In the photo above, you can see all of the foam earplugs I’ll be discussing in this review. You can see how they vary in length, diameter and shape. They might look like subtle differences, but it’s important to find the right size and shape for your ears.
I’m such a sensitive sleeper, the sound of a dripping tap in the bathroom is enough to 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 styles, shapes and sizes that it’s not always obvious why one earplug is better than the next. In my experience, how well they fit in your ear canal is just as important as the official noise reduction rating.
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. Mack’s Ultra Soft
Mack’s ultra soft are made from low-pressure foam, which is great if you plan on using them night after night. Whereas many industrial earplugs are intended for shorter periods of time in the workplace, these Mack’s are very comfortable to use for the whole night.
They have a lab-tested noise reduction rating of 32 dB, which is excellent considering 33 is the highest you’ll find in any earplugs. I always say it’s important to pick ones with as close to 33 as possible, so the Mack’s tick that box.
There are actually a couple of others below which do a slightly better job of blocking loud noise for me. But I currently use the Mack’s because the small sacrifice in noise reduction is worth the noticeable increase in comfort.
In terms of size, they are relatively small earplugs, and quite short. Perhaps that’s why some of the medium and larger ones block out more noise for me but apply more pressure to my ear canals. So if you have very large ear canals, they probably won’t be quite right for you.
But if you have small or medium-sized ear canals, and probably most women who tend to have smaller ear canals than men generally, I think these are an excellent choice.
They come in a convenient jar of 50 pairs and are very reasonably priced. I find I can get a few night’s use out of them even though they are disposable as they don’t seem to collect dirt so easily. So overall, they get the balance just right between comfort, noise-blocking, and price.
2. The Ear Buddy
The Ear Buddy are excellent earplugs that I’d say are in the middle in terms of size, so they should work well for a wide range of ear canal sizes.
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.
3. 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.
4. Mack’s Original
With their noise reduction rating of 32 dB, Mack’s original soft foam earplugs also work very well for me. Like the Mack’s ultra soft, these are quite small earplugs – especially compared to some of the industrial versions.
They roll down into quite a tight cylinder, which is great for insertion as you don’t need to stuff them in as you might do with some of the thicker earplugs!
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.
5. 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 two or three 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.
6. Moldex Pura-Fit
Moldex are one of the main companies that make earplugs for the workplace in the United States, and I find any of their versions work well for me. Having said that, I like these Pura-fit as they feel a little softer than some others, so they are better for sleeping.
With a high noise reduction rating of 33 dB, they effectively reduce the amount of snoring noise I hear, the air conditioning unit noise, and outside traffic when I use them. From what I’ve seen, all Moldex earplugs seem to have a rating of 33 dB in lab tests, so if you can find any that fit you well, they will probably do a good job.
The Pura-fit are medium-sized and take a long time to expand, so they are very easy to get the right fit in your ear. They are quite short though, and even though they have a tapered end, can be fiddly to remove in the morning.
Moldex tend to come in large bags of individually wrapped pairs, so they are relatively inexpensive and hygienic to use.
7. 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 all types of noise as they are quite large and literally stuff my ears.
They are one of the largest earplugs, so if smaller earplugs fall out or don’t block out enough noise for you, these are good ones to try. I find them comfortable enough to wear at night, despite their size. But I still lean towards smaller sizes because that’s what works best for me.
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.
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.
8. 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.
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.
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.