If you’ve ever been near a crying infant on a flight – and who hasn’t? – you may very well have invested in a pair of ear plugs.  For years I’ve carried inexpensive foam plugs in my bag, but recently I’ve been testing something better:  SilentEar earplugsSilentEar claims their ear plugs are the highest rated (in terms of nose reduction) earplugs in the world; they reduce noise by 32 decibels (keep reading for a reality check).

Two things distinguish SilentEar ear plugs from conventional designs:  a) they’re sized (S-M-L) to fit your ears better than conventional plugs, and b) they’re made of a soft silicone rubber that makes them easy to insert (no rolling or squishing) and very comfortable.

In actual practice, I can report that they work quite well.  Those shown above are size small, by the way. The flanges on the plugs are available in clear (shown here) and a high visibility yellow.

If you’re unsure which size is appropriate for your ears, you can buy a sample set including one  each of the three sizes, at a significantly discounted price.  Individual pairs are $8.95, and they of course come with the small storage container shown here.  The 3 size sample set is $17.90

Although pricey, the plugs are quite durable and should last for years.  Learn more about these earplugs at SilentEar; they can be ordered from the EarPlugStore.  My order, incidentally, arrived in a couple of days.

If $9 for a pair of earplugs is too rich for your tastes, there’s another option which has been lauded by travelers and other users for years:  Hearos foam plugs.  Yes, you have to squish them up prior to inserting them, and yes, they’re not nearly as durable as the SilentEars, but – contrary to the claims made by SilentEar – they do offer the same level of noise reduction, and 8 pair can be had for $4.95–  They too are available from the EarPlugStore:  Hearos

Some travelers feel that a good set of earplugs may be the single most important item to ensure comfort during flights… Do you agree?  Please join the conversation by commenting.

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16 Comments on Best earplugs on the market?

  1. Berg says:

    Yes, earplugs are absolutely essential, especially for me, a light sleeper. I usually buy the cheap foam kind, but it’s true, after a few uses, the foam loses its squishiness and is hard to insert. I’ll have to look into Silent Ear.

    Other ear accesories I always carry on a plane are earplanes (which can double as earplugs in a pinch, but aren’t as comfy, and my sound-isolating earphones (which can also double as plugs if need-be).

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  2. Eric says:

    I am a frequent business traveler and “two-bagger” (one carryon plus a briefcase). I carry Bose over-the-ear style headphones, but no earplugs. I’ve been on many noisy flights, and the headphones are just fine for me. As a backup, I have a set of in-the-ear headphones that I use for working out, but they don’t sound as good.

    Without these, however, I would bring earplugs, and these sound like a good investment.

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  3. Till says:

    I’ve used the Moldex Spark type plugs and the Howard Leight products. The latter exist in two versions though I couldn’t see the two different versions on the website. One is against stuff like daily noise and talking voices. The other is against machine noise from lawn mowers, leafblowers or as heard in airplanes. They do really work differently and are adapted to their specific use as claimed. I tried it. They are also very soft.

    I find that the Moldex plugs provide the even better insulation. They are a bit harder though. And they will get harder as you use them. Using any of these foam plugs only once would be wasteful. I use them for months. The trick is that you can actually wash them very easily. Not only will that clean them up but it will also make them soft again. This is true especially for the Moldex plugs. They are literally like new. Just use a little liquid hand soap or shampoo and wash them with warm water. Rinse well. Squeeze the water out by hand. Then squeeze them into a towel to get the rest of the water out. They might not be completely dry at that point but should be completely dry within a few hours.

    The most important thing for good noise absorption is to insert them deeply and firmly. I also wet them a little with saliva before I put them in my ears. This gives a better seal; same principle as a wet suction cup. It also makes insertion easier.

    The Silent Ear models look like they will protrude from the ear a bit. For me this is very uncomfortable when I want to sleep on the side. The Moldex and Leight can be inserted so deeply that when I lie on my side nothing presses them in further.

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    Kevin Reply:

    Till –

    Great comment; thanks. As for the SilentEars protruding: when fully inserted, they don’t protrude. Key is to get the model that fits your ear canal (if that’s the right term)!

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    Till Reply:

    Thanks for the info about the protruding issue. I think that’s a very important point. It was also funny to see that there is a specialized ear plug shop. And good to see that shop carried the Moldex that I had never seen in a BM store here before. Only in French pharmacies.

    The names of ear plugs are funny, too. In Germany and France they go by brand names, like scotch does here for adhesive tape. In Germany they are called Ohropax which means peace for your ears. In France they are called Boules Quies (pronounced bool key es). That is a clever pun. Boules is a little ball. Quies comes from the Latin word for quiet. But the way it is pronounced in this brand name is like the French “qui est-ce?”. That means “who is it?”. Smart frogs! ;) The two products are very similar in that they are cotton that is imbibed with some oil or vaseline. Not very comfortable, not very effective and leaves a residue in your ears. So glad we have foam products now.

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    Mylon Stark Reply:

    Commenter Till, with due respect, is providing EXTREMELY poor information, to wit:

    1) Foam-type ear plugs are SINGLE USE ONLY! NEVER attempt to re-use a foam-type plug, as the composition of the material lends itself to retaining dirt and debris. This creates an ear infection risk.

    2) Further, regarding #1 (above), retention of water creates risk of infections – for moisture breeds bacteria.

    3) The practice of using saliva to “lubricate” the plug prior to insertion is extremely unhealthy, and is not supported under any conditions. A properly trained and diligent wearer of plugs understands the need for discipline and safe/healthful practices in the use of aural (in the canal) protectors.

    Please disregard “Till’s” so-called helpful comments. They are WAY off the mark – period!

    NOTE: I am a 4 decade safety and health professional, as well as a former regulator (CSHO).

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  4. AndyW says:

    Ear Plugs area essential to my sanity. $9 is cheap compared to buying noise canceling earphones, which don’t reduce the sound of voices yelling over the jet engines. They don’t need batteries or a recharge.

    Get ear plugs and use them, that is my advice and I’m sticking to it.

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  5. EricD says:

    The world’s best ear plugs (by FAR) are mighty plugs, found at http://www.earplugsonline.com. They have a noise reduction rating of 34– which actually is the best NRR on the market, and they’re inexpensive, reusable and super comfortable. Mighty plugs are the best ear plugs in the world for sleeping, shooting, travelling or anything else. I wouldn’t ever dream of using another ear plug, especially when they cost a mere $1.95.

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    Kathy Bergman Reply:

    Actually, the makers of these blue “mighty” plugs have not produced any test data proving they have a 34 NRR. The highest ratings for any plug on the market today is 33 NRR for some foam plugs, and 32 NRR for the Silent Ear reusable plug.

    Noise reduction ratings are helpful, but any plug must be inserted correctly to achieve the maximum protection.

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  6. Phillip says:

    I’ve been using the “Silent Ear” plugs at the gun range. (I use them plus over-the-head “gun muffs” at the same time.) The Silent Ear are absolutely the best ear “plugs” I have found. And I’ve tried a lot of different style and types.

    Getting the stated NRR for any plug requires proper insertion. I use their small size — and that is a big part of what makes these work properly. Plus, the soft silicone also makes it easy to get a tight (but very comfortable fit). I never got close to same level of noise reduction w/ any foam plug.

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  7. Colin Marney says:

    I have found these earplugs to be a complete waste of money. They are far too loose to be of any use. As for their rating, I think that is very debatable. A complete let down.

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    Kevin Reply:

    Sorry you were disappointed. Suggest you try Hearos.

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    Blair Reply:

    It sounds like yours did not fit you well. Did you try large?

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  8. Melissa says:

    I have a tough time getting the foam ear plugs in my ear. the small ones do okay but have to try a number of times to insert them and get them into the ear canal far enough. Think my ears are curved or something. Any suggestions please?

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    Mylon Stark Reply:

    Melissa – be sure you are twisting/compressing the plugs to as skinny a size/shape as you can.

    Also, if you have any congenital deformity of the canals, or have scar tissue (such as from ear surgery), plugs may not be the answer for you. You may wish to consider semi-aural (caps) or extra-aural (muffs) for protection.

    Best Wishes!

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  9. Mylon Stark says:

    In the matter of selecting/using aural (in the canal) hearing protection, and efficiency of the devices, please note:

    When identifying the NRR (Noise Reduction Rating) of hearing protective devices, the number (e.g., NRR 29, NRR 25, et al) is merely a starting point.

    To determine effectiveness of a hearing protection device, one must take the NRR, subtract 7, then divide by 2. This provides the actual attenuation (reduction) to be expected.

    EXAMPLE: Protective device has a NRR of 32. Using the formula, we take 32, and subtract 7. This leaves 25. We then divide 25 by 2 (safety factor). This leaves 12.5.

    In safety and health, we always use conservative calculations. Therefore, we drop the 0.5, and are left with 12. We now subtract 12 from the identified noise level (Example: jack hammer – 130 dBA (decibels on the A Scale). 130-12 = 118 dBA.

    Since OSHA and NIOSH set 85 dBA as the Action Level, and 90 dBA as the Mandatory Protection Level (on a time-weighted average over 8 hours), the user of the jack hammer is still dangerously exposed.

    Our goal should ALWAYS be to work below 85 dBA, or shorten our exposure time.

    NOTE: if hearing protectors in the form of muff (extra-aural) protectors are used in addition to the aforementioned ear plugs, we subtract an additional 5 dBA of exposure. In our example, the jackhammer operator – with muffs – would be exposed to a level of 113 dBA. This is still dangerously excessive.

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