How to Choose the Right Carpet Padding

There are several benefits to carpet padding.  It ads comfort under foot, can help provide thermal insulation, lets the carpet breathe so dirt can be vacuumed up better, and can supply minor sound-proofing so that every footstep is not heard.  However, the primary reason to select the right padding is to protect your carpet from damage.

The padding absorbs impact that the carpet would otherwise take, which can cause stress on the fibers, stretching and separation of backings (called delamination), carpet rippling, seam splitting, even the invalidation of the carpet’s warranty. If the padding is too soft it bottoms out when stepped on, which means the carpet is still taking the impact.  This will shorten the life of the carpet.  If the padding is too thick the carpet will be too high to hold onto the tack strip along the wall.  It will also create too much flex, causing seams to open and backing to weaken.  If the padding is too thin it will collapse quickly, again causing the carpet to wear out quickly.  

There are different types of carpet ratings, such as ILD, IFD, CFD, and CLD, but they all measure the same thing:  how much weight per footfall area it will take for the pad to bottom out.  When you buy padding it will be marked with a thickness and a density.  Density is measured in pounds per cubic foot.  A density under 6# is usually used in commercial real estate or apartments, where replacement is frequent.  A density from 6# to 8# is commonly recommended for residential use.  However, if you have a lot of pets and suspect you may need to replace the carpet frequently, you may want to go with a lower density.  The carpet pad should always be replaced when the carpet is replaced, as it is usually too worn at that point to be used again, and could cause your new carpet to deteriorate quickly.

Old, Worn Padding

The type of carpet can determine the type of pad you purchase.  Thicker carpet, like cut pile and loop carpets commonly take a resilient, firm pad.  Recommended thickness is 7/16” thick (at least ¼”) with a density of 6#.   Berber, or thinner loop and cut carpets commonly need a stable, low-flex pad.  The pad should be no more than 3/8” thick with a density of 8#.

You’ll also need to be aware of what the carpet padding is made of.  Available padding includes waffle rubber, flat rubber, urethane foam, bonded urethane (rebond), and natural fiber. 

Waffle Rubber has a waffle-like texture, thus the thickness measurement will include air.  Waffle rubber has not had a good track record, as it can break down easily, turning back to the clay powder from which it was made.  However, it has been improved over the years to improve its integrity.

Waffle Rubber Padding

Flat Rubber (also called Slab Rubber) is good for long wear (19-22# density), however, it is very expensive and hard to find.  It will make your carpet look newer for longer.

Urethane Foam is available in densities as low as ½# per square inch.  However, it has a tendency to compact quickly, especially in high traffic areas.  If you use this make sure you get the correct density.  It is usually also the least expensive. 

Foam Padding

Bonded Urethane (also called Rebond) is the most commonly sold padding today.  It’s made from scraps of high density foam used in furniture and auto manufacturing, which is then bonded together to form carpet padding.  Most carpet manufacturers recommend a density of a least 8# per cubic foot and a thickness of at least 3/8”.  As carpet padding goes, it’s mid-priced and often a good compromise.  However, if you use this padding you should be aware that it often contains butylated hydroxyl toluene (BHT).  BHT is used to reduce the risk of fire in certain urethanes during manufacturing.  Unfortunately, BHT can cause your carpet to yellow.  It is increasingly bad when combined with carpet cleaning detergents, especially those with a ph level over 10.  These detergents can increase the yellowing and cause it to set in.  It’s often recommended to use vinegar or another neutralizing rinse after cleaning your carpets.   When you purchase this padding make sure you ask the retailer for written assurance that the padding doesn’t contain BHT.

Rebond Padding

Synthetic Fiber Padding is usually a dense, flat pad made of scrap fiber.  It’s usually used under commercial carpeting, like Berber or the thinner loop and cut carpets. 

Fiber Padding

Moisture Barrier Padding is a sealed padding often used by pet owners.  I will talk about the pros and cons of this in my next post.

Moisture Barrier Rebond Padding

There are many other types of carpet padding that I haven’t mentioned here.  However, these are some of the most common.  Some carpet manufacturers call for specific types of padding.  Make sure you check the recommendations of your carpet’s manufacturer before you purchase your padding.


If you need your carpet cleaned or repaired, give Steamway Craftsmen a call at 515-223-2830 in the Des Moines, IA area.  We’re here for all your flooring needs.  Our services include carpet cleaning and damage repair, water damage clean up, wood floor refinishing (with clean, quick, sandless technology), air duct cleaning, and dryer vent cleaning.