Ooh-ing and ah-ing over fireworks is an American tradition, but for some people (and pets), the booms and bangs can be a troubling source of fear and anxiety.
Noise from fireworks can reach levels as high as 120 to 170 decibels. That’s louder than the sound of a jackhammer or a jet plane taking off from 25 meters away. At professional fireworks displays, the potential for hearing damage is unlikely, since crowds are typically situated far enough away—the American Pyrotechnics Association recommends 500 feet. But that noise is still loud enough to cause anxiety, especially when a boom is so big that you feel it in your chest. (As for setting off fireworks at home, Wirecutter does not recommend doing so for many reasons, with hearing loss being just one of them.)
Whether you’re looking to ensure that your fireworks excursion is as stress-free as possible, or you’re worried about your household trying to sleep through another night of rogue pyrotechnics being set off outside your window, there are lots of expert-recommended tricks to help.
Our first piece of advice: Start trying out these strategies several days beforehand. With time to fine-tune them, you might even find that your environment and your brain can work in tandem to downplay all of the upsetting bangs before you’ve even had a chance to hear them.
How to block out the noise at a fireworks show
Watching fireworks is often a big family-and-friends affair. You may be reluctant to skip it, even if the noise makes you uncomfortable. Any barrier you can safely place between your ears and the source of the sound will help—from a pair of regular, unplugged headphones to wadded-up napkins, which Wirecutter senior staff writer Lauren Dragan, our in-house headphones expert, admits to once using during a particularly loud day at the movies. Some options, of course, are more preferable than others.
“Earbuds are my first choice. They’re always going to work better than over-ear headphones because of the way they fill the ear canal and the way they work to block sounds,” Lauren said. Though custom-fit earplugs will give you the best noise protection, Loop Experience Earplugs, the top pick in our guide to the best earplugs for concerts, offer solid noise protection and are comfortable to wear.
Loop Experience Earplugs
Designed for enjoying concerts and other large, loud events comfortably and safely, these earplugs stay in place through vigorous movement, yet they were still deemed supremely comfortable by our testers.
Lauren keeps a pair affixed to her keychain inside an aluminum travel pill case (though the Loop earplugs come with a small, zippered carrying case, if you prefer that). If you’re an AirPod fan, note that the Loop earplugs aren’t going to offer the same level of noise-blocking potential because they’re not designed to fit as snugly.
Foam earplugs, which we’ve recommended for sleeping, are designed to block all sounds and can be used for stronger muffling. Should you want to completely mute the sounds around you, try popping a pair of hearing-protection earmuffs on over your foam earplugs. However, to reduce stressful sounds while introducing some more calming stimuli, you can simultaneously wear foam earplugs while listening to your favorite music with a pair of headphones over them. (Lauren recommends these strategies for those who may experience PTSD.)
One piece of equipment you needn’t bring along, perhaps surprisingly, is a pair of noise-cancelling headphones because they are designed to filter out consistent, ambient noise rather than sudden, low-frequency booms. However, Lauren noted that “they might work a little better during the fireworks finale, when all the booms and bangs seem to come at once.”
How to protect a kid’s hearing at the fireworks
For small children, Wirecutter recommends over-ear protection rather than earbuds or earplugs (which, among other dangers, can pose a choking hazard for younger kids). In our guide to the best earplugs for concerts, we note that kids between the ages of 18 months and 12 years will likely love using Muted Earmuffs (as the children of several Wirecutter staffers do). They come in fun designs, cushy padding, and a headband with a comfortable-yet-snug-enough clamping force.
If you’ve got an even smaller baby in tow, first of all, godspeed. Second, your best bet is a pair of Ems for Kids Baby Earmuffs. In our guide to the best earplugs for concerts, we describe these as being “comfy enough that little ones can sleep in them, which is perfect for families who want to stay up for fireworks, festivals, or the big game.”
Kids will love the fun designs and soft padding on these earmuffs. Adults will love the safer listening levels and lifetime build warranty.
Ems for Kids Baby Earmuffs
The soft, elastic headband and smaller earcups are gentle on tiny noggins and unobtrusive enough to allow babies to fall asleep while wearing them.
How to draw out fireworks at home
To set up a fireworks-resistant sound barrier inside your house or apartment, Lauren said the trick is to create a layered bed of white noise from a combination of fans, air conditioners, air purifiers, and a white noise machine (if you have one ). Keep your total sound level around 65 decibels or less, since prolonged exposure to levels louder than 70 decibels is believed to be the tipping point where hearing damage occurs. You can check with a free decibel meter app from the CDC’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. For this article, Lauren performed a quick test of the app for both Apple and Android, using her own decibel meter to compare, and she found the app to be more accurate when used on an iPhone. Since you likely don’t have your own decibel meter at home to calibrate the app, she suggests accounting for the discrepancy by giving yourself a limit of 60 decibels, rather than 65 decibels, when testing on an Android device. However, as another point of reference, Lauren said, “You should still be able to hear someone speak in a non-elevated voice. If you have to speak up, you probably need to turn the volume down.”
When it’s time to hit the hay, in addition to sleeping with foam earplugs (such as our top-pick Mack’s Slim Fit Soft Foam Earplugs), consider playing soothing music you enjoy. When you play familiar music while you sleep, your brain recognizes all those changes in notes, classifies them as non-threatening, and filters them out as safe. If a few fireworks noises break through the wall of sound you’ve created with your air conditioner, fan, and so on, it’s possible that your brain will, in effect, consider those to be part of the music.
You can even use music ahead of the holiday to train your brain to filter out fireworks noise as you sleep. For a few nights beforehand, go to bed while streaming nature-filled soundscapes that feature thunderstorms. (Here’s one you can cue up on Apple Music and another on Spotify.) “Those will create space in your brain where it will stop interpreting every bit and bop as dangerous, instead making them part of the ambiance,” Lauren explained. “Any fireworks sounds that enter your space, your brain should also filter them out as safe.”
With its electronically generated sounds, the LectroFan EVO masks a wider variety of noises than the other machines we tested in its price range.
For babies and kids
Sound layering also works for babies and young children at bedtime; again, make sure the white noise isn’t louder than 65 decibels, and try adding music they’re familiar with on top. “It helps a lot if you have playlists that your kids have heard over and over again because their brains know that noise,” Lauren said. This is called sound masking—creating a bed of sounds that your brain deems safe and decides to ignore. It muffles or dulls the impact of sudden noises that might otherwise disturb you.
In practice, here’s what all that might look like. “When my son was younger, I put on his air filter and his air conditioner, and then I put on sleep music just a little louder than I normally would, but I checked the decibel level to make sure it all didn’t go above 65,” Lauren explained. “That’s still a lot of noise, but it was just enough that he could sleep while it did the work of drowning out the sounds from outside. Then I yelled at some people across the street that I had a sleeping kid inside. My child didn’t notice any of that. He slept through it, and I defended my turf all night long.”
A dog who’s never exhibited adverse reactions to other loud, sudden sounds may still flip out over fireworks, said Dr. Wailani Sung, a veterinary behaviorist at the San Francisco SPCA who previously spoke with us about preparing your pets for post-quarantine separation anxiety. Even if you think you’ve got a chill pooch on your hands, you owe it to your canine companion to plan ahead, especially if you’ve never experienced fireworks together.
Don’t bring a dog to a public fireworks show. Sung explained that most dogs, not just those with sensitivity issues, would find the experience to be “not fun,” if not “a nightmare.” But do volunteer yourself as your dog’s primary source of comfort if you’re both spending the holiday at home or in a likewise low-key environment. Playing with your pet is the single best way to keep them happy and distracted during trying times.
White noise is also soothing for your furry friends (including not just dogs but also cats, rabbits, guinea pigs, and so on). Sung said they can certainly experience similar stresses. You can also add secondary music or the sound of a TV playing over the ambient noise to “muffle out the highs and lows.” If your dog is going to be home without any people around, however, you can safely raise the white-noise decibel level to about 85 decibels.
“You want to have a safe place for your pet, a relatively soundproof place, and if they don’t live in a cage, it should be a place where they can go hide if need be,” Sung explained. “It can be a basement, a bathroom, or even a closet; the clothing often has a muffling effect on the noise.”
Another option for dogs is to train them ahead of time to seek comfort in their bed when they’re stressed. You can do this by accessorizing that space with anxiety-reducing devices like a puzzle mat or a treat-filled Kong toy. Sung said, “Anything that keeps the dog preoccupied and creates a positive association with going to the bed is going to tell your dog that it’s a safe, awesome place.”
For dogs who have a known sound sensitivity, Sung recommends trying a Happy Hoodie (a snood-like piece of dog headwear) or Mutt Muffs (headphones for dogs); both fit snugly over their ears and head to muffle out sound. Give these a test drive beforehand, however, since Sung noted that “there’s a little bit of training behind getting a dog to wear something over their ears. They may want to shake it off their heads, so you may need to start by putting it on them for just a few minutes at a time and working your way up. … Some dogs learn to love or tolerate them, but for others, it freaks them out.”
Although the vest-like ThunderShirt for Dogs is a popular purchase among dog owners, Sung said she doesn’t typically recommend it because she’s found it’s not as effective as other anxiety reducers. But some pet owners she’s worked with have told her they’ve found it to be helpful. And the company that makes the ThunderShirt offers a 45-day, money-back guarantee. Therefore, Sung added, “It’s something that you can try.”
Sung also recommends calming sprays for dogs and cats, such as Adaptil (for dogs) and Feliway (for cats), which we’ve previously recommended for when you’re flying with your cat or small dog. Both are also available as plug-in diffusers, and Sung suggests getting those ahead of time so you can spend a few days testing how effective they are at fostering a more relaxed environment. (The spray bottles can be used for heat-of-the-moment outbursts; try spraying them directly onto your pet’s bed, blanket, bandana, and the like.)
Above all, remember that all of these methods require some advance preparation. Getting a jumpstart on them now means truly having the independence later to celebrate Independence Day in the way that makes you happiest.
This article was edited by Annemarie Conte.