What Are the Best Earplugs for Snoring?

The best earplugs for snoring

Your roommate or partner has just fallen asleep, and again “Chrrr, Chrr,” starts snoring.

You have spent countless nights lying awake, trying all kinds of tricks to quiet down that chainsaw next to you—to no avail.

This article is for you. We are going find the best earplugs for you to block snoring.

Many earplugs claim to be snore proof, most are not.

Why is that?

Well, snoring can be very loud, and its intensity varies considerably.

Contents:

How loud is snoring?

If you took a sound level meter and measured your partner’s snores, you would perhaps read an average noise level of 51 db(A).

The problem is this isn’t steady-state noise.

Your mate’s loudest snores might reach 70 decibels or more.

That is four times as loud as his/her average snores, about as loud as a vacuum cleaner.

If you are like me, you will have a hard time adjusting to these ebbs and flows in noise intensity.

In 2009, newspaper outlets in the UK reported on the “super-snoring” grandmother, a retired bank worker whose snores reached a record of 111 decibels, louder than a jet engine.

This gives you an idea what wannabe snore-blocking earplugs are up against.

The problem is: the strongest earplugs are rated at an NRR of “only” 33 decibels.

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Realistically, what chance do the highest-rated earplugs stand against a snorer?

51-33 dB leaves a residue of 17 dB, with a peak of 70-33 dB = 37 dB.

That is—actually not bad.

Thirty-seven decibels is about as loud as a library and less than one-eighth as loud as 70 decibels.

Many people have no problems to fall and stay asleep in a library.

So the highest-rated earplugs can make a difference if they really block as much noise as stated on the package.

Unfortunately, everyone’s ear canal is different. Some people have narrow ear canals, some have wide ones. Others still have very long ear canals.

The specified noise reduction rating (NRR) provides useful guidance as to how much noise a certain type of earplugs can block when properly fitted.

But will they work for you?

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Selecting the best earplugs for you and me to block snoring

I have tried many different types of earplugs rated 33: the best-fitting ones give me maybe about 27 dB of protection, the worst ones maybe 10. Twenty-seven is still great, mind you.

Many of the earplugs I have tested claim to be the highest-rated available, and I believe for someone they are the most effective ones, but not necessarily for me.

So therein lies the art: In choosing the best earplugs for you, the ones that perfectly seal your ear canal, not the ten test subjects’ in the lab!

The following table provides an overview of the candidates that I have found to work well, and guidance for whom they tend to work.

All of these earplugs are foam earplugs, and all of them have an NRR of at least 29 dB.

These will give you a good chance to get rid of enough of the snoring noise to be at ease and fall asleep.

Best Earplugs for Snoring Overview

NameNoise BlockingModerate SnoringLoud SnoringSizeComfortEase of InsertingNRR
Hearos Xtreme protection+++-Normal+++++33
3M 1100+++-Normal+++++29
3M OCS 1135+++-Small+++++33
Howard Leight Max-1+++-Wide++33
Moldex Softies++++-Longo++33
Moldex Spark plugs++++-Large++33
Howard Leight Laser Lite+--Bulb++-32
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Types of foam earplugs and who they work for

Short, slightly tapered

Normal-size ear canal

The ones that work best for me and at the same time are very comfortable are the Hearos Xtreme Protection and the 3M 1100 earplugs.

Hearos Xtreme Protection

Hearos Xtreme Protection

I recommend that you start with one of these if you have normal-size ear canals or haven’t used earplugs before.

To insert them, I roll up the complete earplug and slide in the thin cylinder until it is set flush with the inner-ear opening.

3M 1100

3M 1100

When this type of earplugs is deeply inserted, it is very effective at blocking both low and high frequency noise.

You might at first think the 1100 are a bit hard, but they soften fast under body heat, making them very comfortable. Reinserting them is somewhat more difficult than the Hearos. They have to cool down first.

Diameter Hearos Xtreme Protection vs. 3M 1100

The dimensions of the Xtreme Protection and the 1100 earplugs are virtually the same.

Small ear canal

If you have a small ear canal, I recommend the 3M OCS1135 Ear Soft Yellow Neons (312-1250). These earplugs are every bit as comfortable and effective, but have a smaller diameter.

3M OCS1135

3M OCS1135 Yellow Neons

They work for me and are easy to insert. Because I have to insert them quite deep for them to be effective, they are more difficult to remove.

Here is a diameter comparison of the 3M OCS1135 with the Hearos Xtreme Protection:

Diameter Hearos Xtreme Protection vs. 3M OCS1135

Long, tapered earplugs

Moldex produces many different types of earplugs in this category.

The Moldex Sparkplugs (6604) and the Moldex Softies (6600) are very effective at blocking noise, even better than my favorites in the short-tapered category. They block a lot of noise.

If you know you have long ear canals and are aiming for maximum protection, try one of these.

Unfortunately, they hurt when I fully insert them. They are a bit too long for me and seem to be poking into my eardrums.

Moldex Sparkplugs

Moldex Sparkplugs

Moldex Softies

Moldex Softies

I can make them work by rolling only about ¾ of the earplug into a cylinder and inserting them, but this is more of a hit or miss, so I stick with the short tapered ones.

Here is an image showing the 3M OCS1135, 3M 1100, HearosXtreme Protection, Moldex Softies, and Moldex Sparkplugs side by side.

earplugs length comparison

Strongly tapered earplugs with wide ends

This category includes the Howard Leight Max-1 and the 3M E-A-R Earsoft FX (312-1261) among others.

Try the Max-1 if you have a wider (not necessarily long) ear canal.

Howard Leight Max-1 USA

Howard Leight Max-1 USA

The Max-1 are effective for me, but due to their shape and diameter exert a bit more pressure on my ear canal.

Additionally, I often have to insert them several times to get a good fit. Still, these are good earplugs.

Here is an image showing the best earplugs for snoring side by side:

Earplugs Comparison

I cannot get a good fit with 3M Earsoft FX (not shown).

Cylinder-shaped

This category includes the 3M E-A-R Classic Earplugs, 29 dB.

The Classic earplugs are the original foam earplugs. They have been used in multiple studies and are very effective.

EAR Classic, the original foam earplugs

When I insert them deep, they remain comfortable, and they work very well for me.

But, I find them rather difficult to remove.

Also, it takes a lot longer to roll them into a small, compressed cylinder. And they really have to be rolled well!

They block about as much noise as the short tapered ones, and I find tapered earplugs easier to insert and remove. So I generally stick with the tapered ones.

The EAR-Classic are, however, a good alternative if none of the tapered ones work for you.

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Why did I not include silicone earplugs and reusable earplugs?

Foam earplugs are generally the most effective for blocking snoring noise and give you the best chance of finding a pair that works for you. Only custom-made earplugs come close. Custom-made earplugs will be the topic for a different article.

Silicone earplugs and reusable earplugs can be good for sleeping, swimming, and reducing moderate environmental noise, but I haven’t found any that block enough snoring noise to be able to fall asleep.

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How to properly insert foam earplugs?

  1. Roll the entire earplug slowly into a narrow cylinder, starting from the tip (avoid creases).
  2. Reach with your free hand over your head and pull your ear up and out to open the ear canal. Insert the earplug into your ear canal. (It should slide in without much effort)
  3. Keep your index finger or thumb against the end of the earplug until it is fully expanded (about 40 to 60 seconds.)

The following video by Elliott H. Berger is very instructive.  He is an all-time hero in the world of hearing conservation and protection.

Note that he uses the original cylinder-shaped earplugs. With tapered earplugs, I still recommend that you use your index finger to keep the earplugs in place until they are fully expanded.

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What if you can’t properly insert your earplugs?

In the past, I sometimes had a really hard time getting a good fit with both earplugs at the same time. It was mostly my right ear that turned out to be the “problem ear.” Now I keep a small bottle of an ear-piece insertion lubricant on my nightstand. For more on this read my post on earplug lubrication.

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How do you test the fit of your earplugs?

To do a complete fit test, you would need some pretty expensive lab equipment.

To make things easy, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has developed Quickfit, a two-threshold test to assess whether earplugs have been properly fitted.

You listen to a first test signal (preferably through headphones or in a quiet room through speakers) and lower the volume until you can barely hear the signal, i.e., lowering the volume one more step would make the sound too quiet to hear.

You then insert your earplugs and listen to a second test signal which is 16 dB louder. If you cannot hear that sound, your earplugs provide at least 16 dB of attenuation. The reasoning is that improperly inserted earplugs generally don’t even block 16 dB of noise.

You can do the Quickfit test on the NIOSH’s website. They have also made the test noise files available for offline download, so you can put them on your iPhone or computer.

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What is the NRR?

The packaging of earplugs sold in the US displays a noise reduction rating (NRR). This is a single number-rating in decibels (dB) indicating how good the plugs are at reducing noise.

Several earplugs in this review have an NRR of 33 dB, which is the highest noise reduction rating currently available. You can use the NRR to compare earplugs and estimate by how much they are going to reduce noise.

For example, the 3M 1100 are rated 29 dB. Let’s say you measured your partner’s snoring at 50 dB(A). The noise level reaching your ear drums would be 50-29=21 dB.

If you had been using an earplug rated 19 dB, the noise level entering the ear would have been 31 dB. That is 10 decibels more.

This may surprise you: 10 decibels more are perceived as twice as loud by the human ear, so 31 dB is twice as loud as 21 dB.

The NRR is, however, only a rough estimate. It is the average noise reduction derived from a sample of 10 different people who are exposed to test noises in a lab. Each test person undergoes the test procedure 3 times, so the NRR is actually the average of 30 different fit tests.

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How the Noise Reduction Rating can mislead you

Many people don’t achieve an optimal fit with a given earplug.

It takes quite a bit of practice to roll earplugs and properly insert them.

I can quite easily insert earplugs into my left ear, but my right ear canal is different, so it may take multiple attempts and re-rolling before I achieve a proper fit.

With some earplugs, such as the popular Howard Leight Laser Lite, I can often not achieve a good fit even after several attempts, with the consequence that they leak noise. I achieve not even close to the stated NRR of 32 dB, more like 10 dB.

Funny enough, sometimes I do get a proper fit, and then they work really well.

By comparison, the 3M 1100 work for me. I can insert them properly and they properly seal my ear. So, despite them being rated “only” 29 dB, I usually achieve much better noise reduction with less frustration.

Note that the NRR is also a weighted average of the reduction at several different frequencies. Earplugs don’t block all noise frequencies equally well.

If you take a look at your earplug’s packaging, you will often notice a chart like this:

EarplugNRR dB125 Hz250 Hz500 Hz1000 Hz2000 Hz3150 Hz4000 Hz6300 Hz8000 Hz
Mack's Pillow Soft2223.723.32527.334.339.238.938.237.4

At 125 Hz, Mack’s Putty earplugs reduce noise by 23.7 dB, while at 8000 Hz they reduce by 37.4 dB.  That is a difference of almost 15 decibels, a huge difference.

Their NRR is 22 dB, but this NRR clearly doesn’t tell the whole story.

Snoring noise and all other environmental noises, including speech, dog barks etc., exhibit different intensities at different frequencies. Male snorers, for example, tend to produce deeper, bass-heavier snores than female snorers.

I suspect this is why these silicone earplugs don’t block enough snoring noise for me.

They might work for you if you are a man trying to get relief from your lady’s snores, but they likely won’t work for your lady.

Note: That doesn’t mean that Mack’s silicone earplugs are not good. They may work very well if you want to attenuate more moderate noise and prefer their feel over foam earplugs.

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What can you do if your roommate’s snoring is really loud?

There is no denying it. There are no complete snore proof earplugs. A really loud snorer is too much for even the best earplugs. If your roommate’s snore peaks reach 80 decibels or more, earplugs by themselves are not going to be enough.

There is a good solution though: Noise masking with white noise. The principle behind this geeky term is very simple, yet effective:

Imagine a snorer close to a waterfall. The waterfall would likely completely drown out even very loud snoring.

Playing white noise through sleep headphones on top of the earplugs to drown out the snores

You wear sleep headphones on top of the earplugs and play a waterfall (white noise) through them using a white noise app. If you can adjust the sound pitch of the waterfall, it doesn’t even have to be very loud.

myNoise is such a white noise app, available as myNoise for iOS and myNoise for Android. It allows you adjust the pitch of the masking sound at ten different frequencies, so that you don’t have to crank up the volume too much to drown out the snores.

Two different types of sleep headphones work well on top of earplugs:

Some side sleepers feel that headband headphones are a bit more comfortable. On the other hand, flat on-ear headphones are a bit cooler. Both types are being used by both side and back sleepers though.

Do you still need earplugs underneath: Generally yes.  If you have found the snoring too loud to be blocked by earplugs alone, start by reducing it by as much as possible before masking the remainder.

Without any noise isolation, the masking noise itself would have to be so loud that it might keep you awake.

Have a good night and sweet dreams.


Notes:

Kent Wilson et al., “The Snoring Spectrum: Acoustic Assessment of Snoring Sound Intensity in 1,139 Individuals Undergoing Polysomnography,” CHEST Journal 115, no. 3 (1999): 762–770.

J. A. Fiz et al., “Acoustic Analysis of Snoring Sound in Patients with Simple Snoring and Obstructive Sleep Apnoea,” European Respiratory Journal 9, no. 11 (1996): 2365–2370.

 

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