What is a White Noise Machine?

Updated February 21, 2017

White noise machines, also called "sound machines", are small, electrical devices that produce a consistent sound of rushing air. The sounds are similar to wind blowing through trees. These sounds are called, "white noise".

Jim Buckwalter, founder of Marpac, invented the white noise machine in 1962. He made the "first electromechanical sound conditioner to block out these unwanted, distracting noises".

Learn about some of the ways a white noise machine can effect you.

How it Works

White noise is defined as "acoustical or electrical noise of which the intensity is the same at all frequencies within a given band. It's a combination of all of the different frequencies of sound. The result is the masking or cancelling out of sound.

Reg Furlough, white noise and sound technology expert and head of Reg Furlough Production, says "white noise is not a noise at all; it's a sound frequency known to have a calming effect on both children and adults."

Furlough says white noise helps to calm infants and helps them fall asleep because the constant frequency has a similar effect on them as listening to their mother's heartbeat while in the womb.


Some white noise machines produce only white noise, while others provide you with white noise as an option, along with a variety of sounds of nature to choose from. Sound machines can also come in the form of stuffed animals and toys for children.

There are a variety of styles of alarm clocks with white noise machines built in. Some have alarm clock radio features.

Find white noise machines at department stores and some drugstores.


Use a white noise machine to get a good night's sleep, especially if you have trouble getting to sleep or if you're a light sleeper. White noise masks unwanted noises so it's easier to get to sleep.

According to Anya Orlanska, sleep concierge at The Benjamin Hotel in Manhattan, NY, they provide bedside white noise machines upon request to block out noise and help guests sleep. She said white noise machines are very popular there.

Help your babies and children get to sleep with a white noise machine.

Block out noise from traffic, barking dogs, your neighbours or someone in another room with your white noise machine.

Have a private conversation with this sound machine. The white noise masks your voices from one who may be eavesdropping.

Meditate while using a white noise machine. The white noise creates a feeling of total peace, quiet and calm.

Study with a white noise machine in the background. The steady frequencies make it easier to focus and concentrate.


Turn on a fan in your bedroom to help you get to sleep. The National Sleep Foundation recommends using "white noise" such as a fan or an air conditioner for sleep as well as to block out a partner's snoring. A simple fan produces a gentle sound of rushing air similar to the sounds from white noise machines.

Download MP3 files of white noise from the Internet. Some websites offer free downloads while others charge you.

Purchase CDs of white noise and play them on your CD player or computer.

Turn on a radio in between stations for white noise.


Limit the duration of playing white noise machines for infants. Researchers Edward Chang and Paula Tallal, PhD say it may not be a good idea to expose babies to nonstop white noise. It may put them at risk for learning disorders, based on studies performed on rats by Chang and his colleague Michael Merzenich, PhD. Chang and Tallal say "everyday exposures are probably not harmful for most children."

Don't listen to a white noise machine while driving.

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About the Author

Chyrene Pendleton has been a business owner and newsletter editor for more than seven years. She is a freelance writer with over 25 years experience and teaches a variety of topics, including alternative health, hair care and metaphysics. Pendleton is a certified television show producer, radio talk-show host and producer, and a computer programmer with a bachelor's degree in computer science.