5 Natural Sound Absorbing Material That Works The Best

Controlling noise is crucial for productivity and peace of mind, whether at home, work, or in public spaces. Understanding the acoustic properties of materials is key to reducing unwanted sounds.

Choosing natural sound absorbers over synthetic options offers sustainability along with acoustic performance. But which natural materials actually work the best?

Here’s the answer.

Natural substances like cotton, wool, wood, cork and coconut husk can often outperform foams and other synthetic products. Their porous fibers and varied densities optimize absorption across frequency ranges to create peaceful environment.

This guide will outline the top natural acoustic materials and how their physical properties contribute to noise control. We’ll also bust some common myths and misconceptions.

What Makes A Good Sound Absorber?

Natural sound absorbing materials have become increasingly popular due to their potential for use in a variety of applications.

According to a study published in the National Library of Medicine, materials like cotton, wool, and wood fibers have gained attention for controlling unwanted echoes and improving communication in spaces like performance venues, work environments, and restaurants.

Muffling noise requires materials that prevent sound waves from bouncing and echoing around a space. The most effective acoustic substances have these key characteristics:

  • Porosity – Materials with porous fibers or open cell structures trap sound waves inside tiny chambers rather than letting them reflect back into the space.
  • Density – Denser materials are better at absorbing lower frequency sounds with higher energy. Light and fluffy substances work well for higher frequencies.
  • Thickness – Sound has to penetrate deeper into thicker materials for better absorption, so depth matters.
  • Mounting – Creating an air gap between the absorber and the wall improves low frequency absorption.

To understand the science behind how sound absorbing materials work, I’ve written an informative article explaining the mechanisms – how sound absorbing materials work.

Which Natural Materials Work Best For Absorbing Sound?

Natural sound absorbing materials derived from sustainable sources like cotton, wool, wood fibers, cork and coconut husk effectively reduce noise through porous fibrous structures. Strategic installation of these renewable materials absorbs echoes and ambient sounds by preventing reflection across wide frequency range.

Let’s look at the specific benefits of the top plant-based sound absorbers.

Cotton – The Star Natural Acoustic Material

From acoustic panels to insulation and drapes, cotton is hands down the most versatile natural sound absorber. Both porous and dense, cotton interacts with frequencies across the spectrum.

  • As solid panels, compressed cotton fibers absorb mid to low frequencies. Panels can be any shape for custom installations.
  • Insulation placed inside walls dampens sound transfer between rooms in multi-family dwellings.
  • Drapes and thick folded rugs provide absorption across a wide surface area. Layering improves performance.
  • Durability and fire resistance makes cotton ideal for public spaces and performance venues.

Cotton is also renewable, compostable, and often created from recycled textiles. It outperforms synthetic materials in sustainability and acoustic performance.

Wool – A Natural Noise Dampener

From sheep to alpaca, wool is another renewable porous fiber with inherent sound absorbing properties.

  • Wool is used in acoustic panels and to fill fabric absorbers hung from ceilings. The fibers in wool fabrics scatter sound waves.
  • Thick wool area rugs absorb footfall noise and higher frequencies when layered over hard floors.
  • Recycled wool and sustainable alpaca farming makes this a low impact acoustic material.

The paper from the National Library of Medicine showed wool sourced from local mountain sheep can also be used to produce effective sound absorbing materials. Research demonstrates the growing recognition of sustainable plant-based and animal-derived materials for acoustic treatments.

The only downside to wool is potential allergies or odor retention in certain enclosed environments. Proper cleaning and maintenance prevents most issues.

Wood Fibers – Absorption From Natural Materials

Trees offer several acoustic benefits in the form of wood fibers and boards.

  • MDF panels mounted on walls absorb a wide range of sound frequencies thanks to composite wood fibers held in resin. The fragmented structure prevents sound reflection.
  • Bamboo is a soft, low density wood that scatters sound when used in panels or shredded as insulation.
  • Cork boards provide some mid-range frequency absorption and are simple to install.

The main drawback with solid wood acoustic materials is a lack of porosity to absorb lower frequencies. Combining wood with cotton insulation improves the overall acoustic performance.

Cork – A Renewable Plant-Based Absorber

  • Cork is a renewable material harvested from tree bark that offers useful acoustic properties:
  • Cork floor and wall tiles absorb and dampen sound thanks to a honeycomb-like cellular structure.
  • Recycled cork can be used to create lightweight acoustic panels for walls and ceilings.
  • The spongy flexibility of cork absorbs vibrations and impacts, reducing footfall noise.
  • Sourced sustainably from cork oak trees, this material is biodegradable and compostable.

The main limitations of cork are a lack of density for low frequency absorption and vulnerability to moisture. Proper installation and maintenance help cork retain acoustic integrity.

Coconut Husks – A Fibrous Acoustic Absorber

The extremely porous and fibrous husks of coconuts also display helpful acoustic properties:

  • Shredded coconut husk or compressed blocks absorb mid to high frequencies.
  • Coconut composite boards offer decorative sound dampening when installed on walls or ceilings.
  • As a lightweight material, it takes a significant amount of coconut fiber to effectively absorb lower frequencies.
  • Chemically treating the husks improves fire resistance. Raw coconut fiber also composts quickly, reducing waste.

For an explanation of the differences between soundproofing and sound absorption, read my helpful comparison – soundproofing vs sound absorption.

Got Acoustics Questions? Here Are The Answers:

What natural material works for absorbing sound across all frequencies?

Cotton is the most versatile natural acoustic material because it can be made into both porous sound insulation and dense noise absorbing panels. The combination of density and porosity allows cotton to effectively absorb frequencies across the full spectrum, from low to high.

How well do natural materials work compared to synthetic sound absorbers?

Certain natural substances like cotton and wool actually outperform synthetic materials like foam in terms of acoustic performance. Their porous fibrous structures trap sound waves rather than letting them reflect around the room. Materials derived from plants and animals also tend to be more sustainable and healthier for indoor environments.

Should I use natural or synthetic materials to soundproof a music studio?

For professional spaces like recording studios, layered natural cotton or wool acoustic panels are ideal. Cotton insulation in walls adds acoustic separation too. Wood panels also absorb mid-range frequencies. Synthetics like foam are not as effective at blocking music noise that contains deep bass and percussion.

To find out if soundproofing is really effective for reducing noise, I’ve written an evidence-based article assessing the benefits – does soundproofing work.

What natural materials work for absorbing noise from voices and office equipment?

Porous fibers like cotton and wool efficiently absorb the mid to high frequency sounds that dominate human speech and office equipment noise. Drapes, acoustic panels, and ceiling tiles made from these materials muffle voices, phones, printers, HVAC systems and more.

Sometimes, people uses soundproof doors to make their office quite. They are generally expensive and if your curious to know what it is so. Then, here is the guide on why soundproof doors are expensive that answers the question.

How can I tell if a material will be effective for my specific noise problems?

Consider the frequency of the noise source, from low rumbling sounds like idling engines to high pitch equipment whines. Test potential materials with sound frequency absorption coefficient charts to see their ideal performance range.

To learn about using curtains to absorb sound, I recommend reading my detailed guide on soundproof curtains, where I tested how effective they are for soundproofing or sound absorbing.

Also evaluate the material thickness and density. Understanding the science behind acoustics allows you to select appropriate natural sound absorbers.

If you’re wondering about the differences between soundproofing and acoustic treatment, my guide compares the two strategies – soundproofing vs acoustic treatment.


Natural sound absorbing materials, such as cotton, wool, wood fibers, cork, and coconut husks, can be fabricated into acoustic panels, insulation, rugs, and more to effectively absorb frequencies across the audible spectrum.These materials are porous and fibrous which prevent them from reflecting back into the room.

Key Takeaways

  • Natural cotton, wool, and plant fibers absorb sound through porous fibers that trap sound waves.
  • Thickness and density contribute to a material’s acoustic performance across frequencies.
  • Cotton is the most versatile natural sound absorber, effective across the frequency range.
  • Natural acoustic materials like wool and cotton often outperform synthetic options.
  • Testing a material’s sound absorption coefficients predicts real-world acoustic performance.

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