Noise-Reduction Tips For People Who Have Trouble Ignoring Ambient Sounds

If you have sensory processing issues, it can be difficult to get people to understand how much ambient noise weighs on your attention and stresses you out… since I’ve put a lot of work into making my environment quieter and more pleasant to listen to, I thought I’d list some of the thing that helped… in rough order from most to least likely to be something you’ll go out and do.

Self-Adhesive Felt Furniture Feet

Buy a variety pack of these. They’re one of the things I’ve used the most for all sorts of things:

  • Silencing furnace vents on tile floors which rattle when a vacuum or broom runs over them.
  • Fixing chairs that don’t sit perfectly flat and rattle when a pet jumps onto them. (To remove the dome-shaped “large thumbtack” metal feet some furniture comes with, use something like a chisel to pry them up and then pliers to pull them out.)
  • Muffling noises from things like rocking chair springs and fan motors that transfer into the floor
  • Preventing your desk from acting like an amplifier for your external hard drive’s seeking noises. (Find a piece of wood or other thing that would look nice as a platform under your hard drive and put felt feet on the bottom of it.)
  • Preventing your floor from acting like an amplifier for your pet fountain’s cheap water pump (Again, make a platform with felt feet on the bottom)

If you need to keep one thing from transferring shock or vibration to another, felt should be the first thing you turn to.

(But temper your expectations for low-frequency noises. It’s very hard to muffle those and the usual way that’s done is by specially constructing the walls, floors, and ceilings to limit how far sound can propagate in them.)

Felt feet from the dollar store are OK, but the best value for my money so far has been a Richelieu FELTAC multipack that I found at Costco.

Self-adhesive Silicone Rubber Bumpers

These little sticky rubber dots are great for areas where felt isn’t suitable, like kitchen cabinets. They’re good for:

  • Taking the sharp edge off cabinet and door closing sounds when you can’t afford those self-buffering silent-closing hinges.
  • Making your hard drive or pet fountain even quieter (Stick silicone bumpers to the underside of the device, between it and the platform you built. They may not be as effective as the felt, depending on how firm they are, but they’ll help to catch frequencies the felt isn’t as good at catching. This was inspired by how my Antec P183 computer case floats the internal hard drive mounting screws on silicone grommets.)
  • Replacing lost rubber feet on electronics

However, be aware that, even within the same “product”, they come in varying stiffnesses. (The Dollarama ones I bought were initially just right but, when I used them up and bought a new pack, I found them much stiffer.)

I advise buying several different shapes and sizes (eBay sellers are a good source), both for varying material properties and to ensure you have something that’ll fit.

If you find their adhesive to not be strong enough, pick up a roller of glue tape (not double-sided tape, the whiteout-like rollers which deposit adhesive directly on the paper without also depositing any kind of plastic or paper backing layer).

Silicone Lubricant or White Lithium Grease

I always keep a spray-can of one or both of these around. Whenever you have a squeaky hinge or a creaky spring, a little spray is all it’ll take to silence it.

(Just remember to hold some paper towel behind it to catch any overspray and be aware that rocking chair springs may still transmit a non-creaking “low-pitched ringing” sound into the floor to be heard in an otherwise silent room on the floor below. Felt feet can help with that, but only so much.)

Try a Brown Noise App

Brown noise (so named because it’s generated from the math behind Brownian motion), also known as red noise or random walk noise, sounds loosely reminiscent of ocean waves, wind, and countless other kinds of ambient noise you may think of, and it’s a good, relaxing choice for covering up sounds you can’t get rid of.

The Wikipedia Brownian noise article has a 10-second sample clip, but it comes in multiple apparent pitches and in softened and un-softened forms, as this YouTube video demonstrates. My own brown noise generator is set to produce un-softened brown noise at an apparent pitch somewhere in the middle between those two.

Whether you need to relax, focus without distraction, mask away tinnitus, or you’re trying to “meditate yourself to sleep”, brown noise is something you should try. In fact, I’ve found that my body has learned to interpret the sound of brown noise as a signal to release any tension it’s been hiding from me in anticipation of my efforts to unwind or fall asleep.

Make a Noise Baffle

One of my PCs is a hand-me-down small form factor machine with a specialized CPU cooler that I felt wouldn’t be worth the cost to replace with something quieter… but I still didn’t like the metallic whine its non-standard-sized fan made, so I took inspiration from how my main PC’s Antec P183 case quiets down hard drives and optical drives with a sound-absorbing door.

I imagine this would also work for making a laptop’s exhaust fan less noisy or any other small cooling fan, though I don’t use laptops often enough to have tried it.

There are two goals in this project:

  1. Make the sound waves slam into something that wants to absorb and not re-transmit them.
  2. Make them bounce their way around a corner or two while doing it before they can reach the outside air.

To do this, you will need:

  1. A hot glue gun (I used a high-temperature hardware store one I already had, but a low-temperature one from the craft store or dollar store’s craft aisle should work too)
  2. A small wooden box you can cut up (check your dollar store’s craft aisle or your local craft store) or, if ugly is OK and you can’t afford to do better, a corrugated cardboard box to cut up, like I did for my prototype.
  3. Sheets of soft foam or scraps of terrycloth (eg. a worn-out towel) to soak up the noise. The fluffier the towel, the better.
  4. Paint to make the result blend into its surroundings
  5. (optional) Felt or cork rubber to make a gasket out of (I used cork rubber from an automotive gasket material pack)
  6. (optional) Washers or other thin, heavy items
  7. Something to cut your materials with (eg. Utility knife for cardboard, some kind of hand saw, band saw, or rotary tool for wood, etc.)

The construction process is as follows:

  1. Cut the cardboard or wood and then glue it together to make a box that will fit over the vent, leaving a suitably large hole for the air to exit out after turning a corner. (I made mine wide and open on only one side so the air had to make a U-turn and exit around the side of the PC, but 90 degrees for something like redirecting a side vent on a laptop backwards should work too as long as the noise is exiting in a direction pointing away from you. Just be sure you glue something like a toothpick into the floating corner to support it.)
  2. If needed, glue some washers into the bottom to lower the centre of gravity and make it harder to tip over.
  3. Glue your terrycloth or foam to the inside of the box to soak up as much of the noise as possible before it exits the box.
  4. If you have it, glue the felt or cork-rubber around the outside of the side of the box that will butt up against the vent to make a good seal and silence any vibration.
  5. Paint the outside of the box to match what you’re using it with. (eg. If you have a laptop with a magnesium unibody housing, try to get spray-paint in a matching metallic silver colour. Mine is all-black, but I’m planning to use painter’s tape and silver spray-paint to extend the PC’s trim onto it)
  6. If you’re silencing something with a high flow rate through a small opening, like a laptop exhaust fan, you may need to take extra measures to keep the force of the exhaust from pushing it away from the vent, such as putting a paperweight on the other side of it, adding rubber feet, etc.

Blackout Curtains, Wall Comforters, Acoustic Panels, etc.

I hadn’t realized this until I bought a set for their light-dampening properties, but proper “total blackout” curtains are also marketed on their ability to improve the insulation value of the room (which is why they’re white on the back to reflect the sun back out) and, most importantly to this list, to muffle sounds coming in from outside and reduce echoing inside.

If the noise you need to muffle is coming from areas you don’t control or you need to damp down echoing, hanging some something on the wall or in front of the window that’s good at absorbing noise is the way to go.

If you rent and aren’t allowed to drill holes to hang things, look into removable adhesive hooks with a high rated load capacity like 3M’s Command™ brand, which are available in ratings up to 20 pounds. (You could also see if your landlord would see professionally designed acoustic tiles/panels as acceptably neutral or a beneficial to the future rental value of their units.)

Noise-Cancelling Headphones or Construction-site Hearing Protectors

I don’t use noise-cancelling headphones myself, since I prefer to not use headphones, but I’ve tried a pair. They don’t cancel all frequencies equally, but they may be just what you’re looking for, depending on which frequencies you find most grating.

As for the hearing protectors, I do use them when necessary and I’ve found that it’s much easier to “forget that you’re wearing” a good quality pair of the big, bulky over-ear hearing protectors that look like bright yellow recording studio headphones than it is with the foam in-canal earplugs.

(A family member gave me a Stanley Leightning L2F (RST-63007) and I like it aside from the vinyl on the underside of the headband having started to flake off.)

Another option to consider would be construction-site hearing protectors with integrated headphones… just make sure you get ones with an aux jack so you can feed them with more than just what you get off the built-in radio and/or MP3 player.

Roomba (or other equally good robot vacuum)

If you can afford it (I’ve heard that any robot vacuum with a regular/non-sale price of less than $500 Canadian isn’t worth it), getting a Roomba has four big advantages:

  1. Less time spent cleaning means more time for whatever de-stresses you most effectively.
  2. Some models of robot vacuum can be programmed to run on a timer and automatically do the cleaning while you’re away from home, so you just need to empty the bin.
  3. I can’t vouch for other brands or models, but the Roomba we have is significantly quieter and has a much less irritating motor sound than any of the traditional vacuum cleaners we’ve used.
  4. I don’t know about other robot vacuums, but there are Amazon Marketplace sellers offering replacement front caster wheels for the Roomba line which have a rubber tire to make them run more quietly on hard floors. (This is the listing I used but be aware that the one I got had a manufacturing defect that caused it to catch at one spot until I sanded the rubber down a bit.)

Replacement fans for your computer

If you’ve got a desktop PC and it’s noisy (eg. because you work it hard and the fans rev up) or you just don’t like the character of the fan noise, and you or someone you know are comfortable installing new parts inside it, one good option is to replace the cooling fans with quieter, more pleasant-sounding models.

For this, the the world-leading brand is Noctua. They offer both case fans and CPU coolers and, for case fans, they offer two different choices depending on how much you want to spend: Their premium NF-A line which packs in every trick in the book, and their budget “Redux” models which are slightly less optimized, available in fewer sizes, and require you to choose between versions optimized for airflow or static pressure, but are almost half the price of the premium versions.

(I have a set of four of their NF-P12 redux-1300 PWM fans in my main PC, and a single premium-series NF-A9 PWM fan in my secondary PC.)

If your case offers fan mounts of multiple different sizes, try to get the cooling you need using only the biggest size of fans available. The bigger a fan is, the slower it needs to spin to move air and the easier it is to make it sound pleasant.

You may also want to consider something to throttle back any fans which provide more cooling than necessary, like their low-noise adapters (included with the premium fan I bought but not the Redux fans) or a fan-speed controller so you can dial in whatever balance between cooling and noise that you want. (I bought a Noctua NA-FC1 to control the fans I wanted to run at a fixed speed)

They have an official Amazon store if you want to take advantage of free shipping.

CC BY-SA 4.0 Noise-Reduction Tips For People Who Have Trouble Ignoring Ambient Sounds by Stephan Sokolow is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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