Many power tools are loud enough to cause permanent hearing damage. If you have a workshop, you owe it to yourself to wear protective gear, including hearing protection. And it might cost less than you think.
According to OSHA, you should wear hearing protection whenever you’re subjected to sustained levels of 85 decibels or more. Circular saws, woodworking routers, table saws, and more are all capable of noise over 100 decibels. You can experience permanent hearing loss after only 15 minutes of exposure at that level.
Hearing loss is a lifetime cost, but hearing protection doesn’t have to be expensive. You’ll want to keep a few things in mind when you purchase hearing protection.
What to Look For
Not all hearing protection options are equal. Some block more sound than others. Some fit over your ears, and some fit in your ears. And some offer additional features, like Bluetooth.
Here are a few things to consider when you buy hearing protection:
- Wear type: Hearing protection typically comes in over- or in-ear styles. In-ear protection tends to apply pressure on your ear canal, while over-the-ear muffs can pinch your ears or squeeze your head too tight.
- Decibel reduction: Any hearing protection should list how many decibels of noise it blocks. It’s then up to you to do the math. For example, if your table saw generates 100 decibels, and your hearing protection blocks 27, you subtract 27 from 100. So, you’ll be subjected to 73 decibels of noise. This is the Noise Reduction Rating (NRR).
- Compatibility: You should also wear safety glasses and a respirator when you’re in the shop—especially if there’s a lot of dust is in the air. Make sure that all three work together and leave a tight seal against your body to fully protect you.
- Optional features: Some hearing protection comes with optional features, like Bluetooth or FM radios. Any of these are solely a bonus, and you can skip them to save money.
- Noise-canceling vs. noise isolation: Noise-canceling headphones are not a good solution for your workshop. They listen for a sound, and then play a different one to cancel out the noise. This technology isn’t fast or accurate enough to cancel out the noise of power tools and leaves you in danger of hearing damage. Noise isolation solutions prevent sound from reaching your ears altogether. None are perfect; you will always hear something. But it’s akin to turning down the volume—easier on your ears and better for your hearing.
For the reasons mentioned above, all the products on our list are noise isolation solutions.
Best Overall: 3M Peltor Optime 105 Over-the-Head Earmuff
3M’s over-the-head earmuffs have earned an NRR of 30 decibels. They’re easy to put on and take off, and the sizing band allows them to fit most heads. Most noise isolation earmuffs don’t promise to block high-pitched frequencies, but this pair does.
3M H10A Peltor Optime 105 Over the Head Earmuff, Ear Protectors, Hearing Protection, NRR 30 dB,Black, Red
These earmuffs reduce noise by 30 decibels, and they're easy to put on and take off. The adjustable band lets you size for comfort.
Best Budget Option: Mpow Foam Earplugs
If you don’t want to spend too much, Mpow disposable earplugs are a great choice. To use foam earplugs, you squeeze and roll them into a compact form, and then insert them into your ears. They expand, fill up your ear canal, and physically block sound from your ear.
These have an NRR rating of 30 decibels, so they’re suitable for even the loudest of tools. They even come with a carrying case, so you can take a set of plugs with you. Each pack includes 60 pairs of earplugs.
Best Over-the-Ears with Bluetooth: 3M WorkTunes Connect Hearing Protector
Sometimes when you’re working, it’s nice to have some music or a podcast. With the 3M WorkTunes earmuffs, you can do just that. This hearing protection set has built-in Bluetooth, so you can stream audio from your favorite device.
Just keep in mind this set of earmuffs doesn’t reduce sound quite as much as some of the other suggestions on this list—its NRR rating is 24 decibels. If you use this pair, you might want to check your tools’ decibel ratings and stick to anything rated 100 or less.
3M WorkTunes Connect Hearing Protector with Bluetooth Wireless Technology, 24 dB NRR, Ear protection for Mowing, Snowblowing, Construction, Work Shops
These noise-isolating earmuffs have Bluetooth, so you can listen to your favorite podcast or playlist instead of the roar of your table saw.
Best Premium Set: ISOtunes PRO Industrial
While earmuffs are fine, they can start to hurt your head after a while. The band hugs your skull, the cups pinch your ears, and they might not fit well with your other protective gear, like safety glasses or a respirator.
ISOtunes, on the other hand, are very lightweight and don’t fit over your ears. Instead, they have memory foam ear tips that slip into your ear canal, which offers better long-term comfort. These have an NRR rating of 27 decibels, so they should help with most, if not all, your tools.
Best of all, ISOtunes have Bluetooth, so you can be entertained while you work.
ISOtunes PRO Industrial (No Microphone), Bluetooth Earplug Headphones, 27 dB Noise Reduction Rating, 10 Hour Battery, 79 dB Volume Limit, OSHA Compliant Bluetooth Hearing Protector (Safety Green)
This in-ear option is more comfortable and portable than others. You even get Bluetooth, so you can listen to your favorite podcast while you work.
Best for Children: Mpow 068 Kids Ear Protection
When your little ones come in the shop, they need to wear protective gear, too. These noise-isolating earmuffs fit children 6- to 12-years-old. They have an NRR rating of 25 decibels, so even while they’re wearing these, you might want to keep them away from your loudest tools.
Color options are blue, green, royal blue, or great pink.