Are you regularly kept awake at night by noise that’s beyond your control, such as snoring, a neighbor’s music, barking dogs or street noise?
It can be 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.
During the past 15 years I’ve tried a wide range, as I need total silence to sleep well. They might be simple little things, but I’ve noticed a big difference in effectiveness between the good ones and the next to useless ones.
In 2017, I decided to test a wide range of earplugs in identical circumstances to see how they compare. And in this review, I’ll be discussing the 10 that proved most effective.
How I tested the earplugs
I tested 20 different earplugs, using each of them for 2 nights to start with to get a feel for their comfort, ease of use and general noise reduction.
After that, I did a series of tests over 3 days, comparing them back to back for their effectiveness at reducing specific noises. Finally, I enlisted some help to double check my findings.
Test 1: sleep disrupting noise
I tested all of the earplugs one after the next for how well they reduced 5 sources of noise:
- People talking in another room in the house.
- Loud television in a downstairs room.
- Music coming from an adjacent room in the house.
- Loud snoring.
- The constant sound coming through my open bedroom window. This was a mix of light traffic on a main road 80 meters away, the sound of waves from the sea and loud seagulls.
Test 2: the very noisy house
Since a few earplugs were very similar in effectiveness, the next day I decided to retest the best 5.
This time I set up a very noisy environment to see if there would be a clear winner: simultaneous music and television from different rooms in the house, snoring, and the open window noise.
Test 3: loud snoring
There were small differences in the effectiveness in test 2, but on balance I thought 4 were quite similar. So the next day, I tested them once again with recordings of different people snoring.
This time there were 3 which performed better than the others for me.
Test 4: the opinion of family and friends
Since earplugs are such a personal thing, I decided to ask some family and friends who sleep with snorers to try out the best 5 earplugs from my previous tests. They helped me confirm that they work well, and also which are best for smaller or larger ear canals.
Noise reduction ratings
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.
The rating system is slightly different in the United States and Europe, so for the earplugs made in European countries, I’ve listed the equivalent rating in the US system for the sake of comparison.
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.
Can earplugs completely block snoring?
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 reach 70 dB, you might still hear 40 dB of noise.
In addition, some sound travels through the bone as well as the ear canal. So you might find that the snoring isn’t blocked out altogether, but is hopefully reduced to a tolerable level.
Advice about choosing
You might need to try different types and sizes until you find the best earplugs 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.
It’s also helpful to have an idea of the size of your ear canals, and choose an appropriately sized earplug. If you’re not sure, as a general rule of thumb women often prefer smaller earplugs, and most men either medium or large sizes.
Please note that a very loud alarm next to the bed can probably be heard through all of these earplugs.
1) 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.
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 sleep with all night.
Note that they 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.
Overall, they were the most effective of the small sized earplugs I tried. And when I asked for some second opinions, they were also the earplugs those with smaller and medium sized ear canals preferred.
So if you have smaller and/or sensitive ears, and comfort is as much of a priority for you as effective noise reduction, these are the earplugs to try.
And if you’re really not sure what size your ear canals are, it might be a good idea to start with this small size since they are so comfortable, and work up from there if you find them too small.
2) 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 one of the longest and widest earplugs I’ve tried. They also have a handy 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.
Note that all Howard Leight earplugs are specifically intended for people who work in noisy environments. So they come in individual 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 did in my tests, I don’t recommend these if you have small ear canals. You’d probably find they form a good 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 a good balance of great noise reduction, comfortably soft foam, and are very easy to insert and remove.
3) 3M 1100
Very effective noise reduction, best for the workplace
Noise reduction rating: 29 dB
The 3m 1100 earplugs were probably the ones that most surprised me. To start with, the lower noise reduction rating of 29 dB just wasn’t reflected in my tests; they actually did a very impressive job of reducing sound.
Initially, I thought it was just that they fit me well, 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; or maybe they’ve made some changes to the foam since that test. 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 might 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 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 few consecutive nights, even though they really want to since they work so well.
Now, they are of course intended for work, not for sleep. A friend of mine who’s an aeronautical engineer told me they use these when they have extreme noise at work.
So if you’re looking for earplugs for your workplace, or you have loud bedroom noise that no other earplugs seem to help with, the 3M 1100 might be worth trying.
Just be prepared to receive a big box of 200 to 400 individually wrapped pairs, and perhaps avoid using them for extended periods of time.
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 you do need to be careful not to insert them too deeply because of the pointier end.
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. And that 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 noise reduction is, the Quies didn’t particularly impress me. 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. You don’t insert them deep into the ear canal, but instead flatten them 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, I found them very comfortable to wear, 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!