A power tool is simply a tool that uses a source of power besides manual labour. This includes a large range of tools used for DIY, construction, woodworking and other tasks.
Power tools often produce noise above 85 decibels, which is the limit at which you’re advised to start wearing ear protection.
Below you can see a chart showing some common power tools and their noise levels in decibels.
Power Tool Decibel Levels
As you can see, lots of power tools produce noise well above 85 dB. Since decibels use a logarithmic scale, the difference between 95 dB and 85 dB is bigger than the difference between 85 dB and 75 dB. The perceived volume doubles for every 10 dB increase, so 95 dB sounds twice as loud as 85 dB and four times as loud as 75 dB.
Choosing Ear Protection for Power Tools
When choosing ear protection for power tools you have two main options: ear defenders or ear plugs. Ear defenders go over the ears and feature two padded ear cups joined together with a headband. Ear plugs are generally made of soft foam and go directly into the ears. There are pros and cons to both, so ultimately the choice is a matter of personal preference.
Ear protection products are normally given an NRR or SNR rating, which are both measured in decibels, giving an indication of the amount of noise reduction they offer. SNR, which stands for Single Number Rating, is the standard used in the UK, while NRR (noise reduction rating) is more commonly used in the USA. An SNR above 30 dB is good, and the highest SNR ratings available are in the 35-40 dB range.
Best Ear Defenders for Power Tools
Silverline 633816 Folding Ear Defenders
These inexpensive ear defenders from well known power tool brand Silverline are a good choice for working with moderately loud power tools. They feature soft padded cushions and an adjustable headband to fit most adult heads.
The Silverline 633816 Folding Ear Defenders have an SNR of 30 dB which is decent but not especially high. If you’re exposing yourself to particularly loud noises above say 100 dB it might be better to go for something with a higher SNR.
These ear defenders can feel a bit tight, and they’re not very comfortable after a few hours of use. However, they’re fine for short periods of time when you’re operating power tools.
Mpow Ear Defenders
Despite being made by a brand better known for electronics than personal protective equipment, the Mpow Ear Defenders do a good job at reducing loud noises and protecting your hearing.
These ear defenders have a stylish black design with an adjustable headband, and can be folded up small and stored in the drawstring bag included. They have an SNR of 34 dB, which is a respectable amount, and should be plenty for working with most power tools.
The Mpow Ear Defenders are generally comfy, but like most ear defenders they can get hot and sweaty after extended use. If you just need something you can wear for 10 minutes while operating a power tool though, they should be fine.
3M Optime 3 Headband Ear Defenders
If you work with loud power tools on a regular basis and want some serious, heavy-duty ear defenders, the 3M Optime 3 Headband Ear Defenders. They’re made by 3M, who are one of the top hearing protection brands and whose products can be found in factories and workshops across the world.
The Optime 3 ear defenders have an impressive SNR of 35 dB, the highest of any of the ear defenders in this roundup. They’re designed to protect your hearing even in the noisiest of environments.
Most people find these ear defenders comfortable to wear, even for long periods of time, making them a great choice if need something to wear all day at work. However, they are quite heavy and bulky, and don’t adjust as much as they could do.
Best Ear Plugs for Power Tools
Howard Leight Laser Lite Soft Foam Earplugs
The Laser Lite ear plugs from Howard Leight are made from self-adjusting polyurethane foam which is a soft material that expands to fit your ear canal.
These ear plugs are brightly coloured, making it hard to lose them. While they are designed to be disposable, they have a soil-resistant skin that helps keep them clean, so you can reuse them a few times.
These ear plugs have an SNR of 35 dB, which is plenty for protecting your ears from most power tools.
3M 1100 Series Foam Ear Plugs
These ear plugs from 3M are some of the best general-purpose disposable ear plugs you can get in the UK. With an SNR of 37 dB, they deal even better with very loud power tools than the Howard Leight Laser Lites reviewed above.
These ear plugs are great value for money, especially when bought in bulk. They can be reused a few times, but start to lose their shape and become less effective, so this isn’t recommended.
As you’d expect from 3M they’re made from quality materials, hypoallergenic soft polyurethane foam to be specific. These ear plugs will meet UK personal protection equipment safety standards and do a great job at protecting your hearing when using power tools.