10 best swimming earplugs that reduce noise and provide protection

Whether you’re a fair-weather swimmer, a hardened triathlete or a regular pool goer, we can guarantee there’s a pair for you

Lydia Willgress
Tuesday 01 September 2020 17:15
When choosing you'll want to find a pair that fits comfortably and, obviously, doesn't let water in
When choosing you'll want to find a pair that fits comfortably and, obviously, doesn't let water in

Swimming is a great all-round exercise. Around 4.7 million adults swim at least twice a month – which isn’t really surprising given the significant benefits. Regular swimming can lower stress levels, reduce anxiety and help you sleep – as well as improving heart health, lowering blood pressure and increasing bone strength.

When most people go swimming, they’ll instinctively grab a costume, towel and maybe some goggles.

But whether you’re an early morning riser committed to racking up the distance or an outdoor convert, there’s one product that will make your swim even better: earplugs.

Earplugs help to prevent water and bacteria from entering the ear canal, reducing the chances of infection and the dreaded "swimmer’s ear".

They can also help to tune out background noise while making sure you can still chat with friends or hear crucial instructions during races.

When looking to purchase swimming earplugs, you’ll want to find a pair that fit comfortably and, obviously, don’t let water in. To do this, you should consider whether a unisex "one size fits all" model suits you, or whether you’d prefer a different, tailored bud size.

You should also consider whether you would benefit from any extras, such as a case or straps to keep them attached to goggles.

Finally, we’d recommend buying a colourful pair – there’s nothing worse than trying to spot blue earplugs at the bottom of a pool mid-swim (or in a river, mid-triathlon).

Over the last month, we have taken a deep dive and tested earplugs from across the market during sessions in our local pool and the sea (thank you heatwave). We’ve rounded up our favourites, testing all the things above, from fit to noise prevention. Whether you’re a fair-weather swimmer, a hardened triathlete or a regular pool goer, we can guarantee there’s a pair for you.

You can trust our independent reviews. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections. This revenue helps us to fund journalism across The Independent.

SurfEars 3.0

SurfEars was launched in 2011 by a surfer who had the misfortune of suffering from a serious ear infection that was so bad he went deaf in one ear for nearly a week. Fast forward nine years and over 25,000 hours have gone into developing and refining the perfect set of earplugs. This personal story makes all the difference; these earplugs have been designed with swimmers and surfers in mind. While they are one of the more expensive pairs on the market, the price tag is worth it. The quality and comfort put them leagues ahead of the competitors.

We particularly loved that this product came with changeable parts, allowing us to try out the buds and choose a size which stayed secure without being uncomfortable. Different coloured buds mean you’ll never get mixed up between the left and right and you also get an optional adjustable leash, which we used to secure the earplugs to our goggles during drills and harder sessions, as well as support wings, which helped to keep the earplugs in place.

This would have made them easier to find if they’d fallen out – although we didn’t get a chance to test this theory as they stayed put throughout all of our sessions. The brand also says these have close to zero acoustic loss when it comes to human speech, meaning you can still hear your mates or any important instructions from the life or coast guard. As well as being suitable for swimming (both outdoors and in the pool), SurfEars's plugs also favoured by divers, kayakers and surfers. We won’t be hitting the water any time soon without these.

Boots swimming earplugs

These swimming earplugs by Boots are a good choice if you’re new to the pool and looking for a basic design to help keep water out of your ears. Despite the fact they are the cheapest pair we tried (£4.69 amazingly gets you two pairs), their ribbed design meant they sealed water out well. Our hearing wasn’t impaired and they also come with two small plastic carry cases, helping to keep them clean and making them easy to find in our gym bag.

While they are washable and reusable, Boots advises that they are only suitable for up to 10 swims in either chlorinated or sea water, which means you’ll be having to buy quite a lot of pairs if you’re a regular swimmer. We also found ourselves searching on the bottom of the pool a couple of times after they fell out during front crawl. Overall, this cheap and cheerful pair is great for a beginner swimmer – but more regular pool goers might want to look elsewhere.

Arena ergo ear plug

We’re going to make a confession: the first time we used these earplugs we didn’t realise they were deliberately colour coded to help us distinguish between our left and right ears. Once we had worked it out, however, it was a game-changer. The clever design trick means you no longer have to faff around at the beginning of swims, working out what goes where. And that’s not their only benefit. From their compressed silicone stem, which makes them sturdier and easier to handle, to their hollow centre which cuts out background noise while making sure you still hear the important bits, we found these were a cut above the rest. They also have a simple flap of plastic at the bottom of each bud, which acts as a double barrier to the water. Like many of the other pairs on the market, they come with their own reusable plastic carry case for when you’re not in the water. What’s not to like?

ZenPlugs swim custom moulded ear plug kit

We are always nervous about custom moulded earplugs – but we needn’t have worried about this pair. Yes, you need to be patient when moulding them and you might get funny looks from housemates or family members (it requires a boiling mug of water and some lubricant). But once you’ve gone through the process, which takes around 15 minutes, then you’re good to go.

We found this pair created a solid seal to block water and stayed secure throughout sessions, only losing them once during a particularly vigorous front crawl. We didn’t have any issues finding them, however, as they come with a cord and a brightly coloured float which means they remain on the surface of the water.

We haven’t had to do it yet, but the brand promises you can remould the earplugs if they become damaged. The only thing we were longing for was a small case to help keep them clean. Otherwise, they are a good buy.

Auritech water sports earplugs

Auritech is a specialist earplug brand which has been developing products for more than 20 years. Luckily for us, this has included a pair specifically for swimming and water sports. The first thing we noticed about these first-class earplugs was the comprehensive instructions on the back of the packet, helping us to insert them properly before entering the pool (hint: pull your ear back before inserting and twist gently to remove). Made from silicone-free thermoplastic, we found the design protected well against water. The patented sound filter is genuinely effective and doesn’t muffle noise, making them particularly good during races. They also come with a metal storage tube, which can be attached to a key ring to stop you from searching through your bag every time you want to find them. Although this pair has a slightly higher price point, we think it is absolutely worth it – especially if you are serious about swimming.

Speedo biofuse aquatic earplugs

This brand prides itself on its high-quality swimwear and accessories – so it should be no surprise that its earplugs are comfortable and highly effective. The ergonomic design features multiple layers which leads to a secure fit, stopping any water entering the ear canal. The product also utilises Speedo’s “biofuse technology”, which the brand says is “designed to perform in complete harmony with your body”. They are certainly comfortable and soft to the touch. The blue and grey buds are thinner than some of the other pairs we tried, which suited us, but is worth considering – particularly if you’ve previously had issues with earplugs falling out during swims. A plastic carry case is included to help keep them hygienic.

View 2 way silicone ear plugs

These earplugs come with handy straps, which can be attached to your goggles, making them pretty much impossible to lose. We loved this feature and found it boosted our confidence, particularly during outdoor sessions and in the sea. We’re also pleased to report it’s definitely not style over substance. The three-tiered design means they not only block out water, but also any unnecessary background noise. Made from soft silicone, these are super comfortable. And at just over a fiver for one pair, they’re good value too.

Zoggs silicone ear plugs

Some swimmers told us they can be put off by self-moulding earplugs. But we found this pair by Zoggs easy to shape and as effective as most others on the market. For those who are nervous, the packet has handy instructions on the back, which recommend shaping the earplugs to fit your outer ear (plus, you can reform the plugs into a ball to reshape if needed). We would recommend you spend some time getting the fit right when they first arrive otherwise they are liable to fall out – and are a pain to spot in the water. You do get two pairs (and a reusable carry case) for £6, however, making them among the cheapest on the market.

Aqua sphere earplugs

These simple blue earplugs from Aqua Sphere are just as effective as some of the more expensive pairs, especially if you’re in need of a slightly bigger bud. The conical design and soft rubber material help to prevent water entering the ear canal. A longer handle can make it feel like pairs are more likely to fall out, but we had no issues. Made from soft rubber, they also come with their own reusable carry case, despite the low price point.

Nike swim wear plugs

With Nike, you know you’ll always be getting a good product. And these earplugs, which are part of the brand’s training aid collection, are no different. Made from soft rubber, the “double flange” design is flexible and moulds to your ear from first use. They also have the added bonus of a flared end, making you doubly sure you won’t get water in your ears. We found they were particularly good in the pool and held firm even during flip turns and butterfly. They come with a clear reusable carrying case, which features the classic Nike tick, so you can be certain you’re storing them hygienically – even if they end up at the bottom of your gym bag. We also loved their bright design. It’s a big thumbs up from us.

The verdict: Swimming earplugs

We thought the SurfEars plugs were easily the best in show, protecting our ears without affecting our hearing or balance. The Arena ergo ear plugs were also great value and offered extra benefits that’ll see you through any session. If you’re serious about swimming and want a specialist brand, then Auritech’s water sports earplugs offer loads of great benefits while the ZenPlugs pair are the best among the ones you shape yourself. Whatever you go for, we’re sure you’ll have a satisfying swim.

For more water aids, read our round-up of the best swimming googles

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