Mass Loaded Vinyl
If you're looking for mass loaded vinyl, chances are you have something to soundproof. MLV has been one of the most commonly using building materials for soundproofing for decades. In the page below, we'll go into detail about how mass loaded vinyl is used, how it's installed, and some commonly asked questions.
We have been helping folks use MLV in their projects for well over 20 years, so please reach out to a Second Skin professional if you have questions on your project or are looking for custom sizes / bulk quantities. We've got you covered!
What is Mass Loaded Vinyl?
Mass loaded vinyl (or MLV) is an acoustical barrier that blocks sound wave transmission to provide excellent noise reduction. Safer than lead and denser than drywall, mass loaded vinyl is a high density, limp material that’s engineered to be an effective sound barrier. Manufactured from PVC vinyl that has been compounded with inert materials to increase density, MLV is well suited for automotive, industrial, and building applications.
Mass loaded vinyl is typically colored black with a density between 1 lb and 2 lbs per square foot. It’s most often bought in large rolls, but Second Skin also sells sheets because they’re much easier to ship and some projects need less square footage. MLV is odorless, heat resistant, waterproof, tear resistant, and has a high STC rating for effective noise blocking. One of the most common uses for MLV is soundproofing walls.
Where Can Mass Loaded Vinyl be Used?
Mass loaded vinyl is most commonly used in commercial buildings as part of a soundproof wall or ceiling assembly. The MLV is attached directly to the studs or joists with 100% coverage, except for small cutouts for outlet boxes, light switches and any other penetrations. Any gaps or seams should be sealed with acoustical sealant and foil tape.
Because mass loaded vinyl is flexible, it’s the ideal noise blocking material to fit around the contours of a vehicle to block airborne engine, tire, and road noise. It’s extremely effective for commercial use across a variety of projects, and often used to reduce noise transmission in in soundproofing ceilings, walls, machinery enclosures, ductwork, fencing, and HVAC or generator enclosures. We do not recommend mass loaded vinyl for floor soundproofing, where you should use our UnderBlock rubber underlayment instead. For outdoor applications, we recommend upgrading to a installing mass loaded vinyl with grommets or washers to extend the life of the material.
Residential applications include a generator sound box, to soundproof a door, and even to build a DIY sound barrier fence around your air conditioner. For the best aesthetics, the MLV should be concealed behind another material – but you can leave it exposed too if the looks don’t matter. Because it’s so heavy, MLV should be adhered with an extremely strong adhesive (like vinyl contact cement for vehicle applications) or fastened with screws and washers, staples, nails, or reinforced grommets.
How to Install Mass Loaded Vinyl
The exact process for installing mass loaded vinyl depends on the application. There’s one general rule, which is to install it with 100% coverage and seal all seams and gaps. Sound behaves like water, and will “leak” through any openings in your MLV sound barrier. A successfully MLV soundproofing project mostly comes down to being methodical about properly covering the application area.
We have a whole article on how to install mass loaded vinyl as well as specific install steps on our Luxury Liner MLV roll page.
Commonly Asked MLV Questions
What do you put over mass loaded vinyl?
You should install 5/8” drywall over the top of mass loaded vinyl, after sealing the perimeter and around any penetrations with acoustical sealant. The drywall can then be painted or covered for whatever décor fits the room.
What is are common alternatives to mass loaded vinyl?
A sound isolation clip system is always a higher performing option than mass loaded vinyl for wall and ceiling applications, as it will deliver superior STC and IIC ratings. Clips are also much easier to install on a ceiling. We prefer the RSIC-1 clip. RSIC clips should be installed with 25 gauge hat channel, 5/8” drywall, and sealed around the perimeter with acoustical sealant.
Does mass loaded vinyl really work?
Mass loaded vinyl is a cost-effective, simple to install solution for soundproofing, or stopping noise from traveling between two spaces. The MLV must be installed with 100% coverage (no air gaps) and is most commonly used as part of a wall or ceiling assembly. Mass loaded vinyl is commonly used to improve the Sound Transmission Class (STC) rating of an assembly in both residential and commercial soundproofing projects.
Are MLV products the same?
MLV products are all made from recycled goods, and generally have the same density and STC rating. There are some differences in properties depending on the exact formula and which recycling streams a manufacturer dips into, as some are definitely higher quality than others. There are also differences driven by the actual manufacturing process. If you get the cheap-o MLV, some of the problems you can run into are:
- Inconsistent weights, which can reduce the mass per square foot and reduce the effectiveness of your MLV sound barrier
- More brittle and less flexible. You don't want the product to rip just because you bent it a couple of times.
- Easier tearing. Cheaper MLVs have lower tensile strengths. They will tear easier and should be used with caution if attaching with mechanical fasteners (definitely not outdoors).
- Bad Odors. Depending on the chemical makeup, some MLVs will have a strong smell that doesn't dissipate over time.
What should you look for in an MLV sound barrier?
The first thing you should confirm is the quality of the mass loaded vinyl. Two key indicators of quality are the MLV's STC rating and whether or not the company describes it as odorless.
The STC rating tells you how well the MLV blocks sound waves, the higher the better. The density of most MLVs is between 1 pound per sq ft to 2 pounds per sq ft. The industry standard is 1 lb, which is what we recommend for vehicles because the denser versions of MLV are not as workable around a vehicle's curves. Most people use the 1 lb density for homes as well. For this density, you're looking for an STC in the the 26 to 28 range.
Being odorless indicates the quality of the materials that compose the MLV. It's possible to cut costs by making the MLV out of cheap recycled goods, but you pay for that cheapness in odor, easy tearing, and brittleness.
Why does MLV work better as a limp barrier?
In theory, the mass loaded vinyl barrier will perform better when somewhat limp, because the give prevents your barrier from vibrating. This "limpness" applies whether you're installing the MLV inside the wall of a room in your house or under the carpet in your vehicle. Think about if you hit a sheet of lead (which used to to be the go-to blocking material before we learned about the health concerns) it won’t reverberate and ring like a rigid sheet of tin or brass. It’s the same with mass loaded vinyl the flexibility and limpness prevent the MLV from vibrating. Because the MLV material doesn’t vibrate, you don’t hear the ringing sound.
How much MLV do you need?
The most important thing for mass loaded vinyl is that you use it with 100% coverage of the area you are installing it, any opening or breaks in the mass loaded vinyl will allow sound to transfer right through. To make sure you get the right amount of material, you’ll need to measure the area to get the total square footage amount. For example, if you’re installing mass loaded vinyl on a 10 feet wide by 8 feet tall wall, you’ll need 80 square feet of material.
If you are installing mass loaded vinyl in your vehicle, check out our car square footage guide for an estimate!
Other Examples of Mass Loaded Vinyl Soundproofing