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Earplugs are a simple, inexpensive method of blocking noises that disrupt sleep. These may include traffic or other outside sounds, as well as snoring bed partners or noisy travel environs (such as airplanes). Earplugs are designed to compress into smaller shapes, and then re-expand when fitted into the ear canal for maximum noise reduction. They come in a wide range of shapes to accommodate users with different bodily dimensions and preferences.
Most earplugs are made from either foam or silicone, though select models are made of wax. The majority of earplugs are designed for one-time use; reusable models are also available, but need to be regularly cleaned in order to prevent contamination and reduce risk of an ear infection. Earplugs are usually sold in bulk; when priced individually, most cost between 15 and 60 cents per pair.
Read on to learn more about earplug shapes and materials, as well as key considerations for first-time buyers. Below you’ll find our picks for the best earplugs sold today. Our choices are based on verified customer and owner experiences, as well as intensive product research and analysis.
Our Editor’s Pick, the MAX-1 Earplugs from Howard Leight, offer a complete package for customers: effective noise blockage, comfortable fit, and low price-point even by earplug standards. These earplugs are made from soft, slow-recovery polyurethane foam and formed in a twistable bell shape that forms a tight, secure seal to block out most sounds. They are also designed to remain in place; other earplugs tend to back out of the ear canal rather easily.
The MAX-1 Earplugs have a noise reduction rating (NRR) of 33, placing them among the highest-rated earplugs sold today. These earplugs are designed for one-time use. They are sold in packs of 20 to 200 with a per-pair price-point of roughly 20 to 25 cents, depending on the quantity.
While most earplugs are reasonably affordable, the 6800 Pura-Fit Soft-Foam Earplugs from Moldex are exceptionally cheap – roughly 14 cents per pair when sold in packs of 200. However, they provide comparable levels of comfort and noise reduction as their costlier counterparts. Their NRR is 33, making them industrial-strength.
They are made from soft polyurethane foam and shaped in a long cylinder that ensures a comfortable fit and easy removal for most users. The Moldex 6800 Pura-Fit Soft-Foam Earplugs are designed for single use.
Silicone earplugs have certain advantages, such as reusability and exceptional comfort. The Mack’s Pillow Soft Silicone Earplugs are a standout in this category for several reasons. One is moldability; the soft silicone plugs come in a circular shape that can be molded to fit any ear canal and create a secure, noise-blocking barrier. These earplugs carry a noise reduction rating of 22 – typical of silicone plugs – which makes them suitable for sleepers seeking moderate, but not industrial-strength, noise blockage.
Mack’s Pillow Soft Silicone Earplugs are also reusable; owners are urged to wash them after every use in order to keep them clean and hygienic. They are usually sold in smaller quantities with a per-pair price-point of 60 to 67 cents.
Like silicone earplugs, wax earplugs are a popular alternative to foam because they are highly moldable and form a more secure seal around ear canals. However, wax earplugs are fairly uncommon and, when available, tend to carry relatively high price-points. The Ohropax Wax Earplugs, our top pick in this category, are an exception to this last rule. Their average per-pair price-point is about 50 cents, putting them on par with most silicone options. They are also exceptionally comfortable due to a soft cotton encasement around the wax.
The Ohropax Wax Earplugs carry a noise reduction rating of 23, and are a good option for people who sleep in noisy – but not exceptionally loud – environments. They are also suitable for swimmers who wish to prevent water from seeping into their ears. These earplugs are reusable.
The Super Sleep Comfort Foam Earplugs are specifically designed for side sleepers; their thin, cylindrical shape will mold to the ear canal and won’t protrude too much (a common complaint among side sleepers who use foam plugs). They carry a noise reduction rating of 29, making them suitable for sleepers who find that silicone and wax earplugs do not block enough noise but do not require full industrial strength.
The Flents Super Sleep Comfort Foam Plugs are typically sold in packs of 10 or 20, and have an average per-pair price-point of 65 cents; they also come with a travel case for hygienic storage.
Outside noise can be a major sleep disruption, and many people rely on earplugs to get a good night’s rest. Situations where earplugs may come in handy include the following:
Earplugs for sleeping are relatively inexpensive compared to other noise-blocking products (such as white noise machines or headphones), and are widely available through online and brick-and-mortar retailers. Users can also choose from a wide range of shapes and styles. However, it’s important to note that long-term earplug use can lead to medical conditions like tinnitus, hearing loss, and ear infections.
This guide will look at the most popular designs for earplugs, information about health risks, and our picks for the top-rated earplugs sold today.
The majority of earplugs sold today are made from one of three materials:
A wide range of earplug shapes are available. These include cylindrical (tapered and non-tapered), circular, bell-shaped, and T-shaped designs, as well as moldable models that match the specific dimensions of the user’s ear canal. Regardless of shape, most earplugs sold today share the following characteristics.
Nightly earplug use is associated with three general health and safety risks:
Earwax, also known as cerumen, is a substance secreted (or drained) in the ear canal on a daily basis. It protects the skin and tissue of the inner ear against contaminants like bacteria and fungi, as well as water, and provides much-needed lubrication. Wearing earplugs can affect how much earwax is drained, and this can lead to earwax impaction, or buildup. One common side effect of earwax impaction is tinnitus, a condition characterized by a constant ringing in the ears. Other outcomes may include hearing loss, leaky discharge, or ear infections.
The best way for earplug users to prevent earwax impaction is to thoroughly clean the ear canal on a regular basis — if not every day, then multiple times per week. Cleaning and replacing earplugs can also help reduce the risk of impaction.
In addition to infections caused by earwax impaction, people who use earplugs may become infected if they do not regularly and properly clean their plugs. Failure to do so allows bacteria to accumulate, and placing bacteria-infested plugs in one’s ear canal can easily lead to an infection. Foam is particularly conducive to bacteria buildup. For this reason, many earplugs are designed for one-time use.
To clean reusable earplugs, simply submerge them in warm water and rub away dirt and waxy buildup. Once they are clean, place the earplugs under running cold water to rinse away any traces of soap, which can affect the structural integrity of the earplugs. Lastly, place them on a clean towel to dry.
Because they effectively block outside noise, earplugs can pose a risk to sleepers by preventing them from hearing certain activities in their home. These include emergency situations, such as a fire or home intruder, as well as medical issues involving family members or roommates. People with young children may want to refrain from using earplugs for this reason.
When shopping for earplugs for sleeping and comparing different brands and models, here are a few factors to keep in mind:
If you’re unable to sleep despite using earplugs, then you may be more satisfied with one of these noise-blocking alternatives.
Listening to music while you sleep can be an effective method of blocking outside noise, and some studies suggest this may also lower your heart rate. Headphones come in in-ear, on-ear, and over-ear designs, and some newer models are built into headbands or sleep masks. Cheaper headphones are available for less than $30, while higher-end models may cost $200 or more. To learn more, please visit our Best Headphones for Sleeping guide.
White noise machines produce random sound signals that can mask outside noise to a significant extent. Many sleepers utilize these machines when they go to bed. In addition to white noise, the machines may produce other ‘colors’ of noise, such as pink, blue, red, and brown noise — all of which increase or decrease volume per tempo for different listening experiences and sound-masking capabilities.
Most white noise machine models come with speakers and headphone jacks to accommodate different listening preferences. These machines rarely cost more than $100, and are widely available through brick-and-mortar and online retailers. For more information, check out our White Noise Machine Reviews guide.
Today’s smartphone or tablet user can choose from a wide selection of soothing, noise-blocking apps. Most are free, and come with multiple white noise and ambient options. The most popular white noise apps priced at $2 or less include the following: