If you know what you want, you can easily find it by choosing your application from the menu buttons on the left or using the search button to find a particular type or brand of plug.
If you are not sure what you need, please take a minute to scan our recommendations
below or visit our Hearing Protection Options page.
We not only suggest what products are good, but we also suggest which are NOT good for particular applications. If you still cannot find the solution you need, let us know.
We will do our best to help.
How Much Noise Protection is Enough?
For noise protection, there are two general reasons to wear ear
plugs: to reduce the irritation of unwanted noise, and to prevent damage to your
hearing. Let's consider the first reason:
Protection From Irritation
"I want artificial deafness!" This plea came from a customer
who was desperate for a solution to her husband's insufferable snoring. The
problem is, if you have normal hearing you will find it almost impossible to
eliminate all noise. Human hearing is really good, and even with the ear canals
completely blocked you will still be able to hear sounds that are conducted to
your inner ear through the bones in your head. The absolute maximum reduction in
noise levels we know about is 36 NRR (noise
reduction rating), and that requires both maximum protection foam ear plugs
(NRR 33) and maximum protection ear muffs (NRR 30-31) worn at the same time!
Assuming you use 33 NRR foam or moldable plugs (the highest
proven NRR available in a plug), you can expect that noises such as a vacuum cleaner at 75
db will be reduced to the level of a whisper or very soft music, and soft music
will be reduced below the threshold of hearing. Most of the time that kind of
protection is just what we need to allow a good night's sleep or concentration
in a noisy dorm or at home with the kids.
When the maximum plugs simply will not do the job for you, we suggest you consider the
in-ear white noise machine. These hearing aide-like devices fit into your ear
like an ear plug, providing about 10-15 dB of passive noise reduction, but
unlike an ordinary passive ear plug, the Sleep-Eze lets you add white noise
right into your ears, with full volume control from 0 to 79dB. This white noise
then masks any sound that passes the plugs or that is conducted through bone to
your inner ear. By adjusting the level of the white noise, you can safely mask
sounds that would otherwise be impossible to block, and your mind can easily
tune out the white noise because it is unvarying.
is expensive, but it absolutely is the best solution when no passive plug or
ordinary white noise machine works for you.
Sleeping Safety Test
Before you opt for the maximum protection level though, consider the
safety issue. With your ear plugs in, can you hear your smoke alarm, or can the
kids wake you if they need to by calling to you in the night? Everyone is
different, but in general, we recommend that you use just enough noise reduction
to get what you need, whether for sleep, concentration or relief from irritating noise (your
kid's rap music perhaps?)
Here is a sleeping safety test we recommend: Set your alarm to
wake you about 3 hours after you normally go to sleep to give yourself time to
get deeply asleep. Put in your plugs and then see if your alarm clock will wake
you. If so, your smoke alarm most likely will also be able to wake you. If not,
you should consider a plug with a lower NRR so that more sound can get through.
Better yet, start with a low-rated plug and only move up to a more highly rated
plug if you still are not getting the relief you want.
Protection From Damage
Now to the second reason for using ear plugs: to prevent
hearing damage. Once damaged, hearing will never return, so you surely ought to
be careful whenever your hearing is exposed to loud noises. For a thorough
discussion of noise levels, visit our hearing protection basics page.
In general, here are several things to remember about hearing safety:
- The sound does not have to hurt to damage your hearing.
Very loud concert music can be a real rush, but a couple of hours of enjoyment
can mean tinnitus (ringing or buzzing in the ear) for the rest of your life,
or the loss of the ability to hear high frequencies, which can ruin your
ability to really enjoy music.
- Hearing damage is cumulative. A little damage from firing a
gun, then a little more from operating the saw in your garage, then a little
more from that symphony orchestra concert--after a while, your hearing becomes
noticeably deficient. Remember, it never gets better. It can only get worse.
- The louder the sound, the faster damage can occur to your
hearing, so time is of the essence. When exposed to very loud sounds, get away
or get protection quickly. Seconds count.
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Regular vs. Occasional Use
Foam plugs are designed to be used just
for a day or two, then discarded. Around the home shop or doing yard
work, foam plugs can last for days or even weeks. The problem with foam
plugs is that you cannot effectively clean them. In a work environment
requiring ear plug use throughout the day, foam plugs are the standard
because they are the least expensive alternative when you must provide
plugs to a number of different people.
Pre-formed (also referred to as pre-molded) plugs, by contrast, will last for months or even years. Usually made of silicone rubber, they can
be easily washed and reused with no damage. The problem with pre-formed
plugs is that you must get the right size for you. Once you do get a
good-fitting pre-formed plug though, they offer the best overall performance of any
of the available options.
Sometimes the available sizes simply will not fit you. When that is the case,
you should consider custom earmolds and plugs that are made just for you. These can be made specifically
for water, general noise, shooting or music applications. To get custom plugs or molds, you normally visit an audiologist who makes impressions,
also called castings, of your ear canals. These are sent to a lab where the final plugs or molds are fabricated. The lab smoothes the plugs,
trims and seals them for a comfortable fit and long life. Custom plugs and molds should last you 5 years or more, so they are often the best
bargain, especially if you wear plugs a lot. Custom plugs offer a reliable acoustic seal for optimum performance, where the performance of
most other plugs will vary greatly depending on how well you got them inserted that particular time. Custom plugs are also much more
comfortable than most other plugs because they are made to fit every curve and bump your ears happen to have. They are a little trouble, but
well worth it in the long run.
Soft moldable silicone and wax plugs can be reused as long as they are kept clean. These are best for sleeping, studying and swimming, but not recommended for dirty
environments or when you will need to remove and replace the plugs often.
If you plan to use your ear plugs in a workplace throughout the day, or around the shop, consider corded or banded plugs as they are more convenient to keep around your neck
between uses. If the plugs are kept handy, you are more likely to use them. And if you are using them intermittently as in the shop or shooting range, consider ear muffs which
can easily be removed and replaced in seconds, with reliable performance every time. Ear plugs, even banded ear plugs must be carefully inserted or they do not provide the
rated protection, while ear muffs require almost no care to get them on correctly.
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Protection From Noisy Work Environments, Power Tools and Yard Machines
Foam plugs offer the widest range of protection levels, they come in corded and uncorded versions and they are inexpensive so they are ideal
for infrequent use. With the highest NRR plugs in your ears (NRR 33), you cannot hear footsteps, so these plugs can be dangerous in some situations. You can be startled by
someone approaching you from behind, and you may not be able to hear your kids or your boss calling in an emergency. (On the other hand, you may not want
to hear the boss or the kids calling....) The danger can be reduced by getting plugs with just the NRR you need, and not getting the highest NRR unless
you need maximum protection. The Noise Reduction Rating (NRR) system is logarithmic, meaning that there is a significant difference between 33
and 32, and the difference between 33 and 22 is dramatic.
Pre-molded silicone rubber plugs last longer and offer a better long-term value because they can last for years. Our QuietEar rubber plugs also give the added advantage
that they allow normal speech range sounds to pass while blocking the dangerous higher frequencies. The SilentEar rubber plugs are a standard
33 NRR, so they block all the frequencies. Because rubber plugs do not conform much to the shape of the ear as do foam, silicone and wax, most
rubber plugs are sold in two or three different sizes. You can use your past experience as a guide, or, absent that, you might estimate your
size needs based on your bone structure. If you do get the wrong size for you, please let us know. We will be happy to exchange them for a
better fitting size.
Wax and silicone plugs offer NRR 22 to 33 protection and if you have trouble finding other plugs to fit your ear canals, these will fit
because you mold them to fit your ears specifically. Because they are molded to fit your ears, these plugs are also more comfortable than most
of the other choices. The only problem with these plugs is that in many work-related applications the plugs can easily get
dirty, making them unusable. In general we recommend wax plugs only for sleeping and study. Unlike moldable silicone which does not melt, wax is unstable in hot situations often found outdoors
and in workplaces, and you do not usually want melted wax in your ears.
Wax and silicone plugs are designed to cover the ear canal by filling the outer ear area, and forming a seal against the
outer ear. That makes these plugs ideal for toddlers and infants. It is never a good idea to insert anything into your child's ear canal until the child is at
least 3-5 years old. Even then, silicone or wax plugs that just cover the ear canal are still usually a better option.
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Protection While Riding Motorcycles and Racing Cars
Cyclists and racecar drivers find that earplugs greatly enhance their riding and driving pleasure by
reducing wind and vehicle noises. Be careful not to get too much protection as there are some sounds you might want to hear when driving.
You might also consider corded plugs which let your plugs hang around your neck when not in use, such as rest breaks.
Foam plugs are a good choice for all riding and driving situations. They are inexpensive, come
in a range of NRRs, conform to fit most people, and they can be worn under a helmet.
Pre-molded plugs with stems can stick out of the ear, making wearing them with a helmet less comfortable than other
alternatives, so look for a shorter profile like the SilentEar
or QuietEar if you plan to try
pre-molded plugs with a helmet. QuietEar also offers the added advantages of letting you hear normal speech better than foam or
moldables and of being reusable for a long time.
Soft silicone plugs are also a good choice
for riding because they can be formed to fit inside the outer ear and they are probably the most comfortable choice available. However they are not
as convenient to insert and remove as are pre-molded or even foam plugs.
For spectators at racing events, we recommend 27 NRR or higher plugs.
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Protection From Water
Mack's silicone is the traditional plug of choice for water protection while swimming and showering. These plugs are soft and easily
shaped to fit any ear and they are reusable if they are kept clean. In addition, they cover the ear canal which makes them best for young kids.
Mack's plugs have an NRR of 22 so they let you hear most of what you need to hear when in the pool or boat. You probably want to be able to hear the coast guard horn when they signal you, and you probably
want your kids to be able to hear you when you yell at them in the pool!
One drawback to silicone plugs is they can fall out if they are not well-sealed to the ear which can happen when you try to put them into wet ears, or when the plugs have been used too long, or gotten dirty so that they have lost
their tackiness. When used as directed they stick very well, forming a good water-tight seal. And when they do fall out, they are hard to see in the tub or pool. Several solutions exist for these problems: you can get a rubber
headband designed to keep the silicone plugs in while swimming. We carry the Ear Band-It headband in our swimming/water section
of the store. Another option is the Mack's hot orange colored silicone plugs that are easier to find should they fall out. You can also get floatable Putty Buddies, which are colorful and they do not sink if they do fall out.
If you want good water protection and a very secure plug without having to use a headband, we suggest the pre-formed silicone rubber plugs such
as Mack's Aqua Block and Ear Seals or the AOSafety swimming plugs. All the water plugs and headbands are listed in the swimming/water department of our store.
Finally, if you are a serious swimmer, we suggest you get a set of custom fitted ear plugs. These plugs offer the absolute best water seal
when that is critical, they last for 5 years or more, and they always fit perfectly! As with all custom plugs, custom swim plugs require that you get ear canal impressions made, but
the end result is the very best swimmer plugs you can buy at any price.
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Protection From Snoring
Most people want to make the snorer stop, but that can require dangerous surgery or involve using questionable medicinal "snoring cures" Often the safest and simplest solution is to use comfortable
inexpensive ear plugs to block the sound of snoring, then you can both get a good night's sleep. Once you start sleeping with good ear plugs, you might find that you get a better night's rest anyway, since you are
not as easily awakened by traffic noises, storms, animals, wind, clocks, and all the myriad other disturbing noises that can play havoc with your sleep. Finding a plug that is comfortable to sleep in is a very personal
matter. All our manufacturers recommend one or more of their plugs for this application, and at the end of the night, the best plug for you will be a very personal decision. In general, we recommend moldable
silicone or wax plugs, foam plugs and one pre-formed silicone rubber plug, the SilentEar. We like the SilentEar because it does not have an insertion stem that sticks out of the ear as do most other pre-molded
If you are unsure of what to try, we offer our Snoring Relief Kit which includes
five different kinds of ear plugs you can try to find which you like best. This assortment offers assurance that you will get something that works immediately, then you can try the others to see which you like best.
If you know that you specifically want foam, but want to try several choices, we offer a
foam trial pack. This is a great way to make sure you are not settling for something that works, when you could get something even better. We think
everyone deserves the very best option they can find.
Another good choice for sleeping are the Comfort Ear custom fitted ear plugs. With these you must get ear canal impressions which
are used to fabricate your personal plugs in our lab. The benefits of custom plugs are a perfect fit every time giving you the best performance a plug has to
offer, long life (5 years or more) and maximum comfort because the plugs are made to fit your bumps and curves exactly. We offer the Comfort Ear in two
materials: a traditional vinyl and the new softer, JB1000 silicone material. Custom plugs will not give better noise protection than a good set of foam
plugs, assuming the foam plugs are deeply inserted, but they are easier to use and they are more consistent in performance, as well as being more comfortable.
Another alternative to ear plugs is to use a white noise machine to mask environmental noises, including traffic, snoring, apartment
noises from next door, and even internal noises such as ringing or buzzing in the ears which can be a persistent symptom of tinnitus.
Finally, when no earplugs or ordinary white noise machine gives you the relief from noise that you need, we suggest the
Sleep-Eze in-ear white noise machine. This device can mask noises as loud as 90dB!
Sleep-Eze can often help those with tinnitus, but because you cannot tune the white noise it produces, usually an ordinary white noise machine will work better in helping you sleep with tinnitus.
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Protection During Concerts and Other Loud Music
Really loud concerts can be really dangerous to your hearing, especially if you get the great seats near the stage! Young people often love the rush they get from the extremely
loud music, but they will suffer with their resultant hearing losses for a lifetime, so encourage, or even insist they use at least moderate protection. If you attend concerts, be safe. Wear ear plugs. Even country western
and classical music can be harmful.
The big problem with general purpose earplugs is that they distort the sound of the music, cutting off the high notes and emphasizing the bass. The
best solution is professional musician's earplugs. We carry the Etymotic ER-20, the original musician plug used by professionals all
over, as well as the custom fitted ER-9, ER-15 and ER-25professional musician filters. The ER-20s block just enough of the
sound (about 20 db) to usually get it to a safe level. These plugs are designed to mimic the frequency response of the human ear so they cause almost no distortion, letting you hear every subtle nuance of your
favorite music, from acid rock to Bethoven! If you need more protection without distortion, get the UltraTech-16, which offers about 5dB more protection than do the
ER-20s. The UltraTech-16 plugs are made using the same technology as used in the ER-20, but they are just aimed at a different market.
If you take your babies to a concert, use Mack's, Ear Stopples or our Junior ear muffs to
protect them. The ER-20s are not suitable for children under about 12 because they are too big to fit most children's ear canals.
When you are not especially concerned about the fidelity of the music, but need protection from the volume, most any plug will work. Moldables are not a
particularly good choice because they take a bit to get them in and out and you have to put them away carefully to keep them clean when you are
not using them. However, for babies and young children, moldables are still the best because these plugs are sealed against the outer ear
eliminating the need to push a plug down into your child's ear canal.
For older kids and adults we like the Aearo sports/concert pod plugs and the
Mack's Ear Seals. Both are reusable and come with a neck strap so they are right
there hanging around your neck when you need them. If they are handy, you are more likely to use them and no plug works unless it is used.
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Protection During Musicians Practice and Performance
Ordinary ear plugs block sound differently at different frequencies and the plugs filter noise differently than does the human ear. That means the plugs distort
the sound of the music as well as reducing the sound level--not good if you are a musician! We recommend professional musician plugs and
custom-fitted musician plugs with selected filters or in-ear monitors with isolation.
The professional musician's plugs we carry (Etymotics ER-20) mimic the
frequency response of the human ear so you hear almost exactly what
you would hear without them, but at a 20 db lower volume. That means
if the sound you would hear with the naked ear is running around a
very loud 100-120 db, with the plugs you will hear a much more
comfortable (and much less dangerous!) 80-100 db. These are an
inexpensive off-the-shelf solution.
fitted ear molds can be made with a variety of embedded filters or
with other devices such as in-ear-monitors molded in. To get custom
molds you must first visit an audiologist to get ear canal impressions
made. Once we get your impressions, we can fabricate a set of
professional musician ear molds with the ER-9, ER-15 or
ER-25 filters installed. Once you have the molds, the filters can be
changed as needed for different venues.
We can also make
custom molds to fit nearly any device you might wish to use including
all of the
isolation earphones we carry. Custom molds are reusable for many
months or years if you take care of them.
you are ready for in-ear monitors, you have several choices. You can
get custom ear molds with a variety of monitor devices molded in, or
you can get another off-the-shelf solution. We carry the
ER-4 and ER-6
isolation earphones from Etymotics, and the
Shure E series isolation earphones. These in-ear monitors provide 15-25 db of isolation from outside noise while they pipe the music directly
into your ear canals. They plug into any stereo jack so you can use them for listening to virtually any stereo signal.
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Protection During Airplane Travel
Rapid pressure changes that happen
during takeoffs and landings can cause severe ear pain. The problem is
that the tiny tubes that connect your inner ear with the outer world
simply cannot move enough air to equalize the pressure inside and
outside your ear fast enough to prevent a pressure buildup across your
eardrum. FliteMate earplugs and EarPlanes both have a tiny hole in them that regulates the
flow of air across the plug when the pressure changes.
E-A-R Filters accomplish the same thing by using a permeable foam. By allowing the
pressure to change more gradually across the eardrum, the ear has time
to equalize the pressure and thereby eliminate or greatly reduce the
pain commonly associated with airplane travel.
The FliteMate ear plugs also let you hear normal
speech with very little interference, but still block the higher
frequencies such as wind and engine noises.
More on how to use flying ear plugs...
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Protection While Camping
One of the great joys of hiking and camping is hearing all of nature in its
splendor and glory...until all those croaking tree frogs and night bugs
create a cacophony of sound so loud that you can't get a good night's
sleep! Ear plugs offer a perfect solution. Take a pair of plugs
along--just in case you need them. You might even find they make hiking
and jogging in city settings more enjoyable too. For these purposes, we suggest corded
foam or reusable plugs such as
Ear Seals. They are inexpensive and the cord lets you keep them
handy when not in use. For sleeping, try uncorded
foam plugs, moldable silicone or wax ear plugs and enjoy your outdoor activities even more.
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Protection While Shooting Firearms
Shooting exposes the ear to some of the
loudest sounds anywhere in the environment. Some kind of protection is
mandatory if you are to save yourself from severe hearing losses over
time. If you are a casual shooter, choose good 33 NRR plugs and be sure
to wear them properly to make sure you get the maximum protection.
Corded MAX foam plugs are a good choice.
The cord lets you keep them handy in between shooting sessions. You
only get one chance to save your hearing. Once it is damaged, it will
never recover so in general safer is better.
We highly recommend
that you wear both ear plugs and
muffs over them. The combination of NRR 33 plugs with NRR 29 muffs
gives a 36 NRR, and that is not a bit too much protection in our
If you are a regular
shooter, we recommend
activated muffs or
indoor/outdoor range plugs.
These devices let sound through so that you can hear voices and the like
in spite of the protective device, but then when a very loud sound wave
hits the device, it protects you from the dangerously loud sound.
Passive muffs and plugs have a noise activated mechanical valve that
slams shut and the tactical muffs have an electronic circuit that does
the same thing only more quickly. Tactical muffs also offer the added
advantage that they will amplify low sounds making your hearing even
better with them on than with them off.
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Protection For Infants and Children
and children have tender little ears and it is never a good idea to put
anything into their ear canals unless your doctor tells you to do so. On
the other hand, kids really need protection from loud noises such as
those they encounter at the race track and concerts and many other
places we take them. If it sounds loud to you, imagine how much louder
it must be to the little guys...
We suggest moldable silicone or wax plugs for the little guys because these
plugs are used to cover the ear canal, rather than being inserted into
the ear canal. This is much safer for tiny tender ears.
One last suggestion: if you do use wax or silicone plugs on your infant's ears,
be careful they do not swallow the plugs which can be a choking hazard
if they fall out where the child can reach them. You might consider
adding an Ear Band-It headband to help keep the plugs secure.
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