Is it safe to use noise-canceling headphones while mowing?


Woman using a lawn mower

Mowing a lawn is not only infuriating and boring but can also be damaging to your ear if you fail to take proper precautions. I have seen most people use headphones to dampen the mower’s sound and listen to music while they are at it. Others prefer to use earplugs or earmuffs instead. This got me thinking and I decided to do a bit of research myself. What I found is…

No, it is not safe to use noise-canceling headphones while mowing. Your ears are already being subjected to high levels of noise. Using headphones adds to the intensity of the already hurting mower sounds. It is better to use earmuffs that block off the entire sound instead of dampening it.

Noise-canceling might seem like a better deal because everyone else uses them. But in reality, you are doing more harm than good. Hearing protection is not enough. You have to choose the right kind of protection as well.

Do noise-canceling headphones protect your ears from loud noises?

Yes, noise-canceling headphones protect your ears from loud noises but only partly. Noise-canceling headphones dampen the sound, but they cannot fully negate the mower sounds. You are better off using earmuffs that are specially created for this kind of work.

Most people use three specific ways to protect their hearing while mowing:

1. Noise-canceling headphones– Produces a negative ambient-like sound that negates outside noise. Best used in gyms or coffee shops where you need to drown out the outside ambient music. They do block harmful frequencies, but their efficiency takes a nosedive when pitted against jackhammers or even lawnmowers (more than 100 dB).

Pros:

  • Offers the best sound quality among all headphones

Cons:

  • Requires more battery and is quite expensive.

2. Bluetooth headsets– These are daily use case devices that play music to drown out ambient noise. The cheap ones do not do a great job of drowning out any outside noise, forcing you to buy expensive ones. However, there is a better alternative.

Pros:

  • Quite affordable and offers a large selection to choose from.

Cons:

  • Makes it harder to hear someone who is talking to you.

3. Earbuds– Earbuds are a smaller variant of headphones. They are smaller and more comfortable to wear, especially if it’s sunny outside.

Pros:

  • Do not interfere with other accessories such as hats or sunglasses.
  • Usually more affordable compared to headphones.

Cons:

  • More prone to falling off the ears.
  • Usually lower sound quality compared to full-fledged headphones.

Like most, I also used Bluetooth headsets and though it seems nice to hear music while working, I could always hear the mower buzzing in the background. Moreover, the constant blaring music felt annoying if I used them constantly. Noise cancellation headphones may be ideal for group study and morning walks. But when it comes to mowing, you are better off using other alternatives.

Are there any better alternatives to noise-canceling headphones?

Yes, there are better alternatives. Earmuffs are a suitable substitute. They completely block out your outer ear. Some even contain electronics, which is the only way to communicate with others while you are still wearing the earmuff.

Noise-canceling headphones are simply ineffective against high decibel noises, and Bluetooth headsets tend to cause more ear damage, even headaches. However, noise-canceling headphones are not a total myth as there are a few products that are approved by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration(OSHA).

But you are better off using an Earmuff. They are created for the sole purpose of canceling out noise. Not to dampen, but to prevent even a shred of noise from entering your ears. Where noise-canceling headphones only dampen the sound by creating noise of their own, which is hardly helpful in such situations.

A great product is the 3M WorkTunes Connect. It provides great protection to your ears and even has Bluetooth.

 3M WorkTunes Connect
3M WorkTunes Connect

Pros:

  • Best in class noise cancellation.
  • People usually do not bother you because they assume you cannot hear them.

Cons:

  • Bulky and harder to carry than other headphones.
  • Results in sweaty ears on prolonged usage.
  • Can cause pain if you wear glasses as the earmuffs press into them.

All this precaution may seem a tad bit overkill. You must be asking yourself, “Is mowing sound really that dangerous?”. The short answer is yes. It may not seem that harmful now, but keep at it for a few years and you will start to feel consequences.

Why do you need hearing protection while mowing the lawn?

Hearing protection is necessary as it shields your eardrums from the continuous onslaught of uncomfortably harmful noises.

You need hearing protection when using anything other than a reel mower. The noise of a reel mower is comparable to that of rain hitting the driveaway. A badly tuned one can produce squeaky noises, but that’s light years away from causing any severe ear damage.

Garden tractors or motorized lawn mowers produce sounds close to 85 dB. Electric mowers usually contain quiet engines. However, the spinning blades generate a humming sound that’s close to 75 dB. The riding motors produce about 80 dB of sound, which is just 5 dB shy of the safety mark set by OSHA.

That’s not all as gas-powered mowers are even louder and are able to reach a noise intensity of up to 90 dB and that’s not even the scary part. During my research, I discovered that these sounds are produced by new or well-maintained mowers. Older ones that are often neglected produce even a louder sound, which can significantly damage your hearing.

F.A.Q.

What happens when you don’t use noise-canceling headphones while mowing?

Not using noise-canceling headphones or similar alternatives can cause hearing loss the longer you are exposed to the noise. 

Can I use cotton balls as earplugs?

Cotton balls are totally ineffective against the loud sounds of lawnmowers. This isn’t like the cartoons. Cotton balls provide no protection whatsoever against such loud machines.

Should I max out the volume on my Bluetooth headphones to protect my hearing from the mower’s noise?

Absolutely not. Covering up loud noise with even more loud noise is a bad idea, and you will end up hurting yourself. Use a combination of earmuffs and earpods instead. 

Covering noise with loud music is like extinguishing fire with fire! Instead, use ear earpods and put an earmuff on top of it. This way you can freely adjust the volume(I suggest keeping it low) and protect your eardrums from all outside noise. However, you might sweat a lot so keep a towel handy.

Conclusion

Noise-canceling headphones are not always safe as they resort to loud music to dampen outside noise. So, unless you are using a reel mower, it’s very important that you take proper precautions to ensure the long-term health of your ears. 

Earmuffs are the best as they prevent any noise from reaching your ears. However, avoid buying earmuffs online as they may not be a perfect fit. 

I usually visit a local store and try out a few before picking one for myself, and if you have a large yard, I suggest you do the same. Stay safe and always remember to cover your ears before a long mowing session.

Rune Bearson

As you can see, I love my headphones! I use them every day when commuting, watching YouTube videos, playing guitar/piano and doing chores. I'm a podcast addict and I like all kinds of music from metal to chillout ambient.

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