Can You Truly Soundproof an Apartment?

Updated: Nov. 21, 2023

Unless your landlord agrees to permanent structural changes, you can't truly soundproof an apartment. You do have options for reducing noise, though.

When I lived in Japan, the building next door was so close and the walls so thin I could hear people climbing the stairs. That kind of acoustic intimacy isn’t quite as common on this side of the Pacific, thanks to sturdier building practices. But even North American apartments with thicker walls and floor can still be pretty noisy.

For some people, the issue isn’t so much about stopping noise from coming in but preventing inside noise from disturbing others. Such was the case with a former renter of mine who loved to practice his electric guitar, irritating his neighbors. It turned out soundproofing a single room in his apartment gave him the privacy he needed.

If you’re losing sleep because of noise, here are some things to think about.

Can You Soundproof an Apartment?

The answer is yes — but only to a limited degree.

Because an apartment is smaller than a house, you might think it’s easier to soundproof. It isn’t. If soundproofing wasn’t incorporated into the walls, ceilings and floors during construction, it’s difficult to add afterward. It can be done, but it’s expensive and troublesome, and few landlords are motivated to do it.

Renters do have non-intrusive options for reducing noise that don’t involve structural modifications. Carpets and soft furnishings can absorb sound. You can block sound coming through the windows, and seal gaps in the walls or around doors and windows.

All of these measures will help limit noise. But if you can’t prevent sound transmission through the walls, floor and ceiling, you’re still at the mercy of your noisy neighbors.

No apartment is an island, so if you can hear your neighbors, they can hear you. The best soundproofing strategy might be making pact with them to limit noise or confine it to certain times of the day. Respect for each other’s auditory space seems to work in densely packed apartment complexes in Japan.

How Does Sound Get Into an Apartment?

Sound is a series of percussive vibrations that originate at a source and spread in all directions through the air. The vibrations can travel through wallboard, glass, wood, and metal, although they’re dampened somewhat depending on the density of the material. They can pass freely through any gap where air passes.

The most noticeable and troublesome noise in an apartment usually comes from the floor above, especially if the space between the ceiling and the upstairs floor isn’t insulated. Footsteps make the floorboards vibrate, and the joists and ceiling drywall all vibrate in resonance to create noise below.

Sounds that travel through the air, like people talking or a phone ringing, can pass through the floor in the same way. It often echoes in the airspace between the floor and the ceiling, making it even more noticeable.

Noise can also enter an apartment through doors and windows. In some houses, one or more rooms converted into living spaces are often separated from the rest of the house or adjoining apartments by flimsy hollow-core doors. Single-pane windows that look out on busy streets are also common sources of noise.

6 Apartment Soundproofing Methods

If your apartment is too noisy, start by contact the landlord, who may be willing to work with you to make structural improvements. Without your landlord’s consent, you can’t make permanent modifications. However, there are other things you can do to absorb sound, attenuate it or distract your mind so the noise doesn’t bother you as much.

Block Windows with Curtains

Hanging heavy curtains can reduce noise from traffic or people talking outside. They won’t do much to keep out high-intensity bass sounds from car radios or boomboxes, because the walls themselves vibrate in resonance to low frequencies. The curtains will, however, reduce the whooshing sounds of passing cars and other mid and high-frequency traffic noise.

Carpet the Floor

Once sound enters your living space, it tends to bounce around off hard surfaces like hardwood floors. Carpeting softens that. It also deadens the sound of footsteps, a boon for people living below.

If you’re bothered by footsteps from the apartment above, consider asking the landlord to add carpeting there. Depending on where you live, this may even be a requirement. Municipalities like Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York City have rules stipulating 80 percent of hardwood, laminate and tile floors in rental units be covered with carpets.

Hang Textiles on the Walls

Like carpeting and curtains, loose-hanging textiles absorb sound and prevent it from ricocheting around the room. For best results, hang the cloth from a rod an inch or two from the wall.

Install an Acoustic Drop Ceiling

Acoustic panels like the Udderly Quiet Acoustic Cloud from Soundproof Cow can dampen sounds coming from above and prevent the noise you make from going through the ceiling. They hang off hooks which are easy to install and easy to remove when you move out.

Seal Doors and Windows

Stop noise from coming through gaps in the walls by asking your landlord to seal them with caulk. Use weatherstripping to close gaps in door and window frames. If you hear noise coming through a flimsy hollow-core door, ask your landlord to replace it with a solid-core one.

Use a White Noise Generator

A white noise generator won’t block incoming noise, but it will make it less noticeable and reduce the anxiety it causes. White noise is a soothing combination of random frequencies that might have a theme, like breaking ocean waves or a babbling brook. It’s often used in hospitals, offices and nurseries. It might be all you need to get a good night’s sleep.