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How Loud Is Too Loud: Decibel levels of common sounds

too loud. damage hearingNoise is measured in units called decibels (dB), on a scale from zero to 140. 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. 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.

Here is a 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)

Noise levels of 130 decibels or over will be painful and is very likely to cause immediate hearing damage.

Perceptions of increases in decibel level

The list below gives you an idea of how noticable a change in decibel level will be to you:

  • 1dB  -  Not noticable
  • 3dB  -  Barely noticeable
  • 5dB  -  Clearly noticeable change
  • 10dB  -  About twice as loud
  • 20dB  -  About four times as loud

Decibels are measured on a  logarithmic scale, which means that the difference between values increases as the values get larger. For example, the difference between 10dB and 20dB is smaller than the difference between 100dB and 110dB. Logarithmic values are used to make reading what would be large number much easier. If decibels were rated on a linear scale, i.e. the difference between 10dB and 20dB would be the same as the difference between 100dB and 110dB, then instead of writing 100dB we would have to write 10000000000dB.

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91 comments
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  1. so if i have a 37dB computer case fan…will it be annoying?

  2. You will certainly be able to hear it but it will probably become “background noise” after a short while and it won’t bother you.

    When my fan gets too noisy I open up the PC and brush the dust from the fan – that helps for a while.

  3. How loud do you think that a regular cooling fan in a house is that’s at medium speed? Is it harmful for your ears? Thank-you for your help.

  4. What are the decibel levels of a boombox at full volume and medium volume?

  5. [...] loud noise – see How Loud Is Too Loud? for more [...]

  6. How loud is 5 decibels? Our neighbour is building a new house very close to our apartment building. He will have 9 airconditioners (!!!) on his roof. Council regulations require that the noise be no louder than 5 decibels, but I have no idea how loud that will be.

  7. Hi Jacki,

    A person whispering is around 20 decibels so 5 decibels is going to be very quiet!

  8. I am curious at which level of hearing loss would a person no longer be able to hear their own voice. I know Profound hearing loss that is probably reality. But can a person with a severe hearing loss hear their own voice? (without hearing aids)

  9. At what distance from the source is a whisper 20 dB?

  10. @Michelle

    Great question!

    I haven’t had my hearing tested for a year or so now but it’s safe to say that I’d now be considered as having a severe loss. I tried to test myself to see how well I could hear my own voice without my aids in but it was kinda hard to judge because I knew what I was saying. I think I was just about able to hear it but it was very low and very gravelly – certainly, I would not have been able to understand the words if it had been someone right next to me talking.

  11. @Rose

    I assume that these sound level measurements are taken as close to the source as possible.

  12. [...] ears will thank you. Fireworks are loud. Up to 140 dB. Which can cause permanent hearing loss. (Spark throwers aren’t this loud, but firecrackers [...]

  13. I am trying to figure out at a distance of 400ft as the crow flies I am reading over two hundred dogs barking at a decibel reading of 47.7 i am trying to establish a nusiance with a the meter its ranges from 46 to 60 and the max hold button im getting about 47.7 what constitutes a nusiance?

  14. Barbara,

    I don’t know. I guess each country – and even maybe local authority – have a definition of what noise level is considered a nuisance.

    I checked on the UK government website and they don’t actually define the volume that is considered a nuisance. Maybe it just down to the individual making the complaint – if it’s annoying you then it’s a nuisance!

  15. I am trying to decide between 3 dishwashers with dB of 54, 61 and 63. The cost difference is $200 between the lowest and highest. I just want to know if the differences are really worth that much money.

  16. Hi Kathy,

    There will certainly be a noticeable difference between the 54db and 63db machines but they are both around normal conversation levels. I don’t know if it’s worth the $200 – I guess if you have money to throw at it then go for it but a 63db washing machine shouldn’t be a problem if it’s in the kitchen and you are in another room.

  17. “80db is ten time louder than…60db”? I think you meant to write, “is one hundred times louder”.

  18. March 3rd, 2009
    Hello: Could you pls. tell me the aprox. db level of the speakers that are put on the top of cars when they drive around anouncing their products, services, etc.???
    Also, what is the avg. db level of a barking dog?
    If you could kindly email me the answers, I would be most grateful. Thank you, Howard Kaplan Also, pls. double email, adding: 7551090211@rek2.com.mx to the one noted on the form.

  19. [...] that they cant mow the lawn. Planes are not allowed to fly overhead, no vaccums, no city traffic How Loud Is Too Loud: Decibel levels of common sounds __________________ Joey [...]

  20. Can you please tell me what is the acceptable level of noise from a next door neighbour in decibels please

  21. You poor pitiful souls need to board the next flight to the moon. I understand it’s deathly quiet up there.
    If 40 and 60 decibel level sounds are causing all of this whining and caterwaulering , then outer space is truly your only hope.

  22. I can install baffles in my exhaust pipe to decrease sound by 3 decibles is this alot or even noticable.

  23. Tom,

    You may notice a small difference but nothing significant.

  24. Hello sounds like this comment box is for people who just want to and winge about each other and get people around them into troiuble by there council/authorities once they know thefacts about decibel levels.

    I only went on this to know how loud my current cpu fan was and found this load of rubbish comment box.

    Why dont you all just chill out, stop being so hostile, unless of course someone is obviously and genuinely annoying you then you probably have a right to complain and seek guidance.

  25. Coul you please tell me what is the sound level of an aircraft (boeng 737) at take off?

  26. Cheers for the clear information

  27. my dirtbike is 140 db is that too exsesive?

  28. @Bob

    I’d wear some earplugs if I were you.

  29. [...] is a list of common noises and their decibel [...]

  30. What would the decibel level be for a barking dog at 400 feet. Where could I find this information

  31. I am looking for a cell phone for my father who is very hard of hearing and wears two hearing aids. We have tried the Jitterbug and when it is on speakerphone he can hear it quite easily (even says that it blasts him), but we aren’t pleased with the service plans of the Jitterbug. I would really like to add him to my AT&T account. The only problem is that most cell phones are either not very loud or make it too complicated to activate the speaker phone (my BlackBerry has a loud speaker phone but i think a BlackBerry would confuse my father). I found a phone online for the hearing impaired, the ClarityLife C900, but it says that it amplifies the conversation “up to 20dB. I came to this site wondering how loud that would be and it doesn’t sound very loud at all!
    Could someone from the hearing-impaired community give me some feedback as to whether or not this would be a good phone for my father?

  32. i was wondering if my 140 db radio is too loud lol

  33. I’m buying a new dishwasher and wanted to know the difference between a 42 db and 53 db. We have a fairly open kitchen to the family room where we watch tv. Would the 53db cause us to want to turn up the tv volume?

  34. Thanks for the information! We’re planning to build a noise-reducing fence along the back of our property (we back onto a busy 4-lane road) and the guy who sells them said we could expect an 8-10 db sound reduction. I’m a little confused by this webpage as it says a 10 db sound is rustling leaves, but a 10 dB change is twice as loud. Is it not a straight scale (such as kms) but a whatchacallit like the Richter scale … logarithmic?

    Anyhow…. do you think it’s worth nearly $6,000 to reduce our backyard’s noise level by “only” 10 db?

  35. We have a wedding tent venue next door and our db meter reads 70 db in our yard from the bands. It is VERY LOUD and a nuisance to the neighborhood. What db level should it be in a residential neighborhood to be acceptable to the neighbors? They play until 11pm at least two times per week.

  36. Beverley,

    You are right, decibels are measured using a logarithmic scale. A 10db reduction is probably significant for you but as to whether it’s worth that money I could not say. You could always try some earplugs before spending that kind of money on a fence.

  37. Hi, Could you confirm at what decibels could we legally play our Hi-Fi for a few hours of an evening without breaking the law. I have a tool that measures decibels, and would try my utmost to keepit at thelegal level. Could you please confirm. Many thanks

  38. What is the avg. db rating for trains? Thanks, Colt45

  39. Hi there, this is very interesting.

    however, wikipedia tells me that an average pop song has a dynamic range of 6 – 10 decibels. but according to you a human breathing is about that level. so whats going on?
    :)

  40. [...] hadde målt decibelstyrken på hundens bjeff. Den viste seg å være 110 decibel, hvilket tilsvarer lyden av en motorsag (ikke når den er avslått… ). Forestill deg at du ligger og sover søtt, når noen [...]

  41. [...] noe/noen skremmer henne, kan jeg nemlig love deg at hun prøver å skremme det/dem bort! (Med sine 110 decibels [...]

  42. I work for a City and they are looking to find a decible reader that will automatically shut down after it reaches it’s calibrated exeeded decibel limit (ex. 65 decibels). Is there such a meter? We have citizens that are complaining that our live music in the downtown area is too loud for residents.

  43. I just bought a “schrill alarm” for my girlfriend who’s travelling for a couple of months. It emits a sound of 110db.

    I hope she doesn’t have to use it, but if she does, I assume it will give her quite a scare too don’t you think? The sudden increase to a 110db must be scary.

  44. Carlo,

    Yeah, definitely, that alarm is gonna give everyone a headache! Let’s hope she doesn’t have to use it.

  45. I’m fairly certain that your decibel levels for the jet engine are exaggerated. The only airplane that could approach that level of sound was probably the XF-84H “Thunderscreech” which was actually a propeller driven aircraft. 180 dB is more like a rocket launch. At that level you begin to approach the edge of what if physically perceptible by our ears (usually cited as around 195 dB) without total phsycal decay.

  46. I bought a pair of decibel & re-usable earplugs rated for 27 decibels. It says that such devices commonly go from 0 to 30 dB. My question is, if I am wearing them, what level of sound would result in hearing something similar to soft speech? (Not whisper, nor normal speech, but in between these two).

  47. The decible rating you get using a meter will vary by microphone, meter (whether it’s correctly calibrated or not) and by distance from the noise source. One should be careful when giving or utilizing information regarding decibles without this information. I was just told by the dishwasher salesman that there is no regulation about these variables in decible ratings in dishwashers – so I figure it’s the same for other noise, too!

  48. what is the legal decibe l level for a truck? I just recently got a ticket because my exhaust is too loud, the police officer said. it came like that from the manufacture.

  49. Nicole,

    No idea, I’m afraid. You could try checking out your local police website.

  50. I hate noise, my current machine is so loud I have to turn the tv up to hear it properly. I am interested in a particular washing machine. The noise level is 53db for the wash and 69db for the spin.
    My living room door will be closed but the machine will only be 4 or 5 feet from the door. Will I still have to turn the tv up?

  51. AT WHAT DECIBLE DOES THE CITY DECIDE THAT A CONCRETE FENCE ALONG YOUR BACKYARD IS IN ORDER?

  52. What is acceptable sound levels for music that is amplified? And when one can hear it some 75 yards away? and it creates us to speak louder in our own home?

  53. what is the least noise level a human can hear?

  54. [...] The below examples are taken from Decibel Level of Common Sounds [...]

  55. I’m surprised city traffic is rated at 80 decibels. It’s quite close to the 85 db limit. This blog post is mentioned in my blog Loud Noise May Cause Tinnitus

  56. lawnmowers r used one after another. y not allow their use only 2 hours per day. therefore to cause people to do activity all at onec?

  57. Would there be a noticable noise difference between 42 and 49 dB in a dishwasher?

    Thank You

  58. So how loud is 57 decibels? Is a motorbike or four wheeler louder than this? Trying to figure out a noise ordinance thing.

  59. There are train traks two blocks from my apartment. The noise of the train would not be so bad, but when they start blowing their whistles I feel like my brain is ready to explode. Is there any federal laws that could stop those trains from blowing their whistles in the town?

  60. Does anyone have any figures for the decibel level of a standard toilet flush?

  61. My question is similar to a previous question about dishwashers. According to the sales people, 42-43 decibels is the level of one dishwasher. Their description of this is so quiet, you can’t even tell that it is running. There are two other dishwashers, one is 46 decibels and the other is 51 or 52 decibels. The sales people say that those are barely noticeable as well. Would either of them be noticeable compared to the 42 decibel dishwasher? Is 52 quiet enough on it’s own to even matter?

  62. so if i turn my computer at full volume all the time, my ear cells are gonna die? when it’s at full volume, it’s about 85 decibels. Do you think my ears are gonna die? =(

  63. ^_

    Continued exposure to 85db will cause some hearing damage over time. Best to turn it down some.

  64. Don’t have a wreck with air bag equipped automobiles. I don’t know what the decibels are, but the air bags going off are similar to a shotgun blast in the car. One time caused damage to my ears. The passenger air bag broke the windshield above it. I was the only occupant, I never touched the driver air bag, in fact my glasses didn’t even come off, and other than the engine hood being shortened in the front by four or five inches, there was no sheet metal damage. I had hit a light pole right in the center at a fairly low speed. The air bags are powerful and loud.

  65. Mary, you seem to missing the whole point of train whistles. The whole purpose of them is to blow them IN town, at a loud enough level that they can be heard inside vehicles, including trucks and buses and the like, at an adequate distance, so that they have time to get out of the way if there are no signals where they are (such as children playing on the tracks), or if the signals are not working properly (which happens more often then you would think). And in fact, people have been killed because the train companies thought certain villages were too small to merit these precautions.

  66. Some Interesting Information:
    Just The Bang From A Nuclear Explosion Is Enough To Cause Permanent Deafness. But then again, You Are Probably Going To Be Seriously Or Fatally Injured Anyway If You are Near To A Nuclear Blast.
    ~180-190 dB

  67. Hi, I was trying to find out what 10 decibels would be because apparently my hearing has dropped by about 10 decibels (thats on a good day, my hearing is unstable). I have a feeling it would be a lot more on a bad day. In fact, I was tested once and my hearing failed and they could not make any noise loud enough for me to hear!!! I have a good idea now – you say leaves rustling. Have to use my memory and imagination for that one because I cant remember the last time I heard leaves rustling :)

    It gives me a bit of guidance as to what I have lost during the last 4 months because thats when the hearing dropped. I managed to persuade the audiologist to give me a rough percentage and she said my loss at the moment is about 80% – thats pretty bad. Someone asked about hearing your own voice. I dont usually hear my voice – I feel it! I cant tell volume either and as for direction by audio – thats a joke. If someone calls I look everywhere but the right direction!!! (quite funny really)

    Thanks for the help and rough guidance.

  68. I am thinking of getting a printer for the office. Whilst printing its 57 db. The office is about 110 sqft and all open plan and quite quiet. Will this distract us while working?

  69. Hi,
    Do you think there is a real difference between 40 and 43 decibles for a dishwasher. I would prefer going with the 43 but I want the dishwasher to be as quiet as can be. I look forward to your answer. Thanks.

  70. @Louisa

    Well, that’s roughly the same volume as normal conversation so if you get distracted by others talking in the office then you’ll be distracted by the printer.

    @Angela

    Not a huge difference, no.

  71. Lots of folks ask about sound levels for dishwashers and fans. Unfortunately, while the numbers are useful, they don’t tell the full story. If the noise is like white noise, you can tolerate a lot more (say, up to 60 dB) without annoyance, whereas a whine or mechanical sound is annoying at much lower levels (say, 50dB or lower).

    For example, we replaced a Bosch with low 40′s. We could barely tell it was running, especially when the refrigerator was running. We replaced it with one in the low 50′s, and I was concerned. But it turns out we don’t hear any motorized sounds, we only hear the water, which sounds more like a waterfall than anything, and it’s not a problem at all.

    As a general rule, you can subtract about 10dB for the sound in an adjacent room with the door open.

    Many questions also involve local ordinances. Local ordinances in cities vary a lot but tend to be in the 50 to 65 dB range. You can buy an inexpensive “SPL” (sound pressure level) meter at stores like Radio Shack or online for under US$50.

    Someone asked how far away the list of sounds were measured. For point sources, 1 meter is the usual rule: if you get closer, tiny changes in sensor location give widely different results. 1M is used for measuring audio speaker output, for example. For a list with more detail, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sound_pressure .

    180dB is usually listed as a rocket takeoff. Jet takeoff is usually reported at around 140dB.

  72. i am doing a piece of homework and i was wondering how loud a taiko drum is. send me a reply to danatron1@hotmail.co.uk if you found the answer, i need it!

  73. Your decible reading for a snowmobile is wrong. get the facts right

  74. Thanks for all the good info on here Steve.

    My GF & I just moved into a condo, and we can’t sleep. We want out of our lease to find a comfortable place to live. The dB level in our master bath is about 35dB, but when the neighbor turns on his shower it jumps to 65dB (and then drops to 55dB when the shower head is engaged).

    I’m trying to figure out the logo-rhythmic equation for the increase in perceptible sound. A jump of 30dB (from 35dB to 65dB) is how much louder?

    We’ve also tried sleeping in the second bedroom, but our upstairs neighbor is a heavy man and the thuds from his footsteps wake us up (he’s a night-owl), though I haven’t gotten a decibel reading on that yet.

  75. I am considered to be profoundly deaf in my right ear. Are there any kinds of hearing aids or surgery that could help?

  76. @Jess

    It’s unlikely that a hearing aid would help significantly with a profound loss, you are probably more likely to get good results with a cochlear implant. Having said that, assuming you haven’t already, you should go to an audiologist for a hearing test to see just how bad your hearing loss is.

  77. @Victoria it means the hearing aid can (at full volume) add 20dB to everything: so for example if you’re talking at 60dB, your father will hear it at 80dB, which he might need in order to hear you at all.

    @JamesC dynamic range is the difference between the loudest and quietest sound levels in music. so for example if a song has 10dB dynamic range, and you put the volume high, then if the loud parts are 90dB, the quiet parts will be 80dB.

  78. The City’s noise ordinance Sec. 10.29.02 states that noise – measured at the property line – shall not exceed 60dBA between 7 am and 10pm and 60dBA between 10 pm and 7 am. If the applicant decides to proceed with a revised FDP, it will be important to demonstrate that the noise standards can be met

    We are planning to use Goodman equipment . I have verified that the units have a DB level ranging from 72 DBA to 78 DBA at the unit . Is there a way to calculate what the DB level would be, at 18 ft away from the unit , which is the closest we get to the Property line ? I called Technical support for Goodman Equipment . They have nothing to offer . I sure appreciate your time

  79. [...] articles that you might like:How Loud Is Too Loud: Decibel levels of common sounds Noise is measured in units called decibels, on a scale from zero to 140. The higher the number in [...]

  80. I listen to music pretty loud in my car driving to work. It is a 30 min drive. I tested the sound level today with an app on my phone and it was 95dB peak. Will that harm my hearing? I already have mild hearing loss in my left ear from recurrent ear infections and eardrum ruptures since a child. I am 44yo.

  81. Work is turning off the radios because they assume that it’s too loud and are afraid of drivers not hearing forklifts horn, which will cause into an accident.
    what would be an acceptable dB for the radio – or are radios to be definately removed? is there anyone I could see that could approve the radio is OK to use @ certain level of dB?

  82. I’m looking for the noisy planet bookmark. The Publication No. is 09-6431G dated September 2009. Is there anyone out there that has this file (PDF I believe)? We incorporate it in an information pack for Veterans who have been exposed to loud sounds while in the military. Any help would be greatly appreciated.

    Charles Nugent
    Assistant to the Veterans Service Officer
    for Kootenai, county Idaho

  83. [...] over will be painful and is very likely to cause immediate hearing damage." See full article here __________________ Punctuation… Use it. Remove [...]

  84. Hello HAK –

    Our cottage environment in Lanark County near Ottawa has been serenely quiet for the past 15 years. Not any more. New neighbours have begun airing Cuban and Latin American music at top volume from across our lake, perhaps 600 metres away. It is so loud in our cottage we can barely converse, let alone try and sleep.

    How much noise in dB would be acceptable in a cottage- rural environment from a neighbouring cottage 100 yards away? Ontario has legislation governing ‘excessive noise’ but isnot very good about defining it. Do any readers have examples of noise regs in rural areas that are sensible and allow for a reasonable level of quiet enjoyment?

    Thanks

    Mkie Cassidy, Ottawa

  85. I have 110 decibal sound system on full blast it that bad for me ???

  86. What is the acceptable level for a washing machine. Mine makes soooo much noise I can’t hear myself think!!

  87. Trying to figure out what is acceptable level is for worship at church for about 110-150 people?

  88. I just bought a house in August 2012 next to a kennel. After a month or so I realized why the neighbors were all complaining and I’ve contacted the village to find out what the acceptable decibel levels are around here. They have not responded as of yet, in the mean time I hired a private company to test the levels, the report states that the levels range from 82-97 and peak at 102 does anyone know anything about these issues and does that seem to be too loud for an ongoing noise throughout the day?

    Thanks

  89. My apartment was a two bedroom apartment prior to me moving into it ,now it is a one bedroom and the other room has been converted into a studio which another person rents … my neighbor is constantly bagging on the walls and complaining about the noise . how load is to load in an apartment which haven’t been property sound proofed the police told me the sound shouldn’t exceed 5 decibels. is this true

  90. What is the decibel of rock music?

  91. Hi
    I wonder if you can help.
    I have seen a noise figure for an environmental analysis stated as 37 DB L. I have not heard of the L before. I would be grateful if you could explain if you know.
    Thank you
    Andy

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