How-To Geek

How To Make Disposable Sleeves for Your In-Ear Monitors


In-ear monitors are great, until the rubber sleeves stop being comfortable. Here’s a quick and cheap way to make disposable ones using foam ear plugs so you can stay comfortable while listening.

What You’ll Need

Disclaimer: This project uses sharp tools and involves sticking things into your ears so be careful, and be smart! We’re not responsible for any mishaps!

01 - materials

This requires that you have earbuds that have a stem on them, like my Shure E3Gs below.

02 - shures

Punching a Sound Hole

The foam plugs will block outside noise, but we need to make a hole for the sound to come through and so they fit onto the earphones. You can use a pen tip that’s slightly sharpened, a rotary tool with a small bore tip, or anything of that nature.

03 - tip diameter

Here’s a size comparison of the tools. Basically, you want to make a hole that is smaller than the stems on your earphones. That way, they’ll be snug and won’t come off in your ear. Let’s start by taking an ear plug and flattening it.

04 - squished flat

You can cut it to an appropriate length for your ears with the scissors. My ears aren’t very big, so I just cut them in half.

05 - cut short

Wait for them to puff up back to their normal size and then flatten them the other way, so they’re a round dot.

07 - squished round

Next, take your hole-making instrument and put it to work. I used a sharpened pen tip and punched it.

08 - punch hole

You could also use a hobby knife and make a small square instead of punching a hole as well. Here’s what the finished product looks like.

09 - hole

I went back and punched holes in the other halves of the ear plugs so they wouldn’t go to waste.

10 - hole 2

You should be able to just slip them onto your earphones, albeit with a little effort.

11 - fitting them

The more snugly they fit onto your earphones, the more outside noise will be sealed out. It also helps keep them from slipping off into your ear that way.

12 - fitted

Squish them, put them in your ears, and wait for them to expand and create a seal before you let go. Ear plugs are pretty cheap, and you can make a dozen of these in a few minutes. It’s a great alternative to the rubber and silicone tips that come bundled. I have relatively small ears and one side is slightly larger than the other, so I can only keep these in a for about two hours before I need to take them out. I’ve been using the foam tips several hours a day for a few days and I can definitely vouch for the difference.


Update: Some of our readers contributed their own tips to make the process easier. Robert Wictorzon’s method works particularly well on soft foam:

I use a heated needle for the hole making part.

Another reader, frater mus, has a unique way of making drilling easier:

I find it easier to drill if I:

1. squeeze them under water a few times then freeze them.
2. drill out cleanly
3. allow to thaw and dry out

Having tried both of these methods, I can say they work really well depending on what kind of materials your ear plugs are made from. Thanks as always to our helpful readers!

Yatri Trivedi is a monk-like geek. When he's not overdosing on meditation and geek news of all kinds, he's hacking and tweaking something, often while mumbling in 4 or 5 other languages.

  • Published 03/10/11

Comments (30)

  1. bemymonkey

    So how do these compare to real Comply Foam tips?

  2. Carlos Ferrari

    You should cut and clean your nails dude! :P


  3. rino

    since you mentioned it, wouldn’t it be prudent if a glue is added to the foam so as not to lose it inside your ears?

  4. tom

    @rino –

    Glue would clog up the sound port for the earphone. Besides, you’re not supposed to stick the ear buds that far into the ear canal…

  5. indianacarnie

    Nice money saving tip. Thank you.

  6. David George

    I really think this is kind of silly: a lot of effort with very little gain.

  7. quixote

    I tried the same with

    Jalapeno peppers


    Celery sticks


    with great results! Big advantage over foam: You always have a healthy snack ready.
    (you gotta be shitting me)

  8. Jason Fitzpatrick

    @David George: It’s about 5 minutes worth of work to make a dozen or so of them… and you get moldable, comfortable, disposable sound-blocking ear plugs that block 26-32dB worth of sound (depending on the brand and density of foam ear plugs you purchase). Seems like a lot of gain for a few bucks and the amount of time it takes to watch a YouTube video.

  9. bemental

    Great tip. I tried making a set of these for the standard Apple ear buds to no avail.

    As long as your buds “support” this looks like a great idea.

  10. eyeman

    Creative, curious, inventive, practical….. nice to know these kinds of things and apply them to other situations in life. Good Show!

  11. 01NB

    Umm, I’ll just buy T400’s from Comply. Thanks for the tip tho…….

  12. Steve

    I’ve been doing this for a while with my Futuresonic Atrio M5s thanks to a tutorial on Some great DIY headphone tips on there.

  13. Faith

    I think this is a great idea. I actually bought a pair of the earphones that already come with the foam tips, but I have a 3 yr old the foam part disappears quickly. Then I have a $20 piece of garbage. So thank you very much.

  14. Robert Wictorzon

    I’ve done this for 6-7 years with my Koss Plugs (The Plug, I think they’re called). Superior to the ones that came with it, both in comfort and in blocking sound. I use a heated needle for the hole making part.

  15. Lucas

    What a great idea.

    And to all the negative comments – get with the spirit! This sort of thing is what HTG is all about – making stuff you can more easily buy at the electronics store.

    Going to buy some ear buds this afternoon so I can use up all my foam safety plugs from work.

  16. Suhel

    waste of time….

    @Lucas about your HTG comment, AGREE, but this one is really silly

  17. Thomas Clover

    This is a great tip. My family borrows my headphones all the time. (No. I don’t know how they keep losing theirs or why they think mine are so great.) This way they can borrow my phones and I don’t have to get back their ear wax!

  18. Michel

    I don’t understand why people are so dense about how helpful this site can be. I think the negative people should be BLOCKED form leaving comments.

    I have been doing this same thing for a few years now, and I think it was GREAT for our fellow member to show us what method is used to get the results.

    KEEP ON SHARING! And you people who only enjoy the NEGATIVE_ go start your own site.

  19. bill

    This is excellent…
    My teenager is constantly losing his earphone covers…
    Now I can throw a pack of Ear plugs at him and tell him I’m not buying anymore make your own!
    In fact I don’t even have to tell him now, I will just forward this to him and he can read it.

    Whoever posted this just made my day One less thing to deal with.
    Many Many thanks…

    And about the negative comments, save it for something worth complaining about.

  20. Teresa (mean person hater)

    I have to agree with Michel…I think if you don’t have anything nice to say…please be quiet, and appreciate that someone taking the time to try and make our lives easier and better…for FREE last time I checked…
    Some people are just mean…..doesn’t the thought of knowing a “person” (and I just assume it’s a person;) like this make your skin crawl…imagine how unappreciative they are to people the actually know….
    I’m sorry but I just get so annoyed with mean people, that it makes me mean…..:)

  21. boo

    I think this is a cool idea. The regular ones make my ears sore, too. Thanks!

  22. Wrigsted, the Dane

    Now thats smart, I have departed many good earphones because of missing sleeves. Never again, I tell you!

  23. Allison

    Nice job!
    I work as a welder in a loud machine shop…the days pass more quickly with music piped into my head but the stock rubber doesn’t cancel out enough of the shop noise…I had been toying with the same idea and here it is. I love it – thank you!!

  24. frater mus

    I find it easier to drill if I:

    1. squeeze them under water a few times then freeze them.
    2. drill out cleanly
    3. allow to thaw and dry out

  25. g00gl3it

    You have to think of all the uses for these…

    Like myself, putting on a motorcycle helmet, my earplugs pull out half the time because they don’t sit in tight enough.

    If I put these one, and wait until they expand, they can withstand the pull of the helmet on the cord and stay in my ear, plus they block freeway noise while still allowing me to hear my music.

    Excellent idea, I’m just going to use cheap earplug and hot glue them on.

  26. Ms.bfv

    I will try it……..i hope it works!

  27. Kuda

    Great tip! As someone pointed out above, this is *really* great for motorcycles/bicycles. (Well, with the obvious disclaimer that if you can’t hear what’s going on around you, it’s less safe, YMMV, etc, etc) Not only do they block sound better, but the single biggest improvement (and it works *better* than the Comply earphones I just threw out) is the reduction in wind noise through the wires. Seems that the harder compositions (i.e. straight silicone, harder foam, etc) transmit more windnoise directly through the wires into the ear. Makes it really hard to hear anything, let alone music. But with these softer plugs (I use Howard Leight’s Super Leights) not only do they stay comfortable for an 18 hour ride, but they also allow a much lower music volume and, by blocking the high frequency wind noise, allow me to hear *better* than without plugs. YMMV of course, but I’m a huge fan.

  28. JakeMake123456

    I went and made a pair as soon as I read this , headphones are soo comfortable now , thanks for your simple and effective idea , keep posting , ignore the -ve comments

  29. Fernando

    Having had a replacement earbud left inside my ear canal once, I am deathly scared of doing this without some kind of glue to keep it from being left behind. I like they motorcyclist’s idea of using hot glue but how do you apply the glue when the inner surfaces to be glued are both inside the hole where the tube goes through? And how will you replace the earbud without glue residue being left on the tube?

    Another idea I was thinking about was attaching a string to the foam so that in the unlikely event that the foam is stuck, I can always pull out the string. This is the same idea that women’s tampon makers have to keep them from being stuck inside, according to my girlfriend.

    Any other ideas on how to retrieve a stuck piece of foam in your ear?

  30. YatriTrivedi

    @Fernando: I think you can apply glue to the back of the foam, where it touches the body of the earphone (not near the speaker).

    If this is a bit worrisome, you might want to consider a more permanent solution, like this one:

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