We’re going to be upfront with you: The perfect pair of earplugs doesn’t exist. Everyone’s ears are different, and you’ll need a good fit to get maximum sound blockage—especially if you’re looking to silence your partner’s thunderous snoring without reaching for those bulky noise-canceling headphones). But all pairs aren’t created equal, some don't block out all the noise, others don't fit well, so that’s where we come in. Don’t worry, you’ll be sleeping in a blissfully squishy foam cave in no time.
For the absolute best sound blockage, our pick is the Hearos Xtreme(available at Amazon). These adorably plump earplugs thoroughly seal off your ears from outside noises without exerting too much pressure on the sides of your ear canals.
If you have smaller ears or find the Xtreme too intrusive, the 3M’s E-A-Rsoft are almost as good at blocking sound and have a narrower fit.
If you’d prefer a pair that’s a bit more versatile and eco-friendly, we’d recommend the Happy Ears Listen. These reusable earplugs don’t block as much sound, but they’ll keep things pleasantly muffled while also easily sliding into your bag.
Here are the earplugs we tested, in order of recommendation:
Flents Quiet Time
Mack's Slim Fit
Happy Ears Listen
Howard Leight Max1
Mack's Ultra Soft
Mack's Pillow Soft
Howard Leight Laser Lite
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Our top pick is the Hearos Xtreme for their superior sound blocking and comfort combination. They came in third in our lab sound-blocking tests and first in objective testing for sound blockage and comfort while being worn in various scenarios. They also placed second in a poll of Reviewed staffers for comfort and sound blocking, and tied for second in the subjective testing for reuse, storage, and overall experience.
They aren’t uncomfortable, but you know they’re in—you just don’t necessarily care thanks to the blissful silence they provide. You can order a set of 100 pairs or just 14 pairs, which is nice if you don’t plan on using them long-term.
The 3M E-A-Rsoft might be a better choice if you value comfort over sound blockage or just have fussier ear canals, as they’re smaller than the Hearos. They came in second place on our sound isolation test, but didn’t score quite as high on the in-ear sound blocking test, partially due to how fiddly they can be to insert. Once you get a good fit, though, they excel. At one point during the testing process, my partner and I were cleaning our apartment and had the dishwasher, AC, and vacuum running simultaneously, and of all the pairs I had on hand, this was the one I reached for when I decided the noise was too much.
They’re only available in a set of 200, which is a bit irksome if you’re looking to purchase them for a short trip, but each pair is individually wrapped so you can easily take what you need (though that can create a lot of plastic waste in the process). The box also has a small hole punched in it to demonstrate roughly what size to roll the plugs to for insertion, which is a nice clever touch.
Hi, I’m Rena Behar. As a former researcher and editor at the Wirecutter and strong sleep aficionado, I take my product testing (and sleep comfort) very seriously. I’ve researched products ranging from printers to vibrators and know how to weed through reviews like nobody’s business. I also live on a busy Brooklyn street, so I know how important it is to block out the nighttime noise.
Each set of plugs was subject to a number of tests. We started in the lab, where we played pink noise—which sounds a lot like static but is designed to provide equal power across an entire frequency range—from a speaker next to our Head and Torso Simulator, equipped with each pair of earplugs one at a time. We used SoundCheck software to measure how much sound each set blocked.
For objective testing, I slept in each pair for one night, paying attention to comfort, ease of insertion, how well they stayed in, and how much sound was blocked. I also wore each pair in my apartment while trying to do work with Terminator 3 on in the background (it’s astonishing how many earplugs can’t stand up to Arnold’s voice) and while walking around downtown Brooklyn, attempting to drown out construction, traffic, and after-school crowds. I also noted whether there was any difference in effectiveness with a new pair versus reusing a pair.
A number of Reviewed staffers also tried each pair for about 15 to 20 minutes, noting sound blockage and comfort levels, so we could evaluate which were better across a wider range of ears.
After I’d worn all of them, I blasted them with my window unit air conditioner on one side and a fan on the other to see how well they might hold up to the elements, given that some Amazon reviewers had complained about their plugs drying out in the box over time. We also rated the level of wear and tear each pair showed — would you be willing to reuse them? — along with portability and overall experience for the subjective factor.
What You Need To Know About Earplugs
If you want proper sound blockage, you need to make sure you’re inserting the earplug correctly (all of the packages have instructions on how to do so) and that it fits your ear shape. If you try multiple times and still can’t get a pair to work, you may need to try a different size (some come in small, medium and large options) or a different brand.
These earplugs were tested mainly for sleeping, not for band practice or loud bars. There are other types of earplugs designed to better maintain acoustic integrity if that’s what you’re after. Though it can’t hurt to try these out about town if you’re routinely exposed to high decibel levels, such as the ones you might find standing in a subway tunnel.
Regardless of how loud your noise situation is, if you find yourself needing to wear earplugs every night, you may just want to move instead. According to a physician-reviewed article at Healthline, wearing earplugs every night for a prolonged period of time might lead to a buildup of earwax getting pushed to the back of your ear, leading to potential temporary hearing loss or tinnitus. Bacteria can also build up on the earplugs, potentially causing ear infections. To minimize your risk factors, it’s suggested that you don’t use the same set for too long.
Other Earplugs We Tested
Flents Quiet Time
The Flents Quiet Time were so close to being great but somehow just couldn't cross that final hurdle. They’re a bit firmer than some of the other picks, so they don’t roll up as easily, making them trickier to insert. It also made it more obvious when they seemed to have softened up later. They felt like they lost firmness after being carried in a hot bag, almost as though they had slightly melted. Something about these seemed to trigger my tinnitus as well, something I noticed in a few of the lower-ranked pairs.
They did tie for second place (along with the Hearos Xtreme) in the Reviewed office survey, which suggests that you may agree that the potential upgrade in comfort is worth their inconveniences.
The Mack’s Slim Fit were also a very strong contender, tying for the third-place slot with the Flents and mere fractions of points away from bumping out the 3Ms. These slide into smaller ear canals like a dream, and provided consistently solid sound blockage, scoring first place on our lab sound tests. Their sound testing in the objective tests, however, just wasn’t quite as good, and they were middle of the pack in the office poll.
I did make a small user error during their testing at one point and inserted them with slightly damp hands (you're supposed to make sure your hands are clean, after all). My ear canals hated that, so make sure your hands are dry before trying your insertion. They were still so comfortable that I almost didn't mind that their sound blockage didn't feel quite up to par with the others.
If our top picks don’t work for you, both these and the Flents would be a very good next choice to try.
If you want a set of reusable earplugs that you can easily transport, the Happy Ears Listen are a good choice. They’re incredibly stylish (not a phrase frequently used for earplugs), but despite their aesthetic appeal, we have a few objections.
They aren’t quite as comfortable for side sleeping due to their hard plastic stems. They also scored the lowest on our sound isolation test, even though they placed second on the objective test and tied for first with the 3Ms on the subjective. They come in small, medium, and large to help you find your best fit, but you do have to take your best guess when you order since the sizes are sold separately.
The Howard Leight Max1 is another set that did well. Their flared base feature is great for in-ear adjustments and judging the depth of insertion. They were more challenging to insert but some Reviewed staffers swear by them, so they’re worth a shot if our other options aren’t a fit.
Moldex Pura-fit didn’t insert easily and they lost their shape by the morning. They rebounded eventually but we had concerns about their possible reusability and general comfort. They came in last place in our subjective testing, and I could never forget I was wearing them, while somehow still hearing most of what was around me. I consistently struggled to get a reasonable fit despite being able to hear them expanding in my ears, a somewhat bizarre effect.
Mack’s Ultra Softs is very plump for earplugs, and they’re also an unpleasant beige color. If you have large ear canals and are drawn to the visual appeal of chunks of putty, these may be for you. However, they shouldn’t be your first try, despite being awarded “Amazon’s Choice” if you just search the site for earplugs.
Mack’s Pillow Soft Silicone is a good option if you don’t want to actively insert anything into your ear canal. You just roll up the waxy material and then smooth it over your ear. It’s more comfortable for side sleepers. If it weren’t for the cave-like echo, you could almost forget you’re wearing them. But they don’t block as much sound, and the sticky silicone can pick up hair and pillow fuzz.
Liberty Duraplugs were among the least comfortable options. My notes included the phrase, “I hate these, they’re just tiny foam, how are they so uncomfortable,” and it proved very challenging to get a good fit. They managed to somehow irritate my ear canals without actually staying in my ears.
The low performance of the Howard Leight Laser Lites came as a genuine surprise given their popularity in other corners of the internet and generally strong brand following. I woke up at 6 a.m. to yank them out of my ears. They came in fourth in our lab noise reduction test and had the lowest score in the staff survey.
We use standardized and scientific testing methods to scrutinize every product and provide you with objectively accurate results. If you’ve found different results in your own research, email us and we’ll compare notes. If it looks substantial, we’ll gladly re-test a product to try and reproduce these results. After all, peer reviews are a critical part of any scientific process.