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Understanding NRR and Hearing Protection

When selecting an earplug or earmuff, it is helpful to monitor the level of noise to know how much protection is needed. It is also very useful to understand some of the basic terminology and the noise reduction rating of products in order to pick the right hearing protection. 

Click the links below to learn more about selecting the proper hearing protection.

Leightning® L3 Earmuffs

1. NRR Ratings
2. How damaging are your work activities?
3. How do you know if noise is damaging your hearing?
4. How do you choose a hearing protector?
5. Disposable Ear Plugs
6. Reusable Ear Plugs
7. Earmuffs and Stereo Earmuffs

1. NRR Ratings
The performance of earplugs and earmuffs varies between brands and styles. One way to choose a hearing protector is to compare Noise Reduction Ratings. The Noise Reduction Rating, or NRR, measures the muff's or plug's ability to block out noise or "attenuate"; sound. This measurement is stated in decibels; a plug with an NRR of 26 blocks out a maximum of 26 decibels of noise. The NRR listed is the maximum protection that could be achieved if the plug fit the wearer perfectly and was inserted correctly. In most work situations attenuation is half of the listed NRR. For example, if the NRR is 30 the hearing protector most likely blocks out 15 decibels of noise.

All of the earplugs and muffs we stock have been tested by an accredited laboratory that assigned an NRR rating. As you look through our selection, look for the NRR rating by each style of protection.

2. How damaging are your work activities?
The chart below lists common sounds and their decibel ratings.

0 dB

Lowest audible sound

50 dB

Quiet empty barn, babbling trout stream, gentle breeze

60 dB

Normal conversation

70 dB

Chicken coop, farrowing area

85 dB

Tractor or combine idling, barn cleaner, conveyor, elevator: You can begin to lose your hearing at this dB if you're exposed to it for eight (8) hours or more per day.

90 dB

Blower compressor, pneumatic wrench, chopping silage (no cab), full-throttle mower: If you are exposed to noises at this level for four (4) hours or more per day, hearing loss can occur.

100 dB

Tractor at 80% load, squealing sows, power tools, hand-held metal grinder: One hour of exposure per day is the limit at this decibel level.

110 dB

Full-throttle combine, 10-HP vane-axial barn fan: Anything over 15 minutes exposure per day can cause damage.

120 dB

Thunderclap (near), sandblasting, bad muffler, old chain saw: The danger is immediate.

140 dB

Gunshot, engine back-fire, dynamite blast, jet engine. Any length of exposure time is dangerous and may actually cause ear pain.

As noise gets louder, damage can occur sooner. There is no "cure" for hearing loss. This chart is only a guideline. Anything over 85 dB can be damaging to your hearing.
Chart provided courtesy of the National Farm Medicine Center

3. How do you know if noise is damaging your hearing?
You may have a problem if you:

  • Hear ringing, other noises or a fullness in your ears

  • Can't hear people when they talk to you

  • Can't hear high pitched or soft sounds.

Shop All Sound Level Meters

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4. How do you choose a hearing protector?
All hearing protection equipment has pros and cons. Not one hearing protection device is best for all operations. Skim this list of pros and cons below and then apply it to your operation. Weighing cost, ease of use and protection, which equipment is best for your operation?


4A. Disposable Ear Plugs

  • Pros

  • Fits many different ear canals

  • Usually has higher NRR compared to other protective devices

  • Initially less expensive compared to others

  • Maintenance free; can toss instead of clean

  • Cons

  • Can be difficult to insert

  • If not properly inserted, you may not get the highest NRR possible

  • More expensive over time

  • Shop All Disposable Ear Plugs

Disposable Ear Plugs

4B. Reusable Ear Plugs

  • Pros

  • Easily inserted and worn

  • More economical over time compared to disposable plugs

  • Cons

  • Pre-formed so does not fit as wide a variety of ear canals as disposables

  • Must take time to clean to avoid infection

  • Shop All Reusable Ear Plugs

Reusable Ear Plugs

4C. Earmuffs and Stereo Earmuffs

  • Pros

  • Easy to use and wear

  • Can get stereo muffs, which makes working more fun and comfortable, and also more productive

  • Requires less training to use correctly compared to plugs

  • More economical in the long run compared to earplugs

  • Cons

  • Needs more storage space

  • Must take time to clean to avoid infection

  • Sometimes gets more uncomfortable in warmer weather compared to plugs

  • Can make wearing other PPE such as glasses more cumbersome

  • Shop All Safety Ear Muffs


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