are many types of ear plugs available, sometimes making it hard to know which to buy. There are several things to take into account when choosing the best ear plugs for your purpose;
materials, cost, type of use and whether they are connected with a lanyard. When deciding which ear plugs are right for you it is important to make sure they are suitable for your intended use.
If you are only an infrequent ear plug user then foam or
wax ear plugs will probably do. They are cheaper to buy than molded ear
plugs but only last for a few uses so become expensive if you are a
regular ear plug user and get through many pairs. Flanged rubber ear plugs and soft silicon ear
plugs are good for use in water and molded ear plugs are more expensive
but are more comfortable, more effective, don't fall out and are cheaper
in the long run. Buy a pair connected by a lanyard if you are planning
to use them whilst active, particularly somewhere you would lose them
if they fell out, such as in the sea. This is particularly
important with the more expensive molded ear plugs.
The following table summarises the differences between seven common types of ear plug. The characteristics of each ear plug type is explained and elaborated further down the page.
Table 1; Which Ear Plugs?
|| Cost Per
|| Fall out
| Wax Ear
Rubber Ear Plugs
Silicon Ear Plugs
Silicon Ear Plugs
| Audiologist Molded Ear Plugs
| Thermoplastic Molded Ear Plugs
*Cost per use calculated as follows, using current prices from product websites. No tested data available for life of ear plugs so estimates used; foam ear plugs, £1.50 a pair,
5 uses, wax ear plugs, £1 per pair, 5 uses, flanged earplugs, £2.50 per
pair, 30 uses, soft silicon, £1.30 per pair, 5 uses, hard silicon, £25
per pair, 500 uses, audiologist molded ear plugs, £60, 500 uses, thermoplastic molded ear plugs, £20, 1000 uses.
Foam Ear Plugs
Foam earplugs are often made from soft silicon foam or silicon sponge.
Advantages. Widely available and relatively cheap, they are effective
at blocking sound from the ears. They can be washed and reused several
times and are available connected with a cord or lanyard.
- Disadvantages. Because they expand they press on the delicate
skin lining the ear canal, causing discomfort and pushing themselves
out. This makes foam ear plugs potentially unsuitable for sleeping
because they end up protruding from the ear, causing discomfort when
lying on the side, and subsequently falling out so the user is exposed to the noise
they are trying to block and wake up. The foam can be abrasive,
particularly after a couple of washes. This can damage the lining of
the ear, causing discomfort and allowing bacteria to infect the ear
causing swimmers' ear (otitis externa ear infections). They are
unsuitable as swimming ear plugs or for other uses in water due to the
fact they are porous and soak up water and do not prevent it entering the ears. Water-logging the ear canals
softens the skin and increases the risk of otitis externa. Foam
earplugs tend to be unhygienic; because they are porous they accumulate
wax and dead skin debris and harbour bacteria. They can be washed and
reused but become hard after a few times, reducing their life span. They are hygienic if they are kept clean and only used a few times.
Wax Ear Plugs
These are made from
paraffin wax combined with cotton or man-made filaments to stop the wax
from fragmenting. They are not available connected by a lanyard.
Advantages. Wax ear plugs are comfortable and effective at keeping
sound and water from the ears because they mold to the shape of the ear canal. They are less expensive than molded ear plugs.
- Disadvantages. Because they are made of soft wax they do not retain their molded shape and may need remolding each time they are used. They can be messy as the wax can leave marks on clothing and carpets as well as residue on your hands
in your ears when you mold them. The wax quickly accumulates dirt, ear
wax, hair and other debris and need to be replaced after a few uses,
otherwise they become unhygienic. They may fragment in the ears,
leaving pieces behind in the ear canal.
Flanged Rubber Ear Plugs
These are made of
either silicon or rubber and consist of a handle surrounded by soft
rings which form a seal with the ear canal. They are available for use
on aeroplanes to reduce ear pain by slowing the change in air pressure
on the ear drum by allowing air to seep slowly through a narrow channel
into the ear canal. Flanged rubber ear plugs are available with a
- Advantages. Flanged rubber ear plugs are effective at keeping
water from the ears making them good swimming ear plugs, surfing ear
plugs and snorkelling earplugs. They are washable, making them hygienic
and increasing their life span.
- Disadvantages. The handle protrudes from the ears making them
unsuitable for use as ear plugs for sleeping or anti-snoring ear plugs
because they dig in when you lie on your side. After a while the
flanges tend to split and come off. The rigidity of the handle and pressure from the flanges make the ear plugs uncomfortable.
Soft Silicon Ear Plugs
These have the consistency of putty and mold to the ear canal. They are not available connected on a cord.
- Advantages. Effectively seal the ears against sound and water. Comfortable.
- Disadvantages. Can be messy, staining clothes and carpet if trodden
on. Soft silicon may fragment in the ear canal, particularly if the ear
plugs are old. This type of ear plug tends to accumulate dirt, hair
and skin debris. They can't be washed clean so need to be thrown away
at this point. Often expensive to buy with a high cost per use.
Hard Silicon Ear Plugs
This type of ear plugs are
supplied as a two-part putty which is mixed by hand and molded directly
in the ear, hardening to form an ear plug. They can be connected with a
- Advantages. Hard silicon ear plugs are comfortable as there is no
pressure effect in the ear. They create a good seal and last for years
of normal use. They are non-porous making them hygienic and good for
use in the water. They can be wiped or washed clean and have a lower than average cost-per-use due to the longer life of the ear plugs.
- Disadvantages. The user only gets one chance to mold the ear plugs;
if they don't get it right first time another kit needs to be bought.
The ear plugs tend to protrude from the ears making them unsuitable for
sleeping as they are uncomfortable when users lie on their side. The process
is messy, residue is left on the hands and in the ears. May
deteriorate, split or crack after time, especially if not stored
Audiologically Molded Ear Plugs
An audiologist takes a
cast of the ear canal which is sent away to a factory where a reverse
mold is made which is used to make silicon earplugs. It is usually
possible for them to be connected with a cord, string or lead.
- Advantages. These are highly comfortable and effective, great for all
uses, as ear plugs for sleeping, ear plugs for snoring and ear plugs
for swimmers. Last for hundreds of uses making the cost per use on the lower side.
Non-porous so are hygienic, they can be washed or wiped clean.
- Disadvantages. Audiologically molded ear plugs are the most
expensive type of ear plugs, costing £60 or more, although the quality
of the ear plugs usually reflects this. The process is time consuming,
requiring visiting an audiology clinic, sometimes several times for
fittings and refits if they don't fit the first time.
Thermoplastic Molded Ear Plugs
This type of ear
plug is made from a kit using a thermoplastic which softens in hot water
and is molded directly in the ear. They can be connected with a cord
- Advantages. These are molded to the ears so are comfortable and effective at
blocking sound and water from the ears. Non-porous so are suitable for use
as ear plugs for swimming and other water-sports, as well as being
hygienic. They contain an antibacterial making them the most hygienic
ear plug listed, reducing the risk of swimmers ear, otitis externa and
other ear infections. Unlike hard silicon molded ear plugs this type of
molded ear plug can be remolded as many times as you like, so you don't
have to get it right first time. Although there is a high initial cost
this type of ear plug lasts for many hundreds of uses and so has the
lowest cost per use of all the listed ear plugs. These are ideal for
regular, frequent, prolonged ear plug use. They do not deteriorate for
many years with normal use. They are hard-wearing and resilient, can be
carried in a pocket or bag or even trodden on without damaging them.
The thermoplastic used is biodegradable and hypoallergenic.
- Disadvantages. Thermoplastic molded ear plugs have a higher
initial cost than many other types of ear plugs, although they have the
lowest cost per use of all the ear plugs listed.
There are many ear plug types available and most of them work well for occasional day-to-day use but if you are a regular user or are using them for a specific purpose it is worth doing some research and giving consideration to buying a better pair of ear plugs. Like most things in life, you get what you pay for.