The best earplugs are

  • Easy to insert. They should be simple to put in securely and to remove.
  • Fit comfortably. If they are not comfortable to wear for the time frame you need to have them in, or if they fall out of your ear, they will not block sound effectively.
  • Well-rated for noise reduction. The noise reduction rating (NRR) shows how many decibels (dB) earplugs decrease sound in a laboratory setting. Higher NRRs generally are better, but real world performance can vary from lab tests. Online retailer EarplugStore.com posts a handy chart on noise levels on their website.
  • Made to fit your activity. Foam earplugs are primarily for noise reduction, but other earplugs are made for special situations such as swimming, diving and air travel. In addition, musicians and people who are frequently exposed to very loud sounds may need higher-end specialty earplugs. EarPlugStore.com offers suggestions for using the right earplug.
  • Secure. Earplugs aren't as effective if they don't stay in your ear. Before buying a large quantity, test the earplugs in the environment and the way you plan to use them. Many manufacturers offer variety packs, so you can try different sizes and configurations before committing to one.

Know before you go

How big are your ears? There is no standard sizing for earplugs, and most are one size fits all, although some manufacturers sell them in small, medium and large. Try a variety of earplugs until you begin to get a general idea of your ear and ear canal size. As a heads up for women, most earplugs are sized for men.

What is your intended use? Do you need to block noise for eight hours while you sleep? If so, comfort should be your top priority. Otherwise, look for earplugs that are specifically designed for the activity you are going to be pursuing. EarPlugStore.com has a great breakdown of which earplugs are best for which situations.

Do you know how to properly insert foam earplugs? It's important to know how to properly insert earplugs to ensure peak performance. Most manufacturers have either written instructions or a video tutorial on their website.

Buying tips and strategies

Buy a variety pack. Before you decide to invest in one earplug or another, get an assortment pack and try them all. Some manufacturers sell assortment packs of their earplugs.

Take them for a test drive before buying in bulk. The best way to decide if earplugs work for you is to fully try them out and not just put them in your ear and declare them comfortable. Try to mimic the activity you'll be using them for, wear them for extended periods of time and most importantly move your jaw around by chewing, yawning and talking. As you move your jaw, it can change the shape and size of your ear canal, potentially turning comfortable earplugs into painful ones.

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