I’m such a sensitive sleeper, the sound of a dripping tap at the other end of the house could keep me awake.
So as you can imagine, I’ve tried countless earplugs to preserve both my sleep and my sanity (not sure how much success I’ve had with the second point!)
There are so many types, shapes and sizes that it’s not always obvious why one is better than another. In my experience, although some appear to be better made, how well they fit in your ear plays a key role.
Below, you’ll find some of the earplugs that I personally use, as well as others that have impressed me too. But to be honest, if you have serious noise to contend with, it might take a little trial and error to find the perfect partnership of the earplug itself and your own ears.
1. The Ear Buddy
After two years, the Ear Buddy finally knocked my personal favorites off the top spot in this list. And so they are now my earplugs of choice at night when I’m not testing new ones and just need to get some sleep.
They have a solid noise reduction rating of 32 dB, and they significantly reduce most noise for me. Importantly, they manage to completely shut out the annoying drone of my air conditioning unit. They also block out my partner’s snoring, though admittedly she only snores lightly.
I like that they have a tapered end, which makes removing them in the morning very easy. And the soft foam doesn’t put too much pressure on my ears at all when I’m sleeping, and they feel comfortable to use all night long.
They come with a money-back guarantee, which isn’t that common for earplugs. So considering the medium size, I think these are good ones to try if you’re not sure what size you need.
2. Howard Leight Max-1
The Howard Leight Max-1 offer a high noise reduction rating of 33 dB, and this has definitely been reflected when I’ve tested them.
I find they are particularly good at reducing the sound of snoring, and they also successfully cut out the sound of television, music or talking in other rooms.
They are one of the longest and widest earplugs I’ve tried. They also have a handy tapered end, so are one of the easiest to remove if you’ve wary of earplugs getting lost inside your deep ear canals.
Howard Leight earplugs are typically made for people who work in noisy environments, so they come in individually wrapped pairs, which is more hygienic than open packs. The cost is also less per pair since you can buy them in bulk.
Despite how well they work for me personally, I don’t recommend these if you have thinner ear canals though. You’d probably find they form a good seal if you can get them in, but might feel uncomfortable later in the night.
3. Mack’s Original
With their noise reduction rating of 32 dB, Mack’s original soft foam earplugs have worked well for me, even if I would usually gravitate toward medium-sized earplugs. I don’t mind inserting them quite deeply into my ears though, which is perhaps why they work so well for me.
They are noticeably the smallest foam earplugs I tried, both in length and width. They roll down into quite a tight cylinder, which is great for insertion.
But the small size might mean they aren’t so quick to remove in the morning if you have larger ear canals and decide to use these.
They are made specifically for sleep, so the foam used is particularly soft so as to avoid any discomfort. The soft foam means they don’t put much pressure on your ears, and I found them very comfortable to use all night.
Note that they come in smaller boxes than industrial earplugs, but won’t be individually wrapped. The cost per pair also goes up compared to the bigger boxes because of the smaller quantity.
4. 3M 1100
The 3M 1100 earplugs surprised me. They have a lower noise reduction rating than some of my other favorites, at just 29 dB. That might be an accurate average for different people, but I find they have an amazing sound-blocking capacity.
I’ve asked some friends to get other opinions to see if it’s just me, and everyone reported that they work very well. So I’m still wondering why they only have a rating of 29 dB!
Perhaps it illustrates how the independent lab tests aren’t always so reliable, or maybe they’ve changed the foam since that test. But what was clear for me is that they were as good, if not better than any with a rating of 33 dB.
As great as that sounds, there’s a problem though: they might feel a bit too uncomfortable in the ear to repeatedly wear, perhaps due to the denser foam they seem to be made from.
Personally, I can wear them for several nights in a row without a problem – the medium size seems to fit me well. But a couple of my testers have since told me they can only use them for 2 or 3 consecutive nights, despite wanting to use them for longer since they work so well.
These are also intended for work, not for sleep. A friend of mine, who’s an aeronautical engineer, told me they use these in the hangars, which says a lot about their noise reduction potential. So perhaps these are ones to keep handy for desperate times rather than nightly usage.
5. Moldex Pura-Fit
I’ve been a fan of Moldex earplugs for sleeping for some time, using them personally for the last year. So I was pleased to see they did well in my tests, but surprised they didn’t come out on top.
With a high noise reduction rating, they perform pretty well for me. But I do find the sound of the television or music louder than with the previous earplugs.
And although they did a good job of blocking snoring generally, they were perhaps a little less effective than the 3m 1100, Mack’s Original and Howard Leight Max-1.
The Pura-fit are quite small and take a long time to expand, so are very easy to get the right fit in your ear. They are also one of the shortest, and even though they have a tapered end, can be fiddly to remove in the morning.
The Moldex Pura-fit don’t really stand out for me, but they are decent, reliable and comfortable earplugs. They are probably better for those with smaller ear canals, so worth trying along with Mack’s original.
6. Howard Laser Leight
The Howard Laser Leight would win hands down in a colorfulness competition – you’ll never lose these earplugs!
For me, they are generally very good for blocking sounds like snoring and music. But they are perhaps a little weaker than the previous earplugs when it comes to talking and external traffic noise.
Like the Max-1, they seem to have been designed with easy removal in mind. They don’t even stand up because of the extra curve and wing shape, giving you more to grab with your fingers in the morning.
They are one of the largest earplugs, so like the Max-1, if you’ve struggled with smaller earplugs, these are good ones to try. I find them comfortable to wear in the night, and despite their size do feel soft in the ear.
Overall, if you have larger ears, I recommend trying these, the Max-1 or even both if you can. There’s not much difference between the two in terms of effectiveness, so points like the ease of insertion and removal might be the deciding factors.
7. Hearos Xtreme Protection
In my experience, Hearos Xtreme protection are strangely very good at blocking internal noise, but somewhat disappointing when it comes to outside noise.
They really stand out when it comes to blocking the sound of talking and the television. They are reasonably good for snoring and music too. But I can just hear a little too much of the external traffic noise for my liking. I’m not sure why this is, but it’s what seems to happen for me.
They are the second largest foam earplugs I’ve tried, but one of the softest. They also take a very long time to regain their shape, so you have plenty of time to insert them, but will need to hold them in place longer than most earplugs.
And despite being so large, they feel surprisingly soft when wearing them in bed. So if you’re looking for large and comfortable earplugs, the Hearos Xtreme protection could be a good choice.
8. Mack’s Ultra Soft
Mack’s ultra soft are made from low-pressure foam, which is great for those who sometimes find foam earplugs uncomfortable.
And with a noise reduction rating of 32, I expected them to be both comfortable and effective sound blockers.
I find that they are effective at blocking the external sound of traffic. They are also good for all internal sounds – just not quite as good as the previous earplugs.
They are the second thinnest foam earplugs I’ve tried, yet have a good length to them compared to other thin earplugs. And that makes insertion and removal a little easier.
Overall, Mack’s ultra soft definitely live up to their name and are very comfortable to wear. They aren’t the most impressive for noise reduction compared to some of the more heavy duty sound blocking foam monsters I’ve tried, but they do a reasonable job nonetheless.
Quies are small balls of natural wax with a layer of cotton which you first remove. You then soften the wax with your finger, roll it into a ball and gently insert it into your ear.
It takes some practice to get the fit right, and I find they tend to fall out after a few hours, even with a good fit. But this has been the case with all wax earplugs I’ve tried, so it’s nothing new.
For me, they are better at reducing the distant noise of traffic than sounds closer within the house. So if you have a loud snorer next to you, wax earplugs might not be enough to block out their epic rumbling.
In general, I simply don’t find they reduce as much sound as the foam earplugs. They do feel comfortable though, and it’s nice not to have the feeling of foam expanding in my ears.
If you prefer wax to foam, then Boules Quies are ones I’d try. But if you need the highest noise reduction possible, you’ll find wax earplugs provide less of a sound barrier than foam do.
10. Mack’s Pillow Soft
Mack’s pillow soft are made from moldable silicone putty, and considerably larger than the Quies. You don’t insert them deep into the ear canal, but flatten them into place over the ear opening.
They are similar in effectiveness to the Quies wax earplugs in my experience. They are pretty good when it comes to blocking out distant music or traffic, for example. But for loud noise disturbance, the noise reduction is noticeably less than with good foam earplugs.
And again, if you sleep with a lawnmower volume snorer, you’ll soon discover that the low noise reduction rating of 22 dB is warranted.
On a more positive note, I find them to be very comfortable to wear compared to foam earplugs. The fact that they don’t go into the ear canal, and form a seal over the opening instead, is the main draw for people who find wedging foam into their delicate ears just too uncomfortable.
So if you don’t want to use foam, and don’t have much noise to contend with, then Mack’s pillow soft earplugs can help you bring the noise level down a little.