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Best Practices for Cleaning Earmuffs and Earplugs 

 May 21, 2024

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In many industries today, the use of hearing protection is of paramount importance. With extended or up-close exposure to loud sounds that reach 85 decibels or higher, workers can experience permanent damage to the cilia, or hair cells, in the inner ear, leading to a permanent loss of hearing. Loud noises above 120 dB can cause immediate harm to the ears. 

For this reason, employers are required to provide workers with hearing protection devices (HPD) to ensure that noise exposure remains within safe limits. HPD equipment can be a significant cost for many employers, so it’s critical to maintain ear protection gear to ensure it remains in good working condition. 

Tips for Prolonging the Lifespan of Hearing Protection Devices

Keeping HPDs clean is a matter of hygiene. Equipment can often be shared among workers, so it’s important to engage in proper cleaning to ensure that contaminants do not build up on the devices. It’s also important to use the right cleaning materials, as HPDs usually come into contact with the skin – and may even be inserted in ears – so it’s important that harsh chemicals that may leave residue on the equipment are not used for cleaning. 

Following are some tips for the proper maintenance of HPDs:

Foam or push-to-fit earplugs. These earplugs, which are designed to be placed inside the ear, should never be shared between workers. Even personal earplugs should be cleaned regularly to avoid the build-up of dirt, grime or earwax. To clean these plugs, a soft cloth should be used to wipe any residue off between uses. Do not use any kind of cleaning chemicals and be sure to inspect the plugs during cleaning to ensure they are not damaged. If they are damaged, they need to be replaced.  

Pre-molded or reusable earplugs (non-electronic). These are made of molded plastic, so they can be washed with soap and water between uses to remove debris. During cleaning, these earplugs should be checked for any cracks.

Electronic ear plugs. Many electronic earplugs come with replaceable foam ear inserts, so these can be changed between uses, or as required. The foam inserts should be replaced if the foam is no longer holding its shape. Employers should keep a variety of foam insert replacements on hand, in a variety of sizes.

Cup and shell earmuffs. These HPDs, often used by workers in noisy environments such as factory floors or airports, usually have removable parts that can be swapped out. The earmuffs should not be immersed in water; instead, they should be wiped with a cloth dampened with soap and water. Manufacturers recommend that the cushions, foam inserts and microphone tips should be replaced at least twice per year. 

In all cases, hearing protection devices should not be cleaned with caustic or damaging cleaning agents such as bleach or isopropyl alcohol. A professional workplace safety supply and training company can help you ensure that hearing protection devices are properly maintained, stored and replaced when necessary. 

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In California, Unishield Offers Customized Safety TrainingWell-versed in everything from first aid to hearing protection solutions, Southern California-based Unishield teaches shops, factories, offices, schools and restaurants how to prevent workplace illness and injury. We offer first aid supplies, hearing protection devices, first aid kits and refills, OSHA-compliant personal protective equipment, and on-site safety training throughout Greater Los Angeles, San Diego County, Orange County, Ventura County, and San Bernardino County.

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