Earplugs for Swimming?

Over the course of 50 years of occasional competitive open water swimming, the last 36 years of which included focused adult-onset pool training, I was never a user of earplugs. Neither did I use them in the open water nor in the pool. Until this year.

During the last several years the canal of one ear seems to have narrowed, and I simply resigned myself to the dizzies. I've got a little bottle of alcohol in my vehicle and when I exited the pool I squirt it down on there, both ears, it seems to help. Maybe. But I still just lived with on-and-off dizziness and low-grade infections.

I tried the pre-molded flanged type, otherwise known as the Christmas Tree style (shown below). I didn't like them.

I'm teaching a woman to swim one lane over from me. She's a regular at my pool; retired from 40 years delivering mail; she's a floater. She floats next to several floaters who float in the float lanes. They talk, while making very slow progress from one end to the other. No problem. To each her own. It's better than watching TV all day long.

The retired mail lady watched the progress of another lady I taught to swim over the Winter and eventually broached the subject with me in an oblique way. So I asked her straight out: Do you want to learn to swim? "Yes." So we commenced.

One problem. She hated getting water in her ears. Now I had to consider the earplug question more seriously. I went to the drug store and bought her Mack's moldable silicone earplugs. That did the trick! Now she's a happy lady (and a pretty good swimmer!).

So I decided to learn back from her, and give the earplugs a try. This was several weeks ago and I'm now a confirmed user. Below is my experience, acknowledging in the poll above (that I took of you all a couple of weeks ago) that about 6 in 10 of you don't really want to hear about ear plugs. Nevertheless, I shall persist.

Pre-molded Flanged

Mack's makes a plug called the Mack’s® AquaBlock® Ear Plugs and it outsells the putty for swimmers, though perhaps not by as much as our poll indicates. These are shown in purple in the image above.

Overall, market wise, silicone putty far outsells the aqua block, for sleeping, snoring and such, but for swimming, and notwithstanding my preference for moldable silicone putty, most of you and most of the swim market like this flanged kind of earplug.

"Aquablocks outsells Ear Seals," Peter Benner told me. He is one of two sons that runs Mack’s, a family owned company started by their parents in 1962. "Ear Seals are sold as a dual purpose plug, also a noise abater," he continued. "They sell more in the surf and kayak market. They have a cord attached so that you can remove and replace them during use. A removable neck cord."

"Pre-molded folks don't read directions [click that link for directions]," said Benner. "Reach over your head, pull the top of your ear. Push it slightly further, without pressure, past the first bend. You'll hear your voice, your own heartbeat, it's an occluded shut off sound."

Moldable Silicone Putty

Mack's invented these, called Mack’s® Pillow Soft® Silicone Putty Ear Plugs and a 6-pair value pack will cost you about $10 online, shipping tax and all (about $6 if you buy them in a store). So that's about 30 to 50 swims for $10, depending on where and how you buy them.

Most earplugs made are dual use: for swim and for noise reduction. All Mack's are dual-use as well as I can tell, though some of their models are optimized for one over the other, as you see from the description above of the model with the removable neck cord. Both kinds of Mack's earplugs – moldable and pre-molded flanged – are shown below in their packaging.

I haven't yet had the moldable silicone putty style fall out. They are extremely waterproof. Mack's says they're good up to 5 uses. The instructions say roll them into a ball and push them in each ear. Following the advice of a forum reader I make a bit of a cone out of it and push it in (no need to push hard) and flatten the rest of the putty flush with the ear.

Since Mack's intro'd these in 1962 they've been copied by Nike, Speedo, TYR, and by the drug store chains. Usually these chains have Mack's and their knock-off side-by-side; CVS has the temerity to sell theirs but not the originator's. Peter Benner says the "homages" are Chinese knock-offs. He says Mack's are made in the U.S., manufactured on the other side of the drywall, 10 feet from his office.

Use these moldable earplugs until they're no longer sticky (up to 5 uses per pair). Mack's doesn't recommend cleaning them, but alcohol or soap and water will not hurt them. Do you start a new molding process with each swim? I do. But, user preference.


A number of folks mention the use of Speedo's earplugs and as well as I can tell this company offers the same two kinds of earplugs that Mack's offers: moldable and pre-molded. The image below shows Speedos' models for sale.

Then there is the option of getting custom earplugs and I just have no experience with these.

Reader Reactions

"I use earplugs," says Slowtwitch Forum Reader DrunkIrishman. "I was getting dizzy and sick every time I got out of the water, someone suggested using earplugs. Magically I never got dizzy or sick again." But based on his user name he still probably gets sick or dizzy, just by his dryland behavior.

Jonathan22 "only uses earplugs in salt water swims." Leddy "has been researching ear plugs since my son has chronic ear infections." Pro Plugs are what solved it for her family, though she admits plugs fall out and recommends Mack's Ear Bands (I have not had that problem and so have not used the band). Shelius says, "I use them every swim, otherwise I get a bit dizzy," and her preference is Zoggs Silicone Ear Plugs which appears similar to Mack's and the Mack's "homages." Tri52082, and dangle, use Mack's Aquablocks.

Tigerchick – excuse me, Dr. Tigerchick – who is the resident swim den mother of Slowtwitch, is a lover of silicone moldable earplugs though she is not picky about the brand. Both Dr. Tigerchick and SLOgoing mention that they use noseplugs when using their Powerbreathers, but that's another topic.

And finally mcclelland mirrors my own history. "I started using the Mack's (moldable silicone style) last season after never having had a need for earplugs my entire life up til now (I'm 43). Out of the blue, I started retaining water in my ears and a got couple of minor infections.

"The Mack's stay in well if you make sure they are completely dry first," continues mcclelland, "and roll them into a nice ball. Any water on them or in your ear before putting them in and they will not stay. Dry them after use and keep them clean and they will continue to work well time after time."