Mack's Pillow Soft Silicone Earplugs are the best earplugs for swimming because they keep your ears dry, as demonstrated in comparison testing in several respected medical journals. They're moldable, so they can fit any ear and are capable of blocking some sound. With a relatively low noise reduction rating (NRR) of 22 decibels (dB), they are not the best choice for blocking the loudest sounds, but many say they're good for travel and sleeping. They are semireusable for up to five uses.
Seals out water. Mack's Pillow Soft Silicone Earplugs are made of moldable silicone that forms a seal over the outer ear opening. Though no earplugs can keep ears completely dry, recent medical studies in the journals Otolaryngology -- Head and Neck Surgery and the American Journal of Otolaryngology found Mack's Pillow Soft earplugs to be the most effective of the earplugs they tested at preventing water from entering the ear canal.
The Pillow Soft earplugs work fairly well outside of the water too. With a noise reduction rating (NRR) of 22 dB, reviewers at Amazon.com say they've used them for sleep and for airplanes. If your main goal is noise reduction, though, these probably wouldn't be your first choice.
Fits to your ear. Mack's Pillow Soft Silicone Earplugs are moldable, so they can be made to fit any ear. In addition, the earplug forms a seal over the outer ear opening, so no part of the earplug rests inside the ear canal, the more sensitive part of your ear. One reviewer at Amazon.com didn't like this seal, as it created a vacuum effect inside his ear that was uncomfortable. The earplugs are also sticky, which some reviewers at Amazon.com saw as a benefit because it helped the earplugs stay in place. Others found the stickiness a detriment because it meant the earplug collected hair and dirt.
Semi-reusable. Mack's Pillow Soft Silicone Earplugs cost $2.75 for two pairs, but they can be reused. Reviewers on Amazon.com say the earplugs are easy to wash and reuse. Mack's recommends that the Pillow Soft earplugs only be used five times or until their stickiness wears out. Customers at EarPlugStore.com second this sentiment, noting that the earplugs can't last longer than six days. Although $1.38 per pair is not necessarily expensive, the price can add up if you are routinely in the water. A number of users say the life of the earplugs is much shorter -- only two days.
1. Otolaryngology Head and Neck Surgery
Review Credibility: Excellent In this study, nine different earplugs were tested in 10 testers' ears to determine which earplugs are most effective at preventing water from entering the ear canal. Three different scenarios were used: splashing and swimming on the surface without submerging the head, and submerging the head under 3 feet of water with the head upright and with the head tilted 90 degrees to the left and right. All earplugs allowed some amount of water to enter the ear canal, more so when the head was completely submerged, but Mack's Pillow Soft was the most effective in keeping the ear dry.
Review: Efficacy of Commercial Earplugs in Preventing Water Intrusion During Swimming, H. Mahboubi et al., Jan. 2, 2013
2. American Journal of Otolaryngology
Review Credibility: Excellent In this study, the researchers tested the efficacy of four different earplugs at preventing water from entering the ear canal. They placed the earplugs in an anatomically correct model of the ear, and then exposed it to water. Mack's Pillow Soft was the most effective at preventing water intrusion. The least effective was a custom-molded earplug.
Review: An Objective Comparison of Leakage Between Commonly Used Earplugs, J.A. Alt and W.O. Collins, Dec. 9, 2011
Review Credibility: Very Good Mack's Pillow Soft earplugs earn an overall rating of about 4 out of 5 stars in hundreds of reviews spread over several packaging options. Users like how well the Pillow Soft earplugs seal and that they're sticky enough to stay in place, although some say they're too sticky and catch in their hair or collect dirt. Though they work well for swimming, customers on Amazon.com also use them for sleep to block out snorers. Even fans say they don't last long, and there are a few complaints of difficulty getting them to fit properly.
Review: Macks Pillow Soft Earplugs, Contributors to Amazon.com, As of May 2013
Review Credibility: Very Good EarPlugStore.com is an online retailer dedicated solely to earplugs and hearing protection. There are fewer user reviews here than on Amazon.com, but the users are knowledgeable about earplugs and have often tried multiple types. Mack's Pillow Soft earplugs get 4.8 out of 5 stars overall, based on 13 reviews over several packaging options. One of the reviewers, a daily distance swimmer, calls these the "Best plugs in the world," and the rest of the reviewers agree, noting how well these earplugs work and how comfortable they are. One user wishes the earplugs lasted longer than six days.
Review: Earplugs, Contributors to EarPlugStore.com, As of May 2013
Review Credibility: Very Good In this thorough roundup, Ulrich Boser rates eight different earplugs for effectiveness, comfort, durability and value. His top picks are Hearos Ultimate Softness Series and Howard Leight Max for their comfort and efficacy at blocking sound. He gives Mack's Pillow Soft Silicone earplugs above average scores for their effectiveness and comfort, but he knocks them for poor durability as they fell out during his "run-up-the-stairs test." He does say that if you don't like having things put into your ear, Pillow Soft is a good choice. He did not test them for their ability to prevent water in the ear, something they're primarily designed to do.
Review: The Sound of Silence, Ulrich Boser, May 17, 2005
Review Credibility: Fair Kerry Kubilius, About.com's Eastern Europe travel guide, lists her 10 top earplugs. However, there's no indication that she actually tried out all of the plugs, and she doesn't list her criteria for choosing the best earplugs. She says Mack's Pillow Soft Silicone earplugs are "high on the comfort scale" as they mold to your ear, but that their stickiness means they collect lint and dirt.
Review: Top 10 Earplugs for Travel -- Ear Plugs for Travel, Kerry Kubilius, Not Dated