Exploring the Best Noise-Canceling Earplugs for Work and Studying

When you’re trying to work, every little sound instantly becomes deafening. You can hear every tick of the wall clock, every squeak as you shift in your seat, and every irregular noise outside of the room as well.

You’re probably doing your best to create a distraction-free environment by getting quieter clocks or fixing that creaky chair. But, no matter how hard you try, you’ll never be able to get rid of all the miscellaneous noises around you. That is, unless you opt for some of the best noise-canceling earplugs for work and studying.

I recently posted an article about the best earplugs for sleeping, so if you’re just looking for comfortable plugs, I highly recommend checking it out. Today, I’ll share more favorites, though I’ll try to focus on explaining why you should give earplugs a shot and how they can help you work or study. But first, let’s talk about whether silence is something you should be aiming for while you’re trying to focus.

The best earplugs for work and studying

Is It Better to Study or Work in Silence or with Background Noise?

Before we go deeper into the subject matter, I thought it would be good to talk about whether you should strive for a quiet environment when you’re working. In the past, I’ve written about how playing white noise while you work can even improve your focus. And that much is true — white noise has been shown to improve focus, memory skills, and creativity, among other things. But why is that?

Well, as I have suggested in the intro of this article, complete silence can make some people more sensitive to every little sound that might occur. In fact, some studies have linked different personality types to noise preferences during work or study time. According to that research, extroverts usually perform the same whether they’re studying in silence or with background noise. Actually, some of them find silence even more distracting than continuous low-level noise.

Introverts, on the other hand, tend to do better if they can prepare in silence. Excess noises waste these individuals’ mental resources. Simply put, having to focus on work while there are a lot of miscellaneous noises surrounding them can lead to sensory overload.

If you’re someone who’s easily distracted by auditory stimuli, overload can quickly lead to irritability and restlessness. Obviously, those symptoms aren’t exactly conducive to doing a good job.

With that in mind, you can see why working in silence may improve your focus. In fact, that’s actually one of my favorite arguments to make when people ask me why they should trouble themselves with soundproofing their homes. Enjoying uninterrupted quiet time can improve your stress levels and even cure your insomnia. Additionally, silence can make you more alert, helping you concentrate on your work or studies.

The Pros and Cons of Using Earplugs

As you can see, there’s plenty of evidence that supports the claim that silence can enhance our focus. But there are plenty of ways to ensure a quiet environment while you’re working. So why do I recommend earplugs, specifically? Let’s talk about whether these accessories can give you peace of mind while you’re hard at work.

If you aren’t someone who usually wears earplugs while working, you probably think that this particular tactic requires you to be surrounded by noise. But consider a student who’s trying to study despite the construction site across the street, or the people working on said site. When you’re exposed to upwards of 100 decibels of noise, earplugs become crucial to protecting your hearing.

However, that’s only one case in which you might want to wear them. There is no sound threshold you need to reach in order to start wearing earplugs. You can even wear them to muffle the repetitive sounds that tend to throw you off your game when you’re trying to concentrate on your workload. Still, there are some things you should know if you’re considering wearing earplugs for extended periods of time.

As I mentioned in my earplug reviews, there are some disadvantages to wearing plugs. Namely, reusing some kinds of plugs after a certain point can lead to a bacterial infection. Moreover, earplugs can inhibit the natural drainage of earwax by either soaking up the moisture — which could make your inner ear dry and itchy — or causing it to accumulate.

Lastly, if the plugs you get are too large for your ear canals, they can cause headaches and possibly damage your eardrums if you remove them too quickly.

Best Noise-Canceling Earplugs for Work and Studying

So how can you be sure that you won’t experience the problems I’ve just mentioned? I don’t know about you, but I certainly wouldn’t want to put up with headaches and excess earwax when I’m trying to concentrate.

Don’t worry — it’s all about picking the right pair of earplugs for you. The good news is that if you’ve read my reviews of the best earplugs for sleeping, you already know that there are several kinds you can choose from.

Silicone Earplugs

Silicone earplugs are often reusable, some more than others. If they’re moldable, they only have a couple of uses in them before you have to ditch them. On the other hand, if they’re firm like the ones from Etymotic Research, you’ll be able to clean them when you decide they’re too dirty and continue using them.

They’re particularly great for musicians because they reduce noise while preserving sound quality. If you still need to hear stuff while working or studying, these are a great choice. Additionally, because they come with a carrying case and a detachable cord, they’re pretty convenient for someone who’s more active at work. You won’t have to worry about them slipping out.

3M Corded Reusable Earplug, 3-Pair with Case

Still, if you’re not too keen on earplugs with a detachable cord, get ones with an attached one. These ones from 3M have an NRR, or noise reduction rating, of 25 decibels. So that’s how quieter your environment will be when you wear them.

Both the plugs and the cord are made of soft rubber or silicone. That, of course, makes the whole product easy to clean.

In my previous article on this subject, I mentioned several other silicone earplugs. However, the ones I’d like to highlight are Mack’s moldable silicone putty plugs. While these aren’t as reusable as the other silicone earplugs I’ve mentioned, they could be more comfortable. In fact, moldable plugs are perfect for people who often experience pressure headaches caused by regular in-ear plugs.

Foam Earplugs

Foam earplugs are typically not reusable or waterproof. Still, they usually block out more noise than the silicone earplugs I’ve just shown you. They’re designed to fill your ear cavity. After you roll them up, you’re meant to slide them into your ear and hold them there until the foam reinflates to fill your ear.

The Ear Buddy Premium Soft Foam Ear Plugs, Noise Cancelling Earplugs for Sleeping, Hearing Protection for Concerts, Work, Shooting & Travel, Noise Reduction Rating 32 Decibels, 50 Pairs

If the plugs are too big for you, that can result in headaches — and removing them too quickly can actually damage your hearing. You’re also supposed to switch them out often so that they don’t become a breeding ground for bacteria.

Because these plugs aren’t reusable, they usually come in packs of 50 pairs or more. For example, the Howard Leight plugs I mentioned in my reviews come in 100-pair packs with a cord and 200-pair cordless packs.

All of the foam plugs I’ve linked to have an NRR of over 30 decibels. As such, they’re great for working or studying in a loud environment.

Other Materials

In addition to silicone and foam, you may find the odd thermoplastic or even natural beeswax earplugs as well. The main complaint against foam earplugs, for example, is that they make the ears dry and itchy. Since beeswax is a natural ingredient that is more nourishing than absorbent, it’s supposed to be the answer to that problem.

Decibullz - Custom Molded Earplugs, 31dB Highest NRR, Comfortable Hearing Protection for Shooting, Travel, Swimming, Work and Concerts (Orange)

Another complaint some people have is that foam plugs, and sometimes even silicone ones, can cause headaches. One of the ways to avoid that is to use moldable materials to cover the outer shell of your ear, instead of sticking the plug into your ear canal. That’s where thermoplastic and moldable silicone earplugs come in.

Of course, if you’re not sure which earplugs you should get, get one of each kind to figure it out.

How to Use Your Earplugs Properly

If you’re going to use earplugs while working or studying on a regular basis, you ought to know the correct way to do so. So let’s go over the basics.

Clean Your Ears Before You Insert the Plugs

First things first, you’ll want to prepare your ears before you put in your plugs. Luckily, they’re usually pretty much self-cleaning.

One of the functions of jaw movements is to push the wax and the dirt toward the opening of the ear. If you have to, you can use ear drops or put a few drops of warm water in your ear to help the process along.

Then, you can take a clean cloth and wipe the outer shell of your ear. Whatever you do, don’t try to poke around inside with a cotton swab: you might damage your eardrum.

If you can still feel the buildup after doing this, you should consult your doctor; they might be able to clean your ears out for you.

No matter how you decide to go about it, cleaning your ears will make it much easier to insert your earplugs. Furthermore, it may even extend the longevity of your plugs, specifically the disposable ones. Moldable silicone earplugs can last up to a month if you clean your ears before putting them in.

Learn How to Insert Your Earplugs Properly

There are three ways to insert your earplugs, depending on whether they’re made of foam, silicone, or some moldable material.

If you’re using in-ear plugs, you’ll want to pinch your ears and tug them back while you slide the plugs inside. If you’re using foam ones, you’ll have to roll them before insertion, then hold them in your ears while they decompress. Once the foam expands, it will fill your ear canal, absorbing noises before they reach your receptors.

On the other hand, if you’re using a moldable pair of plugs, you should be able to just press them into your ears until they feel snug and secure enough for you to stop touching them. You don’t need to push hard for the material to enter your ear — the point is to cover the outside shell.

Clean Them Between Uses

Using clean earplugs every time you sit down to work or study is of the utmost importance. As I have explained, dirty ones can introduce all sorts of bacteria into your system. The porous structure of the foam makes these kinds of plugs the perfect home for bacteria. That’s why foam plugs are only good for a day or two before you need to get a new pair.

Of course, silicone earplugs aren’t porous, so they don’t allow bacteria to run rampant. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t clean them before using them. Aside from inviting various bacteria, using dirty silicone earplugs would inevitably lead to them slipping out. You’d have to keep pushing them back in every few seconds, which is distracting in and of itself.

Fortunately, cleaning silicone earplugs is usually as easy as wiping the earwax and dirt off them. You can even use water or alcohol. However, if you do use liquid cleaners, thoroughly dry the plugs before putting them back into your ears.

Ultimately, if you keep both your ears and your plugs clean, you’ll be less likely to get a bacterial infection. That’s a win in my book!

White Noise Machines
for Offices

Other Ways to Escape the Noise While You’re Working or Studying

Now, there are some things that could help you create a quiet environment where you could work or study. For one, you can control your environment by eliminating sources of noise or by blocking them with certain soundproofing techniques. Alternately, you can seek out a different, quiet location that would hopefully be more conducive to studying. And, if you’re not already firmly stuck on your career path — choose a quiet profession to finally get some peace of mind.

Try to Get Rid of Excess Noise

If your profession makes noise unavoidable, you’ll simply have to get comfortable using earplugs. The same goes if you’re trying to study with construction work across the street. Sometimes, you’ll just have to deal with your circumstances as well as you can.

Other times, though, you may have more control over the distracting noises that are surrounding you.

For example, if your coworkers are particularly raucous, politely ask them to quiet down. Moreover, you can implement other slight changes, such as moving the noisy appliances out of the main office area.

If the devices around the office are noisier than they ought to be, replace them with quieter products. I’ve already written reviews of the best quiet kettles, paper shredders, hand dryers, and other items you might need.

There are also steps you can take to ensure that you have peace and quiet if you’re working or studying at home. If the main thing that’s impairing your focus is the fact that your neighbor’s kid keeps playing music all day long, there are ways to go around that. But if you don’t want to follow my guides to stopping neighbors from playing music during the day and into the night, at least take steps to soundproof your workspace.

Implement Some Quick Soundproofing Solutions

In addition to moving the water dispensers, kettles, and paper shredders out of the main room of your office, you can also implement some soundproofing solutions. I have several guides that might help you. However, if you work in a cubicle, you’ll definitely benefit from using earplugs.

After all, cubicle soundproofing tips aren’t magical solutions, and you will never be able to completely prevent the noise from reaching you in an open office. Still, if push comes to shove, you could look into this list of the quietest professions.

On the other hand, if you work from home, you can create a quiet base of operations for yourself. There are plenty of ways to soundproof your home office. However, you should primarily focus your soundproofing efforts on doors and windows.

Find a Quiet Secondary Location to Work or Study

Finally, if you are dealing with construction work near your home, you might actually have to go somewhere else to find some peace.

Whether you’re a student or a remote worker, libraries are still a perfect spot for getting work done. After all, they’re both quiet and free — in most cases. If you don’t mind spending money, you can also rent a desk in one of those shared working spaces.

Even an out-of-the-way café can be a good, quiet place for work if you’re avoiding your house. However, you’ll need to make sure that the place you choose has everything you need. Additionally, you should ask the owner of the establishment if you can hole up and work there.

But even if you do end up in one of these places, you might still need earplugs as well. Loud, disruptive noises can occur even in libraries — so it’s best to come prepared.

Final Thoughts

Choosing the best earplugs for work and studying is going to depend on several factors. Obviously, you’ll want to start with your situation: what do you need the earplugs for? If you’re a construction worker, you’ll definitely want to get plugs that come with a cord. Conversely, if you’re an office worker or a student, you could go either way.

The rest, including the type of plugs and the material they’re made of, usually comes down to personal preference. Discovering your likes and dislikes will involve some trial and error. But what if you try all kinds of earplugs and decide that you’re not someone who thrives in absolute silence?

As I’ve explained, that’s completely normal too. You could just be one of those people who enjoy working with some kind of background noise. Still, you ought to be the one to choose the soundtrack for your study or work session. If you don’t want environmental noise cutting into your playlist, try the best noise-canceling headphones or earbuds next.


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