The Ultimate Guide to Earplugs

Smiling woman wearing earplugs

Do you have difficulty sleeping at night? Do your ears hurt when you fly? Are you prone to swimmer's ear? Do you attend noisy events or enjoy hunting? Are you a musician or do you attend a lot of concerts?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, then this article is for you!

We are talking about earplugs.

Achieving the Proper Fit

First of all, earplugs must fit properly and be worn correctly in order to do the job. If you are trying to get by with a poor quality or poor fitting earplug, then you are doing yourself a disservice and could actually be causing more harm to your ears.

The effectiveness of a hearing protection earplug or earmuff is specified by a Noise Reduction Rating (NRR). The typical range for hearing protection is from 15 to 35 decibels of sound attenuation. The higher the NRR is, the more noise attenuation it provides, as long as it is also a good fit in the ear.

Hearing loss is serious. If you think that you may need a hearing test, we can help you find a hearing specialist in your area.

Earplugs for Sleeping

When should you wear them?

Sleep is very important to your overall health, and approximately 30% of the world's population isn't getting enough of it. When you have trouble sleeping due to ambient noise, earplugs specifically designed for sleep are a great solution.

Sleep earplugs are generally made for comfort, with a softer and more flexible material so they can be worn all night long without irritation.

Who should wear them?

  • Sleeping partners of heavy snorers
  • Anyone sleeping in a noisy environment due to traffic noise, noisy neighbors, student living, etc.
  • Travelers who need to rest on-the-go

What types are there?

Custom sleep earplugs. Can be made by a hearing healthcare professional by taking an earmold impression of your ear and sending that impression to an earplugs manufacturer who will then custom make a pair for you. These usually offer the most sound attenuation.

Disposable sleep earplugs. Typically made of a soft foam material for comfort. They are only meant to be used one or two times at most before a new pair is needed.

Moldable earplugs. A great alternative solution for when you can't get a comfortable fit with a traditional earplug and you don't like the way the foam feels in the ear. These are made of a wax or silicone material and are molded into the bowl of the ear by the wearer.

Reusable sleep earplugs. Typically made of a soft silicone or plastic material. They are generally more durable and can be reused for several night's sleep.

Top 4 Earplugs for Sleeping

RankPictureNameTypeNoise Reduction Rating (NRR)
1Alpine Sleepsoft EarplugsReusable20dB
2Mack's Ear Care Ultra Soft Foam EarplugsDisposable32dB
3Hearos Ultimate Softness Series Foam EarplugsDisposable32dB
4Ohropax Reusable Wax/cotton Ear PlugsResuable23dB

Earplugs for Noise Reduction

When should you wear them?

Earplugs for noise, sometimes called sound plugs, should be worn around any loud environmental noise, such as when around machinery, power tools, lawn equipment, gunfire, aircrafts, explosives, sporting events, motorcycles, and loud music to prevent hearing loss and tinnitus.

Any sounds louder than 85 decibels have the potential for causing noise-induced hearing loss. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) require earplug use for workers exposed to loud noises. But, earplugs should be used by those engaging in loud recreational activites as well.

Who should wear them?

  • Workers who are exposed to harmful noise levels as recommended by OSHA
  • Sporting event attendees such as NASCAR, football games, etc.
  • Military personnel who are exposed to gunfire and/or explosives
  • Anyone using power tools, lawn equipment, or machinery for home or recreational use

What types are there?

Custom noise plugs. Almost always the most efficient when it comes to blocking out harmful sounds. They can be purchased through a hearing healthcare professional who will first take a impression of your ear for a custom-fit.

Earmuffs. A popular form of noise protection for those working around machinery or lawn equipment. Earmuffs are desired by some people who do not like the way earplugs feel in the ear, or if they need some added protection. Earmuffs can sometimes provide more noise attenuation than earplugs can, for those working in extremely loud environments such as with aircraft engines or heavy machinery.

Reusable noise plugs. An inexpensive way to make sure you are always prepared. They are typically made of a soft silicone material and can be cleaned after use for re-use later. Reusable noise earplugs can come corded or non-corded, and some brands include a carrying case.

Disposable noise plugs. The least expensive option for occasional use, but if you plan on wearing earplugs often, it pays to invest in a reusable pair. Disposable earplugs must be discarded after each use and are generally made of a foam material.

Top 4 Noise Reducing Earplugs

RankPictureNameTypeNoise Reduction Rating (NRR)
1Hearos Xtreme ProtectionDisposable33dB
23M E-A-R Classic EarplugsDisposable29dB
33M Peltor 97069 President Hearing ProtectorEarmuffs26dB
43M TEKK E-A-R Corded Push-In EarplugsReusable28dB

Earplugs for Shooting

When should you wear them?

Earplugs or earmuffs should be worn anytime you are around gunfire. The average gunfire shot can often exceed 140 dB, a dangerous level that can cause permanent hearing loss. It only takes one if these loud impulse noise exposures to affect your hearing. Whether shooting the gun yourself, or standing near gunfire, noise protection should be worn.

Who should wear them?

  • Military personnel exposed to gunfire
  • Anyone attending or working at a gun range
  • Hunters or recreational shooters

What types are there?

Custom shooter earplugs. Great for the professional shooter or hunter who will need high-quality and comfortable plugs for everyday use. They can be ordered through a hearing healthcare professional using an earmold impression of your ear canal.

Electronic shooter earplugs. Feature micro processors that compress dangerously loud noises (gun blasts) while allowing safe levels of sound (speech, ambient sound) to pass through to the ear. They are the most expensive type of earplug (typically $200-$400) but perfect for those who regularly spend time in shooting environments.

Reusable shooter earplugs. Available corded or non-corded. The corded model is great for shooters who want to be able to easily remove them between shooting sessions, without losing them.

Disposable shooter earplugs. Basic foam earplugs that are used for any general noise protection.

Earmuffs. Popular among those at a shooting range where you are exposed to not only your own gunfire, but also that of the shooters around you. Earmuffs typically have a high noise attenuation level, great for those high impact noises like gunfire.

Top 5 Shooter Earplugs

Earplugs for Concerts

When should you wear them?

Musicians spend a lot of their time around damaging noise levels. Whether they play a musical instrument or sing in a band, musicians are at risk for developing noise-induced hearing loss.

Almost all instruments are capable of producing damaging sound levels, and then you add in the amplifier and advanced sound systems which can increase the volume even further.

Musicians rely on their hearing in practice and performance, and it is important that their hearing is not compromised over time.

However, many musicians choose to not wear earplugs because standard noise-reduction earplugs can degrade the quality of the music. High fidelity earplugs, on the other hand, are capable of letting in the good (the precise tonal quality) and keeping out the bad (the high volume).

High fidelity earplugs take into the account the resonant frequency of the ear so that attenuation of the sound is even across the frequency spectrum, preserving the original musical quality, only quieter.

Musician earplugs are not only for musicians, but for music lovers as well. For those who frequently attend concerts or music events, investing in a pair of high-fidelity earplugs will save your hearing after years of enjoying the music.

Who should wear them?

  • Professional or amateur musicians of any kind
  • Students in band or orchestra class and marching band
  • Music instructors and conductors
  • Concert and music festival attendees
  • Nightclub or loud bar attendees
  • Entertainment industry staff and concert crews

What types are there?

Custom musician earplugs. Consist of a filter and a custom earplug that is molded to the shape of the ear. The filter is typically a 9, 15, or 25 dB attenuation filter. The ER-15 filter is appropriate for most musicians. The ER-25 filter may be necessary for drummers or amplified bands. The ER-9 filter is appropriate for solo or acoustic performers. Custom earplugs offer just that, customization. These can be purchased from a hearing healthcare professional who will first take an earmold impression of your ear to customize the earplug.

Non-custom reusable earplugs. An inexpensive alternative for musicians, students, and concert attendees. They still take into account the resonance of the ear to preserve the musical quality, while reducing overall sound volume. Many people are unaware that there are non-custom musicians earplugs. When purchasing a pair of musician earplugs, you want to look for the term “high-fidelity”. These are a great inexpensive solution that can save the hearing of students, music instructors, and musicians who are consistently exposed to damaging music levels.

Electronic musicians earplugs. Adaptive earplugs that can adjust to changing sound levels. For example, a band instructor may need to hear the student's questions during band practice, but also get protection from the music when the band begins playing. Adaptive earplugs will let low level sounds (the student speaking) come through naturally, while automatically kicking in to provide a sound attenuation of either 9 or 15 dB during the loud sound (when the band begins playing).

Top 6 Music Earplugs

Earplugs for Swimming

When should you wear them?

Earplugs for swimming, also called swimplugs should be worn when swimming or showering when it is necessary to keep water out of the ear. This may be to avoid an ear infection in dirty water, or when there is a perforation in the eardrum. Many children require the use of swimplugs after receiving pressure equalization (PE) tubes in the ears following chronic ear infections. While the tubes are present, it is important to keep water out of the ear to prevent infection.

Who should wear them?

Anyone with pressure equalization tubes or a perforated eardrum
Those at risk for chronic ear infections
Those who swim in dirty or cold water

What types are there?

Custom swimplugs. Can be purchased from a hearing healthcare professional. A mold is taken of the ear so that the plug fits snug in the ear and prevents any water entry.

Moldable earplugs. The next best option behind custom swimplugs. They are usually made of a silicone or wax material that can be molded into the bowl of the ear to keep water out.

Top 3 Swimming Earplugs

Earplugs for Flying

When should you wear them?

Earplugs for flying, also commonly called earPlanes, are not used for noise reduction. Instead, they are used for helping to naturally equalize the air pressure in the ear canal when the cabin pressure rapidly changes.

They help to prevent popping, pain, and pressure caused by the rapid change in air pressure upon take-off and landing.

Who should wear them?

Those with history of ear infections or Eustachian tube dysfunction
Those experiencing sinus or allergy issues

What types are there?

Earplanes are the most popular type of earplugs for flying. They are made of a soft hypoallergenic silicone material and can be used twice before being discarded (two flights).

Top 2 Earplugs for Flying

RankPictureNameTypeNoise Reduction Rating (NRR)
1earPlanesDisposableN/A
2earPlanes for Kids and Smaller EarsDisposableN/A

Ear Protection for Kids

“The prevalence of hearing loss among children and adolescents is rising dramatically, caused mainly by increased exposure to recreational noise.” (Source)

When should you wear them?

Earmuffs are more suitable for children because they are safer, easier to use, and provide optimal sound attenuation. Babies and children should wear earmuffs whenever they are exposed to loud sounds for any extended time period, such as when at a sporting event, fireworks show, or concert. If your child likes to listen to music, we recommend using headphones with volume limiting settings. It is important to begin protecting your child's hearing immediately. The cumulative affects of noise on a child's hearing can be extremely damaging later in life.

Who should wear them?

Babies and children exposed to loud noise levels

What types are there?

The best earmuffs are the ones that fit well. Even tiny gaps around the earpiece can allow damaging sounds to get into the child's ears. A padded earpiece and an adjustable headband is preferred for the best fit.

Top 3 Earmuffs for Kids

RankPictureNameTypeNoise Reduction Rating (NRR)
1Baby Banz earBanZ Kids Hearing ProtectionEarmuffs21dB
23M Peltor Junior EarmuffEarmuffs22dB
3Pro Ears ReVO Passive Ear MuffsEarmuffs25dB

Final Thoughts

So there you have it – the only guide for earplugs you'll ever need. We'll bet you never thought that earplugs held so much potential for conversation. Concerts, hunting, swimming, sleeping, flying – there are earplugs for every occasion!

This is by far the most comprehensive guide to choosing the best earplugs to help protect your hearing, maybe the biggest in the history of humanity. However, if you have any additional questions be sure to leave us a note below and we'll get back to you.

Lindsey Banks is a graduate of the Doctor of Audiology (Au.D.) program at the University of Florida. She uses her diverse experience in hearing healthcare and her passion for helping people to provide credible information to those with hearing loss who visit Clear Living.

57 Comments
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  • Mike Winkler
    Hello I work in An industrial Setting and I use 32 nnr which has been effective for over 20 years. Recently the ear plugs have become really painful Sometimes the 32 it’s not enough and when wearing with 28 earmuffs still not enough Would really like some alternatives
    • Lindsey Banks
      If your current earplugs are custom made I would recommend having a new impression taken and new molds made. Your ears can change shape/size over time, which may be causing them to be uncomfortable. If you don't already have custom earplugs made then I would recommend that as the best option for comfort and noise reduction. See a local hearing provider for help.
  • Monica
    I have custom molded ear plugs for concerts (pretty sure it's a 15 dB attenuation filter) and they work great. I got them due to concerns of hearing damage and use them all the time now at concerts. Pretty sure I have tinnitus to some degree. I can deal with it easily most of the time but sometimes it flares up more than usual due to some number of factors. During these times, would it be worth getting one of the lower filters, like the 9 dB one? Would that even help with the effects of tinnitus for flare ups or is that only good for certain types of lower noise environments?
    • Lindsey Banks
      Wearing ear plugs when you are having a tinnitus "flare up" will not be helpful no matter which filter it has. Unless you are around hazardous noise when you hear the tinnitus, you should not be wearing the ear plugs.
  • The difference between High-Tech vs. Conventional Earplugs
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  • Paxson
    I was very pleased to find this page. I want to to thank you for your time for this particularly fantastic read!! I definitely liked every little bit of it and I have you saved to fav to check out new information in your website.
  • concerned kid
    I'm concerned about the environmental effects of manufacturing and disposing of millions of disposable earplugs each year. What are the best earplugs for reducing volume that have extremely long lives and are not made of foam, which can harbor bacteria? I saw some by HappyEars that are made of recycled plastic, but I'm not sure if they're, say, reusable for life, or just for several months or something like that.
    • Clear Living
      There are several reusable earplugs listed that would be more environmentally friendly than the single-use foam plugs. Many of the silicone earplugs can be reused. The best option would be custom earplugs.