Shhhhh: How to Block Out Noise

Photo: Gramody

As I’m writing this, the apartment to my left is having its kitchen smashed out with a sledgehammer, the apartment across from me has power tools running with the door open, and in the hallway, a couple of chatty fellows are spraying the ceiling down with something — pssst, pssst, pssst, talk, talk, talk.

I am the last tenant on the fourth floor of an apartment building that is being completely rehabbed, and I have been thinking a lot about quiet recently.

See, I work out of my apartment, and having that apartment dropped in the middle of a construction site during working hours isn’t exactly conducive to quiet concentration. I have, however, figured out some ways to battle the noise (and researched others that I have yet to try). So if you’re looking for a little quiet — at home, at the office, or while traveling — I hope these suggestions can help you out. (See also: In Search of Silence: 4 Ways to Get Peace and Quiet)

Wear Earplugs

I developed a bad habit in college that I haven’t been able to completely shake — wearing earplugs to bed. The good news is that I always have earplugs around, and they’re a cheap, easy-to-find (most drug stores have them), and relatively effective method of blocking noise. The downside is that earplugs often don’t block noise entirely, they just muffle it.

Listen to Music

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from stereotypical teenagers on TV, it’s that turning up the tunes is a great way to drown out annoying parents (parents who also, most likely, just don’t understand). If you’re trying to listen to music while working, the key is to find music you can work to. Personally, I can’t write to anything with lyrics, so recently I’ve been playing Ratatat and Pretty Lights in heavy rotation. Pumping the music directly into your ears with headphones can also be more effective than just playing it in your space.

Use Noise-Canceling Headphones

Of course, even more effective than listening to music through headphones is listening to music through noise-canceling headphones. They can be an investment, running between $100 and $300, but they read ambient noise in your immediate area and create a signal to cancel it out.

Close Your Windows

It's really quite simple, but if you’re getting noise from the outside, close your windows. This might mean you need to turn on the heat or AC, so there’s definitely a cost involved — but the white noise from the machines might help block the noise even more.

Pad Your Space

Soft things help suck in noise (that’s why you always see foam on the walls of recording studios). So opt for a plush living space instead of one with all hard surfaces — thick curtains, carpeting, pillows, and other bits of softness can all help dampen sound.

Renter’s website also recommends adding a second wall if you can.


When you’re better at focusing, it’s easier to block out noise.

Ask for the Noise to Stop

If you can, go to the source and ask for the noise to stop or the volume to be reduced. And I’m not talking about banging a broom on the ceiling — ask directly and politely. Moreover, make sure you’re asking the right person. Earlier today, I overheard a woman who lives on the floor below me chew out the construction workers for starting so early in the day. While I’m not thrilled about it either, it’s not their fault that our building management asked them to start banging around at 8 a.m.

Go Somewhere Else

When all else fails, it might just be time to go elsewhere. Sometimes I’ll work in a coffee shop (yes, it’s quieter than my apartment). At work, you might be able to temporarily move to another space, or even ask your boss for your desk to be moved permanently. But I'm sorry, that baby on the plane is not going anywhere (except your flight's final destination).

What methods do you use for dealing with noise?

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Guest's picture

They're gutting our office building and re-doing it. Right now they're working on the other half so it can get noisy. On top of that they've also been doing a lot of repairs to the parking lots and sidewalks around the building, so it's been noisy. I've found that playing music through my headphones is the best approach to getting through the ruckus.

Guest's picture

Me neighbor just loooooves to use his chainsaw at 7 in the morning, so hopefully some of these will work. I'm thinking about just hiding his chainsaw from him though.

Guest's picture

My hubby runs an air purifier as "white noise" at night so that he cannot hear neighborhood dogs barking or the random creaky sounds our house makes.

Guest's picture

Why is wearing earplugs to bed a bad habit? Unless you have ear issues (wax or something) or unless you are afraid of not hearing someone breaking & entering your house/apartment at night, I don't see the problem. I also wear earplugs to bed (I love my husband, but he is a snorer). On the other hand, using music without noise-canceling headphones to drown out noise IS an awful habit. You can really damage your hearing doing that.

Meg Favreau's picture

For me wearing earplugs is a bad habit because it's now difficult for me to sleep without them. If I'm not at home and I forget 'em, I can usually fall asleep just fine, but I'll have a hard time getting back to sleep if I wake up too early in the morning.

Guest's picture

Wow, you are so right. Noise is a big issue for me. I get distracted very easy when doing my work during the day. Even when I go to the quiet area in the library, I find out it’s even more distracting. Thank for the tips. I will use them today.

Guest's picture

They're renovating the duck pond right outside my apartment and so the fountain has been turned off for months. I didn't realize how much noise it cancelled out (especially from drunk people in the spa at night) until it was gone. Often I use earplugs and a white noise machine--sometimes both--to get to sleep.

Guest's picture

Earplugs & White-Noise = Good Night's Sleep

Surprisingly simple and effective solution... been using it for many years in diverse environments.

Also, surprising how rare this good advice is in the popular media -- which otherwise dispenses mountains of lifestyle, health, and personal advice... and endlessly rehashes it.

Earplugs are good for noisy situations anywhere -- airplanes, waiting rooms, offices... even in movie theaters/concerts where the sound-systems are sometimes cranked up to uncomfortable levels. Quiet is not just for sleeping.

The 'white-noise' source for sleeping can vary.
There are lots of electronic 'white-noise-generators' in retail stores at very reasonable prices (but get one with a 'continuous' sound mode option). Simple room fans and/or air conditioner/heater fans are often effective noise-maskers, especially in combination with earplugs.
(Most air-conditioner/heaters have a "Fan-Only" option, if you don't want to affect room temperature).

In hotel rooms, improvise a white-noise source by tuning an AM-radio in between broadcast frequencies; tuning the TV to a blank channel often works too. Running the bathroom exhaust fan is another hotel option.

Great Post here from Meg Favreau !

Guest's picture

This was so timely for me. As I sit here, the apartment above me is having the carpet ripped out and hard wood flooring installed. This is only day two and I am praying for patience and the restraint to not go upstairs and unload on the workers...

Guest's picture

listen to music. pfft. if you're noise sensitive and there's already too much noise / too much loud around you, last thing you ever want to do is to ADD to the chaos.

Guest's picture

what about fireworks? Since the state of Maine lifted the ban on fireworks, it has ruined the once-peaceful nights in this vacation mecca. Earplugs don't seem to do the trick.
I am beside myself as I am early-to-bed and early-to-rise person. Sometimes the fireworks go on past midnight and even during the day. Help!