Are you kept awake at night by noise you can’t prevent, such as snoring, music, annoying neighbors, animal sounds or traffic?
It’s very frustrating trying to sleep when you don’t have a quiet bedroom, which is where a good set of earplugs can come to the rescue.
Over the years, I’ve tried a wide range of earplugs, as I need near silence to sleep well. They might be simple little things, but I’ve noticed a big difference in effectiveness depending on the type, size and fit in my ear.
So I decided to do some careful testing, comparing 10 earplugs for their effectiveness at reducing different types of noise, as well as their comfort and ease of use. Hopefully the results will also help you choose the best possible earplugs for your needs.
The subjectivity of comparing earplugs
I think it’s important to first point out that judging earplugs is quite a subjective process. Even though they all have a lab tested noise reduction rating, individual differences like the shape of your ear canal and the type of noise in your bedroom also play a role.
That’s one of the reasons that I’ll be recommending several that I felt worked well. And I’ll try to be clear about other important factors that might help you make a decision, such as the size, material and ease of fitting/removal.
I decided to test the earplugs first in a natural way, and then do some comparative tests using the exact same noise. Here’s a brief summary of what I did:
- I wore each of them for 3 nights to check the comfort and effectiveness in a real life setting.
- I then tested the earplugs back to back for how well they reduced some of the typical noises that keep people awake at night. This included music, television, talking, laughter, animals and traffic.
- I played recordings of different people snoring to see which earplugs would cut out the most sound for the widest range of snoring.
- Finally, I enlisted the help of several family members and friends who sleep with snorers to get some second opinions.
I’ve listed a noise reduction rating in decibels (dB) for each of the earplugs. These scores are determined by lab tests, and suggest how much noise attenuation (reduction) might be achieved.
Although it’s tempting to think those with the highest score are the best, other factors such as the fit in your ear canal and type of noise can also influence how effective they are.
Having said that, those with the highest noise reduction rating of 33 dB will most likely block considerably more noise than those with a much lower rating of 22 dB for example.
I wish I could tell you that earplugs can completely block out all snoring, but it’s not always the case. If the noise reduction rating for many earplugs is around 30 dB, and extreme snoring can be up to 80 dB, you might still hear around 50 dB of noise.
In addition, some sound travels through the bone as well as the ear canal. So you could have a situation in which snoring can be reduced to a tolerable level, but not shut out altogether.
You might find you need to try different types and sizes until you find the best earplugs for sleeping for you personally. That might sound like a bit of a waste of money, but it’s worth it in the long run if you have a serious problem with noise at night.
In terms of the material, I found that foam earplugs were better than silicon, wax and plastic at reducing noise. However, if you don’t want to use foam earplugs, wax and silicon earplugs don’t go in so deep, and can still reduce some noise.
It’s also worth noting that many of the highest rated foam earplugs are designed for use in noisy workplaces rather than sleep specifically. So if you decide to go with those, you might find quite a large box of individually wrapped pairs arriving in the post.
I personally use this type as they provide great noise reduction, are more hygienic, cost effective and you get enough to last a long time.
In terms of noise you need to listen out for, a very loud alarm next to the bed can be heard through all of these earplugs. But if you need to listen out for young children, it might be better to choose a mid-range earplug.
|33 dB||Best for snoring|
|32 dB||Best small size|
Very soft foam
|3M 1100||29 dB||Great for work|
|33 dB||Good noise|
|32 dB||Good noise|
|33 dB||Large size|
|33 dB||Small size|
|32 dB||Softest |
|27 dB||Best wax||Amazon|
|22 dB||Best silicon||Amazon|
Foam earplug size and shape comparison
If you’ve tried any of the foam earplugs in this review before, and are looking for ones that are a different size or shape, here’s a photo of them together. They are arranged in order of width in the middle part, from the thinnest on the left to widest on the right.
1) Howard Leight Max-1
Best large size with great noise reduction
Noise reduction rating: 33 dB
The Howard Leight Max-1 offer the top noise reduction rating of 33 dB, and this was definitely reflected in my tests. I found they were particularly good at reducing the sound of snoring, which will be an important factor for many people.
They also did very well in all of my other tests, successfully cutting out the sound of television, music, traffic and talking.
They are the one of the longest and widest earplugs I’ve tried. They also have a very wide tapered end, so along with the Howard Laser Leight, were the easiest to remove. Even though they were one of the largest earplugs, they were also one of the softest, feeling very comfortable to wear throughout the night.
It’s important to note that all Howard Leight earplugs are specifically intended for people who work in noisy environments. That means they will come in individual wrapped pairs, which is great on the hygiene front.
However, it also means they tend to come in very large boxes of 50 to 200 pairs, which might seem excessive if you just want a small box to keep by the bedside. On the bright side, you won’t run out any time soon!
Despite how well they did in my tests, I don’t recommend these if you have small ear canals. You’d probably find they form an amazing seal if you actually get them in, but then feel uncomfortable at some point during the night.
For those with medium to large size ears though, they have the best balance of great noise reduction, comfortably soft foam, and are very easy to both insert and remove.
2) Mack’s Original Soft Foam Earplugs
Best small size with very soft foam
Noise reduction rating: 32 dB
With a noise reduction rating of 32 dB, Mack’s original soft foam earplugs effectively reduced all the sounds in my tests, especially snoring and talking. They also did a very good job of blocking the sound of traffic, music and television.
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.
Importantly, 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 did find them very comfortable to sleep with all night.
Note that they do come in much smaller boxes than the 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. But on the plus side you get a handy travel case with the pack.
Overall, they were the most effective of the small sized earplugs I tried. And they were also the earplugs my testers with smaller ear canals preferred.
So if you have small and/or sensitive ears and comfort is as much of a priority for you as effective noise reduction, these are the earplugs to try.
3) 3M 1100
Very effective noise reduction, best for the workplace
Noise reduction rating: 29 dB
The 3m 1100 earplugs have proved to be a bit of an anomaly, and I’ve probably spent more time deliberating over what to say about these than any other earplugs.
To start with, the lower noise reduction rating of 29 dB just wasn’t reflected in my tests; they did a simply amazing job of reducing sound. I thought it was just me at first, but the people I asked to test them also reported back that they were excellent.
Perhaps it illustrates how the independent lab tests aren’t always so reliable; perhaps they’ve made some changes to the foam since that test. Who knows. But what was clear for me is that they were easily as good as, if not better, than any with a rating of 33 dB.
As great as that sounds, there’s a problem though: they just feel a bit too uncomfortable in the ear to repeatedly wear, perhaps due to the much denser foam they seem to be made from.
Personally, I can wear them for several nights in a row without much of a problem – the medium size seems to fit me well. But a couple of my testers have since told me they can’t use them for more than a night or two, even though they really want to since they work so well.
Now, they are of course intended for work, not for sleep. And interestingly I had a visit from a friend recently whose new partner is an aerospace engineer.
“These are the ones we use at work!” he told me in surprise when he saw my vast collection of earplugs. And I guess that says it all.
So if you’re looking for earplugs for your workplace, or you have loud bedroom noise that’s driving you crazy, the 3M 1100 could be the ones for you. Just be prepared to receive a big box of 200 to 400 individually wrapped pairs, and remember to give your ears a regular break.
4) Moldex Pura-Fit
Good all-round small size earplugs
Noise reduction rating: 33 dB
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 performed well in my tests all round, though I did find the sound of the television 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 foam is soft though, and felt very comfortable to wear when sleeping.
The Moldex Pura-fit didn’t stand out on any of my specific noise tests, but were just good all-round, comfortable earplugs. They are probably better for those with smaller ear canals, so worth trying along with the Mack’s original.
5) Howard Laser Leight
Easiest to remove
Noise reduction rating: 32 dB
The Howard Laser Leight would win hands down in a colorfulness competition – you’ll never lose these earplugs!
They were generally very good for blocking sounds like snoring and music. But they were perhaps a little weaker than the previous 4 earplugs when it came 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 found 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 them in terms of effectiveness, so points like the ease of insertion and removal might be the deciding factors.
6) Hearos Xtreme Protection
Softest large size
Noise reduction rating: 33 dB
Hearos Xtreme protection were the only earplugs in my test that were strangely very good at blocking internal noise, but disappointing when it came to outside noise.
They really stood out when it came to blocking the sound of talking and the television, and were reasonably good for snoring and music too. But I could still hear too much of the traffic noise.
They are the second largest foam earplugs I 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. The large size makes them very easy to remove.
And despite being so large, they felt surprisingly soft when wearing them in bed. So if you’re looking for large and comfortable earplugs, the Hearos Xtreme protection are a good choice.
7) Moldex Sparkplugs
Good small size for snoring
Noise reduction rating: 33 dB
The difference between the two Moldex earplugs I tested illustrates well why factors like size, shape and fit in your ear canal also play a role. Both have a noise reduction rating of 33, but the Sparkplugs just didn’t work as well for me as the Pura-fit.
They were equally good for snoring and talking, but they just didn’t block music, the television and traffic noise so well.
They are the pointiest of all the earplugs I tried, which might be good if you have small ear canals, but can feel a bit uncomfortable if you insert them too deeply.
They are also one of the smallest and thinnest. They do take a while to regain their shape (longer than the Pura-fit), so you have plenty of time to insert them carefully.
Although I think you need to be careful not to insert them too far, once you fit them correctly, they are very comfortable to wear throughout the night.
Overall, the Sparkplugs are perhaps more suitable for people with smaller ear canals. For nearby noise like snoring, they worked quite well for me. But for environmental noise like distant television, music and traffic, I think you need smaller ear canals to get the best out of them.
8) Mack’s Ultra Soft
Most comfortable overall
Noise reduction rating: 32 dB
Mack’s ultra soft are made from a 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 found that they were effective for blocking the external sound of traffic, and quite good for all the internal sounds – but just not quite as good as the previous earplugs.
They are the second thinnest foam earplugs I tried, yet have a good length to them compared to other thin earplugs, which makes insertion and removal a little easier. So if you have long, narrow and sensitive ear canals, these might be the best earplugs for you.
Overall, Mack’s ultra soft definitely lived up to their name, being very comfortable to wear. They weren’t the most impressive for noise reduction, but did a reasonable job nonetheless. So if comfort is your number one priority, you might find these the best earplugs for sleep.
9) Quies Pure Wax Earplugs
Best wax earplugs
Noise reduction rating: 27 dB
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 found they tended to fall out after a few hours, even with a good fit.
In my tests, they were much better at reducing the distant noise of traffic than any of the sounds in the house. They weren’t too bad for talking, and did reduce the sound of snoring a little. But for music and television, they really didn’t cut much out at all.
They did feel comfortable though, and it was nice not to have the feeling of foam expanding in my ears.
But considering how important to me noise reduction is, I wasn’t particularly impressed by the Quies. If you’re not a fan of foam, and don’t have too much noise to block, they might appeal to you. But if you have loud noise in the bedroom to cope with, they might disappoint.
10) Mack’s Pillow Soft Silicon Putty
Best moldable silicon earplugs
Noise reduction rating: 22 dB
Mack’s pillow soft are made from a moldable silicon putty, and considerably larger than the Quies wax balls. They don’t go into the ear canal at all, but are flattened into place over the ear opening.
They were similar in effectiveness to the Quies wax earplugs in my noise tests. They did seem to help a little in the music next door test. But for the other sounds, and the external noise, the noise blocking was somewhat underwhelming.
It was disappointing to still hear the drone of traffic quite clearly with the Mack’s. The low noise reduction rating of 22 dB was in this case definitely reflected.
On a more positive note, they were very comfortable, especially compared to larger foam earplugs. The fact that they don’t go into the ear canal, forming a seal over the opening instead, is the main draw for people who find foam uncomfortable.
So if you don’t want to use foam, and don’t have much noise to contend with, then the Mack’s pillow soft earplugs can help you bring the noise level down a little – but I do mean a little!