Blocking Out Sound: Ear Plugs

When there's too much sound, ear plugs are the classic solution. Choose disposables, reusables, or a custom-made style.

Ear plugs are a quick, inexpensive, and effective remedy for many noise problems.

There are several types to choose from. The effectiveness of a particular type of ear plug will vary from person to person, depending on the size and shape of their ears, the type of noise they're dealing with, and their own personal preferences. So if you try one kind and it isn't quite right, try some of the other kinds. (Inexpensive ear plug assortment packs make it easy and fun to experiment!)

PVC foam ear plugs, with and without cord
Image courtesy of US NIOSH
PVC foam ear plugs, with and without cord

Foam Ear Plugs

Foam ear plugs come in a wide variety of colors, shapes, and sizes. There are two foam materials most commonly used:
polyurethane foam ear plugs
Image courtesy of US NIOSH
Polyurethane foam (UF) ear plugs
  • PVC (polyvinyl chloride), the classic foam ear plug, usually a simple sponge-like cylinder.
  • Polyurethane (urethane foam, or UF), with a softer texture and "squishier" feel, often in tapered shapes.

Some foam plugs come as a pair attached by a cord, to keep them ready to use as needed. A few styles have stems for more hygienic "push-in" insertion and easy removal. Although some foam plugs can be washed and re-used, most are disposable ear plugs, designed to be thrown out after a single use.

Moldable Ear Plugs

These are typically made of either:
  • wax (usually mixed with cotton fibers for greater cohesiveness), or
  • silicone.
Unlike most other types of ear plugs, they are not meant to be inserted into the ear canal; instead they cover the entrance to the canal. Wax or silicone ear plugs can be used several times before being discarded.

pre-molded flanged ear plugs
Image courtesy of US NIOSH

Pre-molded Ear Plugs

These are often made of silicone rubber. Shapes vary: some are shaped as a stem with flanges; others are bulbous. They can be washed and re-used many times. They usually come in several sizes; you need to wear the correct size(s) for your ears in order to get the proper protection.

banded canal caps
Image courtesy of US NIOSH

Banded Ear Plugs

These are plugs attached to a plastic band that goes over the head or around the neck; the ear tips are normally held in place by slight pressure from the band. The tips may be washable or replaceable, and can be made of a variety of materials. Some tips enter the ear canal; others act as a cap, blocking the entrance to the ear. They offer less protection than other types of ear plugs, but are convenient in environments where you need to take your hearing protection on and off a lot.

custom-made ear plugs
Image courtesy of US NIOSH

Custom-made Ear Plugs

These are molded from impressions taken of your ears, for a perfect custom fit. You can take the impressions yourself using a kit, or have an audiologist do it for you. Custom plugs will give a consistent level of protection every time you wear them.

electronic ear plugs
Image courtesy of US NIOSH

Electronic Ear Plugs

These use sound compression circuitry similar to that used in some electronic hearing protection ear muffs. They are used mainly by hunters and shooters and in some police and military applications.

Where to Get Ear Plugs?

  • For foam or silicone ear plugs, check your local drug store. They can also be found at some sporting goods stores, hardware stores, and shops where travel supplies are sold.

  • You can buy ear plugs online, in economical bulk quantities as well as individual packs, at

  • For the largest selection of ear plugs of all kinds, including styles and sizes that are hard to find anywhere else, go to the Ear Plug Superstore. Their website contains a wealth of detailed information, and they ship worldwide.

Most popular types of ear plugs for personal use:

Wax ear plugs

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