding sound-absorbent methods, you don’t have to purchase fancy soundproofing materials. Thick carpets and rugs can create obstacles for sounds entering your house.

Often, hardwood floors will easily transmit sounds from one apartment to another. You can prevent this by installing thick carpeting or rugs. Wool carpets can be very effective, absorbing sounds from a wide range of frequencies.

Carpets can reduce noise by about 35%.This can make a major difference in your home. Carpeting can prevent not only airborne noise, but also surface noise. After installing carpeting, your neighbors will be less likely to hear your noise downstairs.

Carpets cost around $2.50 per square foot.

11. Sound-Absorbing Room Divider Curtains

Sound-absorbing room divider curtains are similar to noise-reducing curtains, except they are placed in the middle of a room. Normal soundproof curtains only have one presentable side, but divider curtains are symmetrical, so they will look nice anywhere in your home.

These are beneficial to have in open-space homes. You can create more privacy by sectioning off a sleeping area. This will not only provide visual privacy but will also absorb some sounds.

Room divider curtains are a thick, dense material that reduces noise and light transmission. Most of these curtains are made from polyester, but they could also be suede, velvet, or cotton.

You can expect divider curtains that are 4 feet wide to be from $20 to $30. If you need a curtain as big as 15 feet, this could cost around $70.

12. Sound-Absorbing Fabric Panels

Sound-absorbing fabric panels have the effectiveness of acoustic panels, but look much nicer. Fabric panels have a solid wood frame that is wrapped in fabric. They are usually made of burlap or microsuede.

Just like acoustic panels, fabric panels are mounted on the walls or ceiling. They are used to treat sound reverberation and echoes in a room.

Most fabric panels come in large sizes, about 20 inches long and 30 inches wide. Because they are 2 inches thick, they easily absorb incoming sound waves.

You can even make fabric panels yourself. All you’ll need is a wood frame, insulation, fabric, a nail gun, and a stapler. You’ll find that fabric panels can be just as effective as acoustic panels, but are much cheaper.

Fabric panels may cost from $8 to $12 per square foot.

13. Acoustic Bass Traps

Acoustic bass traps can be a great tool for improving internal sound quality. Bass traps fit into all corners of a room, having two flat sides at a 90-degree angle. They are commonly paired with acoustic foam to minimize sound echoes and reverberations.

The core of a bass trap is made out of glass, mineral wool, or open-cell foam. This is usually surrounded by steel, a wooden frame, or just foam. The entire core and frame are covered in foam or a similarly porous fabric.

You may be able to hear a major difference in sound quality with just acoustic foam. However, if you pair this with bass traps in the corners of a room, you’ll notice the benefits. There will be less noise leakage from the room and the area will have a richer bass sound.

You can find bass traps in sets of 2, 4, or 8. Each bass trap is 10 to 12 inches wide and 12 to 24 inches long.

Sets of bass traps will generally cost between $50 and $150.

14. Acoustic Panels

Acoustic foam panels create a soft surface to trap and absorb sound waves. They are made from acoustic foam, which has polyurethane-based materials. These materials, which are either polyester, polyether, or extruded melamine, have open cells that absorb sounds.

You can install these panels over a wall, ceiling, or door. Because sound waves travel outwards in all directions, it’s necessary to have a full surface of panels for maximum effectiveness. We’d recommend covering at least 20% of the wall space.

Placing these panels on walls or ceilings will prevent sound waves from hitting a hard surface and bouncing off. Instead of reverberating throughout the room, sound waves will be absorbed. This improves the sound quality of the room.

Acoustic panels are available in a variety of thicknesses. This will affect how much sound it can absorb. Thicker panels will be more effective in absorbing most sound frequencies.

1 or 2-inch panels will likely absorb high to mid-range frequencies. A thicker panel will absorb low-frequency sound waves as well.

Although the cost can vary, acoustic panels generally cost $6 to $8 per square foot. However, you can make a DIY acoustic panel for as low as $3 per square foot.

15. Acoustic Cotton Batts

Acoustic cotton batts can absorb sounds on par or better than fiberglass insulation. They are made from 85% post-industrial cotton fibers and are commonly recyclable. They have great acoustic properties, being able to insulate any room from unwanted sounds.

The greatest benefit of using cotton batts is their low carbon footprint. Installing this insulation is a more sustainable alternative to many of the options on this list. You also don’t have to worry about its performance level.

Cotton batt insulation fits between the studs in a wall or ceiling to provide insulation from sounds and heat. It contains natural sound absorption materials, usually from recycled cotton, like denim. They are also less likely to grow mold and mildew.

This sound-absorbing method costs between $1.20 and $1.50 per square foot. This doesn’t include the cost of installation by professionals.

16. Acoustic Mineral Wool

Mineral wool is a natural material made out of basalt salt and steel slag. Unlike many other sound-absorbing methods, mineral wool can both absorb and block sounds. It is similar to fiberglass insulation but has natural materials instead of glass.

This insulation can be either rock wool or slag wool. Rock wool has natural stone fibers, while slag wool has iron-ore waste fibers.

Mineral wool is great for insulation. It is moisture-resistant, fire-resistant, and provides a barrier against acoustic invasion. This can be installed in roofs, walls, or floors. With mineral wool insulation, you’ll notice a quieter, more soundproof living space.

Mineral wool costs a little more than fiberglass insulation. For every square foot, mineral wool is about 80 cents.

Best Soundproofing Materials For Ceilings

The best materials for soundproofing a ceiling are mineral wool or fiberglass insulation. You can also add a sound-absorbing underlayment to the floor above.

It’s important to remember that these are materials specifically for absorbing sounds. To block sounds, you can add a layer of drywall or mass-loaded vinyl. These materials are specially made for soundproofing rather than sound-absorbing.

Best Soundproofing Materials For Walls

There are many ways you can soundproof a wall. On the inside, you can install insulation like mineral wool or fiberglass. These both block and absorb noise.

For existing walls, you can cover them in sound-absorbing panels. Acoustic foam panels, polyester panels, and fabric panels will absorb sound waves, improving internal sound quality.

To improve sound quality even further, you can add sound blankets, acoustic partitions, divider curtains, or bass traps. When combined with other methods, these can significantly reduce the echoes and reverberations in a room.

Best Soundproofing Materials For Flooring

Having carpet flooring is one of the best ways to soundproof a floor.Carpeting will absorb both airborne noise and impact noise. This will prevent your downstairs neighbor from hearing you walking around. Similarly, thick rugs can absorb sounds.

If you prefer having hardwood flooring, consider installing an underlayment underneath the hardwood. This will cushion the hard surface and prevent a large amount of sound transfer.

Final Thoughts

Because there are so many sound-absorbing materials available, it can be difficult to choose the right one to use. If you want to improve the sound quality of a room, rather than soundproof it, you can apply any method on this list. Keep in mind that you can increase their effectiveness by combining multiple methods.

  • Gregory A Seely
  • Gregory A Seely

    Greg is a self taught home renovator and writer for RenoViso. His shares his experiences with Southern Living, Traditional Home and other publications.

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