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Monday, October 7, 2019

The 5 Best Hearing Protection Options for Your Home Workshop

A red set of noise isolating ear muffs on a workbench.
Victoria Denisova/Shutterstock

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

The 3M H10A Peltor Optime 105 Over-the-Head Earmuffs in red and black.

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.

Best Overall

3M H10A Peltor Optime 105 Over the Head Earmuff, Ear Protectors, Hearing Protection, NRR 30 dB

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

A jar of 60 Mpow disposable earplugs overturned and spilling out its contents.

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