Common environmental noise levels

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Common environmental noise levels

How loud is too loud?

Continued exposure to noise above 85 dBA (adjusted decibels) over time will cause hearing loss. The volume (dBA) and the length of exposure to the sound will tell you how harmful the noise is. In general, the louder the noise, the less time required before hearing loss will occur.

According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, the maximum exposure time at 85 dBA is eight hours. At 110 dBA, the maximum exposure time is one minute and 29 seconds. If you must be exposed to noise, it is recommended that you limit the exposure time and/or wear hearing protection. A three dBA increase doubles the amount of noise, and halves the recommended amount of exposure time.

The following decibel levels of common noise sources are typical, but will vary. Noise levels above 140dBA can cause damage to hearing after just one exposure.

Points of Reference *measured in dBA or decibels

  • 0 The softest sound a person can hear with normal hearing
  • 10 normal breathing
  • 20 whispering at 5 feet
  • 30 soft whisper
  • 50 rainfall
  • 60 normal conversation
  • 110 shouting in ear
  • 120 thunder

Home

Work

Recreation

  • 50 refrigerator
  • 50 – 60 electric toothbrush
  • 50 – 75 washing machine
  • 50 – 75 air conditioner
  • 50 – 80 electric shaver
  • 55 coffee percolator
  • 55 – 70 dishwasher
  • 60 sewing machine
  • 60 – 85 vacuum cleaner
  • 60 – 95 hair dryer
  • 65 – 80 alarm clock
  • 70 TV audio
  • 70 – 80 coffee grinder
  • 70 – 95 garbage disposal
  • 75 – 85 flush toilet
  • 80 pop-up toaster
  • 80 doorbell
  • 80 ringing telephone
  • 80 whistling kettle
  • 80 – 90 food mixer or processor
  • 80 – 90 blender
  • 80 – 95 garbage disposal
  • 110 baby crying
  • 110 squeaky toy held close to the ear
  • 135 noisy squeeze toys
  • 40 quiet office, library
  • 50 large office
  • 65 – 95 power lawn mower
  • 80 manual machine, tools
  • 85 handsaw
  • 90 tractor
  • 90 – 115 subway
  • 95 electric drill
  • 100 factory machinery
  • 100 woodworking class
  • 105 snow blower
  • 110 power saw
  • 110 leafblower
  • 120 chain saw, hammer on nail
  • 120 pneumatic drills, heavy machine
  • 120 jet plane (at ramp)
  • 120 ambulance siren
  • 125 chain saw
  • 130 jackhammer, power drill
  • 130 air raid
  • 130 percussion section at symphony
  • 140 airplane taking off
  • 150 jet engine taking off
  • 150 artillery fire at 500 feet
  • 180 rocket launching from pad
  • 40 quiet residential area
  • 70 freeway traffic
  • 85 heavy traffic, noisy restaurant
  • 90 truck, shouted conversation
  • 95 – 110 motorcycle
  • 100 snowmobile
  • 100 school dance, boom box
  • 110 disco
  • 110 busy video arcade
  • 110 symphony concert
  • 110 car horn
  • 110 -120 rock concert
  • 112 personal cassette player on high
  • 117 football game (stadium)
  • 120 band concert
  • 125 auto stereo (factory installed)
  • 130 stock car races
  • 143 bicycle horn
  • 150 firecracker
  • 156 capgun
  • 157 balloon pop
  • 162 fireworks (at 3 feet)
  • 163 rifle
  • 166 handgun
  • 170 shotgun

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You have to make some noise to end it.

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How Loud Is Too Loud: Decibel levels of common sounds

  • Written by Steve Claridge

Sound Advice

too loud. damage hearingDecibels are in essence a measure of volume

The volume or intensity of sound is measured in units called decibels (dB), generally on a scale from zero to 140 (any higher than 140 and you are in trouble immediately). The higher the number in decibels, the louder the noise. The louder the noise, the greater the risk of hearing loss. Hearing loss can occur with regular exposure to noise levels of 110 decibels or more for periods longer than one minute. Not only can noise cause hearing loss, it can also cause tinnitus . 

So How loud is too loud?

The risk of sound damaging your hearing is in fact based on how loud and for how long. Continued exposure to noise at or above 80-85dB over time can cause hearing loss, however, the exposure length in that case would be hours. Generally speaking, if you have ringing in your ear or your hearing seems dull after you have been exposed to sound (including loud music) or noise you have exposed yourself too much. However, it is important for me to point out that you may still be damaging your hearing even if you don’t have these symptoms.

If loud music ever feels way too loud or causes pain in your ears, leave the room or turn it down immediately. Without noise measuring equipment it is impossible to tell what noise level you are being exposed to. So, a handy rule of thumb is that if you can’t talk to someone two metres away without shouting, the noise level could be damaging. Speaking of noise measuring equipment, you can download plenty of sound measuring apps for your Android or Apple smartphone. Download one and use it to understand the sound around you. 

Intensities of common sounds in decibels and time exposure limits

SoundsIntensitiesPermissible exposure time
City Traffic, inside the car85 dB8 hours
Bulldozer88 dB4 hours
Jazz Concert91 dB2 hours
Power Mower94 dB1 hour
Nightclub97 dB30 minutes
Ambulance Siren, inside driver window down100 dB15 minutes
Rock Concert, Leaf Blower115 dB30 seconds

Go To The Next Page For An In-Depth Table Of Common Sounds & Their Decibel Levels

Next Page

Long Term Exposure To Noise Over 85 dB Can Cause Hearing Loss

No more than 15 minutes of unprotected exposure to 100 decibels is recommended. Long-term exposure to 80-85 decibels or over can cause hearing loss. Protect your hearing, because once the damage is done, it is done. It is important that you realise that the noise we speak of is any sound, it isn’t just what you think is noise. Music presented at the right dB level will do just as much damage to your hearing. Once you go past 85dB, you are on the clock.

Don’t forget, sound is sound, at the right volume level that music you love will damage your hearing

Here is a short list of common noises and their decibel levels:

  • Aircraft at take-off (180)
  • Fireworks (140)
  • Snowmobile (120)
  • Chain saw (110)
  • Amplified music (110)
  • Lawn mower (90)
  • Noisy office (90)
  • Vacuum cleaner (80)
  • City traffic (80)
  • Normal conversation (60)
  • Refrigerator humming (40)
  • Whisper (20)
  • Leaves rustling (10)
  • Calm breathing (10)

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We like giving good advice, we also like the idea that we can somehow get people to protect their hearing. We also give advice on hearing devices and discuss hearing aid technology. If you are interested in hearing Aids, their types and technologies, take a look at our consumer hearing aid advice guide . It details types, advantages and disadvantages, technology levels and features of hearing instruments in clear and easy to understand language. 

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